New York indie rockers The Walkmen may all be fathers now, but don't even think about saying they've grown up, even if their latest album, Heaven, makes it sound a bit like they have. The record made several year-end best-of lists, including those from Magnet and Stereogum, and it has more ties to Seattle than just a guest spot from Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold -- it was recorded here too. The band will return to Jet City to play a sold out show at The Neptune with Father John Misty on January 28th. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we chatted with Walkmen bassist Pete Bauer about making Heaven, its surprising critical response and their favorite Seattle hangouts.
Woodinville, I think? Yeah, right. That's where we did all the tracking and everything.
Was it the Fleet Foxes record that Phil Ek had done that made you think he'd be the right producer the album? He actually called and said he wanted to produce our record, but he was one of two people we were going to ask so it was great. The Fleet Foxes records we just love. Sonically they're great, which is what drew us to Phil.
I read that you thought the recording of this album was the easiest one yet. What made it so? We've always had these big flameouts in the middle of recording. Like on the Lisbon record, we just scrapped all the recordings we'd done and started over. On the You & Me record, we didn't have any money so we had to stop for like six months. They're these intensive things where you can't sleep because you have this half-finished song for like six months, whereas with this, the process started and ended in a month. The same man-hours may have gone into it, but there wasn't that stress. When our manager made the schedule and was like, "OK, you'll record in February and then you'll mix and that'll be it," we just laughed at him. And then it actually happened.
A lot of reviews mention that the album sort of transforms the band from fun-loving rockers to more-mature, thoughtful songwriters. Does it feel that way to you? To me it seems exactly the same. I thought it was mostly because we took pictures of our kids that people said that. That stuff freaks me out and made me feel washed up and bitter about the whole thing.
What freaked you out? That everyone was saying we were growing up. I was like, "Fuck you!" It really rubbed me the wrong way.
But a lot of critics seemed to praise the record for exactly that reason. One of the notions that seemed to come up was that rather than singing about things you lacked, you were singing about being satisfied. I think that is true. But it's hard to make positive music that's not incredibly cheesy. As for where we're coming from, as a band we're just trying to make another record and be able to continue to do this for our lives.
So there was never a conscious choice to make a more grown-up record or something? That stuff just sort of happens. It's really hard to come up with anything that you really like. Nine times out of ten, it doesn't happen anyway.
Right, like, "Let's make Sgt. Pepper's." Yeah, "Let's make a really great record with 12 pop hits!" It's more about certain sounds, like we wanted to do something with two guitars or acoustic guitars. We're musicians and really bad at all the rest of the [business] stuff, so you come up with these dumb ideas afterwards like, tell everybody that [singer Hamilton Leithauser] sounds like Roy Orbison. And then you say he sounds like Bob Dylan, which is on some stupid printout that we made in a half hour after working on a record for two years. Then for two years people are like, "These guys are ripping off Bob Dylan."
Did you have other packaging ideas besides the text-based album cover and photos of you guys with your kids? We had this picture of a tornado blowing up a field and we were going to call it Heaven, with a picture of this decimated world. But if we'd done that I honestly think we'd have sold another 30,000 copies. People like dark shit.
At what point did you decide Heaven would be a good title? The title was actually from a different song initially, a song called "Dance with Your Partner," which is a B-side. And then we thought that was a good title for the record so we called another song "Heaven" because we thought the song was a fitting feel for the whole record. I really like the title as a word but again I think people misunderstood where we were coming from.
Where did the idea for the kid photos actually come from? We had these other pictures that we really liked, but they were really impersonal, these kind of artistic photographs that didn't mean much. So then we ended up making all these pictures with our kids in them and the words on the front with all the pictures on the inside. It was interesting to me how it all came across. It's a fine line between hokey and not hokey and I think a lot of people thought it was hokey, which I think is a shame.
Not to keep hammering on the kids thing, but how has fatherhood changed touring or band life for you guys? I've been a father for 8 years, so it's very present for me. But it's nicer now that everyone has kids because we just go out for like two weeks and come home, go for two weeks come home.
Do your kids think what you do is cool? Definitely, they love it.
Are you forced to listen to records that you wish you didn't have to because your kids like them? With my son, who's almost eight, we made it through really great. We never listened to any kids music at all. He really likes The Rolling Stones and The Ramones a lot. But my daughter is really into princesses so now we're knee-deep in Disney princess songs, which really aren't so bad once you get into it.
Did you guys hang out anywhere while you were recording in Seattle? We'd go to that hamburger place a lot in Greenwood.
Red Mill? Yeah, I remember eating like a hundred Red Mill hamburgers. And we went to some sort of absinthe bar there. It turns out absinthe is disgusting [laughs]. And the [bartender] was really into it and nobody drank theirs so I ended up drinking everyone's absinthe and I felt so bad because the bartender was so proud. It was like trying to take your medicine.
Is that a metaphor for your role in the band, that everyone bailed out leaving you to drink the absinthe? I think it is, yeah. I think it is.