Walking Phoenix is an up-and-coming band that rose to prominence in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Their new album, American Dreams, represents a culmination of the band’s origins and time spent together crafting an original sound. I sat down with the band’s four members to discuss their origins, memorable performances, creative process and upcoming plans.
The idea for Walking Phoenix first began as a desire between Jaeden Alverson and Evan Wood, friends since high school, to collaborate musically. They wanted to incorporate their “dream drummer,” Dan Schuster, who was enthusiastic about the idea. On the lookout for a fourth member to play bass, they reached out to Tor Kjartansson. As the band put it, he was the final piece to the puzzle of bringing the concept to life.
It took nearly two years of work and dedication put towards their first album, American Dreams, to bring it to life in the quality they wanted to deliver. Despite the grueling two years of effort as a band, select songs (‘Listen’ and ‘Gasoline,’ among others) were written as far back as 2016 and 2017, according to Jaeden.
Check out the band’s debut album, out now on all major streaming platforms!
Nowadays, the group is getting together roughly once a week to continue creating new music and pursuing their passion. For the band, their time together and creative process has been an evolution, both in terms of welcoming new ideas and concepts.
“For the first album, American Dreams, most of those songs were ideas that I had before. Then, everybody put their two cents in and we moved forward from there. We’re all bringing ideas in now and it makes it so much more dynamic. Everybody’s incorporating their own ideas and adding their own parts to them,” Jaeden said.
“Honestly, the new music that we’re working on now is twice as complicated and in-depth as the first album, and I think that shows progress. We’re focused on making things super consistent from a composition standpoint and syncing up with each other. We’ve been focusing a lot more on working cohesively and growing as a band. It’s one of the hardest parts, but also one of the most interesting parts. We’re really digging in and seeing how we can make this surgically perfect.”
Meet The Band
Evan Wood is a guitarist hailing from Oxford, England and was raised in Houston, Texas, where he developed his love for blues and jazz. He moved to Fargo, North Dakota 10 years ago, where he started playing guitar at age 11.
Evan studied music at North Dakota State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in music. Other than playing music and performing professionally, he still finds time to teach others and spend quality time with his wife, Erin Ehlis-Wood.
Evan can be seen playing his one-of-a-kind custom Gruber Guitar, “Lucy,” a telecaster built with an alder body and raised center (reminiscent of the traditional firebird), honing two mini-humbucker pickups and a single coil in the bridge. When he isn’t playing “Lucy,” he plays his modified Epiphone Les Paul Custom, “Mary.”
Jaeden Alverson is a vocalist and rhythm guitar player from Fargo, ND. He started writing music in his early childhood and began his solo music career in early high school, playing small shows at coffee shops and eventually playing at large venues such as the Fargo Theatre and The Hub (now Avalon Events Center).
He took vocal lessons from his mother starting at a young age and picked up the guitar as a way to begin the writing/composing process. He now plays a modified Fender Telecaster and an Ibanez JTK-1 Jet King guitar.
When he’s not writing or performing for Walking Phoenix, Jaeden is an avid soccer fan and loves to spend time with his family and dogs. He is married to his lovely wife Camille Alverson, a local artist from the Fargo-Moorhead area, and is a proud father to Roman Bjørn Kol.
Tor Kjartansson is a multi-instrumental musician from Moorhead, Minnesota, having learned thirteen instruments so far with an emphasis on bass, violin, mandolin and tuba. He is currently studying at Concordia College in Moorhead for bass performance. At 20 years old, Tor’s life revolves around music in all aspects: performing, composing, teaching and learning. Being a self-taught bass player for over nine years, Tor has started taking lessons at Concordia with Doug Neill to continue improving his craft.
Tor was inspired to take up bass guitar by his uncle Bruce, who played with the Fargo-based band, Mike and the Monsters. His primary bass is a 1978 Music Man Stingray, which was bought by his father, Brian, and used by his uncle Bruce for some time. The lineage of that particular bass is what makes it one of his favorite instruments to play.
Dan Schuster is Walking Phoenix’s drummer. He has over 15 years of experience in both live performances as well as studio recording settings. His versatility has allowed him to play in groups whose genres range from pop and indie rock to jazz and worship music. While his main job with Walking Phoenix is to lay down the beat, he also plays a key role in arranging and writing instrumental parts for their songs.
When not rehearsing or performing with Walking Phoenix, Dan spends his time working with a wealth management firm in Fargo, offering guidance to individuals and families. He is married to the love of his life, Fate, and the two of them live in Fargo. You can often find them outdoors at a park riding their bikes.
Walking Phoenix’s ‘American Dreams’
While the group is constantly working to grow musically, the members are comfortable with their current position. As an independent act, they’re not clamoring to get signed by a record label anytime soon.
“It’s one of those things where we probably won’t unless it’s the perfect opportunity. Our goal, first and foremost, is to make the music and do things our way. If we can find success in doing that, then get discovered along the way and it ends up being a great deal, we’re not gonna turn that down immediately, but we’d obviously discuss it first,” the band agreed.
A Core Memory
When recording the final song for American Dreams, ‘Where Lovers Go To Die’, the group realized that every track was complete and all of the instrumentals were laid. They were all very, very excited!
With their debut album available now on all major platforms, the group is expanding their collaborative efforts in upcoming musical endeavors.
“My brother, Chris, is a very talented musician who took a liking to production in college, but still plays a lot of instruments very well. When we did our first project, we mentioned the idea of doing some music together down the road. He has a house that he built himself with a little home studio space in his basement,” Dan said.
“Around the time we talked to him, he really started investing in the equipment, the room and everything needed to do production well. It was a perfect opportunity for us to be able to get a recording out of it, as well as for him to be able to get some skin in the game with recording. We’re currently working on some music with him in the studio, and there’s definitely more music to come from Walking Phoenix.”
A Q&A with Walking Phoenix
When did you each get into music?
EVAN: I always grew up with music in the house, as my dad loved music in the 60s when he was growing up. I originally wanted to play drums, but I picked up the guitar instead because I didn’t have rhythm. I picked that up when I was 11 years old and have been playing ever since.
TOR: My uncle was always playing music around me, and I picked up bass around seventh grade. I also do bass performances at Concordia College.
DAN: I always grew up listening to music in the house, since my dad was a big 80s/90s classic rock guy. I started playing trumpet when I was around 9 or 10. A few years later, I took a liking to the drums when I was around 14. Now, I play regularly with these guys, as well as at my church. I play mainly drums, but I also play a little bit of piano.
JAEDEN: I come from a fairly musical family. I was very vocal-oriented and started taking vocal lessons from my mom when I was four or five. I got my first guitar when I was five or six. I started to write songs when I was probably about six or seven and didn’t get into playing rhythm guitar and chords until I was in middle school. It wasn’t really until this band that I wanted to get better at guitar. Vocals are definitely my passion and the thing that I’ve focused on my entire life.
Tell me a bit about your first performance together
DAN: It was at the Red River market in the parking lot on a rainy day; September 12, 2020, to be exact. They put a tent over the small stage and we couldn’t lean out too far or else we’d get the equipment soaked.
JAEDEN: It was one of the few times that COVID helped us, as it allowed us to lock ourselves away for a while. We got the chance to do rough recordings, listen back and rehearse a bit before the performance, which is why it wasn’t a total disaster. It definitely wasn’t the perfect first show, but it was a lot better than it could have been. It also helps that there were plenty of people there despite the rain.
What song was the most challenging to write?
JAEDEN: I was told once by someone that my lyrics were good, but he thought that I could do better. I loved the criticism and took it as a challenge to write something deeper, leading to Where Lovers Go To Die.
DAN: Everyone in the band plays a very different role, in my eyes. Jaeden is very good at writing lyrics and melodies. Tor is really good at writing arrangements and delivering the sounds that we should be hearing throughout the piece. I try to sync up the rhythm with the drums. It’s interesting how every person plays a different role in the writing process. Where Lovers Go To Die was so well-written, both lyrically and melodically. When we recorded it, we knew that it had to be perfect. That song took us the most takes because we did seven or eight full takes to make sure every part was dialed in and that the drums were really supporting Jaeden’s voice and Evan’s electric guitar work.
Do you have any upcoming performances in the books?
JAEDEN: We’re at the VFW pretty regularly as one of our mainstay working gigs. We like a fun bar show every once in a while, along with the Red River Market, but we’re also focusing on playing more dedicated music venues as a billed act. We’re currently lining up a gig at Seventh Street Entry at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
DAN: It’s booking season right now, so there aren’t a lot of dates we can necessarily confirm. However, there are a lot of conversations going on between Walking Phoenix and bookers.
Any final words you’d like to leave with readers?
DAN: I’ve come to realize over the last three or so years that the Fargo-Moorhead area has always had an underground music scene. It’s not like people are trying to hide it. It’s just been small and you had to know the right people to be in that music scene. Unless you knew what was actually happening in the hardcore or jazz scenes, I don’t think people realize the type of music and variety that this area has to offer. In general, Fargo-Moorhead has a really awesome music scene. Even if there aren’t crowds of 5,000 people coming to go see a local act, there are some phenomenal local artists in town. If I could share a message with anyone, it would be to pay attention to the music that’s happening in this area because you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
EVAN: There’s so much great music first thought. Anywhere from Red River Market events to Dempsey’s nights to local coffee shops to Swing Barrel Brewing in Moorhead. All these different places have great music, and it means a lot to any artist for someone to come to the show. In a town like this, even if you show up for just a little bit to show support, it means a lot to every artist, not just us, for people to go out and support local music of all genres.
JAEDEN: That’s the cool thing about this scene too. We just played for a rap show, which was super fun. It was a different scene and experience for us. The cool thing about the Fargo music scene, though, is that it overlaps. You’ll see bands like us playing with heavier bands, rap, jazz or artists just doing their own thing. There’s so much intermixing and mingling and everybody’s trying to support each other as musicians.