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After a brain aneurysm, Karl Wallinger reboots his band

Michael Worthington

SOMERVILLE — Karl Wallinger has been waiting a long time to make a new album. But he has a good reason.

The tastefully melodic rocker behind World Party is still working his way back from a brain aneurysm that halted his career as a recording artist back in 2001.

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Wallinger says he’s written maybe 30 new songs, but won’t start on a new record in earnest until he does something first — reinvent the relationship between studio and home. He’s done working in traditional recording spaces, he says, but what he has in mind isn’t the typical home studio.

“I’m looking to buy a house that you can make into a studio that’s also a living area. So if you’re having breakfast in the morning you can suddenly do a guitar overdub, between mouthfuls of egg,” he says, speaking from his home in London. He suggests a room with microphones placed in a panel behind a television, and fleshes out the idea with a Star Trek reference. “I’d quite like to be like Kirk on the Enterprise,” he says, “and say: Computer, electric guitar, channel one. And start playing.”

Self-deprecating, quick to laugh, and ostensibly candid, Wallinger says his comeback won’t be quite complete until there’s new material.

“That’s the final bit of the coming-back jigsaw, to put out an album that’s of now. It’s all very well putting these [compilations and live albums] together and going around singing those songs, but it would be very nice to have a new set in place and go around playing a new album and have something that’s of today,” he says.

In the meantime, he’s predicted a new World Party album in interviews for the past couple of years, but one senses that he’s not 100 percent ready.

‘It sounds crazy but it’s quite a positive experience to have, actually. . . . You realize how precious it is to be around.’

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He started World Party as a solo vehicle after a stint playing keyboards with British group The Waterboys in the early ’80s. Across five albums over the course of 14 years, he remained one of those critically lauded sorts who never quite made a definitive commercial breakthrough — though a handful of his tuneful, earnestly crafted songs, well-informed by the history of 1960s rock, poked through on the singles charts. (In an unlikely but lucrative footnote, British pop star Robbie Williams did score a big hit with Wallinger’s song “She’s the One.”) There was a long studio silence after the aneurysm, though he was back on the road by 2006.

Wallinger delighted fans in 2012 with an unexpected five-CD collection of previously unreleased material and rarities. The sheer bulk of high-quality material, spanning decades and culled from many more hours of tapes still in the vault, came as a surprise. It was also a valedictory statement capping his tenure releasing albums on his own label, Seaview Records.

Did the process of listening to all that old stuff give him any new insights into his music?

“Maybe I should have put out more records over the years,” he says, and chuckles.

These days he’s touring as World Party in a trio with guitarist John Turnbull and David Duffy on mandolin and fiddle; Wallinger plays acoustic guitar and some keyboard. There’s clearly still plenty of concert demand — his show at Johnny D’s on Saturday is already sold out, as are two-night stands in New York and Chicago. He’s also playing the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Sunday.

The arrangements for trio are sparser, compared with the songs’ carefully constructed studio incarnations, but Duffy says this context underlines the essential strength of Wallinger’s way with songcraft.

“He could just go up by himself and play the songs and it would still be amazing. Or he can have seven or eight people onstage. These songs stand up on their own. There’s definitely no fluff there,” Duffy says.

Though his long comeback continues, Wallinger is upbeat about his brush with death, which left him with a permanent loss of right-side peripheral vision in each eye.

“It sounds crazy but it’s quite a positive experience to have, actually. It does change you in a way. It makes you more in contact with what it is to exist. You realize how precious it is to be around,” he says.

He’s also quick to share some of the colorful anecdotes he got out of the ordeal, like the recurring dream-vision (he describes it as an alternate reality) in which he climbed stairs inside a tower, while a roadie in a sleeveless denim shirt tended to the various pianos and keyboards tucked away in alcoves at every turn.

“Some pretty incredible things happened. I saw the inside of my brain on a camera. The camera went in through my groin and ended up behind my left eye,” he says, clearly impressed by the medical science that saved his life. “When you look up at the screen and there’s the inside of your head, that’s like — wow. That’s a serious Disneyland ride that would have a long queue to get on. Or maybe not.”

Though his perspective on life has been altered, he says his relationship with music is more or less the same.

“That’s probably one of the things that remains constant. I’m still me and I still have something to sing about.”

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.
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