Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Indie Can Be Popular. Meet The Walkmen.

Hailing from New York City,

Hamilton Leithauser (vocals, guitar)
Paul Maroon (guitar, piano)
Walter Martin (organ, bass)
Peter Bauer (bass, organ)
Matt Barrick (drums)

As a relatively new but hugely appreciative Arcade Fire listener, it was somewhat gratifying to see them receive widespread public recognition at the Grammy Awards last week - even though a Grammy is pretty much meaningless to me as an indicator of good music. It was ironic to see them play their 'corporate-angst' rock - complete with the line 'businessmen will drink my blood' - while a voice-over for Delta airlines took full advantage of the high viewership moment. It was also interesting to see how at peace the band seemed with such irony. Whatever other trappings there are, they seemed genuinely pleased.

Surely music can in some way be subversive of the very medium in which it is shared, and one can be glad that people are connecting with it. Period. I think it is a bit disingenuous when a band pretends it doesn't care whether anyone likes it or whether, indeed, a lot of people like it. Sure, I like bands that aren't caught up in such efforts at popularity, but there is no sense denying that you make music to be heard.

In that vein, I find the Walkmen interview below pretty insightful as well. They talk about wanting lots of people to like their music, wanting to play bigger and better shows, and so on - but they also (clearly) think it really important to themselves also like the music they play (see 13:50). Implicitly, they are saying that this would go away if they were simply making music for a broad appeal. Such is the bind of an artist.

I think The Walkmen are one of the most gifted bands around. The vocalist can soar, the guitar and bass are unique and yet not inaccessible, and the drummer is amazing (and entertaining to watch). Recently we were going around the table naming our top 5 musicians of all time and The Walkmen made my list. I was surprised that several had not heard of them (of course, neither would I if not for my brother). So I invite you to become familiar with them.

Here they play some stuff from the 2010 album Lisbon and answer a few quick questions:

Here they play a song from the 2004 album Bows + Arrows called "The Rat" - maybe one of my favourite songs of all time:

And here is a really cool video for the song "Four Provinces", from the 2008 album You & Me (which I think is their best):


Anonymous said...

I'll apologize for hijacking the post here, but this reminds me a lot of Elliott Smith's trip to the Oscars. I didn't start listening to him until a couple years after that, but I read about it in a biography as well as a few other places. I think he had a really good heart - and approach to and perspective on the whole thing.
"It was kind of ridiculous," he says. "But at a certain point, I threw myself into it because it seemed to make my friends happy. You know, all of my friends were like, 'One of us is on the moon!' When really I was on this ridiculous awards show playing this song."

I also liked what he said about Celine Dion (She won with the Titanic song). A great approach to people as well:
"She was really sweet, which has made it impossible for me to dislike Celine Dion anymore. Even though I can't stand the music that she makes-with all due respect, I don't like it much at all-but she herself was very, very nice. She asked me if I was nervous, and I said, 'Yeah,' and she was like, 'That's good because you get your adrenaline going, and it'll make your song better. It's a beautiful song.' Then she gave me a big hug. It was too much. It was too human to be dismissed simply because I find her music trite."

Read a bit about the performance (and other stuff) here: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/interviews/elliott_smith/

And then take two minutes to watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaEh2RKCDPc

Jon Coutts said...

That's not hijacking the post at all. It is right on topic and I can't wait to go and read your link and watch the performance.

Dave M said...

I first saw the Walkmen on an episode of The New Music with another great NY band called The French Kicks, of course that was in the days when muchmusic used to try and dig up good music. I think it was a year later that I got to see them in Toronto just before Bows + Arrows came out, I've been hooked ever since.

Jon Coutts said...

Ah, Dave, you're my hero.
New Music, that used to be a good show.

Dave M said...

I specifically remember paying $11 to get in, those were the days.

I think gas was a nickel a litre also.

Brett Gee 英 明 said...

Jon, that is a great story of Elliot Smith. I didn't know that background, I just remember Madonna reading off the winner with disappointment in her voice. At least I think it was Madonna.

I too was very surprised to hear that Arcade Fire won that award. I didn't even know that they were even nominated. That in itself is amazing.

I hope that this win will bring a bunch more people into their music and that Funeral and Neon Bible get a few more listens as well.

Jon Coutts said...

Funeral is one of the best albums of all time, full stop.

Jon Coutts said...

Any chance you remember some of the set list from that Walkmen show Dave?

Dave M said...

They played a lot of stuff off of 'Everyone who pretended to like me is gone' and definitely a few tracks off of Bows + Arrows. It was my first time hearing anything from that record so some of it was a blur but I remember hearing 'The Rat' for the first time. I also remember 'We've been had' and '138th Street' pretty vividly, mostly it all sounded great.

Tony Tanti said...

saw the Walkmen open for for the National outside in Stanley Park, the Walkmen stole that show.