Since I renounced radical communism and German tourism for a life of music, technology, and long pants, I have found myself to be happier, healthier, and imbued with a sense of manly vigor that is nearly unshakeable. I spend most of my time poring through the USOUNDS archives, looking for rare finds or new ideas, mining the thoughts of great men like Ric Befara, drinking energy drinks and generally feeling full of power and energy.
On one such day last fall, I discovered that my favorite musical device had, after more than two decades, finally banded together with others and started to produce their own music. Although I was later disappointed to learn that this group was made up of several young men, and not consumer electronics, I was still enthralled with the music. The Walkmen had everything I was looking for in contemporary rock music– sexual dynamism, drunken intelligence, and a certain gotterdammerung at the end of each song which made me tingle with delight.
The following is my conversation with the lead singer of that marvelous group, Hamilton Leithauser. Ja, we had a good time, as you can see below…
Jan Fossbeck: What is next for the Walkmen. New album, tours, etc?
Hamilton Leithauser: Right now we’re in the middle of working on our next record. We have about half recorded but not everything is written. We set a date to record though, so we will be finished by the end of the summer. We’re just going to record whether or not we write anything. I think we are touring in the fall with Interpol, a band from NY we used to play with all the time.
JF: You live in New York City and have lived there for some time now. Has the city changed around you in that time? Has the city changed you and/or your music?
HL: The east village was a lot sketchier back when I first started visiting NY…and when I moved here. But it has really come a long way. I moved uptown. I don’t think the city affects our music.
JF: One fun thing about being in a band is the ability to spread strange ideas or thoughts through your shows and albums. In what ways are you corrupting the youth of the world?
HL: By creating total bullshit.
JF: Ja, you are joking with me now, but it’s no joke that you are very popular, super-sexy, and have many attractive female groupies. How do you decide which ones to have sex with on each different night?
HL: I let them decide. Usually it’s a gang bang.
JF: That sounds nice of you, and it reminds me of my days in Munich. As your appeal becomes less selective, and once the band starts playing 30-40,000 capacity arenas, what type of pyrotechnics/elaborate stage sets do you envision?
HL: I’d like to fly in with my hair on fire screaming like a fucking parrot.
JF: You mention Interpol, a band that I like very much. An interesting thing, I saw them play a fairly large venue recently, and while the crowd was very enthusiastic, they went hyper-wild when their recent radio hit was played, and the band responded in kind. Which of your songs that you play now are your ‘hits,’ in that both you and the audience going? Do you have any predictions about the new songs?
HL: Usually the songs from our first record “We’ve Been Had” and “Wake Up” and “Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone” are the ones people want to hear. It seems that now though the songs from the new record, which people have never heard, are getting better responses than many of the old songs. I think that’s a good thing. The new record has a much more developed sound.
On the first one we really weren’t sure of what we were going for….you can hear that clearly. We all disagreed a lot. Now I think we’ve really got something down.
JF: I have lustrous and shiny black hair, which some people have descibed as “incredible”. However you are a tow-head, and sometimes people take blondes less seriously that brooding, brilliant dark haired people such as myself. Do you ever feel that you are treated as a child, or some sort of ridiculous plaything because of your light hair?
HL: I’m treated like a dog.
JF: A golden retriever, most likely, which is a fine animal but no German Shephard or Rottweiler. Anyway, I digress, forgive me. Your music has been described as “the light side of the darkness”. What is the dynamic that allows you to flirt with despair and destruction, but still come up roses?
HL: Shit I don’t know. despair…roses? me? I think you got the wrong guy.
JF: You resist my categorization of your music and your stage persona and I understand that, I am quite obtuse. Perhaps my English is the problem. What I mean to say is, do you (and the rest of the band members) like to party? Or are you more of a stay-at-home type, you know with the Blockbuster’s Videos, popping corns, lazy-man recliners and things of this nature?
HL: I am definately a party guy. I don’t like going to hip nightclubs or danceclubs, but I really do spend a lot of time going out to bars. I also have a lot of parties at my apartment. Not everyone in the band is though. Walt is a party guy. Paul and Matt are not. Matt’s a real “Blockbuster” guy.
Pete is a hermit.
JF: Let’s alternate gear shifts. Your influences are well spelled out in various interviews and websites. But what about the bands you hate? What/who you hate the most and will never be like?
HL: We’ll never be like Radiohead, or any other band that doesn’t have an ounce of live performance in their sound. We get compared to them occasionally because on our first record we had a liking for them, which influenced the way we recorded. But now I think we all realized that is not at all what we want to do. In fact that’s really the opposite of what we want.
On the next record we want a live sound like Neil Young or Bob Dylan or
JF: I once saw Neil Young play a 28 minute version of Down by the River in front of a festival crowd, a gamble, indeed, but one that paid off. Can you see the Walkmen doing something like this live?
HL: maybe some day. we couldn’t do that now. we’re trying to make our songs longer, but they’re only getting shorter.
JF: Can you elaborate on the direction your sound is taking on the new record? Are there new elements, or is it more a refined and superior version to the first batch of recordings?
HL: Both. The songs are played more deliberately and directly. They are tougher and faster. on the first record we’d have these skeletons of songs
recorded, then we’d have to figure out over months what kind of overdubs were going to flesh it out. We were basically writing these things by recording them. This time we are trying to do everything live.
The sound is much more like a live band playing. the only thing I wish we’d done on the new record (which we did successfully on the old one) was to record them just after writing them. we’ve toured a lot since writing some of these new songs, so it gets pretty difficult to get a spontaneous and lively
performance in the studio.
JF: Your tours of America have been quite popular and successful, but you also have many international fans. Do you enjoy travelling abroad, where have you been and where did you like? When will you return to Europa?
HL: Actually we’ve had pretty sour experiences travelling abroad. We don’t have the kind of shtick required in England, and in Europe the tour was booked in such a way that we didn’t get to sleep several nights in a row, and we were constantly on a plane or driving overnight or some terrible thing. Our driver fell asleep at the wheel in Belgium. Pete got sick. We liked Greece, Germany, and France though. I guess we’ll be back when the next record comes out.
JF: When you come to Los Angeles, I will throw you a big party at a fantastic bar. What alcohol(s) should I stock up on?
HL: vodka. coors light. guinness. bourbon and ginger ale
JF: Thank you for your time, it has been a pleasure to interview you. Any final words for your legions of adoring fans who will be reading this interview?
HL: thanks for reading my interview.
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