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
We have kind of entered the era of the half-assed version of that, which will maybe make you nostalgic for the original. For some reason it got more associated with Brooklyn
Because it just ran wild there.
I feel like, as an outside observer, that in some ways, you guys prefigured that a little bit.
Is this an insult?
This is not an insult at all. Because I basically have the same feeling as you have about those places: if the food’s good, I’ll enjoy it. At times I feel embarrassed by it, and at times, even when I enjoy it, I feel embarrassed by it. But your first album cover, which I know that you picked — when was that photo taken?
And it’s New York, right?
No, it’s St. Louis, but it would work in any of these places.
Exactly, they would have a picture like that here. The cover feels appropriate, but at the time, it was a very unusual choice. I know there was no way you were thinking about that at the time, but if you had talked about the general nostalgia of the time with a lot of the other well-known New York bands, it would have definitely pointed to the ’60s and ’70s rather than the early 20th century. And even to some extent, the general vibe of your music prefigured a bit of what, a few years later, became this nostalgia for American-made whatever.
Made in the U.S.A.?
Yeah, a little bit.
I don’t know. I love the idea of it.
Well, I’m going to go ahead and just give you guys credit as the godfathers.
The godfathers of the overly precious, pretentious vibe.
No, but how about the unwilling godfathers?
Yeah, sounds great.
Even my memory of Marcata [Studios] is of a sepia-toned place. Is that true? Or was it because it was always really dark?
It was probably just dark. White and green walls, low lighting. What I remember is that all five of us used to smoke, like, a pack a day of cigarettes. And we’d sit in there at band practice. To me, that’s funny.
Wait, does everybody still smoke?
Nobody smokes at all?
We’re dads now. Over the years, we quit. It was not easy. But Pete and Paul still dip.
Dip? You guys really are the godfathers.
Paul smoked for years and then started dipping to quit smoking. Then he got really into dipping for years and years.
Would he dip onstage during the show?
Probably. I’m sure he did. And then finally he weaned himself off the dip and he started chewing gum. But he’s still addicted to spitting, so now he’ll just have a cup and will spit into the cup, and there will just be a cup of spit. You know the cup-holder in the van? That has a cup of spit.
Oh that reminds me, do you feel like your voice has changed over the years at all? You’ve always had a very robust voice. You never really lose your voice or anything, do you?
But kind of against all odds.
On tour, will you drink every night?
On some songs you can really scream, but I think, uniquely, your voice has had a tendency to get richer. Do you think your range increased?
You mean how high I can go? Probably.
Do you feel like you’ve become like a better singer, or is it something you don’t really put thought into?
No, I think about it a lot.
Has your technique changed?
I mean on this one, I didn’t want to go so high.
Right, yeah, you don’t.
I consciously did that. We could’ve done “The Love You Love” way up there. We can do that, but I really wanted to really try moving the music to the point where I just write a slightly more relaxed and richer sound. A lot of vocals are just written up. Paul writes a lot of the initial music, and then I’ll write the vocal stuff to the guitar and it’s all way up there.
Are you comfortable singing loud?
I mean, yeah. I talk loud. I talk really loud. We get complaints from the neighbors sometimes.
For singing? Or talking?
For piano. Talking, whispering, walking.
But you can still feel unselfconscious, though, right? Like you’ll be listening to some Paul Simon and you’ll just, you know, go for it.
I mean sort of. It’s definitely like when you turn 30 or something, you’re not going to give a shit if people hear you rehearsing anymore, like, what am I going to do? But I wanted to sing a little more of what I thought of as my range, although I guess my range is high, too, which definitely gives the whole record more emotion.