"It's not that we have anything against people who are into a certain type of thing," he says, addressing Gotham's current obsession with the sound of art-garage, "but I think we can reach a wider audience."
If it's strictly a matter of geography, then it's no mistake that the press considers the Walkmen a New York band. The five-piece lives there and owns a studio, Marcata Recording in Harlem, where they've captured the sounds of locals like the French Kicks, Grand Mal, and the Natural History. Although their roots are in Washington, D.C., the band is comprised of two former outfits¯¯the Recoys and, notably, New York's Jonathan Fire*Eater, 1998's next-big-imploding-thing whose demise was "gleefully chronicled in the pages of the New York Observer and The New York Times," as Leithauser puts it on the Walkmen website (www.thewalkmen.com). They're sharp-witted, fast-talking young Yankees who, during a recent show, were famously heckled with the following comment, "Play another Strokes song!"
But, unlike their much-celebrated, garage-damaged, retro-oriented contemporaries in bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Strokes, the Walkmen's debut depicts a group fixated with songs on the brink of self-destruction, rather than the aesthetics of torn nylon or recreating the vibe of Max's Kansas City. Everybody Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (Startime International) is a melancholic collection of tracks built on dissonant drums and organ, an aerie foundation for Leithauser's voice to lazily weave melody from lyrics like, "How come in all of your fashion magazines, the people, they always look so mean?" They sound like they're playing Christmas carols for fugitives and have often been compared to October-era U2.
Since the band (which includes guitarist Paul Maroon) attended high school and played music together in various other D.C. incarnations--they're all between the ages of 24 and 28--they've had plenty of time to work on originality. After a brief period of convalescence post-Recoys/ Fire*Eater (the two broke up almost simultaneously), the five-piece began recording together, playing their first show in the fall of 2000. They tore through a series of names--the Sheeps, the Murderers, the Robots--before settling on the Walkmen. "I don't even like the name that much," quips Leithauser before explaining that he's been up for two days of solid drinking and fetched the shirt he's wearing from a lost-and-found box. He's not always this sanguine.
As for distinguishing themselves from the spate of New York City rock bands [garage clones], the Walkmen are thinking about how to get ahead in advertising.
"I think we should write jingles," says Bauer.
"I heard there's a lot of money in car commercials," says Leithauser, dryly.