The Walkmen refuse to break stride

Slow and steady
By MICHAEL GRIMES  |  September 28, 2010

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THEIR TIME TO BE HATED “So many bands that we’re friends with have become so famous,” says an unfazed Hamilton Leithauser (left).

"My lord, where's the satisfaction? It's all uphill for me," croons Hamilton Leithauser in "Victory," a standout track from the Walkmen's new Lisbon (Fat Possum), and a perfect example of the sort of musty and swelling anthems the New York band — who come to Royale next Thursday — have mastered over the past decade. It's a fitting question, too. Where is the satisfaction in being the slow-burn torchbearer of indie rock?

It can't be in watching your peers hang-ten off waves of music-blog adulation and hype, right? "So many bands that we're friends with have become so famous," Leithauser admits via phone, sounding completely unfazed.

Vampire Weekend come up in the conversation, a band so indebted to the Walkmen that they insisted on finishing a tour with them as a supporting act even after performing on Saturday Night Live. "That one was just so funny, we were laughing with them about it backstage," says Leithauser. "I just thought it was honorable of them to maintain a commitment. I mean, they didn't need to be doing that."

Then what about the Walkmen chasing that often-elusive amphitheater glory for themselves? "The money would be fantastic, it would be laughable money, but no, it's so depressing, man. Actually, being the support band in those situations is fantastic." Leithauser notes the band's stint as openers for Kings of Leon in 2009: "You show up, everybody loads in all your shit, they're on such a punctual schedule, all you have to do is have a free dinner or go shoot hoops on the Phoenix Suns' warm-up court."

Perhaps the Walkmen have already found their satisfaction. The secret has been in controlling their own path from the beginning. "I don't know how much of that is a good thing, but we certainly are," says Leithauser. "The reason we're doing it is to make the records." And that they have, every other year since their 2002 debut, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone. Which has made for an oddly consistent career trajectory in an industry and lifestyle not known for stability. "I know, it's weird. It's every two years for 10 years. We have noticed that. I think Leonard Cohen did that too."

Lisbon picks up where the wistful strains of 2008's You & Me left off. The tone is more upbeat, with tongue-in-cheek rockers like "Woe Is Me" complementing the darker but hopeful strut of "Blue As Your Blood" and the beautiful title track. Matt Barrick's drums still boom like cannon fire, Walt Martin's bass and Peter Bauer's keys provide atmospherics, and Leithauser's magnificent voice punches back and forth with Paul Maroon's reverb-drenched guitars. The line-up hasn't changed since their inception, and that helps explain how they've weathered the revolving door of wooing record labels. Signing with Fat Possum for Lisbon looks like a perfect fit.

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