Noise Pop Festival Program, February 2005
Following the breakup of underground favorites Jonathan Fire*Eater, organist Walter Martin, drummer Matt Barrick and guitarist Paul Maroon teamed up with singer/guitarist Hamilton Leithauser (Martin's cousin) and bassist Peter Bauer—who had been playing together as The Recoys—to form The Walkmen. Though the New York outfit has only been together since 1999, the guys have known each other since childhood. Leithauser met Barrick at summer camp back in fourth grade; he met Bauer in a DC park in ninth grade; and he was introduced to Maroon in high school when Maroon became the new guitarist in Martin's band.
"I called Walt on the phone when I realized that [The Recoys] weren’t gonna survive," explains Leithauser. "I said, 'Your singer is wack. I can do a better job.' He bought it, and a few months later we were in what became our studio, trying to get the ball rolling.
"This is what we have always wanted to do," continues Leithauser. "We've all been in bands since middle school, so we all knew that no one was going to out and out quit."
Armed with the remainder of their DreamWorks funding and backing from hopeful investors, the former Fire*Eaters bought a 600-foot space in what was once a Nash Rambler car factory in Harlem and converted it into Marcata Recording, which has been used by everyone from French Kicks to The Kills to, of course, The Walkmen.
"A lot of Harlem is really great," says Leithauser. "If you go north or south of Marcata you can find these fantastic old houses that are mainly on run-down, out of the way streets. It's right where Royal Tenenbaums was filmed."
As evidenced on both of their full-lengths, 2002's Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone and last year's Bows + Arrows (Record Collection), The Walkmen vary their emphasis on guitar, drums and keys to create a sound that continues to move away from their previous bands' garagey tendencies. While they're often compared to early U2, their influences range from The Velvet Underground to Fugazi and The Make-Up. The Walkmen's sonic diversity was driven home by the first single off of Bows + Arrows, "The Rat," which is markedly different than the rest of the album.
"We try to keep our stuff as varied as possible," says Leithauser, "because inevitably it always ends up sounding like us."
In addition to a recent appearance on The O.C., the band has been in Marcata working on its next album.
"We have a bunch of groovy songs that are just gonna knock your socks off," promises Leithauser. "I hope it's very different from the last one, but we'll have to wait and see."
Leithauser says The Walkmen are looking forward to closing Noise Pop this year and enjoying everything that the Bay Area has to offer.
"San Francisco's one of the only places," he says, "along with Chicago and Miami, that I could see myself living outside of New York." JESS HEMERLY
The Walkmen headline Bimbo's 365 Club on Sunday, February 27th.