Rock Eupora is Clayton Waller. Born in Mississippi and now residing in Nashville, Waller started the Rock Eupora project in 2014 and has since released three LPs and two EPs. Waller wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on those recordings, a blend of pop punk, garage, and power pop. On the road, Waller gets a little help from his friends as a crack four-piece band.
360°Sound got a chance to speak with Waller before his SXSW set last Tuesday at the Continental Club. At the end of the interview, Waller said, “Prepare yourself. You’re about to get your face melted off.” He wasn’t kidding.
An extremely energetic and animated frontman, Waller and his bandmates tore through a 40-minute set, immediately winning over the crowd with their crunchy riffs and catchy hooks. In this exclusive interview, Waller talks about Rock Eupora (Eupora is a small town in Mississippi), his songwriting, DIY approach, and new music.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
360°Sound: Please start by giving us an introduction to your band and your background.
Clayton Waller: Rock Eupora is a solo project with a full band live. I write the music with the intention of playing it with a rock band. I had a college band that I started my junior year of college at Mississippi State. I sort of fell in love with creating original music and playing shows, everything that goes with being a recording artist. I basically caught the music bug, and I was like, ‘This is it.’ This might be a hard, weird road, but I’m lucky to have found something I’m really passionate about and I feel like I’m really good at. But I also feel like I have a message to bring to people. What better way than to make art and get to meet people through that and share my story?
I named the band after Eupora because my college band would pretty much play in Starkville and Oxford exclusively, and Eupora is smack dab in the middle. When I started Rock Eupora, my college time was ending, and I knew I was going to move to Nashville. I wanted to take something from Mississippi with me. I didn’t think I wanted to include the word Mississippi in it.
One night my band was driving past Eupora and I thought that was a really interesting word because it’s not really a word. It looks like it’s a word because it looks like ‘euphoria,’ it also looks like ‘Europe’ and ‘Europa.’ I was like, ‘I feel like this is a cool word, it’s a piece of Mississippi, why not?’ Throw a ‘Rock’ in front of it to make it Google-able [laughs].
The Rock Eupora recordings are all you?
Yeah, so far everything out is all me playing it and all written by me. It’s a very DIY, bedroom project. The album coming out this year is the first one to have other people on it. Most of the instruments are me, but the instruments that I don’t know how to play are friends of mine. There’s a string section, trumpets and brass, pedal steel. There’s some stuff on this new record that I did not play on, so that’s new territory for me.
This upcoming album is definitely still in the rock universe; it still has all the characteristics of my music, but it feels different. This one is sort of my life story in a lot of ways. My music has always been personal. I’ve always been about heart-on-your-sleeves kind of vibes, but this one is more about sharing my story with people and really opening up. The music is at times way softer. With that, string arrangements make sense. A big part of the charm of Rock Eupora is the people that are around it.
What can people expect from your shows?
Seeing Rock Eupora live is, to me, the thing. Making a good record is really important to me, and I take that very seriously. But there’s nothing like going to a concert and just being blown away and changed from it. I’m very particular about the way things go and being tight. The guys I’m playing with right now have been with me about five years. I’m always sort of ‘go, go, go,’ so I’m always having to remind myself to chill out, put the brakes on, and just enjoy it and be present because my mind is always thinking about the next thing and wanting to be perfect. That’s a really good thing as an artist, but it can also be a dangerous thing. So, I try to walk that line and be really careful.
You’ve said that your Twirlin’ EP is an outlier in your catalog. How so?
I think all the things I’ve put out exist in this sort of rock universe. I feel like Twirlin’ lives on a different planet in the universe. It’s sort of an alter ego. I was pretty into hardcore music growing up. I just love a rowdy, loud show. I’ve moved away from the screamo stuff for the most part. Twirlin’ was sort of my outlet to be garage rock-y and crazy.
I was writing this stuff for this sync company in London, and they were trying to get me to write music to be used on commercials. I was like, ‘Cool, I’d love to make money off music, that’s something I’m not familiar with’ [laughs]. I was careful not to sign anything initially. I didn’t want to be locked in. I started working on stuff and it was exciting, but the guy [from the sync company] kept trying to push me more in a mainstream direction.
He found Rock Eupora so he knew kind of my vibe, and he wanted a high-energy punk-adjacent thing, but he was still trying to just reel me in. After learning that they would own the masters outright, I was just like, ‘This isn’t for me.’ We amicably withdrew. Those songs became Twirlin’. I basically took those songs and made them weirder [laughs]. It was kind of an experiment in, ‘How do I make the rowdiest, catchiest music possible?’ So, you have a bunch of earworm hooks, bubblegum melodies, and it’s crunchy and it’s loud and it’s punk. They’re some of the most fun songs live. Those songs are meant to rock ‘n roll.
Anything you’d like to add about Rock Eupora?
Definitely come to our shows. I think that’s a really good way to get introduced and experience Rock Eupora. Check out the tunes, too.