Vampire Weekend and the Walkmen Frontmen Grill Each Other
Ten years into his career and weeks after the release of 'Heaven,' the Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser sits down with a longtime fan and former intern with a band of his own, Ezra Koenig
And you guys actually are friends with the French Kicks?
Oh yeah, of course. They’re from D.C. too.
You like working with Phil Ek?
Yeah, I did. He did a really good job.
And his studio is in Seattle?
Yeah, he doesn’t own it, but he’s like their biggest customer, so we worked at two places, we worked at this joint like an hour outside of the city, and then this one in the city we mixed.
And you guys showed up with the songs more or less written?
We did 32 songs or something like that.
Oh my God.
Like, on the first day, he was like, “Okay, just write down everything you want to do.” So we wrote down every name of every song and he was really taken aback. Because he had just done the Fleet Foxes record and they had written 12 songs and recorded 12 songs, and there are 12 songs on the record. So we wrote 32 down. He told me after that he’d never done a record like this before, which I’m really surprised to hear because it doesn’t sound that weird to me at all.
You always read about bands doing that. I feel like, especially when you’re deep into your career, when clearly you know how to write songs, it’s more a matter of choosing the appropriate ones.
It’s more about not destroying it before it gets in the studio.
Within that 32, was it difficult to pick?
Honestly, we were all on really good behavior and sort of letting things go that normally you would have fought a lot harder for. We would sort of just always let it go. It was really like making Lisbon, a lot harder than it seems.
Did you make that with a producer?
No, 90 percent of it we didn’t, and then at the very end, we hired this guy, or we went to this guy’s studio and he wanted to be the producer, and it was another fight we didn’t want to have. We just went to his turf and sort of hammered out. We were happy that that happened.
And that made you, like, more into the idea of working with somebody like Phil Ek?
Yeah, maybe. How have you guys been?
Pretty good. We’re working on our album. It’s been a long process. We always try to write and record at the same time. So we’ve always got some ProTools session demo that tends to actually turn into the finished product. I think we have 80 percent of the songs now.
I want to do that for our next thing. Like, record while we write. Because we haven’t done that in forever.
Did you enjoy being in Seattle?
I did. We were there for a really really long time. For the mixing, my wife and baby came out. We had our own apartment, and we had a fireplace and they had this big blizzard there, so it was kind of homey.
There was a blizzard in Seattle?
There was a big, big one.
That’s really unusual.
They shut the whole city down. We had to take a snow day. Phil was beside himself.
Wow. With fear?
Yeah. He wouldn’t dig his car out. The city couldn’t believe it. It was that much snow. They had never seen it. They literally don’t have snow.
It was kind of like the Blizzard of ’96?
It was sort of around that scale, but the snow was that deep. I went downtown that day, and there was one of those buses with the accordion in the middle, you know? All the lights were out and it was jack-knifed, sitting in the main intersection. It looked like a disaster movie. They all had just like, fled. Phil couldn’t believe that we were all out like buying groceries or whatever.
I was thinking, you know that kind of like, neo-Brooklyn Americana restaurant aesthetic?
Yeah, you know, reclaimed wood and old, American, always black-and-white pictures? Stuff like that.
Deeds to land like, in the bathroom.
Right, exactly. How do you feel about that? Do you enjoy those kinds of restaurants?
When the food is really great, I go, I’ll have a nice time. But when I moved to Brooklyn, the first time I went to one, I was definitely like, “This is a nice place.” And then I went to another. I’ve been to a lot of them.
Yeah, you’ve done the circuit.
The second time you’re sort of like, “Man, this is like the other one,” you know? And then by the third time you’re like, “I am sensing a trend.”