“To Him That Wills the Way,” the new album from local rockers Walking Bicycles, kicks off with “Impending Doom,” an appropriately ominous track that sets the stage for a heavy record inspired by guitarist Julius Moriarty’s arrest and three-year incarceration on drug charges.
Throughout, Moriarty and wife/singer Jocelyn Summers struggle with a range of emotions: grief, anger, fear, anticipation and, eventually, acceptance. These mood swings are matched by the music, which moves from heavy dirges as black as bubbling tar pits to comparatively celebratory cuts like “Badada,” which is essentially a relieved sigh set to serrated, buzzing guitars.
“When the album was done it was … like a weight was lifted,” said Moriarty, 41, of Logan Square. “It was about my incarceration and getting through it and moving on, basically willing myself to get through a horrible situation and come out a better person. In a weird way, the prison sentence wasn’t over until the album was written. We can move on now.”
What were you arrested for?
Possession of a copious amount of marijuana. I was arrested in 2008, and I served my sentence December 27, 2008, through December 27, 2011. I’m not a trouble-maker. I was a good student, and I have an engineering degree. But I was a wild child. After I graduated high school, I decided to follow the Grateful Dead from like ’91 to ’95, but after the great Jerry Garcia died, I ended up going up to Northern California and getting my engineering degree. I like to have a good time, but I’d never been to prison before. They had me at the handcuffs. I got it immediately, and I knew it was something I was going to have to lawyer up for.
How did you mentally prepare yourself for prison?
That was tough. I really don’t even know the answer to that, man. It was a dark abyss. I had the support of my loved ones. Everyone around me had the attitude of, “It’s marijuana. We don’t think it’s the biggest deal.” I knew three years wasn’t a lifetime, but I had no idea what was going to happen. There’s no way to prepare for it. You just make sure your bills are paid and let your loved ones know you love them and you roll.
What was the first day in prison like?
It takes a while for the wheels to get turning. You go to county and [then] receiving and then you go to prison. It’s a slow build into a routine. I was determined to make it my own reality and not be forced into one. I went in with that philosophy and stuck to it for three years. I probably read about 300 to 500 of the classics — Dostoyevsky, Dickens — you name it, and I ate through it. I would wake up every morning and run 5 miles. I didn’t make any friends or talk to anyone. I stayed in my own little world and made it my space and didn’t allow anyone into it.
On “Words,” Jocelyn sings about trading letters with you while you were away.
For three years, we mainly communicated through old-fashioned snail mail. We saved them all … and we bound them. They exist as a time capsule of this three-year period of us sticking it out. [While we were working on the album] I would see her reading them and crying because she was putting herself back in that place, which wasn’t always easy when you’re making a life together. I knew it was tough on her, and I could physically see it.
When I searched for the term “badada” online the first thing that came up was the urbandictionary.com definition of a “noise expelled when the festivities have commenced.”
Yeah, it’s about the release. We did it. It’s that triumphant feeling like, “This is almost done.” The song ends abruptly because the story isn’t over. We’re still moving on. This is the first step on a long road back.
How’d you spend your first day out?
I couldn’t leave the house. You can’t leave the house until your parole officer shows up. So I talked face-to-face with my wife for like 12 hours. I took a bath because you don’t get baths in prison. I cooked my own food. The first night I was able to leave … it was New Year’s Eve and Jocelyn had gotten us tickets to see Disappears at the Empty Bottle. There must have been 50 people in the crowd I hadn’t seen in three years, so it felt like everyone I knew had gotten together to celebrate my release. It was epic.
Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic @andydowning33
Walking Bicycles, 8:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11 at Empty Bottle. Free.