In between periods while teaching high school English in Biddeford, Chad Walls would daydream. Mostly about how he might plan his great escape from the life he was becoming increasingly bored with.
“I just needed a change,” said Walls, now 42, who played in the Portland-area power pop band Frotus Caper in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “I had abandoned music a little bit. I wanted to try something different.”
Ten-odd research proposals later, in August 2007, Walls was on a plane to England, where he was due to begin graduate school at the University of Manchester. For the next four years, in between working on his doctorate, Walls was furiously writing songs. He’s not sure whether it was the academic setting, the change of scenery, the homesickness or the general change in life that inspired him, but the songs just started flowing out of him.
“Whatever it was, I just wrote a dozen songs, really quickly,” said Walls. “I found that being out of my element was very, very inspiring.”
By the time he finished his degree and returned permanently to the U.S. in 2011, he’d written enough songs for three full length albums. He quickly formed the sort-of solo project An Overnight Low, a band that plays a handful of gigs throughout the year — including the upcoming show on Thursday, Sept. 4, at Empire in Portland with indie songwriter Scott Girouard.
The first of a planned trio of An Overnight Low albums, “Euston,” came out in January 2014; the next album, “Piccadilly,” is due out this winter, and the third album, “Waverley,” is planned for mid-to-late 2015. “Euston,” recorded with Maine uber-producer Jonathan Wyman, brings together the energetic Beatles-influenced power pop Walls has plied for over a decade with a sweeter kind of indie rock, like the janglier side of R.E.M. or Belle and Sebastian.
The 30-or-so songs on the three An Overnight Low albums present an interwoven story about big life decisions, small internal emotional battles, being an American in England, family, friends new and old and newfound freedom, all presented with Walls’ literate, intelligent heartfelt lyrical edge. Trains, both as a metaphor and as an actual physical thing, wind their way throughout the songs — specifically, the coming and going from the three train stations in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, Scotland that the three albums are named after.
“Each of these albums is about a different part of the experience, of dropping everything and moving to another country,” said Walls, who now is an instructor at Southern Maine Community College. “The first one is about trying to figure out what I’m doing and the upheaval and excitement of moving. It’s a little more jangly… the second one is more of a rock album, based around a pub crawl in Manchester. And the third one is going in an almost electronic direction.”
An Overnight Low is not a band in the traditional sense — a group of people getting together, playing gigs, writing songs. Rather, it’s a project that exists almost entirely in the studio, and is structured around the songs Walls wrote while in England. Guitarists Chris Mayo and Sam Anderson, drummer John Nunan and co-vocalist Mac Coldwell play on both the album and in the live show. The narrative structure runs throughout the three albums, which are intended a trilogy — though in the studio and onstage, Walls and the band he’s assembled for the project allow themselves a little musical experimentation.
“This is definitely my statement, though when we are working in the studio it becomes more a group project,” said Walls, who sings and plays bass on the album. “It’s been a blast working through all of it. It’s an adventure. There’s so much freedom to try things, musically speaking, even if the songs themselves are very much within the boundaries of the stories I’m telling. It’s an exciting process.”
For more information on An Overnight Low, visit the website, anovernightlow.com.