In the spring of 1987, a friend at school loaned me a cassette tape by a band that would eventually become my favorite. Guadalcanal Diary was formed by high school friends Murray Attaway and Jeff Walls in 1981...somewhere near Athens, Georgia. The band's second release Jamboree (1986, Elektra) is one of my favorite records of all time. After seeing a poster for a Murray Attaway solo show in Atlanta recently (sadly, I missed the show), I tracked him down and he graciously agreed to answer my fan boy questions about Jamboree.
I always felt proud carrying a Guadalcanal Diary record to a record store register. They looked cool. The first two (Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man and Jamboree) featured Polynesian-styled illustrations.
Murray Attaway. We always felt that Guadal's sound had a heavy dose of "jungle" beat, which played an interesting contrast to the country/British Invasion side. We tried to reflect that in the album art. Plus, we thought they looked cool, too.
Did Guadalcanal Diary go into the studio to record Jamboree as a country band? A rock band? An alt-rock band?
MA. We went into the studio as a small rock group from Marietta, Georgia with a bunch of songs that we hoped in five days we could string into an album that was as good as Black Sea by XTC. Guadal was around long enough to be called new wave, cowpunk, janglepop, roots rock, new traditionalists, and others I have forgotten. We quit just before we were alternative, but I got that one as a solo. We always thought, as did most of our peers, that those monikers were hilarious.
What do you remember about Jamboree's Georgia recording sessions (Studio One) in February of 1986 and the New York City sessions (RPM) in May? Why did you take two months off in between?
MA. Ah, the politics of being on a major label in the 80's! This was our first actual recording for the label (Big Man was recorded for DB Recs and re-released by Elektra). Elektra wanted us to use a different producer, and we settled on Rodney Mills. After spending several months working on the project, the label was not entirely sure there were any singles, so they had us do more sessions with Steve Nye. Most of the Lp is from the first sessions, however.
Do you ever listen to Jamboree? What do you hear, thirty years later?
MA. I don’t usually listen to any of my recorded material after the fact. When I do hear Jamboree, I'm always surprised how cohesive it sounds.
“Pray For Rain” Jeff (Walls, lead guitarist and songwriter) and I always felt that, if the record had a theme, it was isolation. The lyrics on "Pray" are mine, and I was thinking of hope and hopelessness.
"Jamboree” I remember that we consciously wanted to force the word jamboree to have a deeper and darker meaning than usual. I see that song as both joyful and dark.
“Lonely Street” That was written entirely by Jeff, and is one of my favorite songs on the record. It was the obvious lead-off single.
“I See Moe” That was, simply, inspired by my continuously waking in the morning with my hair in my eyes and thinking that I resembled Moe of the Three Stooges, which led me to realize that, if I was a Stooge, I'd be Moe. Self-realization, if you will.
“Cattle Prod” It's always fun to reflect on the "me" that wrote stuff like "Cattle Prod" as I'm playing it today. I probably wouldn't write that one today, but I'm glad past Murray did.
I found Guadalcanal Diary the same moment my first year, 9th grade English teacher introduced me to Flannery O’Connor. Am I reaching to see a kindred spirit, a kind of Southern gothic fascination with “mystery and manners” that Guadalcanal Diary lyrics share with O’Connor’s prose?
MA. Not reaching at all. All of us were Flannery fans, especially Rhett (Crowe, bass player) and I.
When you were writing Jamboree, what were you reading?
There is—referencing a popular O’Connor motif— a “Christ hauntedness” to Guadalcanal Diary (and your solo record, “In Thrall” 1993).
MA. I am not a Christian per se, but I am very much a deist, and I don't reject any religious beliefs. The "Christ hauntedness" describes some of my stuff perfectly. Having grown up in the South, I've always been surrounded by Christianity, so naturally it comes out in the lyrics. Fans almost always assume I am a committed Christian. For instance, I've never once been approached by a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist or anyone of any other faith to compliment me on the bravery of singing my convictions of that faith. I have been approached countless time by Christians applauding me on this. However, I can only say that if anyone can get something they deem spiritually meaningful from the music I've done, then I can ask for no more and am grateful.
Did Guadalcanal Diary feel like a success to you and the others in the band during the band’s run in the 80s? What are you most proud of? Any regrets?
MA. We felt we had exceeded our own expectations when we got to headline the 688 Club in Atlanta on a Friday night! When we signed to Elektra, it seemed surreal. My regret is that we didn't take a year off and come back with a fifth studio album. But we did get back together in the mid-nineties and make a live album, which I think sounds pretty good. I'm at a loss to single out any one event that I'm most proud of, maybe the PETA benefit on the lawn of the Washington monument. I suppose that, in general, I am most proud of the moments when someone came up to me to tell me that something we'd done touched them in a profound way. Sort of like you have done!
Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man (1985) and Jamboree (1986) as a double-album CD offering here. And this: a video tour of Studio One (led by Murray's cousin Ricky Brand) during the recording of Jamboree in 1986!