NAME: The Walkmen
PROGRESS REPORT: Prepping their fifth album of new material, Lisbon. Recorded with Chris Zane at Gigantic Studios and John Congleton at Elmwood Studios. Out 9/14 via Fat Possum Records.
When I talked to Hamilton Leithauser for their progress report, the first thing he did was apologize — the reception was bad where they were recording, at Elmwood Studios in Houston (Leithauser says the opening scene of Born On The Fourth Of July was filmed there). He apologized a few more times: For not being able to articulate certain things about their new record, for rambling, etc. It’s like he was deliberately tempering the band’s excitement over their freshly-recorded album with some self deprecation. Though they had promised certain things about the new album (which they’ve been writing since completing 2008’s You & Me, they had arrived in Texas and started over, so their excitement was still high: “We have all these rock songs and they’re really stripped down, they’re really like a guitar, a bass, and a drum a lot of them so far. And then we’re going to put a few other things on them, but the core sound is a minimal thing that is really sort of raw,” he explained. “For us it’s just new. Maybe because we’ve just always put so much garnish all over our crap for some reason. It’s kind of nice.”
They began working on their album with producer Chris Zane in August 2009. But after another session in November, and even though Chris did a “bang-up job,” for the band, Leithauser says they realized they were feeling too comfortable at Gigantic, and wanted to move to a new location. They ended up in Houston with John Congleton with plans to redo just a couple of tracks. They ended up writing about ten new songs instead. “It really rocked, which is just weird because we’ve been sort of going down this sort of tamer and kind of folksier path for a while. And then, at the end of this, it seemed that that was going to be like what the record was like. This new batch it really had so much juice, we all got really psyched on it and then it sort of felt like everything was sort of working.”
“Rock” is a word he uses a lot to describe the new record. In the past he’s said Sun Records and Elvis were on the band’s minds. And earlier the Walkmen had “a lot of horn songs,” tracks with more complex instrumentation that they assumed would be the heart of the record. Some of the shift may have been pure frustration: Leithauser described one track that, while they may have it right now, had to undergo several makeovers: fast, slow, quiet, low, rock, acoustic. No version worked. “We were just desperate, bleary and absolutely pathetic and desperate on this one song,” he remembers. While that one “sort of works” now, others were abandoned. The tracks that are most intriguing, are the ones he sounds slightly embarrassed about. “We have these three that we call power shuffles because they are like waltzes but really powerful. We use all the juice we have playing a shuffle or a waltz. Those are the dominant songs right now, if they all make it on the record, which they should. It will be our rock-waltz thing,” he says. “I’m kidding! …. Unfortunately, I’m not kidding.”
They haven’t announced the track list yet, but Leithauser shared some of the working titles. They are hilariously un-Walkmen-like: “We have ‘Sports Ball,’ ‘Date Night,’ ‘Back Draft,’ ‘I Love Guys,’ ‘Glass Johnson,’ ‘Slow Blow,’ ‘Muscles,’ ‘Power Shuffle,’ ‘Storm Tracker,’ ‘Hairea,’ which is supposed to be an area that has hair on it, which is how Walt [Martin] describes it. ‘Eating Puppies,’ ‘Sotomayor,’ ‘Duck,’ ‘Little Friend,’ ‘CJ,’ which, unfortunately, is short for ‘circle jerker’, ‘Australia,’ ‘Internet,’ and ‘Jericho.’ And ‘Tree House.’