Little Big Show
The Walkmen /
Father John Misty
January 27, 2013
Doors at 7:00pm
Show at 8:00pm
1303 Northeast 45th Street
Seattle, WA 98105-4502
KEXP, STG and Starbucks join our Seattle-loving hearts to bring you Little Big Show, a concert series created to benefit our city’s arts organizations.
Several times a year, we find a great band or two, give ‘em the stage at The Neptune and donate 100% of ticket sales to a local non-profit. It’s the little show with a big effect.
Previous shows, featuring performances by Pickwick, Real Estate, Dum Dum Girls and First Aid Kit raised over $40,000 for Arts Corps, Coyote Central, NFFTY and 826 Seattle. Let’s do it again with the next show for our new beneficiary, Youth In Focus.
To learn more about Youth In Focus and the difference you will be making by attending this show, visit youthinfocus.org.
"The detachment you can feel throughout our younger records is gone. We felt like it was time to make a bigger, more generous statement.”When describing the new album, Heaven, the Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser portrays a band hitting maturity, comfortable in its mastery, after a decade together. Adds guitarist Paul Maroon, “when you’re starting out, you’re sitting there trying to come up with a big idea, but after a while, you learn about the process of writing. You learn about your friends in the band and how they work best.” It’s been ten years since the Walkmen made their debut album, Everybody Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone. Ten years since they mixed the lovingly recorded analogue tapes down to the cheapest CD burner they could find. Ten years since lead singer Hamilton Leithauser snapped guitarist Paul Maroon’s arm in a celebratory wrestling match. Ten years since critics attached them to a New York scene they never wanted any part of.
But when Leithauser sings “We Can’t Be Beat,” on the opening track of their new album, he means it, like Cool Hand Luke getting up off the floor for one more round. “The world is ours,” he declares. This time, he may be right.
This spring, the band played a series of 10th anniversary shows that demonstrated how far they have outstripped their peers: two sets over two hours, no filler, rapturously received. In contrast, fellow graduates from New York’s celebrated rock revival class of ’02 have burned out or faded from view.
The Walkmen are the great New York band of their generation, and in Heaven, they have delivered their third killer album in a row. Although Leithauser argues that “our biggest accomplishment is just being here,” they are making the best music of their career and filling their largest venues yet. Their spot at the top of the bill at May’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival, curated by The National, demonstrates the respect in which they are held by the current wave of bands making music in the city.
“In The New Year”, a standout track on their fourth record, You & Me, implies that at one point there was pressure to quit: “My friends and my family, they are asking of me, how long will you ramble, how long will you still repeat?” Lauded as a stunning collection of songs, beautifully arranged, the 2008 album revitalized their career.
Lisbon, released two years later, confirmed that trajectory, winning five star reviews for its short stories and spare, Sun Records sound. The clanging tones of Paul Maroon’s Rickenbacker Capri 360 and Gretsch Streamliner set the 1950s mood, as Leithauser channelled Orbison and Sinatra, in all their melancholy defiance.
On last year’s tours with Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, the Walkmen formed enduring friendships – and resolved to write a song that would make them headliners, once and for all. “There’s a kinship,” says multi-instrumentalist Pete Bauer. “You feel like someone else is out there taking music as seriously as you’re taking it. You realize that you’re a lifer.”
So when Fleet Foxes producer Phil Ek approached them, asking if they’d like to make a record with him, they traveled to the studio he uses in the woods outside Seattle for the most intense recording sessions they had ever experienced. “He was relentless,” says Maroon. “And in the end, you can hear the difference.”
“We have never been on better behavior,” agrees Leithauser. “When Phil had an idea, we would be ‘OK, let’s try it.’ That’s not who we are! But we came up with a sound that we love.” Although the chime of Maroon’s guitar is unmistakable in the cascading arpeggios of “Song For Leigh” or the driving metallic riff of “Heartbreaker”, the setting is fuller, the production lush.
“There can be something brittle about our sound,” Maroon says. “He made it just a little bit warmer, a little bit stronger. When I play it in my car, it sounds strong, which I love.” On “We Can’t Be Beat”, Leithauser is Dion and his bandmates The Belmonts, singing pitch perfect doo-wop. On “No One Ever Sleeps”, Fleet Foxes vocalist Robin Pecknold plays Don Everly to Leithauser’s Phil, supplying a low harmony at once classic and contemporary.
“Love Is Luck” started out as an attempt to replicate the spacious, reverberating tone of Jamaica’s Studio One in the formative days of The Wailers. “Phil said ‘I hear this as a rock song,’” remembers Leithauser. “Then Matt came up with the drums and it started sounding like the Pixies: a big, loud, bombastic thing.”
The one song that the Walkmen insisted on, over Ek’s objections, turned out to be the track that pulled the record together and gave it a title. “Our children will always hear romantic tales of distant years,” sings Leithauser. “Don’t leave me, you’re my best friend. All of my life, you’ve always been.”
After 10 years, the Walkmen have everything that a great band needs. Leithauser is a mature singer of phenomenal stamina who can trade “The Rat’s” raw anger for the yearning of “Southern Heart” in a beat. Drummer Matt Barrick can pummel ferociously and drop down to Buddy Holly’s tramcar click. Bauer is a consummate sideman, effortlessly switching from guitar to farfisa to piano as required, or trading instruments with bass player Walter Martin, who has also written his most resonant lyrics yet.
All five members of the band have kids now and if the impact of parenthood is hard to pin down in a single lyric, there is definitely a new openness and emotional honesty to the songs. Most importantly, the old gang mentality has deepened, becoming something worthwhile and lasting. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve stayed friends and those friendships have grown,” says Bauer. “We have survival experience and real love that children generate in your life.” Heaven is a definitive statement of purpose and commitment, from a band at the peak of its powers that is finally winning the recognition it deserves.
FATHER JOHN MISTY
When discussing ‘Father John Misty’, Tillman paraphrases Philip Roth: ’It’s all of me and none of me, if you can’t see that, you won’t get it’. What I call it is totally arbitrary, but I like the name. You’ve got to have a name. I never got to choose mine."
He goes on, “‘People who make records are afforded this assumption by the culture that their music is coming from an exclusively personal place, but more often than not what you hear are actually the affectations of an ’alter-ego’ or a cartoon of an emotionally heightened persona,” says Josh Tillman, who has been recording/releasing solo albums since 2003 and who recently left Seattle’s Fleet Foxes after playing drums from 2008-2011. “That kind of emotional quotient isn’t sustainable if your concern is portraying a human-being made up of more than just chest-beating pathos. I see a lot of rampant, sexless, male-fantasy everywhere in the music around me. I didn’t want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy, escapism, any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humor and sex and mischief. So when you think about it, it’s kind of mischievous to write about yourself in a plain-spoken, kind of explicitly obvious way and call it something like ‘Misty’. I mean, I may as well have called it ‘Steve’”.
Musically, Fear Fun consists of such disparate elements as Waylon Jennings, Harry Nilsson, Arthur Russell, “All Things Must Pass,” and “Physical Graffiti,” often within the same song. Tillman’s voice has never been better and often sounds like Roy Orbison, “The Caruso of Rock”, at his most joyous, while the music maintains a dark, mysterious and yet conversely playful, almost Dionysian quality. Lyrically, his absurdist fever dreams of pain and pleasure elicit, in equal measures, the blunt descriptive power of Bukowski or Brautigan, the hedonist-philosophy of Oscar Wilde and the dried-out wit of Loudon Wainwright III.
The album began gestating during what Tillman describes as an “immobilizing period of depression”, in his former Seattle home. “Songwriting for me had always only been interesting and necessary because I saw it as this vehicle for truth, but I had this realization that all I had really done with it was lick my wounds for years and years, and become more and more isolated from people and experiences. I don’t even like wound-licking music, I want to listen to someone rip their arm off and beat themselves with it. I don’t believe that until now I’ve ever put anything at risk in my music. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about.”
He continues, "I lost all interest in writing music, or identifying as a ‘songwriter’. I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice. The voice that is actually useful.
“It was a while before that voice started manifesting in a musical way, but once I settled in the Laurel Canyon spider-shack where I’m living now, I spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences almost in real-time, and kind of had this musical ‘Oh-there-I-am’ moment, identical to how I felt when I was writing the book. It was unbelievably liberating. I knew there was never any going back to the place I was writing from before, which was a huge relief. The monkey got banished off my back.”
Tillman brought the demos to LA producer/songwriter/pal Jonathan Wilson, and in February 2011 began recording at his home-studio in Echo Park. "Initially, the idea was to just kind of recreate the demos with me playing everything, since they were pretty fleshed out and sounded cool, but a place like LA affords you a different wealth of talent, potential, etc than just about anywhere else. I realized what was possible between Jonathan’s abilities, and the caliber of musicians that are just hanging around LA, pretty quickly. People were coming in and out of the studio all day sometimes, and other days, it would just be Jonathan and I holed up, getting stoned, and doing everything.
“I was honest with myself about what music actually excites my joy-glands when I was considering the arrangements and instrumentation,” says Tillman. “As opposed to what’s been enjoyable to me in the past – namely, alienating people or making choices based on what I think people won’t like or understand. Pretty narcissistic stuff.”
When asked about Laurel Canyon, where he eventually ended up living in the aforementioned tree-house with a family of spiders, Tillman says, “My attitude about it all is pretty explicit in the record. Given my fairly adversarial personal attitude about the music and aesthetic that comes from that place, it’s kind of a huge joke that I live in a former hippie-fantasy land. I have a really morbid sense of humor.”
Phil Ek (who everyone knows has worked with Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes) heard the rough versions of the album in May 2011 and offered his services to mix. “Phil and I have known each other for a while by virtue of Fleet Foxes, so he was familiar with my music, but we had never discussed working together. I think he immediately recognized the shift in my writing and singing from a producer and friend’s standpoint. His excitement is really evident in mixes, I think.”