Very few bands had the indie clout of the Walkmen. For over a decade, the D.C. area natives made an indelible mark on alternative rock by churning out several classic albums. When the band decided to call it quits in 2013, it was a sad moment for fans and critics alike. Thankfully, both singer Hamilton Leithauser and keyboardist/bassist Peter Matthew Bauer have already released solo efforts, both of which are impressive.
Speaking before a gig in New York City and in anticipation of Thursday's performance at The Loft, Bauer talked with DC9 about the legacy of the Walkmen, how he's scared as hell to be starting a solo career and how liberating it was to make his debut album Liberation.
DC9 at Night: Did you title your debut album Liberation because it was actually liberating to make?
Bauer: Yes, sure. It was a hell of a lot of fun. It was a much different experience than making a Walkmen record. It's a whole new start and a whole new world.
You've said that the Walkmen are on extreme hiatus. What does that mean?
We didn't break up with one guy punching another in the face. We don't have plans to make music together anymore. We all still like each other as people. That wasn't something that I wrote down. It just popped out of my mouth. Somebody asked me how long of a hiatus was it going to be and I said an extreme hiatus. I didn't really want to make a big deal out of it.
Is there a possibility that you and [Walkmen singer] Hamilton Leithauser would make music together in the future?
I don't know. He's my friend. I don't know if I want to be a man out in the world alone forever. I really don't want to be in a band again. I don't want to have that group dynamic. It's tough to do that in your life, to feel like you are a member of an organization as opposed to being your own person. I would love to write songs with Hamilton. Well, maybe I wouldn't.
So you don't really miss it then?
The only thing I miss about it is hanging out with those guys. It's like you don't see your friends anymore. I have a lot of responsibilities in my life and to blow up the Walkmen is a scary thing. But you got to do what you got to do. I don't think any of us saw a way for it to keep moving. I am starting from dead scratch and it's scary as hell. It is also incredibly exciting. It makes me feel a lot more alive than I have in a long time.
It is kind of ironic that Liberation and Hamilton's Black Hours came out close to the same time.
His actually came out a little before mine. I think we were all trying to write records. The last Walkmen record we all wrote together, but you got to keep making records if you want to keep eating. It's unfortunate that the records came out at the same time.
Have you listened to his album?
Yes, I went to where they mastered it with him. I loved it. It's great.
Did you ask Hamilton for some advice in fronting a band?
We grew up together. We were kids together. Watching him sing for all those years, I did learn a lot. We still share advice. We complain to each other. We text back and forth. He and I are probably the closest of the band members. We keep tabs on each other. We are pals.
You can't really listen to your album and compare it with anything from the Walkmen. Was that just the way it worked out?
Yes. No matter what you're doing, you want to make if different and do something as fresh as you can. I think that's what makes it exciting. It was intentional. I wanted it to stand on its own and not just sound like a side project. This is something I want to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to make it the beginning of something. I wanted to give it a fresh quality.
The album has an interesting compilation feel to it. Is that because you had a backlog of songs?
No, it was made as a one-piece thing. I wrote the songs during two weeks when I was in Europe. It was on a Walkmen tour. We knew we were going to break up, so I stayed up all night writing songs. I hadn't really sung before, but I knew I was going to be doing so for the rest of my life. It is a pretty scary thing to do.
How many solo shows have you done?
Probably about 10 or 15. We are going up the East Coast now. We were in Europe last week. It has almost been a different band every week as you can't expect people to give up their lives for you. Now, we are finally becoming a cohesive unit.
For the first few shows, were you nervous?
I was terrified. It was strange because I had played a lot of shows as a musician. But when you play the organ or the bass, no one is really looking up at you. It's a completely different thing to be the center of attention. It is much more fun.
Your vocals are slightly reminiscent of Tom Petty. I also hear a little Tom Verlaine from Television.
It's weird because all these years and all of the bands that I have been in, people have always mentioned Television and I never heard them. I may have heard "Marque Moon" one time. It kind of just bounced off. I heard it on the radio about three months ago and I liked it a lot. It was just one of those things that just sailed by me for years. I can see why people say that I sound like them. I was just trying to sing really high and it came out like Tom Petty. The highest I can sing is Tom Petty's range. Now it is fun because I can sing Tom Petty at Karaoke.
The review in Pitchfork made a lot about the religious aspects of the album.
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That is sort of what the album is about. [But] it's not as simplistic as saying that I don't like organized religion. It is more that spirituality has been a major part of my life. My parents taught me meditation and they were very intellectual. I wanted to make the album about my formative experience. Every week, there would be a hundred people chanting in my basement. You come away from that as a teenager and you get rubbed the wrong way by the cultural aspect of most religions.
Did you really have a conversation with a Scientologist on an airplane?
I did. The gist of that song was that I was on this really long airplane ride. This guy sits down next to me and he tells me that he had something happen to him that was so messed up he had to tell me about it. Now when someone tells you that, you just want to reach for the headphones as quickly as possible. He tells me that his wife is leaving him and she's a scientologist. He tells me she's moving back to Russia with their first child. He tells me this huge long story about how he's never going to see her again. It was quite the conversation.