The hype surrounding the Walkmen’s last album was such that it comes as bit of a surprise that their new record, A Hundred Miles Off, is as solid as it is. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve also got plans to release a covers record that’s already in the bag, publish a group novel, and possibly reopen their recently defunct Marcata Studio. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser chatted with us about how they make it all work.
The L Magazine: There’s a lighter vibe to this new record than your older ones. Was that something you were shooting for? Hamilton Leithauser: Yeah, that’s really the only thing we were shooting for, actually. Doing another heavy-sounding record just didn’t sound like any fun to anybody. I mean, we ended up putting a bunch of rockers on there, but I think you can tell that we were sort of coming from a different point when we started out, at least.
The L: You’ve talked about the early sessions for this record being really shaky. What would you attribute that to? HL: Touring so much for the last record. We toured on the road for so long that we just hadn’t written songs. When we got back in the studio, it was like we didn’t know how to start playing something.
The L: I hear you’ve got a whole version of Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats recorded, too. Why opt to do a covers record when your own records are doing so well? HL: I don’t know. We wanted to do a party record, and rather than just write stuff and make it take a long time, we thought it’d be fun just to do his record. Harry Nilsson’s record is a cover record. I mean, ninety percent of the songs on it are like, ‘Save the Last Dance,’ ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ and stuff like that. It just seemed like something that would be fun. We had 50 people come up and had a big sing-a-long session and a lot of booze. It was a good time.
The L: Your website said you closed your studio because the lease was up, and I’ve heard you don’t plan on opening it again. HL: No, I think we will now, in some form, because we really need the studio. The way we work really requires time alone in the room without paying by the hour, different people being able to go in and do mixes on their own, and more just working at our own pace.
The L: When you first opened it, it seemed like it was a big risk — starting a band, moving to New York, dropping out of school, putting all your money into a studio — what made you so sure you could hedge your bets on being a band full-time? HL: We never doubted it when we were younger. It was just, like, we were going to make it. In my old band, we never even had a single fan. Our only fan was my cousin Walt. And, like, my mom. Maybe Pete’s dad or something. But we still never doubted it, you know? All in high school and college, it was all I ever wanted to do.
The L: I’m also wondering what the writing process for this group novel is. HL: That’s another thing we work on in the van when we’re bored. Everybody writes their own parts, and then Pete (bass) is our editor. It’s basically just personal experience — what you did that day, what’s on your mind, stuff like that. There’s not much of a plot, it’s day-in, day-out each chapter. The goal is to make it 500 pages, and it’s probably, like, 40 pages or so. But it won’t be complete until it’s sitting on a merch stand next to our T-shirts and bumper stickers.
The L: Do you think people will actually look at this as separate from your music? HL: No, I mean, if people were to give it a literary reaction, I’m sure it would get spammed. We just do it to entertain ourselves. I think, in the end, it’ll be a really funny thing to have — sort of enjoyable to read, but funnier more that it just exists.
The L: On top of all this, you’ve been writing new songs on the road? HL: Yeah, we have. It’s the best thing we have going right now. We finished the last record and just kept going, which we’ve never done. We always just finished and then didn’t talk to each other for a couple months.
The L: What are the songs like? HL: They’re a lot more amped-up than A Hundred Miles Off. They’re pretty quick moving, there’s a lot more piano. We have what you’d call a party song. We have a new really fast one that we’ve been playing a lot.
The L: Are you going to try and get back into self-studio mode before you put them on tape? HL: I think that really our goal would be to put them on tape as soon as possible, whether or not we can open up our own studio. That would be great if we could, but I think the most important thing right now is to just keep it going as fast as we can.