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The Walkmen: Beyond the Legend PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 02 April 2008 02:40

  The Walkmen

   The Walkmen have built enough of a legend that it would be easy to overlook their original material.


The band's last album was a re-creation of the ill-fated Harry Nilsson/John Lennon collaboration Pussy Cats from 1974, and when the group visited, they pulled out a quartet of Leonard Cohen songs rather than play their own material.


But those two projects show the band's commitment to its craft.


Singer Hamilton Leithauser said Pussy Cats was a lark, a send-off for the band's Harlem studio before it was closed. When the Walkmen recorded it, they didn't know whether public consumption would ever be allowed.


The Walkmen "We're so into getting the sounds right in the studio ... ," Leithauser said. "We can definitely err on the side of making it sound a hell of a lot like the original. ... We didn't take ‘Save the Last Dance [for Me]' and put on our spin on it. We did his [Nilsson's] version. I sang it a lot like him, I guess." One irony is, of course, that the song isn't even Nilsson's to begin with, so the Walkmen are doing a faithful cover of a cover song.


As for the Cohen tracks at Daytrotter, Leithauser said the band didn't want to simply regurgitate its own material. "Sometimes we do our own songs and it's just like a poorly recorded version of our own song that we don't really need," he said. "If we haven't worked something out that's really a new spin on it, then it seems just sort of like a bore."


The singer talked from the recording studio, where the band was putting the finishing touches on a new album that it expects to release in late summer. He said the record reflects an interest in "classic American rock" and cited Roy Orbison in particular.


But he had difficulty describing what the album might sound like. "When you get to the end of it, you sort of lose perspective on how to describe overall feel," he said.


In the past, the Walkmen have explored everything from atmospheric, sleepy soundscapes to punk rock as sung by a scorched Dylan/Rod Stewart offspring. (It gets weirder. "Louisiana" has been accurately described as "Dylan meets mariachi.")


The Walkmen The band's frequent wall of sound feels meticulously textured, as when the distorted guitars and keyboards melt together on "All Hands & the Cook" (from 2006's A Hundred Miles Off).


The new album doesn't have a name, and Leithauser said the band doesn't even know which dozen or so songs will make the final version from the 18 to 20 it has cut.


"We wrote more songs for this than we have any other record," he said. "It's always been, how do we take these 12 songs and put them in the best lineup?"


Now, he said, "we have a lot of extra songs that we really like but aren't necessarily great in a specific order." Two strong tracks in particular don't seem to fit, he said. "There's not an order that's been very satisfying that has them in it, so we were thinking it would be fun to use them as the basis for the next record."


A new album and the prospect of another one already on the horizon suggest that the Walkmen might be touring heavily in the near future, and that bodes well for another source of the band's reputation: the collectively written book.


The Walkmen That project, Leithauser said, is "nowhere right now. It's on the back burner. We're trying to finish this record."


The book, he said, "came about through just incredible, unprecedented boredom when we were touring. ... You've got to be willing to commit a lot of time to something that's just so stupid." Approximately 80 pages have been written, he added.


Although the book is stalled, a lengthy tour could push it closer to completion. "Production will resume," Leithauser promised.


   For more information on the Walkmen, visit (

   To download the band's Daytrotter session, visit (

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