Jeremiah Walter is a musical machine.
Scroll through the local musician’s Instagram feed or YouTube channel and you’ll find a long list of recorded short performances, typically 3 minutes on the long end. His thumbnails sport an earthen tint that matches Walter’s blond, shoulder-length hair. He’s singing with his eyes closed, playing one or two of his many unique instruments while many more hang in the background. You’ll also notice that many of these performances are from this year, because Walter is on a quest to write and record an original song every single day for 365 days.
Walter tells his life story with the rhythm of a machine gun, blasting out detail after detail, punctuated with self-deprecating nods, forming an epic musical journey that has prepared him, at 46 years old, for this self-imposed challenge. He’s never had a Top 40 hit, never gotten the big break that would allow him to make a living as a musician. Instead, his story is the hundreds of lessons he’s learned along the way.
In middle school band, Walter played trombone and wrote “silly little songs” with his younger brother about cleaning up his room or the space shuttle. Out of high school, he was drawn toward singing and writing lyrics and poetry, forming a metal band — Intake — with a friend. He fell in love with the blues and bluesy rock, but failed to find many like-minded musicians as he hopped between cover bands. He landed a day job in the Pikes Peak Library District where a co-worker lent him a baritone ukulele, which he took to immediately. He formed The Rogue Spirits with another co-worker, concertina player Travis Duncan, with whom he got into scoring for and performing in local theatrical productions. Through Oct. 9, you can find him singing, dancing, acting and playing onstage at the Ent Center in Theatreworks’ Lumberjacks in Love.
Before the pandemic, Walter gave up alcohol, which not only made him more productive, but it freed up funds to plunder eBay for instruments from around the world. When Walter’s visual artist wife Darla Slee was showing her Uprooting a Mountain: Norse Mythology Reimagined at the Kreuser Gallery, he composed a companion album for it: Eighteen Magic Spells. The twist? He didn’t use any instruments native to Scandinavia. Today, he’s collected 80 international instruments and has been slowly writing an album to celebrate their places of origin. Oh, and he spent the pandemic recording an album’s worth of old folk music cheekily titled Aulde-Time Music and released that on New Year’s Eve 2021.
And then New Year’s Day came. That morning, Walter sat in front of his phone, opened Instagram and recorded a short song. “It was just called ‘New Year’s Day Song’ or something,” he says. In it, he sings in his memorable vibrato about the fallen snow outside his window and the changing season while plucking away at his banjo.
At that point, his feed was already full of musical performances and slices of his life. But later that day, he was inspired by something making the rounds on social media. “Woody Guthrie, who is one of my musical heroes, had written something in a notebook called his ‘New Year’s Rulin’s,’ or resolutions,” Walter says. “No. 8 was ‘write a song a day,’ and I had already written one for the day. It’s Jan. 1, I’m on pace.”
The next day, he announced the 365-day, 365-song challenge to his hundreds of followers in hopes they’d hold him accountable. Walter enjoys social media’s instantaneous feedback and is genuinely surprised when people respond positively to songs that maybe he wasn’t as positive about. “On the flip side, maybe there are some I’m a little too proud of and people don’t really respond to it,” he says.
Each day, Walter will grab a random instrument from his growing collection and begin plucking away at a melody. His short preparation time prevents him from writing much lyrically — a song he composed while sick with COVID was just 12 seconds long. The hardest part of the process is figuring what to write about. When inspiration isn’t readily available, he’ll peruse Wikipedia’s front page or refresh a random word generator until something interesting pops up. Sometimes he’s adapting a poem translated from another language.
Walter is happy to exercise his composition brain and write songs he normally wouldn’t. If some of them end up sounding similar, he could theoretically tie them together in the future to produce a 10-minute prog rock anthem or a collaboration with other artists. “If I write 365 songs and one out of 30 of them is good, then I’ve got an album right there and I’ve probably become a better songwriter in the process, so that would be a win,” he says.
But he doesn’t have time to ruminate and sift favorites and duds from the hundreds of songs he’s written so far. That’s his task for next year.