It’s a big week for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based indie-rock band, Walk The Moon. The band (Nicholas Petricca – vocals, keyboards, Kevin Ray – bass guitar, Eli Maiman – guitar, and Sean Waugaman – drums) released an absolute music must-have for summer—their self-titled debut record on RCA Records, performed their popular single, “Anna Sun” on Late Show with David Letterman, and were also named MTV’s Push Artist of the Week.
Last week, as the band trekked from Minneapolis to Chicago while on their current Naked Feet tour, guitarist Eli Maiman spoke with me about performing live, working with the acclaimed music producer Ben H. Allen, and how he hopes people react to the band’s new record.
You guys have been on the road with your headlining tour, how has it been going?
The headlining thing [has] been great. We’re playing Chicago tonight, which is our tenth show in the run, and it’s been a lot of fun. The transition from opening band to headlining act has definitely been a growing experience. Playing for an hour and 15 minutes, hour and a half, is significantly different than playing for 45 minutes. We find that we needed to work up more stamina for it.
And also, the longer sets kind of allow us to give more of a contour to the set, emotionally. So we’ve been playing this song, “Iscariot,” that’s on our new record; that’s kind of this moody ballad, which is really different from a lot of our other stuff, and not one that we usually played as an opening act. That’s just an example of how we can provide a little more emotional contour in the shape of the set when we’re playing for a longer tour.
What do you consider to be the most important aspect about your live show?
The most important aspect is band and audience interaction. A lot of eye contact, a lot of shared smiles. We’re definitely not a band that you come to see and watch with your arms crossed, you know? We really like people dancing, we really like to get like group chants and group clapping going on. I think a lot of people get caught up in the face paint. I think that is an important aspect to the live show, because it does kind of express, visually, this community that we’re forming and this group experience that we’re all having, but really, when it comes down to it, just the personal interactions between both the band members, and the band members and the audience, and the audience and the audience. That’s really what makes the show special and unique.
Your new album is comprised of songs from your 2010 independent release, i want! i want! and new material. Did you go into the process knowing you were going to pull material from the band’s self-released album?
Yeah, we did. You know, we were really happy with i want! i want! and we feel really proud of what we did with it, but we always felt like i want! i want! didn’t express the energy and enthusiasm that comes across in the live show. So, we went into the studio really wanting to capture that vibe—the vibe of what we do in a live setting.
We went in with the songs from i want! i want! and then maybe nine or ten additional songs beyond that and really just wanted to weed out the stragglers and just kind of have the 10 or 12 best songs that we possibly could use to make an album. Which is part of something our producer, Ben Allen, really helped us with. Really focus on the best material and also the most cohesive material to make the most complete thought in terms of a complete album.
You mentioned wanting the songs to capture the energy of your live shows on the album. How is this accomplished in the studio? Do you have to record a certain way?
A lot of it was the magic of Ben Allen. Ben is really, really good at getting exactly the right sound for a given part. He and our engineer Nick DiDia would really work for a long time on what we thought at the time were like, you know, little sounds. They would try out four or five different toms and create a custom drum set for Sean, so that each sound was exactly what it needed to be. And it turned out to be really important and kind of made the album.
On our part, we would often run around the building right before doing a take. We would run around and shout and do jumping jacks, and try to really get our blood pumping. Then we’d go in and we cut a lot of [the album] live, so a lot of what you’re hearing is the four of us in a room playing together. I think that really helped capture the essence of the concert setting.
What appealed to you the most about working with Ben?
Mostly his resume. He’s worked with Animal Collective and a record called Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is one of our collective favorite records. He worked with Givers and Gnarls Barkley, tons of people, Christina Aguilera.
Everything he worked on we were just really into the sound of and thought was really creative and just the vibe that we were going for. He’s a younger guy and he’s really, really smart; we felt like we really relate to him, and over the course of making the record, he really became kind of a guru to us and imparted a lot of wisdom on us.
What will you take from your experience from working with Ben when recording music in the future?
One piece of wisdom that I really hung onto with Ben was, “It’s not about what you’re missing; it’s about what you’re getting.” And that turned out to be a really important philosophy in my life and in Walk The Moon.
What did you find to be a challenge throughout the recording process?
You know, this recording experience had a whole lot of firsts for us. The first time we were in a proper studio that wasn’t in a garage or someone’s living room. A proper studio, a proper producer, a proper engineer. There were so many options for everything. I had an entire stable of guitars that I could choose from. Our engineer, Nick, showed up with all these fabulous guitars, so a lot of times, it was narrowing down exactly what we wanted to do on any given song.
Even if we had a million ideas, just cutting it down a little bit and just focusing on the song. It was an important learning experience. Additionally, it was the first time where the four of us were in the studio at once as this lineup and this version of Walk The Moon. There was a lot of kind of team building, learning about each other, and becoming closer friends and working through some differences that took place. The band came out stronger from the experience.
Is there a certain song on the new album that you guys are really looking forward to people hearing?
We’re really stoked on the entire album. We’re really excited to see how people react to the re-recordings of the i want! i want! songs. We have a few things that we’ve been playing live for a long time that haven’t been put out into the world of recorded format til now. And we’re psyched to see them go, too.
If there’s one in particular, I’d say I’m real interested to see how people react to a song called “Fixin’.” It’s later in the CD; it’s kind of a deep track. It’s a little bit different from the material on i want! i want! and were psyched to see how people react to it.
Since i want! i want! came out a couple years ago, how do you feel the band has progressed since then?
I think we’ve gotten tighter and more mature as a band. I think Nick and I have found a cool way of interacting between synthesizers and guitars, which I think is really evident on “Tightrope.” Like a lot of the music in “Tightrope” is a conversation between the guitar and the keyboards. I think the sound is just maturing and becoming more focused.
The band’s current single is “Anna Sun.” Can you talk a little about the song and how it came to be?
Nick wrote that song near the end of his college career. The song is really supposed to be kind of a string of images that evoke both childhood and early adulthood and that blurring of the line in between the two and what you keep with you as you become an adult and what you let go of.
Anna Sun was one of Nick’s professors at Kenyon College and the song’s not really about her; she’s got a really cool name. It ended up being another image that he was drawing from when he wrote the song.
“Anna Sun” has been out for awhile now. What’s it like having a song kind of doing its thing and getting your band’s name out there?
We put the video out for “Anna Sun” in November of 2010. I just saw today, it’s June 15, 2012, and it just got added to the rotation on MTV today. To have a song that has that kind of shelf life and that kind of longevity has really been an amazing thing to watch.
And also sometime around February last year, the song got posted on a couple blogs, All Things Go in D.C. and Neon Gold in New York. And it really kind of took on its own life, at that point. It really became something that was kind of out of our control and we started seeing the video pop up at places where we certainly hadn’t sent it. It’s been really, really to see the life that it’s had.
I imagine it’s like having a child and seeing it grow up and just being amazed by the choices and life directions that it chooses to make. We hope it hasn’t quite peaked yet, and we’re excited to see how it goes.
With the album coming out next week, are you guys feeling more anxious or excited for everybody to hear it?
I think it’s excited. We’re just – I’ve been saying this a lot lately- but we just feel like we’ve been pregnant for 11 months and we just want to have the damn kid and get it out in the world, and see what it does. We can’t wait to see what it does and see where it will lead us.
Lastly, what are you hoping that your fans and new listeners take away from the songs on the album?
We just want people to have fun when they listen to the record. We just want people to think it’s the most fun recording they’ve ever heard in their entire life and that they want to play it at every party they ever have, and that it becomes the soundtrack to their lives. I feel like that’s a huge statement, but if people buy the record and like it and relate to the music, we’ll be thrilled.
Photo courtesy of RCA Records.