8/05/2005

The Walkmen

The Walkmen Interview
by Alexander Laurence


Hamilton Leithhauser: Guitar and Vocals
Walter Martin: Keyboards
Paul Maroon: Guitar and Keyboards
Matt Barick: Drums
Peter Bauer: Bass
I used to see members of Jonathan Fire Eater walking around Williamsburg back in the mid-1990s. They were a big band back then. Walter lived on my street. A few years later, I heard that they had formed a new group called The Walkmen. Recently, I started hearing their song "We've Been Had" in a Saturn car commercial. Obviously, things have picked up for them.

The Walkmen's music is direct and forceful. There is a matter of fact quality to their songs. Here we are, entertain us. They combine dark noise and simple tunes to create something original and with depth. I spoke to guitarist Paul and drummer Matt before a few shows in LA with Hot Hot Heat and other bands. We spoke in the lobby of The Troubadour before two sold out shows. The Walkmen are a band from Washington, DC. They mostly live in New York City today.

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AL: Have you done a lot of touring?
Matt: The record came out in March 2002. We don't go on long tours. We usually do tours that last two or three weeks. We don't enjoy it when they go on for too long. We still have jobs in New York City, so we can't stay away for too long. We have been in the studio recently working on the new album.
Paul: We refuse to do long tours. We don't want to get used to touring. We want to complain about it.
AL: What did you do after Jonathan Fire Eater broke up?
Matt: We started going back to college and building a studio in Harlem. There was just the three of us. Once we got the studio going, we started this band. We worked with another singer but that didn't pan out. We did a few shows. She was in another band. We gave up on that.
Paul: She's in Flux Information Sciences. She also got a degree to be a registered nurse.
AL: You went to Columbia. What did you major in?
Paul: Matt did a degree in American History. I did Russian History. I studied mostly the 19th century.
AL: In 2000, what were the first recordings like?
Paul: The first thing that we recorded was "Wake Up." We got help with the recording from Greg Talenfeld who had worked with Pavement and Beck. What happened was that he was so nervous at the time. He walked us through the recording process. He recorded "Wake Up" and "Rue The Day" but we took over after that.
AL: Did Hamilton have ideas for songs?
Matt: We had already been practicing before the studio was ready. We had some songs done by then. We had four songs finished by then. When we wrote a song, we all pitched in a little bit. Hamilton writes all the lyrics.
AL: What did you think of Hamilton as a performer?
Matt: We had already seen him play with The Recoys. We always wanted to steal him from that band anyway.
AL: What is Stewart Lupton up to?
Matt: He lives in Washington DC. I think he went back to college also. His other band fell apart.
AL: What were the first Walkmen shows like?
Paul: The first shows were great. We thought that we were onto something. The first show we thought we were great, but it turned out that it was just our friends being enthusiastic. We then entered a long dark tunnel, concert-wise, where we played to fewer and fewer people every time. It sucked. We realized thing weren't good. We went through this period of self-doubt. Then about nine months ago we became "goodish" again. Now we have gotten a lot better.
AL: Why did that happen?
Paul: We were trying really hard to be different. So Walter had his tape loops. We brought out a piano. Then we just got lazy. We stopped caring about any of that stuff.
Matt: We just stopped trying to be different.
AL: What are some of the bands that you have toured with this past year that you have liked?
Paul: Neil Michael Hagerty. We hated it at the time but we grown to realize how wrong we were. We opened for him. We opened for "The Hagg."
Matt: We only did a few shows with him. His live show wasn't quite so good. People were curious about him, but they would head home after a few songs.
AL: How did you get together with this record label, Startime?
Matt: We were friends with French Kicks. They were already on that label.
Paul: Startime is realistic. They are good for us. They can sell the amount of records it is conceivable for us to sell. It doesn't matter if we have creative control. It is a reasonable sized label for a reasonable sized band.
AL: What do you think about these people who want everything to be "indie?" They really have a problem when a band supposedly "sells out" and signs with a bigger label. I asked this because you have had experience on a big label and on a label like Startime.
Paul: People who think like that are 99% idiots. They are mostly teenagers. I used to read Maximum Rock and Roll when I was younger and I used to believe it. Fugazi is great. They did things that actually helped people. Doing shows for six dollars doesn't help anyone. But all the benefits they do really helps people. But when I think of people who complain about bands selling out, all I think of are people who worry about how the bands they like reflect them. They think rock music is more important than it is.
AL: You have toured a while now. What sort of person likes The Walkmen? Can you describe this person?
Matt: From what I have seen they are in their twenties. They are mostly white.
Paul: Actually they are 28 years old and drive Saturns.
AL: They played "We've Been Had" during the playoffs. How did that work out?
Paul: Great. We made a lot of money. They play our music more on commercials than they do on the radio. They played our music during the divisional playoffs. That was fun because I like sports and then our song came on. I knew my brother was watching and that made me happy.
AL: Do you like sports?
Matt: No.
Paul: Matt was a fencer in college. Then he speared someone. It was a 19 year old girl. It was all for the sports requirement. It was like a kabob. I like basketball. I am obsessed with it.
AL: I like the Indiana Pacers.
Paul: Really? Why?
AL: I have always liked Reggie Miller. He played at UCLA. I am from Los Angeles but I have always hated the Lakers.
Paul: Lakers are the worst! Sacramento is going to beat the Lakers this year. You can't fuck with Vlade. He's a beast. He smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. He's seven foot one. He's still kicking ass.
AL: Do you smoke cigarettes?
Matt: We all quit and some of us started again.
AL: Do you have any other hobbies?
Matt: We don't have much free time. We are either working or playing in the band.
AL: Do you have a regular job?
Matt: Yeah, I work at the Museum of Sex in New York City. I have worked there for a year. It's on 27th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Paul: I work at Pfizer, the huge pharmaceutical company. My degree in history has nothing to do with my job: it's a vanity degree. It's of no use to anyone, even in an emergency. It made me and my parents feel good about spending all that money for a vanity degree.
AL: Do you have any outstanding college loans?
Matt: I do. My degree helped me get a job, but my job won't really help me paying back my student loans.
AL: Do you have another album of songs written?
Matt: We have about five or six songs right now.
Paul: We were just talking about that in the car. We want to record half of the songs in our studio and half in a separate studio. We want to do that as soon as we can. It will be the first chink of the new album. We were offered a lucrative deal with CVS records.
Matt: We don't know what label it will be on. We haven't decided. It will be a full-length CD.
AL: Have you read any good books?
Matt: We have all been reading a lot of Hemingway.
Paul: We should start a book club. What did you guys think of "Possession?" It just sounds like a book club sort of book.
AL: Are there any movies that you have liked recently?
Paul: I saw About Schmidt.
Matt: I saw that. I saw all the usual ones. I saw Adaptation. Lord of The Rings.
AL: I heard that Hamilton plays a lot of internet chess?
Paul: He plays it a lot. He's the top player on Yahoo or Instant Chess.
Matt: He was the player of the month on one of those things.
AL: Do you have any advice to any hipster who is sitting at the L Cafe right now? One of those cafes on Bedford Avenue has an internet connection.
Paul: The most important thing if you want to be in a band is to acquire interesting equipment so you don't sound like the other bands. Don't spend too much time on how you dress.



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