Walter Martin on The Walkmen and His New Solo Album “Reminisce Bar & Grill” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, May 24th, 2024  

Walter Martin on The Walkmen and His New Solo Album “Reminisce Bar & Grill”

Jogging Memories

May 03, 2018 Walter Martin Photography by Charles Steinberg Bookmark and Share

The response to figures in art is strongest either when they are mysterious or when they are relatable; when their opacity fascinates or their transparency disarms. It is rare, and something that might only come along when you’ve followed an artist for many years, when the same figure encompasses that polarity.

As co-songwriter of The Walkmen during the early 2000’s mass emergence of instantly vital New York bands, Walter Martin was right in the middle of a surge of post-rock and punk that re-established the city as the rock mecca it was when The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, and The New York Dolls held sway. Along with his little cousin with a big voice, Hamilton Leithauser, and lifelong bandmates Paul Maroon, Peter Bauer, and Matt Barrick, Martin and the Washington, D.C. transplants reanimated vintage sensibility and instrumentation through the restless energy of modern urban youth. They looked, sounded, and felt as cool as rolled-up short sleeves and a pocket comb through slicked back hair.

It was the mystery of all this that stoked my curiosity. As someone who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the ‘80s and ‘90s, immersion in hip-hop went with the territory. But when the authenticity of hip-hop began to stagnate, bands like Interpol, TV on The Radio, The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Walkmen grabbed the spare attention. They were standouts at the party that I wasn’t invited to but suddenly wanted to crash. Listening through earphones to electrifying Walkmen songs like “Wake Up” and “Thinking of a Dream I Had” instantly made me feel more dashing. They wrenched forward a pastime swing that found its way into my urban contemporary stomp, with resonance that beamed high in the streetlights.

The Walkmen had a nice decade-long run, riding an enthusiasm through seven albums, rolling with it in vans from one gig to the next and forming close bonds of embattlement with bands like The National. But inevitably, a wariness of the lifestyle crept in. To this, Martin attests and his direction since the days of hustle mark the changing of priorities that, in turn, change lyrics. The once fiery lines ignited by instinct have been replaced with limerick from the pensive perception of what has revealed itself to really matter.

Albums can be like snapshots of where musicians are in their lives. If Walkmen classics like Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone and Bows & Arrows captured the ambition of charging out into the world to make your mark, Martin’s post-Walkmen solo work speaks to slowing things down as a family man and parsing a quieter life for its jewels hidden in plain sight. Viewed chronologically, his thematic songs for kids, his nostalgic and expository album Arts + Leisure, and now his genuinely illuminating Reminisce Bar & Grill, reveal that songwriting serves an essential function for Martinas a tool to understanding age. With a sense of humor and candor, the fruits of thought go beyond wine hour quips in locating the profound within the ordinary.

As I re-listen to Reminisce Bar & Grill on the way to my interview with Martin at his new studio tucked away by the expressway in Gowanus, Brooklyna different expanse of the city than where The Walkmen prowled nearly 15 years agothis relatability is what I respond to now. Sometimes with music, it’s about reassurance; that somebody else out there happens to have a shared view; not necessarily about matters of politics or a higher power but about missing a friend or having an emotional moment on a jog. The Walkmen songs that once accompanied me to the bar or rattled the walls of a house party have become the Walter Martin songs that keep me company at the market, the laundromat, or neighborhood coffee shop. There’s a primacy to both, it just depends on where you are in life. I met Martin to a warm welcome outside the building of his new studio, one far removed from the Marcata Recording space that he built in Harlem with other members of The Walkmen back in 2000. “You don’t have to take your shoes off, I just have mine off,” he mentions politely, as we begin things by talking about his recording studios past and present.

Walter Martin: Columbia [Records] bought [Marcata] and kicked us outthankfully. Me and Matt and Paul from The Walkmen had a band before [Jonathan Fire Eater]. We started it and thought we could make money recording bands and we learned quickly that we couldn’t. Luckily in the meantime, The Walkmen formed so we stayed afloat. So, we had this studio that was sort of a liability [but] it was great for The Walkmenwe made our first record there for free and rehearsed there a lot. But for me and Matt and Paul who had built it and took on investors for it, we were sweatin’ it hard. So we broke even on it and right then thankfully we got thrown out. So we were like, “Okay, we’re done with that.”

Charles Steinberg (Under the Radar): Who else did you record there?

We put up flyers! I recorded the Columbia All Girls Glee Club Band. We had like 75 girls singing in there. It was very dramatic. There was a lot of bickering. It was one of the funniest sessions. I’m not like an engineer, none of us were…I remember Matt and me doing a session and putting the tape on wrong and the tape was spooling on the ground and the manager was like [looking at us] in the corner. It was really like Three’s Company, like pretending everything was normal…. We had always recorded ourselves, like on 4-tracks and we sort of understood studios but as far as having the patience to really run a studio…[we didn’t]. Like you’re supposed to calibrate your tape machine before every session. I think I calibrated the tape machine once and kind of halfway did it.

Do you still have that old stuff that you recorded there?

Yeah, a lot of Bows & Arrows was done there. [Basically] our first four [recordings], a lot of it was made there.

Was that where the cover photo for Bows & Arrows comes from? That’s what gave me the impression that The Walkmen were a very cool band.

That was the studio! Yeah, that was taken from the control room. The title words were actually painted on the glass, you can’t even tell. It looks like it was just done on a computer.

Oh Really? That’s so cool! It looks superimposed. That album was my introduction to you guys and part of my introduction to the burgeoning alt-rock scene of the city at that time. Prior to that, I was all about hip-hop, having grown up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan…. We’re basically the same age by the way.

Cool, that makes me more comfortable. Yeah, it was the same for me in high school in DC. I loved some hip-hop. I didn’t love it all though.

Was it more about go-go music for you?

Yeah, that was the local stuff but I didn’t take that seriously ‘til later. I didn’t appreciate how great that stuff was until I left because it was like every school dance had a go-go band. From when I was a kid you would hear about go-go, that’s just what we did. But once I left it was like, “Oh my god, D.C. has its own music and it’s great.”

So after hip-hop, I got into all of that raw, bursting sound of New York bands at the time. That’s when I first heard Bows & Arrows, which was a very inspiring record for me.

Yeah, I like that record. I’m proud of that one.

I associated The Walkmen with Interpol, TV on the Radio…The Strokes. Did you feel a part of all that?

We were a little bit removed from it. I actually knew a lot of the players before The Walkmen started. I went to college with Nick [Zinner] from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and I knew three of the four Interpol guys just through friends but we were more uptown as far as hanging out with people. They were all more downtown and Brooklyn. We were not as outgoing as those other people. We would go to a festival and all of those other bands would know each other and we would be hiding in our trailer. We were less social for some reason and not as ‘bro’d-out.’ We were more so with The National because we went on tour with them. When you travel together, you really bond, so we’ve always been close. I’m still close to those guys. I first met them when they opened for us on a Walkmen tour and they were having the worst time. We weren’t even doing that well and they were opening for us and were like “This sucks!” [mutual laughter] So we bonded over a horrible tour, which is a great way to bond. I see them as our brother band, even though they’re now totally kicking ass, so we’re not brothers now! They’re like U2 or something.

I don’t mean to suggest all that music was similar, it was just that all of that stuff was coming out at the same time and that’s how I became familiar with the sub-culture. When I first heard The Walkmen, there was something about the edgy but genuine coolness of you guys that really spoke to me. Now I feel the same strength of attraction to your music but for entirely different reasons. Is there a musician or band who your appreciation for has evolved in that way?

I think of somebody like Randy Newman but I think I identify with him for the same reasons now [as I did when I was younger]. It took me a while to like him. My parents had the Sail Away record and every time I would go to D.C., I would go through the record shelf and be like, “Is there any other thing that I might like?” I always saw that one and he was wearing all that brown corduroy on the cover and I was like, “I don’t know…” But eventually, I loved it. I like it for the same reasons now though. Now that I do stuff on my own, I think I now understand that so much of what he does is about the lyrics even though he’s famous for his beautiful melodies and piano playing. So much is about what he’s saying and his personality and sense of humor. I guess Jonathan Richman too. Dopey Jonathan Richman back then. I really liked The Modern Lovers because of how bad ass it was but also it was funny. He always sounded stuffed up and different and I was like, “Man, I fucking love this.” I couldn’t believe it when I first heard that Modern Lovers record. Most of my other friends didn’t go towards the more whimsical stuff he did but I got way into it.

I was going to ask you about them and about the humor and irony you share in your songwriting. Is that just how your brain works when you’re penning things? Did Richman influence you in that way? Is humor a way for you to be relatable to listeners?

It’s the way I naturally think about things. It’s hard to tell but I think the reason I responded to those guys is because it feels so human. When I first loved rock ‘n’ roll it was also about the coolness. So The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground…so there is that sort of standoffish, cold thing that I loved, you can’t beat that, but as I got older it was more about the personalities. That’s when I started getting into Newman and Richman. Mixing in humor made it more human and I loved it in a different way than I loved other stuff.

That’s what grabs me. It’s like in stand-up, making people smile and giggle is disarming. It allows you to approach the music more and kind of find threads you connect to.

Sure, exactly. And I love that. Both of those guys, when I saw them play, not that I saw Randy Newman that much because he never toured, but they would spend a lot of the show talking, talking about their songs, and that’s the best part of the show. You’re there for them, not to hear some shredding guitar solo. It’s to enjoy their personality and they happen to be playing like 10 songs and you don’t even care if it’s your favorite song…that’s what I love. When I started to do stuff on my own it took me awhile to realize that I should just do me. Once I realized that it felt great. So, that’s what I do.

How much did Hamilton [Leithauser]‘s songwriting rub off on you and vice versa? He wrote a lot from the second and third person, even though he may have been referring to his own experiences, while you seem to be first person autobiographical.

In the beginning, he did all the words but by You & Me he and I did all of the writing together. On that album we would actually sit at a table together and write and then by Lisbon and Heaven I’d write some and he’d write some. The lyrics were very much a combined effort, except on the first two records. We really wanted a change after A Hundred Miles Off, which was kind of a shitty record.

I like some songs on there.

It was okay. We were trying to keep rocking. We were feeling like doing stuff that had a little more weight or try something different. We started writing songs in 6/8 [time] which was a big deal and were like, “This is weird.” But that’s when Ham and I started doing lyrics together. Let’s try to write lyrics that had more story, more romance. It was really valuable for me just to learn the nuts and bolts of putting stuff together. Honestly, rhyming stuff. We worked our butts off because we had worked so hard on the music and we wanted to have lyrics as good as the music. But yeah so once The Walkmen stopped, I felt like I had the craft of [writing] so it was more just finding out what I wanted to write about. But then I was like, “What the hell am I going to write about?” I never thought I would do stuff on my own because I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. Then I made that kids record. I didn’t really mean to. I just sort of wrote some songs and my wife heard them. This other shit that I had done was a little more “Walkmenny.” She was like, “That’s crap,” [but with the kids songs] she was like, “That’s the real stuff, do that.”

Did you have kids at that time?

I had just had my first. I still think it was a coincidence that it lined up that I made a kids record [right then] but I think when I look back when I’m 80, I’ll be like, “Of course, the year that I had a kid is the year I made a kids record.” I wasn’t writing songs for my kids. I try to keep it separate. A lot of people who make kids records are writing about how much they love their kids but I don’t do that. Even when I identify a child that I’m singing to I always make it a boy just so it’s clear that I’m not singing about my girls.

Do your kids like your music? Do they ask you to play for them?

They do yeah. I don’t like sing for them, other than “Take Me Home, Country Roads” when they’re going to bed. But I don’t sit there and sing my songs. If I’m working on something I’ll play it for them. I pick them up from school and stuff, so if I’m working on something that I think they’ll get a kick out of, I’ll play it for them in the car.

Were you always just naturally close to Hamilton because of family or was it more because of the music? You’re cousins, right?

Yeah. We’re like brothers. Our mothers are sisters and we grew up across the street from each other. He’s three years younger than me and I have a brother who’s four years younger than me and it was more like they were friends. I was older. Ham was a freshman in high school when I was a senior so we didn’t cross paths that much when I was in D.C. He was like my younger brother. Me, Matt and Paul from The Walkmen had a bandso it was basically like the same band in high schooland then when I moved up here we became Jonathan Fire Eater. Ham had a band in high school too, with my brother, and went to college in Boston and had a band there. But it’s one of those things where your friend or relative tell you they have a band and you’re like, [skeptically] “Oh great.” You’re dreading having to see it because then you’re going to have to lie about how you like it and it creates a bad moment. But anyway, they opened for Jonathan Fire Eater in Boston one time and I was like, “Holy fuck…they’re good. Ham’s good, he can sing.” It really surprised me and I was so incredibly happy. I just couldn’t believe it.

That’s interesting, you didn’t know he was any good until then?

Well I had heard them a little bit in the basement of my house but they were freshmen, so I was like, “Give me break.” There was something good there but I never would have thought that it was actually going to be good. Also, his old band [The Recoys - Pete from The Walkmen played guitar] caught the arc of Jonathan Fire Eater, so they dressed like us and I was like, “I don’t wanna see this crap.” But they were great. They had really good songs and he could really sing. I could tell from watching their sound check and was like, “He knows what he’s doing.” I was very excited.

Right after that were you like, “Alright, I want you to be in our band?”

No, it took a while. He lived in Boston for a while and moved to New York and they started playing here a lot. People didn’t go to their shows but I did and I loved them. Their problem was that they dressed like us, had the same guitars and did the same covers and had the same groove. So I’d bring my friends and they’d be like, “They’re just copying Jonathan Fire Eater. How can you take it?” and I’d be like “Yes…on the surface they are but Ham can write really good songs, so get over it.” I even had a casual band on the side and wrote a song about The Recoys and how they’re great but you’ll have to get over the fact that they have some originality issues. [laughs] So then Jonathan Fire Eater broke up [after 2 EPs and one full-length]. Those were my best friends from high school and that was like our thing but then it got fucked up. The Recoys went on for a little while after that while Matt, Paul, and I built Marcata uptown. We were sort of scrambling to figure out a band and needed a singer. We had this girl and she was good but it wasn’t working that great. Then The Recoys broke up and Ham called me and said I want to join you guys and I was like awesome, why didn’t I think of that? He was originally going to play keyboards. I was like, “Come play piano and bring Pete.” So he and Pete came up, we started playing and, of course, Ham was going to sing because no one was singing. We immediately started writing songs and then we had a band [The Walkmen].

One of the things that stood out during that time was the voices were so distinct and powerful, Paul Banks and Karen O and Tunde Adebimpe and Hamilton. It wasn’t just the music. I just saw Hamilton play with Rostam and he can still belt it.

Yeah, he can really sing.

He also seems to still relish being up on stage and throwing it out there. You’re in more of a reflective place it seems. What do you miss most about being in a band that goes out and plays full throttle?

Maybe I have a block but I honestly don’t miss anything about it. I don’t. I did it for so long. Jonathan Fire Eater started touring when I was like 20 and when we stopped doing Walkmen tours, I think I was 39. That’s a long time hanging out with the boys, doing the touring thing and being away from home. Luckily not being on tour anymore coincided exactly with me having kids. So now my goal in life now is to do music and keep writing songs and not go on tour. That’s all I can ask for. Maybe in five or ten years, I’ll change my mind. I never loved performing that much. I never even loved recording that much, I just liked the writing part.

Maybe this is just the fan’s romanticised perspective but what about those times when you’re right in the middle of this song that everyone’s responding to and there’s that great swelling energy.

Yeah, that’s great, sure. When you’re playing to a really good crowd and being proud of the sound you’re making is a really cool thing. So there are great parts about it, definitely. I’ve done plenty of shows on my own and there are some that I really love. I get off stage and I’m like, “I’m so happy I did that.” But I’ve decided that with this record I’m not doing any shows. I’m playing in Alaska actually. For some reason, they booked me at The University of Alaska at Anchorage. They’re paying me well to fly me out there, put me up, play a show, and then fly me back.

So it’s kind of like that song on this album [“I Went Alone on a Solo Australian Tour.”]

The Australian song, exactly. I’m going to be self-conscious about that fact so I probably won’t be able to [write a song like that] while I’m there. But really I like playing for seated crowds of people in their 40s and 50s.

The album title is Reminisce Bar & Grill. From the sound of the record and the lyrics, you seem like a nostalgic person…are you?

I think so yeah. The title came from an article I read in The New York Times. It was about a bar in Kenya where they sang country music. I remember it being called Reminisce Bar & Grill. I was like I love that [as a] record title, I want to use that. That was like five years ago so I’ve been sitting on that since then. Also, you can tie it very much into to this record, which is a lot about looking back at being younger…. It’s about what’s happening to me but also focusing on things other people could probably understand. Just about the weird state you’re in when you’re in your mid-40s. You have kids and your life has changed so much. I was on tour forever and that was such a different world. You have no responsibilities and you’re with your bros all the time. You’re kind of like an overgrown kid. Then suddenly you’re not and you have kids of your own and there’s so much that goes into that. It’s about all those things and just getting older…and fear of death [laughs], which I think everybody feels. As you get older, especially when you have kids, you’re like, “Holy shit I’m running out of time here.” I also wanted to write about family-the second song is about my wife’s family…and old friendsthe first song is about that.

I listen to that song [“Me & McAlevey”] all the time. Since I heard it, I’m always playing it. Who is McAlevey?

Oh good. That’s my favorite one I think. We were actually in a band together a long time ago, right when The Walkmen were starting. We’re just great old friends. He lived here for a while but he’s lived in Maine and parts of New England for like 15 years.

It’s written like a letter.

Yeah, it’s definitely supposed to be a kind of one-way conversation. I guess it is sort of like a letter. We’re old friends and he has his struggles like we all do. I’m at the point in my life where all your friends just seem to move away. They’re all in fuckin’ LA now. You want to keep up but it’s hard to. But Milan and Ihis name is Milanhe and I talk like three times a week. He’s a total music obsessed person too so we spend most of our time like debating Magical Mystery Tour tracks or stuff like that. We’re very close. He’s a great guy and he writes great songs. Some of the stuff he’s written in the past has definitely inspired me and the stuff I do. Autobiographical and plainspoken. I send him my stuff and he edits it. I felt weird sending him this one. I was like, “I have a new one and I have to warn you it’s about you.” [laughs] I was worried he was going to be like, “Dude, I don’t know.”

What was his take?

He loved it. His dad is McAlevey too and he played it for him and apparently he really liked it. So I was happy.

You guys talk three times a week huh?

Well sometimes we take a break for a while but we talk a lot. We really do. ‘Cause he’s like funny, ya know? We have a very easy rapport. It’s not like one of those calls where you’re like, “Alright, this is going to take a while.” We can talk for five minutes or an hour and it’s like whatever…. We don’t see each other in person that often.

Hence the song? Was that a way of reaching out? It sounds like he’s been through stuff and you’re being reassuring.

Definitely. We’re friends for life is essentially the message of the song. I think people up there [in Maine] assume that people down here have a lot more going on. I see all of our [mutual] old friends, but he and I really have a special bond. It’s sort of about that.

There’s also one where you’re mentioning someone named Jonathan.

“The Drummer”? That one’s more fiction. It’s sort of based on people I know but that one’s not actually about anybody. It’s supposed to be from the perspective of a drummer who was in a band and he’s talking to his old bandmates and he’s longing to be playing the drums still. I don’t know why I came up with that song. I really love drummers, I actually am a drummer. In my old studio, you could always hear drummers through the wall. The drummer playing by himself. It’s like the loneliest sound. Everything else is autobiographical but that one is not.

And the one where you’re on a run [“I Can Run From the Hellhounds Now…But I Can’t Hide.”] Going on a run does sort of jog the mind.

I’ll usually run when I’m hungover and when you’re hungover, you definitely get a little emotional, ya know? So that’s what that’s about.

Who’s the singer you were listening to on the run in that song?

Kimberly Austin? That’s a Porno for Pyros song. It’s a great song [from their final 1996 album Good God’s Urge]. Very mellow peaceful Perry Ferrell. Oh, it’s great.

On “Ride Down the Avenue” you’re putting all of your concerns about your life out on the table“I’m alone/I’m not alone/And I’m scared/but I’m not scared…and I know I’m old it’s true/but I know I’m young too/As I ride down the avenue.” It’s strange because I look at your life compared to mine and I’m surprised that you have a lot of the same worries, thoughts, and doubts that I do despite the fact that you’ve done so much more and accomplished so much. I feel like I’m still just patching things together.

Yeah well, that’s exactly what that song is about.

Really? Because I look at you and you’re my age and you’ve accomplished so much more.

[Laughter] I don’t know.

You definitely have. So I find it interesting that you’re consumed by the same things that I seem to be. I guess it’s just the human condition.

I think it’s just the human condition, yeah.

Like no matter what you’ve done, you’re always like, “Have I done enough? What am I doing next?” But you’ve toured the world and were in a band that everyone I know loves. You have to get the feeling of self-worth and accomplishment from that.

I do. I think I wouldn’t have the confidence to do my own stuff if it wasn’t for stuff I’ve done in the past. It feeds on all of that. But at the same time [pauses] being a musician is hard. Maybe now from the outside and especially years later it seemed like The Walkmen were a really successful band. But when we were doing it, we never felt successful. I think there were a couple moments when we were like, “Okay hold on, we’re getting successful” but then it would sort of go away. We never felt like we were just kicking ass. ‘Cause there were five of us and everything was split five ways. It’s hard to make enough money to where it feels like you’re kicking ass…. It’s a grind. We were cheap but we wanted to have our own hotel rooms. That was key to keeping the band together. We could have, but we never did a bus tour…it was five of us and our sound guy in a van rotating drivers. It definitely keeps you very humble. But it’s a good position to be in, I really do believe that. Even though The Walkmen phoned it in a couple times, it makes you really work. It makes you be like, “Okay, we’re working really fucking hard on this next album.” That is the definitely the number one thing I learned from The Walkmenhow hard you have to work at what you’re doing, getting the songs right. The songs are everything.

At the end of Heaven, I read an interview that Hamilton gave where he was like, “I think we have another album at least in us.”

I’m surprised he said that.

Really? Was it pretty clear at that point that it was winding down?

Yeah, by the time we finished recording Heaven, we were all just like…. It was not that fun to make Heaven. It was a drag. We were honestly trying to make something that people would like more. We were trying to take what we usually write and streamline it. Like put the snare on the 2 and 4 and make it so the choruses have the same words in every chorus. Whereas usually, we wouldn’t even have a chorus. So we were like, “Let’s see what happens when we do that. It’s worth a shot.” And we got a good producerPhil Ek, who I’ve done a lot of my solo stuff with because he’s such a pro. We had never worked with producers before. So that was sort of an experiment and I don’t think any of The Walkmen would say that was their favorite record. The title track I like, but the rest of it is kind of half-ass.

This new record has an expansiveness to it musically…the background singers…and there’s a wider sound compared to your other solos. Was that from Phil Ek?

It was a lot from [singer/instrumentalist/producer] Richard Swift. Not that he worked that much on it. He mixed and recorded a couple of songs for it. But I learned a lot from him in just the two days we were out at his studio. He uses so much reverb with a very simple approach, something that I really believe in but it’s easy to forget how much I believe in that stuff. I hear a lot of him just in the way I recorded it. I just wanted to do something that was more…not moody…but when I’m making my kids records, I want to make everything super bright. The songs are short and they’re accessible and fun. Like, “Here’s a digestible little nugget.” I love doing that. To me, it’s really fun and creative and I’m really into it. For Reminisce Bar & Grill, I was like, “I’m not going to try to please anybody. I’m just going to do whatever the hell I want and the songs are going to be long and potentially boring.” But Some of them, like the “Ride Down the Avenue” song, I was excited to put a big beat on it, like maybe there will be a better chance of people listening to the words because I have a big beat on it. So, there’s always a desire to please in some way but I think less so on this one.

There is a lot of reverb on the album.

Yeah, it came from this thing [points to a Spring Reverb machine]. It’s just a natural echo sound. It brings a big nostalgic sound. It felt like if I was going to do a ‘reverby’ record, this was the one. [laughs]. I haven’t even turned it on since I stopped recording this album.

What’s it like for you right after you’re done recording an album? Are you always writing regardless?

I’m always writing, yeah. I do a lot of commercial and film writing. Much of the last year I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’ve been very distracted doing that stuff but I’m also working on another album at home. I want it to merge the kids world and the Reminisce Bar & Grill world. A little bit more like that Australia song. To me, that’s like my favorite song because it’s personal but it’s also funny, at least I think. It tells a story.

You’ve said that John Hughes films are a big influence. What’s your favorite John Hughes film? Mine would be Some Kind of Wonderful, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s of course…. His stretch from ‘84-‘90 is unparalleled.

I like how it’s so relatable and heartwarming and genuinely funny but there’s also a rock ‘n’ roll edge to it. There’s a rebellious undercurrent to it but at the same time, it’s pretty wholesome. There’s so much weirdo unexpected stuff happening. I think of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in the same way. There’s a slight undercurrent of rebellious rock ‘n’ roll, which makes it so cool and it’s also fucking hilarious. I aim for that. I write a lot of stuff that I bag but when I’m listening back on something that captures that vibe, I’m like, “Okay great, that’s what I love. I’m going to keep that one.”

Did the synth music of his films speak to you in the way it did to me? Do you have any interest in film scores and/or music supervision? “Pink Piano” sounds like a film score cue to me. Is that the kind of thing you do with film?

It’s more like writing an actual song. There’s this song I’m really excited about that’s for the end credits of an animated movie. I love the song and I think it’ll be a really great movie. So I’m not doing scoring stuff. The stuff I’m proud of is original song stuff. And I’m working on this project now that will come out in may that I think can be really great…. It all comes from the first kids record I did. Music supervisors became aware of my stuff and I got licenses, two iPhone ads and movie spots, stuff like that.

Last thing. You’re a huge record collector. Other Music [now closed New York record store]memories?

Very early on Other Music was very nice to us. When we made our first recording, we printed our own vinyl and silk screened our covers and stuff like that. I think we made like 500 of them. Other Music bought a pile of them and made a little sign for it. They were very supportive. So I’ll always be grateful to them for that. I never shopped there that much. When they were really going strong, I either lived in Brooklyn or way uptown and also I was touring a lot so I would just shop on tour. It’s so much cheaper on tour and I would come back with stacks of records. I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan in ‘07-‘08 and then I started going to Academy.

In a sense, the small record shop is dying but there’s also simultaneously this record revival.

I don’t know if they’re dying though. I feel like the small record shops that aren’t in the bigger cities are doing okay, at least staying afloat.

I just hope there will still be places to go other than Rough Trade. I don’t have a problem with Rough Trade but it’s not what you go to record shops for.

Definitely not. I go there sometimes but they don’t have old records. Academy is in Greenpoint now, so it’s a little bit too far from me so I haven’t been there in a while. I buy records online which is kind of lame, but it is thrilling to get home and there’s a little box and you forget what it is and then you’re like, ‘Oh this is a great record!’

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