How Sam Walker of Daughters Went From Bassist to Brewer and Back AgainDecember 10, 2018
“I’m still coming down from finishing up tour, but overall I’m pretty good,” says Daughters bassist Sam Walker. “I was back at work today, but it was just a half-day. We started a kettle sour brew on Friday, and we do a full weekend lactic culturation, essentially; so when we come back in Monday, we’ve just gotta bring it up to a boil, finish up the rest of the brew, and put it in a tank.”
While Walker has accumulated over a decade’s worth of time with Providence, Rhode Island’s most fearsome art-metal ensemble, his day job typically finds him in the production room of Cranston’s Revival Brewing, where he works as the company’s lead brewer. Walker discovered his passion for brewing following Daughters’ 2009 breakup, and though the band slowly began rumbling back to life 2013—and recently toured North America in support of their acclaimed You Won’t Get What You Want, the first full-length Daughters release since 2010—he admits that music is no longer his main priority.
“After Daughters went belly-up, we all took eight years to figure out what the hell we wanted to do with ourselves if there wasn’t a band, and I found myself in a pretty happy career,” he explains. “Sean Larkin, the CEO and founder of Revival Brewing, has been my mentor, my brewmaster and my friend for a long, long time; and he’s also played in bands, too, so he gets it. He’s psyched that we’re doing stuff, and he couldn’t be more supportive. We have a lot more [touring] activity on the horizon, but I won’t be doing all of it; Sean would probably let me go if I asked, but I have a really lucky scenario, and I try not to abuse it.”
How was it being back out on tour for the first time in years?
It was totally wild and weird again, and certainly harder than it was in my twenties. And also, we’re playing a longer set than we ever have, which is great because a lot of the new material is lengthier—it has more of a moody vibe that kind of takes its time, so there are moments where I get to kind of rest my thirty-seven-year-old self on stage. We’re playing an hour, which is longer than we ever have. And certainly, we all have some level of cobwebs to dust off as we do it.
A bassline is like a malty backbone.”
How did the brewing thing come about? Was this something you began pursuing after Daughters broke up?
Yeah. I mean, I was already sort of interested in beer that wasn’t macro-lager. It’s funny to look at it from this perspective: When we last toured, no rock bars or clubs had any craft beers whatsoever; we would be lucky to find a Sierra Nevada. And now, going back on the road, every venue has a local beer, or at very least one craft IPA—things that, in the past, I would have never, ever expected to see in a club.
Which probably makes touring a little more fun!
Absolutely! Though I will say that, having drank like a brewer for a number of years now, I know that I can’t sit down to a couple of eight-percenters before the set. But, yeah, I was working in a restaurant parallel to being in Daughters, and the owner of that restaurant became very interested in craft beer. He started changing over the taps from our local shitty macro-lager, like Narragansett, and we were converting ‘Gansett drinkers into Delirium Tremens drinkers—back when those early Belgians really made their big splash. Every six weeks, we’d do a beer dinner at this restaurant, so I started learning lots and lots about beer and food. It was a really fun environment.
What was the name of the restaurant?
It was Julian’s, in Providence, Rhode Island. It still exists, and it has one of the best tap lists in the city. The owner I’m speaking of is a man named Brian Oakley, and he actually puts on a beer fest every year in Providence called Beervana, along with a guy named Mike Iannazzi, who owns Nikki’s Liquors, which is the best beer store in Rhode Island, hands down. That beer fest has been really central to the growth of craft beer in Providence, beyond all the breweries popping up.
I knew as Daughters ended that I already had something else that I kind of enjoyed—and it wasn’t just food service, but beer service. I liked talking about beer, I liked helping people pair beer with food, and learning about that. My brother and I took a beverage class at Johnson & Wales, which is the culinary school in town. We did a homebrew for it, and as soon as the smell of the malt hit the kitchen, it was all over for me; it was like all these nostalgic, comforting smells from childhood were swirling around me. It smelled like hot Grape Nuts, which my mom would make for me as a treat when I was a kid!
Do you see any parallels between what you do in the band and what you do at Revival?
For sure! I was kind of joking around to myself today, like, ‘Yeah, a bassline is like a malty backbone!’ That sounds so silly and cheesy, but it’s a linking flavor in a swirling sea, where you do need things that connect it. We’re a full-flavor brewery, you know? We’re trying to put as much into the glass as possible, at any given point, as the style demands. And I think Daughters, up until a few parts of this new record, has been a maximalist band—how much music can we stuff into this two-minute song? And right now, it’s less busy musically, but sonically I think it’s way more full. So even though the approach is different, I think the result is still the same: Never to be a one-note thing; always to have a play, and some level of reaction within itself.
Are you able to fly your “freak flag” as wildly at the brewery as you are in the band?
Absolutely! I often go, ‘Man, brewing’s the only punk industry left!’ That’s obviously a joke, but I enjoy that get to go to work entirely as myself, and I work with people who are cool, and wickedly creative, who love great music, who love beer, and who obviously want to give customers a good experience. It’s a sales job, at heart; you’re trying to sell something to someone, and tell them that it’s the best they’ll ever have, or that it’s right for right now. So when I tweet something or Instagram something—I don’t do it much, I’m not hugely on social media—I recognize that part of that is a sales tactic. But I’m proud of it; I’m proud of the thing we’re making.
What’s the weirdest brewing experiment that you’ve been involved with?
Ingredient-wise, we have a beer called Bushido we’ve worked on for a bunch of years that Sean has really dialed in. It’s sort of our anti-pumpkin pumpkin beer. But it doesn’t taste like pumpkin, because no pumpkin beers taste like pumpkin; they taste like pumpkin spice. The first year, we did a sake-and-lager-yeast hybrid fermentation, and then we all went to the Asian market and raided the produce shelves. Sean’s a big food guy, too—he was originally a chef—and he was playing off this Thai pumpkin soup that he had had, and which blew his mind. He was thinking, ‘How can we get there in beer?’ It was ginger-y as hell, and spicy and beautifully weird; it had a funk to it, but it wasn’t Brett, it was just something different. And this is not to slight our other efforts, but that first year’s fermentation was just the most wild thing I ever tried. As far as the company, that was probably the weirdest thing we’ve done that people have actually enjoyed.
As for my own beers…at this year’s Beervana, I did a lavender and coconut milk kettle sour called the Lavender Lassi. But what I didn’t remember going into it was that beer doesn’t have fat, and coconut milk has a ton of fat in it—and when you carbonate and add gas to that, it foams up like crazy and leaves this milky residue everywhere. So the pour of that beer was totally wild and milkshake-y, but the lavender popped off in a way that was just perfect. As a brewer, it was one of my favorite things that I’ve done where I went in having no idea what would happen—I didn’t want to stop drinking it, because it tasted exactly like I imagined it would taste. It’s rare to get that on the first shot. But that’s why you do it with five gallons, and not 1,500.
Last question: If you could have a beer with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
Oh, man! I don’t even know. I’ll just say, because I’m such a nerd at heart, it would be awesome to sit down with J.R.R. Tolkein. I’ve read and re-read so many works of his, and not just Lord of the Rings; I’ve always kept a Tolkein book in my backpack on every tour, some small edition that I can pick up and get a few pages in when I feel like it. He’s been a companion, in a way; those stories are always there for me. That’s about as nerdy and dorky as it gets, but I don’t care. That’s my guy, and it would great to be able to have a beer with him and see what he has to say.
I think Tolkein was definitely a guy who enjoyed a pint or two.
Oh, absolutely. I remember when we first toured Europe, we played with a band that was called Shards of Narsil, which is of course a Lord of the Rings reference. And I ended up geeking out with the singer, who was similarly-minded to me—a metal nerd, but he loved Tolkien. He was like, “I’ve been to Oxford, I’ve been to where he drank!” And I was like, “That’s so coo!”