Backstage: Walter Salas-Humara on Florizona

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions and observations about the local scene. This week: Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos discusses his new album, his connection to South Florida, and his love affair with Arizona. 

Although Walter Salas-Humara left our local environs early in his career, it's fair to say he's still one of South Florida's own. Born to Cuban-American parents in New York City, he and his family relocated here when he was still a youngster. It was here that he initially indulged his love of music, inspired to start playing drums after observing a Gene Krupa imitator on the streets of Little Havana. He later took up guitar and studied art at the University of Florida, where he formed the Vulgar Boatmen, a band that eventually attracted national attention after his departure. He moved to New York in pursuit of his own artistic ambitions, and in 1985, he ended up forming the Silos with another South Florida expatriate, Bob Rupe, whose early outfit the Bobs attracted a fair amount of notoriety on the local circuit.

In an episode I recounted in an earlier column, I met Walter briefly a couple of years ago when he was in town for a school reunion. At the time, he was living part time in Manhattan and part time in Miami, having returned here due to his then-wife's real estate business. He's since split with his spouse and followed the new object of his affections to Arizona, where he's resettled. He seems perfectly content, at least as far as I could judge from a series of emails we exchanged just prior to the release of the Silos' latest album, aptly dubbed Florizona in homage to the two places he still considers home. 

Unlike the individual I met that evening at a Vietnamese bistro in Coral Gables -- a guy who seemed so soft-spoken and bemused -- Walter seems on a tear throughout the new album. Anguished, anthemic, and full of rock 'n' roll resilience, it may well be the most assertive set in the Silos' 25-year career. Walter conveys the material in a voice that recalls the wasted swagger of Keith Richards and the tattered authority of Bob Dylan, imbuing the songs with a defiance and determination that's clearly in evidence even on first hearing. Highlights include "Teenage Prayer," a tale of youthful wanderlust; the brash and boisterous "Getting Trashed"; and the stomping rockers "Hold You in My Arms " and "Coming From the Grave." In a word, it's excellent. 

We caught up with Walter again a week or so and found him animated and enthusiastic, having recently returned from a camping trip in the Grand Tetons. After hearing him describe his adventure, we were almost too jealous to continue. But in the interest of our journalistic pursuits -- and a desire to make deadline -- we pressed in our desire to get his thoughts about the new album. 

Can we assume from the album title that you're showing equal love for Arizona and Florida and still clinging to those Florida roots even though you're living in Arizona?

Many of the songs on the album deal with memories of teenaged years from the perspective of middle age. I grew up and went to the University in Florida, so there is a lot of Florida memories and experiences running all through these songs. Although I've spent most of my adult life in New York City and L.A., I now live in Arizona, and I'm enjoying the outdoor life.

How tied are you to your former Florida environs? Do you ever get back here at all? 

I still return to Florida frequently to visit family and friends. My family is Cuban, so I feel very connected to South Florida culturally. I also love the outdoor and marine life in Florida, the Everglades and Keys, as well as the amazing springs and rivers upstate. 

Please share some impressions of Arizona with us. 

I live in Flagstaff, which is very, very different from what most Americans think of as Arizona. Flagstaff is on the edge of an immense Ponderosa pine forest, and it's located at the foot of a 12,500 foot mountain (actually an ancient volcano). The town is at 7,000 feet, so we ski in winter and hike and bike in summer. It's closer culturally to San Francisco than Phoenix. Basically it's a hippie mountain town not unlike Burlington, Vermont, or Boulder, Colorado. 

The impression that I got when you and I met for dinner was that you were such a soft-spoken guy -- and yet, you're really wailing on this new disc. Would it be fair to say there's definitely a divide between your public and private personas? 

I tried to sing to my fullest ability on this album. Florizona is a big production, with lots of instruments and lots of layers. It called for full-bodied vocals. 

Please share some background on some of these songs. Is there a backstory? What specifically inspired you? 

There are several songs about or inspired by [Silos drummer] Drew Glackin's passing. The most powerful one is "On Your Way Home." I invite the listener to get wrapped up in the emotion and release. "Teenage Dream" is a classic "get the hell out of the place where you grew up" song. When I was in high school, everyone wanted to move to California and become true surfers (and/or marijuana growers). Most of the song is fictional, but it was definitely influenced by my Florida high school experience. 

When were these songs written? Any anecdotes you can share about the sessions? 

The songs were written all over the country. I cowrote them with many talented colleagues -- longtime NYC favorites Jonathan Spottiswoode and Sam Bisbee, fellow Vulgar Boatman John Eder, who now lives in L.A., as does my friend Ryan Hedgecock, fellow Flagstaffian Amy Daggett, and also my brother Ignacio, who lives in the Texas Hill Country. 

So do the Silos continue as an ongoing entity at this point? It seems like the band was revamped after Drew's passing. Is this outfit now an ongoing entity and ready to go out on the road? 

The Silos became a five-piece after Drew's passing, when we were doing quite a few tribute shows and I invited many of our longtime musician friends to join us. We are planning some shows in the fall. So far, we've lined up a residency in New York City and some shows in the Northeast, plus a European tour. If all that goes well, we will consider touring the rest of the USA. 

Sounds good. Anything else you'd like to add? 

Check out the new album. Like the Facebook page. And check out my artwork at

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Lee Zimmerman