With their previous album, A Hundred Miles Off, the Walkmen experienced something new in their career — a backlash from much of their fan base
"People definitely didn't respond that well to it," says Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser. "Yeah, it's not a good feeling when everyone is explaining to you how terrible it is when you had worked on it for years."
Up until then, the Walkmen (who released a new album last fall called You & Me) had enjoyed considerable acclaim since they emerged in 2002 from the remnants of two popular Washington, D.C. area bands.
Three of the Walkmen's members — keyboardist Walter Martin, guitarist/keyboardist Paul Maroon and drummer Matt Barrick — were in the highly touted band Jonathan Fire*Eater, which in 1997 landed a seven-figure major label deal with DreamWorks Records, only to break up about a year later after releasing just one album on DreamWorks. Leithauser and Walkmen bassist Peter Bauer, meanwhile, came from the group the Recoys.
In 2002, the Walkmen released their well-received debut album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. Its 2004 follow-up, Bows & Arrows, was considered even better, more confident and more cohesive. Continued touring, a growing stack of enthusiastic reviews and high-profile appearances on the TV series The O.C. and Late Show with David Letterman raised the band's profile considerably.
But much of that momentum was blunted when A Hundred Miles Off met with a much more indifferent response. With the benefit of hindsight, Leithauser sees some flaws in the album.
"I look back and think of all the stuff I love about it and all the good ideas we had, and I also see a lot of mistakes that we made and things that didn't get fully realized," he admits. "It was kind of a shame actually, because I think a lot of songs on it could have been a lot better if we had just worked on them longer, I guess ... I think we work better when we analyze every last detail and drive each other insane."
Afterward, the band decided to make an album that was unlike anything the group had done before.
One of the main things that got the creative wheels turning was some experimentation with new instruments, including viola and horns, which are prominently featured on tracks like "Seven Years of Holidays" and "Red Moon."
"Honestly, it was just like when we first started our band and we got our first piano. Starting with a new instrument, you can just look at the music differently, or you play the scale differently and the sound is different. It just makes it fun again."
Fans will hear the difference live when the band hits the stage at this year's Monolith Festival.
"You get to the point where you're doing shows where it's just a wall of sound, it's just one barrage after another," says Leithauser. "So I guess in writing this record, it was just really time to turn the songs in a new direction. I think we'll have a big dynamic show that will have its ups and downs."