Published Jan 01, 2006Youd think that the Walkmen would have an easy time writing an album. After all, their music basically consists of scrappy power chords, gut-wrenching wails and some fairly standard beats. But putting together their latest record, A Hundred Miles Off, was, to put it lightly, difficult.
"Youve got to hammer out these parts that you think you like until they just sound terrible, says lead singer Hamilton Leithauser, still frustrated from the songwriting experience. "The writing didnt go well for about eight solid months. You try and work out new stuff and then you end up just jamming on shitty funk music.
Leithauser is in New York, where hes moving chairs from his practice space to his house. Bassist Walter Martin is getting married in the fall and Leithauser is hosting a party for his right hand man. Besides spending most nights standing on a stage together, the band-mates grew up on the same Washington, DC street. Oh, and theyre first cousins.
Their connection goes beyond family dinners, or even jamming together. If it wasnt for cousin Walt, those eight months might have turned into 12. "Walt and I need to work together, says Leithauser. "From January until July we were trying to get together, the five of us. I dont know why because weve never written successfully like that ever. We just started getting together in little groups. Walt and I started coming up with little parts that sounded good.
It wasnt long after they divided up that Leithauser and Martin wrote a fully formed song, the sweeping "Dont Get Me Down (Come On Over Here). The rest of the tunes flowed from there, and before they knew it they had an entire albums worth of material.
There are two things youll notice when listening to the Walkmens third album: Leithauser channels Bob Dylan more than ever; and theres no song as powerful as "The Rat, the big hit off their second disc, Bows & Arrows. The Dylan influence is most evident on A Hundred Miles Offs opening track "Louisiana. This rollicking alt-country tune sounds like it belongs on The Basement Tapes, and it doesnt help that Leithausers slurring his words and holding his vowels, just like his favourite artist. "People keep saying that about my voice, he says. "I dont know what happened. I take it as a compliment.
His Dylan impression shouldnt turn anyone off Leithausers still the master of the throaty yell but fans expecting a second scorching track might be disappointed. "This disc isnt very flashy, says Leithauser. "Both albums had a Rat right at the beginning of the record that flashy new sounding rock thats going to catch attention. This ones slower to get into, but I think it has more staying power. Its an album you can put on from start to finish and really just like the whole thing.
He couldnt be more right. Both Bows & Arrows and their debut disc, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, started off strong, but waned a bit. This album needs time to grow, but just because theres no "Rat doesnt mean the Walkmen have calmed down. "This Job Is Killing Me showcases Leithausers uninhibited scream, and drummer Matt Barrick furiously pounds the skins like hes trying out for an old school punk band. It might not be as catchy as their seminal tune but it does the trick.
Whether or not theres a sizzling song that kicks off the album doesnt really matter to Leithauser. Hes happy with the end result, but hes even more ecstatic that there was one at all. "Writing that first song was our triumph, he says. "Finally, we had gotten somewhere and we werent wasting our lives.