Though he’s played drums for over two decades, Matt Walker is perhaps best known as “That guy who replaced Jimmy Chamberlin in Smashing Pumpkins.” Walker was touring with Filter in support of that band’s debut, Short Bus, when they opened a few dates for Smashing Pumpkins in Europe. It just happened that a couple of months later The Pumpkins needed a new drummer to replace the booted Chamberlin. The day after the Filter tour ended, Walker auditioned for—and got—the Pumpkins gig.
Chamberlin eventually re-joined the band, but the experience left Walker with techniques he continues to incorporate into his playing style. “Touring with Filter,” he recalls, “the entire set was played to a click track. I had to be locked but still make the music feel like it was moving forward. I couldn’t be too much on top of it. But with The Pumpkins, Billy [Corgan] always wanted the music to be propelling forward tempo-wise, literally speeding up and launching choruses and bridges.
“Rushing like that was really difficult at first,” Walker admits, “because I’d spent my entire life practicing to be steady and consistent. Suddenly, I had to make this emotive, natural transition.” As a result, Matt says he’s learned to approach his playing more emotionally and less technically. “Even if I am playing to a click, I find a way to propel the arrangement from section to section.”
Walker is currently on the road promoting the self-titled debut by his new group, a modern-pop quartet called Cupcakes. The band’s buoyant new wave meets industrial pop finds Walker incorporating a variety of different drum feels on the record—bossa nova, industrial, new wave? but he claims he wasn’t consciously trying to vary his style. “The essence of Cupcakes is pretty haphazard, in that all of those things happened really unintentionally,” he explains. “It’s such an accidental band. Everybody plays the way they play, and that’s how it comes out.”
One thing that’s no accident is the music’s old-school, electro-pop sound. “We’re all fans of the new wave artists of the ’80s, like The Cars. Those singles are so identifiable, even from the drum parts. That part is as essential to the song as the guitar riff or the melody. You know what song it is the second it comes on the radio.” Ensuring that each Cupcakes song has its individual identity, says Walker, “is probably the one thing that we are very conscious of.”