THE WALKMEN with ROCKWELL and RICHARD SWIFT at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Tuesday (June 27), 8:30 pm doors. $15. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Hamilton Leithauser, the crooning frontman for New York's epic indie art rockers the Walkmen, sounds tired. I can't say I blame him - it's been a long couple of years for him and the band. After putting out 2004's hipster-approved Bows + Arrows (Record Collection), they criss-crossed our great continent several times over. They also collectively run a New York-based recording studio attached to an NYPD precinct, and have been trying to keep the creative wheels in motion for their follow-up, something Leithauser says wasn't exactly a piece of cake.
"We wanted to keep going and write new songs, but there was a time when nothing sounded new. It was tough, because it feels like you're getting nothing done."
On the phone from San Diego a scant two weeks into the band's tour, Leithauser isn't exactly enthusiastic about the music, or much of anything for that matter.
He perks up a bit when I prod him about the shift in creative direction signalled by the new disc, A Hundred Miles Off (also on Record Collection). Recorded with fellow members Walter Martin, Peter Bauer, Matt Barrick and Paul Maroon, it incorporates things like Caribbean rhythms that he allows happened not out of careful planning, but as the result of just trying to get the damn thing finished.
A year into the process, the album was done like dinner, and now there's the near-never-ending tour. Interestingly, though, all this free time on the road has been the catalyst for another creative, non-musical project for the band, and one that Leithauser is actually happy to talk about.
Collectively, the band's begun writing a book to save themselves from the mind-numbing boredom that comes with constant travel, which, in turn, seems to be central to the narrative.
"We're deep into it. We were just unbelievably bored in the van and discovered that writing can kill five or six hours at a time. It's about funny stuff like personal experiences on the road, without any rock references, and a lot of really dull details that we think are funny - boring, accurate info. We pass it off from person to person. The point is to put out 500 pages and put it on the merch table."
However they spend their free time, the Walkmen always manage to get their shit together when it comes to planning. The new album's barely had time to gather dust on record store shelves, and they're already five songs into the next one. The next, that is, after the covers album they've already completed - a covers album of a covers album, if you will. A project inspired by the record called Pussy Cats made by sarcasm king Harry Nilsson and John Lennon sounds like the perfect release for a band known for its epic music.
"He and John Lennon did it together, and it's a lot of fun. It's pretty funny stuff they do, like Save The Last Dance and Rock Around The Clock. It's tasteless in a tasteful way."