Interview: Memphis Americana Duo Oakwalker Discusses New Video Single ‘Future Lover,’

Memphis-based Americana duo Oakwalker is making a name for themselves with their new single and video for “Future Lover”, fittingly released on Valentine’s Day.

Formed in early 2020, members Victoria Dowdy and Ethan Baker joined musical forces in another notable Tennessee music city, Memphis.

Though the band rotates members for live performances and studio work, Oakwalker is a duo. Dowdy is the lead vocalist and guitarist, while Baker is on violin, combining to create a sound that has won the group many accolades. 

They played virtually at the Music Export Memphis showcase at the Folk Alliance International Folk Unlocked Festival last year and on top of that, Dowdy was one of only five musicians mentioned in the We Are Memphis Music feature “Bridging the Gap: 5 Contemporary Women Artists For Fans of Memphis Music Legends”, earning her comparisons to Roxanne Cash and Amy Lavere. 

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The duo discussed the “Future Lover,” their music video, recording at Sun Studios and more with us in our latest interview.

So how did the two of you meet and decide to pursue a career in music as Oakwalker?

We originally knew each other through mutual friends. Victoria wanted to to be in a band, so she joined a Facebook group called The Memphis Music Clique. They ran a contest, more like a lottery, that offered a chance to record a song at the famous Royal Studios in Memphis. Victoria won! She didn’t have any original music, but decided she would need to write some, thinking that recording a cover song at Royal would be a waste.

After she wrote the song, “Central 47,” she realized it was missing something. She recalled seeing Ethan in a local band called Raytracer, and knew he was a great violinist, so she approached him to play on her song. They had a great experience, and Ethan mentioned that he was writing music and wanting to get back into a band as well. Since they had a good chemistry and liked each other’s music, they just went with it! Neither of them knew exactly how to break into the local scene, so figuring it out together was half the fun. This was unfortunately right before the pandemic, but they stuck it out and have made a lot of headway.

Where did the name Oakwalker come from?

Ethan spent the second half of childhood living in a wooded area, spending a lot of time in the woods. Not even hiking, but just being around nature and taking long walks. Being around all the trees and being in that frame of mind leaves an impression. Ethan thought a woodsy name like Oakwalker that reminded him of his childhood would fit. Victoria liked the name as well so they kept it. The name often also reminds people of the walking trees from Lord of the Rings, the Ents. This is a fun idea they’ve played around with as a logo or album art idea.

What was the inspiration behind your newest single “Future Lover”?

Victoria wrote the song in a stream of consciousness style about the financial and existential anxiety that often ruins the societal plans and standards that are expected of millennials. This is in contrast to the dreamy, 1950s and 1960s style rock ballad or love song sound the words are placed over. The song actually started as a vintage love song, but because it was stream of consciousness it quickly devolved into the anxious and pessimistic outlook on life and life that it more prevalent in the public discourse, whether that’s conversation, TV, or memes.

Can you talk about the vision behind the music video for “Future Lover” and how it pertains to the song?

We knew we wanted a love story to be in the video, or something akin to it, but Ethan came up with the idea of having it center around a bartender at The Lamplighter Lounge. This hits on the themes of working-class people’s anxiety about making a living being higher on their list of concerns that finding a partner, or at least on par with it. The patrons at the bar are love interests, most of them unable to get the main character’s attention, although she does end up with the “Future Lover” at the end.

The Lamplighter Lounge was a great spot for shooting, not only because of the concept but because it is a place we have spent a lot of time, either as patrons or performers. We are thankful to the owner, Chuck, for allowing us to use the space and to all of our friends and family who came to be extras in the video. Yubu Kazungu (the director who is also a local musician) was instrumental in making the video happen as well, working with the our ideas and bringing them to life. Yubu has experience in making music videos for other artists as well as himself. He made the video on a short deadline and did a fantastic job.

Can fans expect to see this on an upcoming EP or LP?

Yes, we have an EP with 4 songs, including “Future Lover”, that we cut at Sun Studio last year. We are putting out another single as well as the EP later in the Spring.

How does the songwriting process typically work between the two of you?

Typically it doesn’t. By that, we mean we write our own songs separately for the most part, which we hope to change slightly. But we have written 2 songs together, “Ode to Dolly (Oak Cross)” and “Lovelier.” As far as our own processes go, we usually write words then music. Victoria usually writes words, then sings them and just sort of let’s the melody happen naturally. Then she adds chords that fit that melody. Ethan also writes words first, but adds lead violin parts as well.

What was it like to record at the famed Sun Studio in Memphis, and how did that come to be?

It was fantastic! Victoria is a huge Elvis fan , as well as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, etc. so that was a blast for her. It happened because we worked with an engineer named Matt Qualls at Young Ave Sound in Memphis. Through him we met Crockett Hall, the engineer at Sun. He was great to work with and really added a great production value to our music. He suggested great session players like Graham Winchester who did drums and keys, and made the experience overall fun and productive. Matt mastered the songs and also added invaluable additions to the song through the mastering process.

What does a dream gig look like for Oakwalker?

A dream gig could be many different scenarios. We would love to play with modern folk and Americana acts she admires like The Avett Brothers or Julien Baker. In addition to the major places in Memphis that big acts that tour play at, like The Orpheum, the Fed Ex Forum, or even more local staples like The Playhouse on the square would be sentimental and meaningful for us.

What else might folks expect from the band as we trudge through 2022?

We hope to play as many gigs as we can. We are currently planning a tour of eastern Tennessee with a stop in Asheville. We also hope to get an album started if not finished by the end of this year.

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