THE WRITTEN press materials for the Walkmen's seventh album, Heaven, tout the record's relative maturity, the calmest and clearest-eyed entry in a discography that's flirted with booze-soaked oblivion and angry young-man vitriol. It's a pat summary, to say the least, and one which every review of the album—one of the Walkmen's best—has latched onto.
But as organist/bassist/guitarist Pete Bauer says, "It's a double-edged sword. I've started to feel that maybe it's fucked us over. But you know, you gotta give people something to say, and so you put that in a one-page Word document and it sort of seals your fate for a year. If we had put that it's the darkest, most drug-addled album of ours, and made the cover like [Royal Trux's] Sweet Sixteen, people would have taken it very differently."
There's some truth to Heaven's convenient description as a "mature" effort. The music is as centered and immediate as the Walkmen have made in their decade-plus history. All five members of the New York band are fathers now (that's Bauer's son in the press photo above), and they've outlived most of their peers without changing their lineup.
"It's hard," Bauer says simply of the band's consistency. "As far as five people on earth go, we get along incredibly well. We all have our complaints about the other guys, I'm sure, but compared to most groups in history, we've really stayed friends and so on. And I think that's a really good thing, something to be proud of."
The Walkmen recorded Heaven outside of Seattle with producer Phil Ek, who brought efficiency and drive to the sessions. Apart from a few sonic choices, the album's supposed themes—contentment, family, nostalgia—were not deliberate at all. "There's the sense that you'd like to make certain things sound one way or the other, but... you kind of get lucky to get what you get. I hope? I feel like a lot of people would agree with that, but maybe talk about it in the fashion of, 'Well, I meant to do this.'
"We wanted [Heaven] to be cleaner sounding, because for years we've heard about how faraway and harsh everything sounded, so we were aiming for something different," Bauer continues. "And I think we got that—that clarity of sound. But theme-wise, I don't know. We've always been aiming for these joyous things and they're always sort of dragged down by something not joyous happening. But that's the music I like: It's sad, but it brings you joy. It's not a conscious thing, that's all I'm saying. It's silly to be like, 'Yeah, we really wanted to be mature.' I mean, who the hell wants to be mature? It's like your dad telling you, 'Do your homework' or something."
To that end, the Walkmen are touring with Father John Misty, who's cultivated an image of a Dionysian shaman, replete with hookers, blow, and Father Yod's magnetic charisma. Misty's the perfect tourmate, an antidote to the suspicion that the Walkmen are, indeed, maturing beyond rock 'n' roll. "Yeah, we're thinking about maybe re-cultivating our party-guy image," laughs Bauer.
But of what comes after Heaven, Bauer adds, "I don't know what we're gonna do now. I don't know if we're gonna work on new stuff or not. We've just done this for so long. We've recorded constantly and toured constantly, and never really taken a break. So I don't know what we'll do—if we'll start recording again or not. It just seems a little redundant right now. But we'll see what happens, I guess."