The Walkmen run toward a new record, tour with Fleet Foxes
Few bands of the last decade are as adept at highlighting the romanticism of chain-smoking, leather jackets and East Coast proto punk like the Walkmen. From rapid-fire guitar stabs to piano-plunking barroom lullabies, the scrappy five-piece hatched in Washington, D.C., helped ignite college radio’s love affair with the retro rock revival alongside the Strokes and the Rapture.
Recently, the Walkmen have gotten a sprinter’s start on their followup to their 2010 full-length, "Lisbon," recording 18 songs ahead of schedule for the forthcoming record. So far, the new tracks highlight sonic restraint.
“We’re able to keep a relaxed pace to really loud rock songs. I’m hoping to have a relaxed feel on the record,” lead singer-guitarist Hamilton Leithauser said in a recent phone conversation. For those who’ve gotten a glimmer of the new material during the band's current U.S. tour with Fleet Foxes, which hits the Greek Theatre in L.A. on Wednesday, that’s easy to believe. Leithauser said that even some of the band’s more bombastic material had a laid-back core.
So, their tour with Fleet Foxes might be an ideal match, especially given that the Seattle-based pack of bearded harmonizers shares a producer with the Walkmen: former Built to Spill producer Phil Ek.
Leithauser says the Walkmen began working loosely with Ek following an extremely productive spring and summer of songwriting after their extensive run of shows in Europe. At the time Ek contacted the band about working together, he had just recorded the Fleet Foxes’ new “Helplessness Blues” as well as manned the boards for the 2010 release "Infinite Arms” by Band of Horses, among others.
“We had him come out to this studio that’s a friend of a friend’s in Trenton, New Jersey and it was four days of recording. We worked on what ended up being 18 songs,” Leithauser said, adding that the band enlisted Ek for the entirety of the record, a new method for its members.
Preparing for a new release has not only required the planning of ideas, but also logistics. Leithauser and organist Walter Martin live in New York City, drummer Matt Barrick and bassist Peter Bauer reside in Philadelphia, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Maroon recently relocated to New Orleans. It makes band practice a little difficult.
“It’s not like we can just say, 'Yeah, let’s have practice at 3 p.m.' It became a thing that you have to organize,” Leithauser said. “But it’s good now because when you get together, there’s a lot less screwing around and wasting time. You’ve got to get the job done.”
While the geographical distance between members might be a deal breaker for most bands, the chemistry built over years together in previous bands like Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Recoys -- not to mention their 11 years together as the Walkmen -- melded them into a working outfit that doesn’t necessarily need to be walking distance from each other in order to create.
Of course, even with 18 songs in the can and the help of an ace producer, Leithauser says the process of wrapping up a new album is never smooth, although they hope to finish it up by early next year.
“That could be realistic,” Leithauser said. “But that’s how it always starts. Then you wind up scrambling again at the 11th hour, so that’s probably what’ll happen.”
The Walkmen perform with Fleet Foxes on Wednesday at the Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-3125, www.greektheatrela.com. $35-$39.50. 7:30 p.m.
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: The Walkmen, from left, Walter Martin, Peter Bauer, Hamilton Leithauser, Matt Barrick and Paul Maroon. Credit: Josh Rothstein.