The Walkmen are one of my favorite bands working today. "Working" is actually a great way to describe them — the NYC/D.C. band has been on an incredible creative streak, starting with 2004's Bows and Arrows (which gave birth to the ultimate bitter anthem, "The Rat") and cementing itself with the spectacular You & Me (which gave birth to the ultimate bitter-but-it's getting-better anthem, "In the New Year"). Last year's excellent Lisbon kept the streak alive, and the band is currently juggling a cross-country tour with Fleet Foxes and working on a whole slew of new material they aim to record with producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins) this fall.
Despite being just off the road from a gig in Tulsa the night before, the Walkmen played a tremendous mid-day set at ACL on Sunday, performing several brand-new songs (including a showstopping solo performance by frontman Hamilton Leithauser) as well as favorites like Lisbon standout "Blue as Your Blood." Shortly after their set, I got the chance to speak with organist/bassist Peter Bauer and drummer Matt Barrick. While pleased with their ACL performance, it was clear that the Walkmen already had their eyes on the next gig. (And possibly dinner.)
That was an awesome set. That was 60-percent, 70-percent new material?
Peter Bauer: We did about half and half.
Matt Barrick: Yeah, about half and half.
I loved that song Hamilton [Leithauser] did by himself, “I Hate Jazz.”
PB: Yeah, I’m sure that’s not gonna be the name.
MB: It doesn’t have a real name yet, that’s our fake name.
Do you guys take a long time to name your songs?
PB: We do it last minute.
MB: Yeah, it’s the last thing we do.
Just whenever the track listing needs to be, like ...
PB: Yeah, when it’s, like, printed on the back is usually when we make up real names, ’cause up to that point they’re always just called something like “I Hate Jazz.”
When I last spoke with you, the tour with Fleet Foxes was just getting kicked off. How’s the rest of it been?
PB: It’s been good. We’ve been doing a heck of a lot of driving, chasing after those fools on the bus, but other than that it’s been really great. They’re like the best band — if you’re gonna have to open for somebody, that’ll be the one to do.
So the audiences have been pretty receptive to you guys?
PB: Yeah, I think so. It’s nice ’cause they play quietly and are a very musical band. Usually when we open for a band, it’s Incubus or something and that’s not so great. So it’s nice ’cause, like, people pay attention when you’re doing it. And they’re just so damn good that you kind of have to play well — as opposed to, like, you know, falling asleep at the wheel. Which is usually what you’re doing when you’re opening.
Have you guys been doing any recording for the new record with [producer] Phil Ek?
PB: We haven’t done any actual recording yet. We had a little meeting in Trenton where we played [for] him. We made, sort of, demos of songs, and hung out ... that sort of thing.
MB: Yeah, we start in November.
Cool. Are you gonna go [record] up in Seattle?
PB: We’re thinking about Seattle or Woodstock, one of the two. Man, we’re not really sure which.
Are you guys going to hang around for the rest of ACL, see some of the other bands? Maybe Fleet Foxes?
PB: I think I’m going to go to Pappasito’s ...
MB: I think we’re gonna drive.
PB: Then we’re gonna drive into Houston, or something.
MB: We have a show in Florida in two days.
PB: Yeah, we’re trying to get dinner in New Orleans tomorrow. That’s the plan ... and then keep driving.
And when does the rest of the Fleet Foxes tour wrap up?
PB: Well, not for a while. We did the whole East Coast and Chicago and stuff with them. We’ve got a ways ...
MB: October 2, I think.
I really enjoyed your set today. I love when bands premiere new stuff before anyone else can hear it. There was one song that kind of had this straight-eighths beat, “Radio City”...
PB: Yeah, that seemed to do well tonight. That’s sort of a new sound for us — that sort of, that kind of goofy rock kind of thing.