Colter Wall is the oldest 22-year-old in folk music.
Championed by roots-music icons like Steve Earle, he’s built his career on a foundation of sad-eyed songwriting and low, rumbling vocals, bringing a new face (and a blast of younger energy) to a sound typically made by Baby Boomers. Add his Saskatchewan upbringing to the mix, and you’ve got a mix of Americana anomaly – a Canadian Millennial making music inspired by old-school troubadours from the Lower 48 – and timeless twang. The combination has already won over fans like Dave Cobb, who produced Wall’s self-titled debut earlier this year.
This week, Wall is Chris Shiflett’s guest on Walking the Floor. Speaking with the same maturity that informs his music, he talks about his childhood in small-town Canada, his time on the road and his favorite murder ballads. We’ve rounded up the highlights below, while also premiering the episode in full.
Being among Steve Earle’s favorite songwriters is both encouraging and daunting.
Wall remembers standing backstage at City Winery in Chicago, listening to the evening’s headliner, Steve Earle, introduce the young Canadian. “Steve’s a talker,” he says. “He did a very long, very generous introduction, and he said that [I’m] the best young songwriter in however many years, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget standing behind the curtains and hearing that. I didn’t know how to react to something like that. It was a mixture of pressure and pride that I felt. And I don’t really remember anything else about that show.”
Although he headlined his first tour earlier this summer, Wall built his career as an opening act.
“I’ve been an opening act for pretty much as long as I’ve been out here doing this, so to be able to go out and be a headliner is an adjustment for me,” he says. Before the release of his self-titled debut, Wall opened shows for Margo Price, Whitey Morgan, Paul Cauthen and Lucinda Williams.
Raised in the rural Canadian prairie lands, Wall experienced his own sort of country-music culture.
“I grew up around rodeo culture and a lot of farms,” he explains. “People always ask, ‘You’re from Canada. How come you’re playing country songs?’ I think a lot of people don’t realize I come from a pretty rural area in a place where people are real westernized, and they love country music, because that’s the kind of lives they lead.”
He’s the son of high-ranking Canadian politician Brad Wall.
“Growing up was sort of strange because of that,” he explains tactfully, adding that as he’s grown older, he’s begun to separate his own beliefs from his father’s conservative-leaning politics.
Speaking of Canadian politics, the provincial governments often dole out grants to support younger artists.
“You can apply for recording grants or touring grants,” says Wall, although he’s always steered clear of the opportunity due to his father’s own political involvement. “Where I’m from, in Saskatchewan, they have a really great process. . .[and] it’s a big help for up-and-coming musicians.”
He’s got great taste in murder ballads.
Asked by Shiflett to list his favorite murder ballads, Wall rattles off titles like “Down in the Willow Garden,” “The Knoxville Girl” (“that’s fucking brutal,” he adds) and “Banks of the Ohio.”