It's hip to be square
“We had no doubt when we first started that we were going to go places, but when you look back you realise how hard things were,” The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser tells TONY CLAYTON-LEAFROM BROOKLYN, NYC, via Washington DC, the members of The Walkmen are proof positive that it always helps to know your bandmates before you commit to traipsing around in vans too small to hold not only the band but also the equipment and the egos.
Talking to Hamilton Leithauser, the band’s lead singer (actually, make that the band’s singular lead singer – you’ve really heard nothing like him) across a leaky mobile, we’re not sure whether he’s just woken up or is suffering from one interview too many. Either way, his enthusiasm levels register low on whatever scales that enthusiasm levels are measured. Leithauser perks up, however, when talk turns to a subject that is clearly important to him – his band and his bandmates.
Each member of The Walkmen grew up in Washington DC, attended the same high school, and played in many of the same bands from the get-go. The friends even upped sticks together in the late-1990s to move from their home turf to New York’s Harlem, where they willingly entangled themselves in the NYC hipster set.
“Yeah, we didn’t have to go through the usual bonding experiences so many bands have to go through,” says Leithauser. “That said, that kind of situation does have its ups and downs. Mostly ups, though, as we’ve been here a long, long time and we’re still kicking. And that comes from us coming from a similar background; we had strong friendships before we had the band, and that’s why we’re able to stay alive as a unit.”
“I have so many friends who have been in bands,” continues Leithauser, warming to the topic. “Some of them are very successful and some of them aren’t, but when they started they didn’t necessarily have any history with the other band member. And sometimes they actually end up hating each other, or eventually they clash and just want to live very different lifestyles.
“I can’t imagine doing it that way; I think we’re so lucky that we’re able to have started the band with each other. If people aren’t familiar with the structure and all the work that goes into it, being in a band can be incredibly difficult. Like, I have other friends who try to start bands via Craigslist, or something like that – I just can’t imagine how a band like that could ever really work.”
So mutually inclusive history and reference points are crucial? “Yes, but the downside is that when you do it for so long you can fall into a routine, which can be a recipe for writing uninspired stuff. It’s changed, though, as we now all live all over the place. That’s fine for us, because we see each other plenty when we’re on the road, and we have found that you can live a different life without taking something away from what brought you together in the first place. And, you know, you can also bring new things into the band and onto new albums by having a different perspective. It’s a balance, but I guess in the end it’s a positive.”