The Walkmen aren't as Dark as You Think They Are

Singer Hamilton Leithauser wants to give his band's dark reputation the boot

Somber, dark, sinister and gloomy are just a few of the adjectives most commonly used to describe the music of The Walkmen, one of New York City's most interesting indie rock bands.

Problem is, the group's frontman, Hamilton Leithauser, can't stand the gothic trappings that seem to pop up in seemingly each and every article about The Walkmen.

"That's bizarre, this whole dark reputation thing," Leithauser says. "That's just writers reusing what somebody else wrote."

No one's ever accused The Walkmen of being well-mannered.
Andrew Palermo
No one's ever accused The Walkmen of being well-mannered.

Leithauser believes that a couple of early reviews have pigeonholed the band as some sort of dreary collection of manic depressives, a description that he says doesn't do his group justice.

"People are always writing that we're a downer or that we're wasted," Leithauser says. "It's a common thread that I think is just lazy journalism."

Despite his protests, it's fairly easy to listen to any one of the five Walkmen releases (especially 2004's Bows + Arrows) and get a downer vibe. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Recalling such classic, self-absorbed mopers as Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure, but with a uniquely American punk bent, Leithauser and the four other Walkmen have released a series of indie efforts that are as consistent and captivating as anything any moody slacker is likely to stumble upon.

"Most people say our influences are all over the map, and that's pretty much on target," Leithauser admits. Indeed, listening to The Walkmen's most recent effort, the slightly more restrained You & Me, one can hear echoes of everyone from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley. Naturally, Leithauser wouldn't have it any other way.

"You try to make it easy on yourself by listening to as much different music as possible," Leithauser says, "so you can come up with something that counts."

Thankfully, almost everything The Walkmen has released has counted. Even Pussy Cats, a 2006 track-by-track re-creation of John Lennon and Harry Nilsson's obscure 1974 album of the same name, provided a litany of perverse thrills for geeks and musicologists everywhere.

"That was a favorite record of the band," Leithauser says. "We were closing our studio and wanted to record something before the place was gone forever."

Despite the positive press the effort received, Leithauser is certain that The Walkmen's cover days are over.

"I think we will stick to our own stuff for a while," he says.

The Walkmen's own stuff is a fairly potent blend of old and new, a hybrid of '60s psychedelia and brash '80s hardcore punk that rarely settles for anything close to the norm. You & Me may not reach the heights of previous releases, but it remains a challenging piece of work that reveals a hitherto unknown soft side of the band.

"We were going for something lighter, something much less intense as what we've done before," Leithauser says.

Considering how he wants to remove his band from its dark tags, that sounds like a step in the right direction.

 
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