Hanging out with Rhett Walker, front man and namesake of Rhett Walker Band, feels like a warm embrace from an old friend. He’s immediately affable and loose, a mischievous grin stretched across his face, setting the tone for a conversation that’s sure to be anything but mundane. A natural storyteller, Walker holds the room’s attention with stories that transition easily from his four kids, to turning 30, to hitting up a favorite gas station for his snack of choice – a Sun Drop and a Kit Kat. Walker’s likeable, homegrown persona colors his speech, mannerisms and worldview along with a rippling undercurrent of all-encompassing love for his family and his Savior.
Rhett Walker Band EP, the newest offering from his band, paints the same picture but with a broader stroke. Often incorporated into Walker’s funny anecdotes and earnest stories about his beloved Pawpaw is his personal mantra – peace and love. The phrase could easily register as trite, but for Walker it goes bone-deep. “Peace and love are always free,” he shares. “It doesn’t cost you anything to give that. I’m always thinking about what I can offer the world and really, it starts with loving your neighbor.” It’s through this straightforward, uncomplicated lens he’s written songs centered around loving each other and finding peace through the love of Jesus.
“Say Hello,” the EP’s lead track is a rollicking, tent-revival shout of liberty and, in a sense, autobiographical. Rhett Walker grew up under a specific kind of microscope – a small town preacher’s son with a penchant for stirring up trouble, he was constantly the receiver of disapproving looks and hushed resentment. Mercifully, his parents had the emotional bandwidth to extend him grace early on. “I sowed some wild oats that were hard on my mom and dad. There was that thing of, you know, you can’t run the church if you can’t run your son. But my parents always showed grace,” Walker says, “and I never felt alone.” He learned the extent of that grace when, as a teenager, his girlfriend became pregnant. “I had to grow up – fast. I became a Christian at a young age, but when April got pregnant, that was a moment when I said to myself, I can’t run from this. I can’t ride the coattails of my dad’s faith to heaven. I need to believe because I believe.”
It’s from this foundation of grace Rhett Walker cemented his unshakable, out-loud freedom to be 100% himself. His songs resonate like a clap on the shoulder and a nod of the head. They’re honest and grounded. Many artists spend a lot of time working to be so accessible, to write songs that speak to fans exactly where they live, but Walker comes by it naturally. His no-nonsense delivery and jeans-and-t-shirt lyrics make him the go-to guy for songs about real life. If Springsteen is the working-class hero of rock ‘n roll, Rhett Walker is the everyman equivalent for CCM. (Although Walker’s bandana is tied around his head, not shoved into his back pocket.)
“Peace In The Family,” a hand-clapped family anthem, is an EP standout featuring Walker’s howling, gritty vocals urging us as a collective human family to set aside our differences and come together as one. “It’s not a political statement as much as it’s about the world today, and it’s up to us to change it. As the father of a teenager, there’s no hope for our kids outside of Jesus. Seeing the hate that’s spreading around the world, I’d rather be a beacon.”
The importance of family shows up all throughout Walker’s music. The goal behind his songs is learning to love for the sake of love, not wanting anything in return. “What will my kids say about me when I’m gone? That I was loved? I hope it’s that I loved. Loving people in a pure way breaks down the mask, even the happy masks people wear, to get to what matters.”
Walker had a chance to show this kind of love to his grandfather, Pawpaw, before he died. When writing the moving track “Like Your Father Does,” Walker’s dad called and said Pawpaw had gone into the hospital and it wasn’t looking good. Walker sent his dad the demo for the song and he was able to play it for Pawpaw before he died. “For me, it changed the meaning of the song,” Walker says. “It became about me as a dad, seeing my dad as a son, then seeing his dad as a son, then to the heavenly Father, the creator of love. It’s the same story that’s been passed down through generations in our family – who Jesus is.” In a full circle moment, Walker had the chance to play “Like Your Father Does” at The Opry, the same show his Pawpaw always listened to in North Carolina.
It’s the sum of these kinds of lasting moments that come together to create Rhett Walker Band EP (and Rhett Walker himself), equal parts fun rock tunes to crank up in your car and poignant, heartfelt songs to center you back to the ultimate source of peace and love.