Sonic Circumstances: Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys

October 31, 2017 | by Jon Simmons

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Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys | Photo by David Manch

Gone are the days where musicians had to record songs in a studio. Sonic Circumstances is an interview series that features musicians talking about unique places they’ve recorded and how the locations influenced their experience.

In this chapter, Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys plays a Live from Nowhere session in The Victory Theater, which opened in 1920 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. After declining ticket sales, it closed for good in 1978.

Edrie, who plays accordion and toys for Walter Sickert, gave us the details about recording “Animals Like Me,” which will be the first song off their upcoming album in 2018.

“We were able to explore the theatre, but had to do so very carefully so as not to fall through the cracks or disturb the ghosts.”

Why did you choose The Victory Theater?

We Broken Toys assembled the caravan and made the long trek out to Holyoke, Massachusetts to record in the abandoned Victory Theater. The location really chose us, as all good locations do.

We were approached by the Live From Nowhere team after they discovered the place. They told us they immediately wanted us for the space as it matched our aesthetic, and we were super excited to be able to team up with them on the video shoot and recording, as we are big fans of their other collaborations.

How did that location affect your recording process and/or playing?

We didn’t get to see the theater beforehand, but being no strangers to the decrepit underbelly of abandoned places, we imagined it would be a place stopped in time and full of the echoes of patrons past. We wrote “Animals Like Me” specifically for the space. We wanted a wide open, dusty sound full of booming echoes and silence. We only had a few short days to write and perfect the song before we recorded it as the theater was scheduled to start undergoing renovations after resting in silence for nearly 40 years.

Any stories from when you were recording?

As you can imagine, in a building that has sat empty and unloved for so many years, there are places one should not tread, or at least should tread lightly. We were able to explore the theater, but had to do so very carefully so as not to fall through the cracks or disturb the ghosts. There was evidence of the former glory of the theater at every turn. A gold filigree balcony here, cracked marble floor tile there, fancy brochures for movies which premiered decades ago littering the aisles.

We were particularly taken with the bits left behind from the old concession stand, drink cups and popcorn boxes with stunning designs; candy for pennies, ice cream for a nickel. It was a fascinating spelunk into the history of a middle-of-nowhere place in a time long past.

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Old popcorn bucket, photo by Emily Graham-Handley | Miking on stage, photo by David Manch

How would you describe the sound that you got from this spot, and what did that add to your music?

The ghost voices from forgotten movies and the whispers of patrons long past infused the song with a ghostly resonance. Everything from the tattered movie screen behind us to the moldering seats, dark detritus-filled corners, and musty balconies held and then reflected the sound. We were the first to bring a cacophony to the space in decades and the theater absorbed it with elation and reflected that sound back to us slightly twisted, slightly dusty, and more than a little haunted. The music and the atmosphere perfectly melded to become one heart-bursting entity.

Sonic Circumstances: Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys