“The other night we played at a huge club in D.C., and we
get up there and the fucking soundman didn’t turn on the
mics,” explained Hamilton Leithauser, the plain-spoken
frontman for New York City denizens The Walkmen. “I played
the first two songs without a microphone, but we recovered. A while
ago that would have put us in a cast.”

Beth Dykstra

That sort of professionalism should probably be expected: Each
of The Walkmen’s five members cut their teeth in successful
underground acts, with organist Walter Martin, guitarist Paul
Maroon and drummer Matt Barrick spending time in hype-machine
casualty Jonathon Fire*Eater.

The band’s second album, the hypnotic, driving Bows and
Arrows
, dulls the echoes of prior bands and hones The
Walkmen’s unique sound. Their first record, 2002’s
Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, mixed gutty
guitar jangle, eerie piano lines, powerful drum slaps and
Leithauser’s high-strung vocals with impressive results, but
somehow felt higher on potential than delivery.

“We opened this recording studio (Marcata Recordings) up
in Harlem a few years ago and … during the first (album) we
were just learning” Leithauser said. In contrast, Bows and
Arrows
is a cleaner, more focused, and ultimately better
record. Leithauser explains: “This time, we just knew how to
work the equipment a lot better.” There was also a greater
sense of direction for Bows. “It was something we had
laid out beforehand. We knew what we were going for.”

Despite the newfound focus, the group’s sonics don’t
mesh easily. “Usually one person will bring in a small idea,
a guitar part or a drum beat,” explained Leithauser.
“If we like it, we’ll try to add layers on top of it,
and maybe one out of every 1000 times it will sound good with the
whole band. And then I take it home to do the lyrics and the
melodies.”

The album, which was recorded in four or five different
locations, was considerably more difficult for the band —
used to working in its own studio — to mold into a cohesive
whole. “It was a little weird. We definitely had to bring it
back to our studio at the end. We weren’t getting everything
we needed.” The band, however, makes it a point not to
over-produce their songs, instead relying on material that they can
reproduce live. “That’s the most important part. People
get so caught up in the studio sometimes. I think that’s a
big problem with modern music.”

Leithauser’s easygoing demeanor is betrayed by his
recorded persona. A passionate singer, Leithauser bucks the trend
of disinterested frontmen, displaying a unique ability to make even
most inconsequential lines captivating. It is his presence, more
than anything else, that sets The Walkmen apart from the spate of
New York bands that they are so often compared to.

It’s the kind of presence that can transform a live show
from entertaining to intoxicating. The band, already in the midst
of a massive tour supporting Bows and Arrows, will bring its
transfixing art-rock to Detroit this Saturday. Leithauser argues,
though, that the band’s live presence isn’t derived
from its sound, but rather its increasing force and improving
chemistry. “It’s all energy,” he explained.
“You never know until you get up there.”

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