Prior to a one-off London show we called up The Walkmen’s Peter Bauer to chat about their just released sixth (and arguably best) album Heaven, working with producer Phil Ek and their love of Irish rockers, The Pogues.
Bowlegs: Firstly how are you doing? The band are over in London for just one show righ then back to the States to continue the tour?
Peter: Great. Yeah, we’re heading home tomorrow. We’re just finishing a short European visit then back to the States in a week or so.
Bowlegs: So the album Heaven has been getting rave reviews, we certainly love it here at Bowlegs. Could you tell us a bit about how working with Phil Ek came about and how/where the album was recorded and produced?
Peter: Well, he asked us to do it and we all liked the Fleet Foxes records a lot so it was pretty straightforward. The main parts of the album were recorded in Seattle as that’s where Phil lives and works, but we also put it together across different cities by email. So you know Paul would send an eight-track or something, Ham would sing on it and then we’d try and arrange the track a little bit more together. So I’d add something, drums would change or something…that’s the basic way it would come together. Overall it’s got a lot more streamlined over the years. It used to be that we’d all try to mess with these things forever but nowadays it pretty much feels good right from the start.
Bowlegs: Obviously following Lisbon there was much anticipation for this next record. Does having a wider audience and their expectations change the way you work or write or do you shut it out?
Peter: No I think we were all really interested in doing it at this point especially after the last two records which sort of felt more our own world and what we wanted to do. We made these records and they weren’t standoffish…I think there were much more opening to different people and audiences…but at the same time they were very small sounding. So the whole point of the next album ‘Heaven’ was to try and do something more welcoming again but a little bigger in scale…that’s what seemed interesting.
Bowlegs: In that situation, does it feel like the possibilities are limitless?
Peter:There are definitely limits to the possibilities but you are always trying to stop the limits. And you are getting really tired of the same fucking limit if you know what I mean! I think it’s all about desperately trying to get to the limit!
Bowlegs: The record feels like a subtle evolution from Lisbon – was that just natural or was there a conscious decision not to deviate too much?
Peter: I think so but then I think that these are different types of songs to be honest. The overall feeling you get after the fact I hope is different. I think these tracks are little bit more straightforward and open to a grander group of people. That is the hope anyway. Sounds wise, no probably not that dissimilar but it was recorded very differently to other Walkmen records. Instrumentation wise there is a lot more stereo stuff going on but, you’re right, it’s not like we were re-inventing the wheel by any means.
Bowlegs: One thing that we picked up when reviewing the album is that there’s a positive spirit running through the record that perhaps hasn’t featured as heavily in previous albums. Would you agree with that?
Peter: Yeah, it’s the first time we’ve successfully done that as much as we have here. Whereas before we were trying to write more hopeful music at points but it’s hard thing to do without being saccharine or something like that. So we’ve just had more success at it really more than anything. There have been some real dogs we’ve left off other records for sure!
Bowlegs: So I guess you must be getting a real kick out of performing this record live?
Peter: I think our shows are getting a lot better! And I’m not really sure how to put it but I feel they were getting really good before but formal and now it’s got to the point where it’s not quite as formal. It just feels a little more embracing of our whole career and it feels strong…and somewhat interesting to me right now. So I don’t know whether it’s the new songs, but I think it’s gone past the new songs, it just feels good. I don’t know why, I wish I did but I honestly think it’s better than ever. I know people normally say that but I also think at points we sort of sucked in the past so it’s nice to be at a high point with things!
Bowlegs: Have you seen any good live bands yourselves lately?
Peter: Me and Hamilton saw Thee Oh Sees the other night. He is like a huge superfan – him and Walter – but I was really won over by how awesome they were. The guy was shredding so much it was great….awesome.
Bowlegs: What recent records have you all agreed are awesome – or do you have vastly different tastes?
Peter: Usually if one of the guys says something is good then I think we are all pretty much sold on it. We have a very similar mindset on what we’re all looking for. I think there’s a very common current as to what everybody likes.
Bowlegs: Who is in control of the iPod on tour then?
Peter: We used to have this massive, great collection but then it got old and stale and everyone now just looks after themselves!
Bowlegs: Finally, could you name one album which has been a major influence for The Walkmen, and why?
Peter: Sure. I think one album would be Rum, Sodomy and The Lash by The Pogues. They are just such a fantastic band and the way that Shane writes songs really rings true for us. He’s the best…a total knockout. There’s a couple like that but that’s just the one that came to my mind. We also wholeheartedly stole a trick from The Pogues that we used to do on the first couple of records which was to ‘rumble’…like go out of time and just follow the singing. Like Irish music but we were using organs and it didn’t sound the same!
-Interview by Jamie Nicholson-