Q&A: The Walkmen's Peter Bauer Talks Heaven, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, And Being A Parent
Earlier this year, the Walkmen hit their 10-year career mark, and on May 29 they'll give us their sixth studio album, Heaven, produced by Phil Ek (Built to Spill, The Shins, Fleet Foxes) and recorded in Seattle. Through the band's ups and downs, they've elevated to one of the most defining bands in the past ten years' indie rock scene. After starting as a bunch of dudes living in Harlem, the members now find themselves not only with kids, but spread across the country. With that maturity comes a growth in sound, as well as a clear acceptance of what the band has become. Peter Bauer, who plays bass and organ, chatted with us about recording Heaven, New York's intimidating music scene, and what it's like to make music about being a dad, instead of drinking a beer.
In general, how do you feel overall about the new record?
I'm really excited about how it came out to us. I'm sure most people say that when they have a new record out, but I think just the making of it, the way it was made, and how quickly everything wentand how successful we were getting the first idea to work, which doesn't tend to always happen. Usually, we go around in circles a lot before something good happens. [Laughs.]
Hamilton [Leithauser, frontman and vocals] said in previous interviews that this was the easiest record to make. Do you feel that way?
I definitely feel that way. Not easy because no one was working or cared [laughs], but easy because there just tends to be things that are incredibly frustrating that tend to happen, where you're quite sure that something sounds great but then you hear it played back and you're like, "Wow. This is really awful." [Laughs.] I think that probably a lot of that was always felt as a good thing, but also, I think the songs were really good. Maybe we've just learned what we were good at, learned our limitations, learned how to do things a little easier.
Definitely. This is your sixth record, so you have a bit of experience working together. Is it to a point now where you sit down and say to yourselves, "Okay, let's make a record." And boom, it happens?
I feel like we did this time. And I'm certain that next time we try to make another one, that won't happen. [Laughs.] But it definitely felt like that. But as soon as you get confident with that, you end up falling on your face. I think it's just been the nature of the way things have gone with us, the way we work has kept the fighting spirit up in the band as long as it has. So we've been lucky in a way that we've learned how to play with each other much longer than most people do, as a group, and at the same time, we've never been able to do anything leisurely either. It just sort of works, you know? But I guess that's yet to be determined still. [Laughs.] You always feel pretty good about these things before [the record release]. In about three years, you'll know.
Creatively, does working with the same people for so long feel constricting or liberating, with a sense of security?
I think it was probably constricting at some point, like the way past. It goes in cycles. If you stick it out, it tends end up being fantastic playing with the same people for the majority of your life. There have been things that haven't, and we've played with other people which makes you appreciate coming back together. Just doing things here and there with people, hanging out with other bands, those are things we didn't do for a long time, from the closed off, little world that we had. I think being around other people helped us enjoy our time together again. You're able to feel comfortable enough that you can do something a little more challenging than if you were incredibly nervous about the situation. There's definitely positives to it.
With the longevity of your career, how do you write a new album that doesn't just sound the same as everything you've ever done?
I think you start off with really trying to do things differently, you know? Even if it's just different in your head, and you know you're bluffing. Because it's probably going to sound just like everything else. But you have to get to a point where you think you're doing something new and exciting. And then, you know, you realize that when you can have a new idea, and you can do it, sometimes it ends up sounding the same [laughs], but other times, you get away with it. We had this idea going into the studio to do a lot of acoustic music.
It felt like it was something we hadn't done, with just acoustic guitars. It felt different. When you use an instrument like that and you've had an electric guitar running every song for the past five years, it just feels like the space changes a lot. So you come up with new ideas because of that. So certain things like that worked. We definitely have more acoustic guitar songs on [Heaven], but I wouldn't call it an acoustic guitar record.