Grand Master is the musical project of multi-instrumentalist Derek M. Walker who, in his own words, “knows nothing about music”. Originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, he moved to Los Angeles for some adventure and to pursue music and film production despite having no formal education in either one. He spent a few years as the lead guitar player for the Los Angeles based band Mere Mortals. After that, he exited the music scene for several years attempting to write and produce films and work on other creative content.
Eventually, his obsession with music drove him back into his home studio where he recorded demos for an album called I Am Living under the name Grand Master. He never had the intention to professionally record the songs, but after nearly a dozen demos materialized, he questioned what was the point if nothing was going to be done with them.
Walker began the real studio process by recording guitar, bass, and vocals with former Mere Mortals band mate Axel Steuerwald (currently with his new group United Ghosts) at his Bedrock, LA studio. Walker played all the instruments on the album except drums. He didn’t make any changes to the song arrangements or instrumental parts, just duplicated what was there with some killer vintage equipment.
He then took the files to producer/engineer Mark Rains (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Death Valley Girls, Shooter Jennings, Kris Kristofferson) at his Station House Studio in Los Angeles to record drums with Eddie Vedder’s former Bad Radio and current United Ghosts drummer Joey Ponchetti.
In the summer of 2020, the album was mixed by Mark Rains. Between the time Rains recorded the drums and mixed the album, he won a Grammy for his work on Tanya Tucker’s Country Album of the Year in February of 2020. Once mixed, the songs were sent to JJ Golden (Soundgarden, Morgan Delt, Ty Segall, The Warlocks, Sonic Youth) at Golden Mastering.
Fortunately, Walker was able to complete all the instrumentation recording before the Coronavirus hit, but the pandemic made things a bit challenging as he wasn’t able to be in the studio for any of the mixing and mastering process. Instead, he was stuck listening to the mixes on headphones, and then in his car, comparing the sounds and changes, sending notes, waiting a few days for changes to be made, then repeating the process over and over again.
The album was finished in July 2020 and Walker states that he enjoyed the freedom of a of non-typical songwriting process. He wasn’t concerned with song structure or arrangement. If he felt like singing a verse he did it, if he felt like adding a chorus he’d add one, if not he didn’t. The songs are simple but cool jams and Walker wanted to make something you could cruise down the highway and bob your head to. Whereas the songs may be deep with his own esoteric and philosophical subconscious ideas (open to interpretation, of course) he wasn’t trying to say anything, create a narrative, or distract the listener from the song with words forced to fit into traditional song structures. He only hopes people enjoy the sounds and rock out a bit.