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Friday, November 6, 2009

The Indie Band ‘The Walkmen’

The Walkmen (Nick Ryan).

The Walkmen (Nick Ryan).

BOSTON— Indie-rockers “The Walkmen” have known each other for a long time, since they were kids. And their music has grown along with them. Critics have called the New York-based band masters of “moody rock”, driven by growling vocals.

Others have compared their sound to Bob Dylan and U2.

But recently The Walkmen have mellowed, as they age and have kids. What was once a noisier, harder rock, is giving way to lighter, throw-back ballads.

The Walkmen are on the road right now and Here and Now’s Jill Ryan caught up with them at a recent concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  You can see a transcript below.

Jill Ryan:  Hamilton Leithauser’s lilting voice makes him sound like a handsome suitor, midnight-serenading his love.

(Music, “The Rat”)

Actually, it was more like a dark room of sweaty twenty-somethings at a recent concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But, fans were swooning.

Fans: “They played like it was the last show they were ever going to play in their lives. and they put everything they have into it.”
“They’re very Dylan inspired.. but I think that Bob Dylan, if he saw them he’d say I wish I could sing like that.”

Hamilton Leithauser (Nick Ryan).

Hamilton Leithauser (Nick Ryan).

Ryan: Leithauser’s band ‘the Walkmen’ came together in 2000, out of the ashes of two other Indie groups.

And the sound that emerged was all jangly guitars and bursting drums, like what you hear in their 2004 hit single “the Rat”, chosen as one of the 20 best songs of the decade by the music website “Pitchfork”.

(Music, “the Rat”)

But that was then. Now band members are older, some married with kids. Leithauser says the Walkmen are shifting their direction.

Hamilton Leithauser: The hard rockers are like from our earlier records, the ones we like playing are the tame sort of swingy or shuffly kind of stuff. It’s light, it’s breezy and it sounds like a hard rock band going over the hill.

Ryan: Maturity has also brightened the Walkmen’s mood. Their 2002 debut album was titled “Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone”. But today the songs have dreamy titles like “Seven Years of Holidays,” “Donde Esta la Playa” aka “Where is The Beach.” and “In the New Year”

(Music, “In the New Year”)

(Nick Ryan)

(Nick Ryan)

Walter Martin: I think when you’re younger you have more of a tendency to make something sound negative. When you’re older it feels more appropriate to be positive.

Ryan: That’s organist Walter Martin, he says growing up was a process much of the band endured together, while attending the same grade-school in Washington, D.C.

Martin says they even started a rock band in the fifth grade.

Walter Martin: Mat, our drummer joined us in 7th grade. Paul joined us in the 9th grade. so I’ve… we’ve done it since you know… 20 years.

Ryan: Guitarist Paul Maroon jokes that the group’s sound has only gotten worse since then, when they imitated a type of ‘english white reggae’… inspired by the Jamaican “Ska” style.

Now Maroon sites Elvis and Roy Orbison as influences, which may explain a bit of their swaying, throwback sound.

Paul Maroon: We’re sort of stuck in a time warp, I don’t think we use anything that we couldn’t have used 40 years ago. We could be from any era of rock and roll.

Ryan: Maroon plays a hollow-body electric guitar, like the Beatles did earlier in their careers. The band recently added a horn section, and another signature sound comes from a fifty year old, upright piano that has a carnival-ish twinkle.

Perhaps even more vintage is the Walkmen’s low-tech recording process. They describe it as just pointing a microphone at an instrument. It gives their music a spacious, underwater feel that Walter Martin especially hears in their first album.

(Nick Ryan)

(Nick Ryan)

Walter Martin: It sounded like it was recorded into a cave. but people sort of got into that… and it’s easy to duplicate.

Paul Maroon: Yeah all you have to do is not know what you’re doing. It’s very easy.

Ryan: What’s not easy, says guitarist Paul Maroon, is lugging their few hundred pound, upright piano around the country.

Paul Maroon: We actually dropped one once, fell out of the back of our truck, big cloud of dust popped up right in the middle of the street and it’s not like you can clean it up either.

Ryan: But The Walkmen played on. And those hazards of road life including the long van rides and sharing one backstage bathroom with a dozen others, all seem to melt away, when the Walkmen meet their adoring fans.

Walter Martin: Remember that guy in the parking lot at Panera, pulled up next to us… He said you guys are living the dream. You guys are amazing, awesome for piling into the van.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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