Photos Chris Clinton at the New Museum
Of all the New York City bands that first popped up back in the early aughts, the Walkmen are perhaps to only one whose best work isn’t a thing of the distant past. On the contrary, Heaven is probably their most impressive album yet, the work of a band that’s comfortable in its own skin even as they get older and their relationship with the world of rock music changes. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser spoke with us about the new album and much more.
I wanted to talk about the song “We Can’t Be Beat” for a second. It seems like a pretty bold statement about moving away from the constant gray areas and never-ending nuance, or the never-ending appearance of nuance that defines most of us in our 20s, and more of an embrace of the direct, black-and-white approach we tend to take to life as we get older and the stakes become higher. There’s a sense in that song of having finally arrived at something important, and it seems like it could apply to your professional life or your personal life. Is that something you think about, something that informed the record?
Hamilton Leithauser: Yeah, I think that song and the song “Heaven” were the last two songs I worked on lyrically. And I think that those two were the most realistic and personal. It felt a lot more like it captured our actual personality and our vibe and our, I don’t know, lifestyle or whatever, or our outlook that we have right now. And that’s why that song is first, because I thought it said a lot in one song. And I guess a lot of the lyrics are about us getting to where our ramshackle operation has gotten to some sort of viable, legitimate point where we’re all happy with it. We’re still just sort of a struggling band, but we feel pretty comfortable doing what we’re doing.
Could you talk about the title of the album, Heaven?
It just felt right. When you’re working on the record, you’re just concentrating song by song, really, and one of the things you’re thinking about the most is trying to make the songs different from each other because you want to be interested in each one. But then when you’re finished, you’ve got this whole thing, and you’ve whittled it down to whatever, 12 or 13 songs, and you start looking at it, like, “What the hell do we have here?” And then, for us it just felt like we had a bigger and grander and richer and more positive-sounding record than we did with Lisbon. And our only point of reference is the last thing we did, so that’s how we were looking at it. The title just seemed appropriate. It seemed big, it seemed happy, it seemed a little bit serious, which I thought was good, because we’ve been sort of jokey in the past, doing things like Pussy Cats. We do take this pretty seriously, so I thought having something that could be seen as kind of heavy would be a good diea.