The Walkmen (Matt Barrick – drums, Pete Bauer – multi-instrumentalist, Hamilton Leithauser – vocals, Paul Maroon – guitar, and Walter Martin – bass) have managed to stay together, with the same lineup, for over a decade, a remarkable feat in and of itself. Over that time, the D.C. via Philadelphia/NYC collective may have taken the long way around, but in doing so have crafted a unique atmosphere and sound with their music. Following a brief anniversary celebration, the band has readied its next full-length, Heaven. Produced by Phil Elks (Fleet Foxes, The Shins), the album reveals a more mature band, comfortable in its skin and as described by vocalist Leithauser, “a bigger, more generous statement.”
This week, Consequence of Sound caught up with original bass player and now organist and occasional guitarist, Pete Bauer, as he was helping lay a new floor at drummer Matt Barrick’s Philadelphia home. We talked about Heaven, the presence (or absence) of rock throughout the album, working with Phil Elks and Fleet Foxes, moving to New York, and what was behind switching to organ, the instrument he’s played for the last five years.
What’s that you’re up to?
I’m just helping our drummer lay a floor.
In his apartment or house?
His house. He bought this house, and it’s a fixer-upper.
In New York?
No, in Philadelphia. Yeah, we live down here; me and him live in Philly.
Oh, you know, affordable living. It’s a little easier going. It’s a cool town. I don’t know. I love it down here.
And it’s midway between D.C. and New York, too. Do you still have family in D.C.?
Yeah, it’s nice. We’re all east coast guys from birth. It’s like kind of the last place on the east coast you can live and have some space and hang out and everything.
Maybe you can cut an album with The Roots. Congratulations on the new album, but I have to say congratulations even more so on staying together with the same five people for 10 years. That’s pretty impressive. How do you account for that?
Yeah, we’re very proud of that. I don’t really know. It hasn’t been like… there’s been parts that have been really hard. And in the last couple years, I feel like we’ve kind’ve… just everything’s evened out. We’re in it for the long haul. I mean, I think we always were, but it seems less like you’re worried about “Is this it?” And I think it’s probably a reflection of getting better at what we do, and we’ve all really cared about that the whole time. We’ve always been trying to get better, and so that’s helped a lot.
The heaviness heard on albums like Bow + Arrows and You & Me seems a million miles away from the quiet nature of this album, Heaven. But even on previous albums, like Lisbon, you delved into the quiet areas, so you’re no stranger to it. But I want to say you almost shed all the rock and roll on this album for almost an alt-country folk vibe at times.
Really? I keep hearing that, and it’s shocking to me, because I thought we were really rocking.
Seriously, you don’t think that you guys are chilled out on this?
I think it’s calmer in the sense that Ham is singing more in his range. But I mean to me, I feel like we have actually more rock songs on this record than we’ve ever had. More than Bows + Arrows; maybe not A Hundred Miles Off, but definitely more rock & roll tracks on this record. I was very shocked. I thought it was like… you know, because it’s all pretty uptempo. I guess it’s happier music and less dark hell rock. Hell rock that sort of has goofy parts to it like on “The Witch”, but at the same time, I was very surprised when I started hearing that. To me, playing it is a lot more fun and uptempo than the Lisbon stuff.
Maybe it’s just the acoustic nature of some of the songs that set it off. I was going to ask if maybe it was working with Phil Elks [producer, Heaven] and John Congleton [producer, Lisbon].
I think that also we put the stuff at the center we really liked: two slow songs, “Southern Heart” and “Line by Line”. We put them right in the meat and potatoes area when we sequenced it, so maybe it comes across like that because those are really slow. It probably feels like that, but I don’t know. I guess when we’re playing the stuff live, it definitely feels like, you know, much more, kind of like festival rock than sort of laid back. But what do I know? [laughs]