The Walkmen interview

The New York indie quartet explain their love of romantic comedies


The New York indie quartet’s recently released fifth album, Lisbon, is their most artful and affecting yet. We had a chat with the band’s singer/guitarist Hamilton Leithauser.

They love to watch romantic comedies on the tour bus.
When we come to England we always watch rom coms. I swear to God! Notting Hill – we like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts – Bridget Jones’s Diary, that kind of stuff. Our tour manager gets us all the new rom coms now. It’s like comfort food after a show when you’re driving and it’s late at night. It’s embarrassing and funny to watch. We love them!

Forget getting heckled on stage – The Walkmen get it on the street
One time we were in downtown Cincinnati – which is really one of the roughest cities in the US – and this dude in a big Cadillac Escalade called all of us Simon and Garfunkel. Paul [Maroon, guitar/piano] lives in a shady area of Philadelphia and some dude called him the 40-year-old virgin in front of a group of kids and they all laughed at him.

Their most surreal moment as a band occurred while opening for Incubus. Incubus!
We got to this Oklahoma State University pep rally. It’s a huge football school in the heart of conservative America and we were playing in the stadium on the 50-yard line for 40,000 people who were there to see Incubus. This sports announcer, Dan Patrick, introduced us. It was maybe a year or two after September 11 and it was near the anniversary. He did this big memorial speech about it and there was dead silence. And then he was like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, these guys used to open for Modest Mouse, The Walkmen.’ And we had to walk out and start playing. It was the worst possible vibe ever! They were not into us.

Once upon a time they all decided to collaborate on writing a novel on tour. It was called John’s Journey.
It’s been a while since we worked on it. We read some of it recently and it was pretty funny. We started it when we were on the longest tour of our lives, in around 2004 – which drove us slightly crazy – and we decided to write the story and re-record Harry Nilsson’s Pussycats record. Both were flawed ideas! It was a daily what-happened-to-you-today in as much detail as possible. I was reading that book Infinite Jest [by David Foster Wallace] the other day and realised he came up with the idea before we did. We half-assed discussed starting it again, but I don’t know.

Hamilton is a chess nerd.
I play a lot of online chess. I don’t know how good I am but it’s very addictive. It started 10 years ago when I had an office job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I came back from tour one time and I had a full week of working in the office and I taught myself how to play and didn’t do a single thing that week.

They have come to blows.
Yes! I videotaped one fight we had in North Carolina. I happened to have my video camera on when Walt [Martin, organ/bass] and Pete [Bauer, bass/organ] got in this big slap-boxing contest that got way too serious.

Although sometimes they hit each other in a joyous fashion.
Recently we were watching the Philadelphia Phillies [baseball] game and they won, and Pete and Paul were so excited that Paul turned around and punched Pete in the stomach and Pete threw up.

If their latest album, Lisbon, were the soundtrack to a movie the movie could be described thusly…
‘It’d be like a Stallone movie. Washed up – but manly.’

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