First of all, I wanna give a big shout-out to SPIN magazine. Next, I wanna say hello to all the readers of SPIN magazine. Hamilton Leithauser and I first met ten years ago when I was a freshman in college, interning at the Walkmen's studio in Harlem, Marcata. I remember walking from the gates at 116th Street up Broadway to 132nd shivering (because I wasn't wearing socks like an idiot) but ecstatic because I was going to be in the presence of what I thought was the best band in New York. Hamilton remains one of my favorite singers. It was nice to catch up and shoot the shit. We had a long conversation over whiskey near the Bowery Ballroom. Ezra Koenig: I'm pretty sure that the Walkmen are the band that I've paid to see the most in my life. Hamilton Leithauser: Really? That's awesome. I'm pretty sure I've seen you here at the Bowery Ballroom probably five times. Specifically the Bowery Ballroom because the first time I saw you, you were opening here for Firewater. Oh, I'll never forget that show. They put us first of five or something. Because that guy is such a fucking asshole. Wait, the guy from that band? Yeah. Do you know them? No, I don't. I thought you were going to be like, "That's my brother." That's my cousin! No I don't know them, but I might have even been a senior in high school. I definitely still lived with my parents in New Jersey. It was before I went to college, so I went with all my friends because we had heard your EPs and we were up in the front row. And then, because I was still such an earnest young man, everybody wanted to leave after you guys played, and I was like, "No guys, we're in New York City at the Bowery Ballroom. We're going to stay and watch the headliner." The guy from Firewater screamed at all of us. I can't remember why. I remember he was screaming at Walt for moving an amp or something, you know? It was a horrible scene. At that time, were they were like, the shit? I don't even know who they were. I mean, I never knew them beyond that. We played with them twice and I honestly think that after we played, most of the people dipped out. I always tell people I was there the first time you played "The Rat," which was called "Girls at Night." Was that the first time you played it, at Bowery Ballroom, probably September 2002? Probably, I bet. That would be right around when we had written the song. My friends and I downloaded a demo of "Girls at Night" off of somebody's computer via SoulSeek. We just kept searching "Girls at Night," so on my old computer I have an MP3 from minimum six months before Bows and Arrows came out. It sounds like a totally different recording. That's crazy. It could be one of the times that we did it in the studio. If it's of any respectable quality at all, then it was. We took a long time to record that song. It was a real pain in the ass. I always really liked that song "Look Out the Window." Of the the early stuff, I think that's a slept-on Walkmen song. Do you ever play that these days? We do every once and a while. It was always the one we like pulled out when we got tired of the other songs. We haven't done it in a while. I always liked that song. That's from my old band. That was one of that last songs that I did for the Recoys. Is there a version of that on the Recoys' album? I don't think we ever got to it, because it was right toward the end of the Recoys. There was some early Walkmen profile where you guys took pains to say that you didn't like to be called a New York band because you consider yourself a D.C. band. I was probably trying to work some angle. We're so embarrassingly bad at marketing ourselves, you know? We're just so bad at it. We have no idea how to, it's just so contrived what we do. Your new press release says something about how, like, most of the other New York bands that started in and around 2001 have all "faded from view" or "burned out" or something. But who did you actually consider to be your peers? That was such a funny time. Which of those early 2000s New York bands did you actually identify with? The ones that we knew from the very, very beginning. It was really fun to see like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blow up, because we used to play with Challenge of the Future, Nick Zinner's old band. And the Recoys used to play with them, too. I saw Challenge of the Future playing with Karen when she was just some girl they pulled up out of the crowd. Everyone was like, "Damn, that girl can sing." She was jumping all around, she really stole the show. Wait, is that actually how they met her? No, they were friends. They did their whole show, and then they got her up onstage and they did some Joan Jett. She just made it a lot more fun. Years later, Nick was playing with us and he said, "Yeah, we're called The Yeah Yeah Yeahs now," and he was like really embarrassed by it. He was embarrassed by the name? Well he was just sort of funny about it, because he's sort of funny. I think we even played with them before they were even called the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We played with them, and we used to play with Interpol all the time. They would open for our show, and we would open for them, and that was right when we really, really started. Like, it was hard getting a gig at Brownies. So we would get the gig and then have them come, and they would have a gig and have us come. 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? Extremely precious? 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." 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? 1906. 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 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? No. 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? Occasionally. But kind of against all odds. Yeah. On tour, will you drink every night? Probably. 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. I remember the first time I saw you guys play "Little House of Savages" and being shocked by how high you'd go at like the highest part. That part is really important, but you could have had that song without that part, so it seemed to me almost like a really clear indication of you really fucking going for it. And I feel like the first time I saw it live it was almost like you'd mastered another few steps or something. Did you feel that way when you were working on it? I don't know. I think if you practice, you can get higher and higher and higher. What's your normal day like? Do you go full days without working on music at all? Do you go weeks? Ever like a month? I basically can't ever stop. And I don't think that's necessarily a good thing. I guess it keeps me productive, but it's kind of neurotic. So then, it's a Tuesday. There's no band rehearsals that week or something. Paul lives in New Orleans now so we never rehearse. But Paul and Walt and I write all the stuff. Paul is pretty good at writing by himself, and I can do stuff by myself, but the three of us get together. For Heaven, we only got together two times: once for four days and once for five days and that was it. And we just put everything together. It was weird because we had this shithole practice space out in Bushwick that was literally the size of like the bathroom in this place. It fit me sitting in a chair playing and singing, Walt at the drums, and Paul with his guitar like right here. There was no air conditioning so we had to open the door. So if it's on a day when you've got nothing on the docket\u2026 Depends on if I have to take care of the baby. If I take care of the baby, that's all I do. She takes a two-hour nap in the middle of the day and I read the New York Times. Online? Yeah, unfortunately. A lot of the time I don't have to do that. I go to the gym and take the baby to the gym, because the Bed-Stuy Y is the best deal in all of New York City I've come to realize. They have free child watch for up to two hours in the mornings. It's like a gift from God, honestly. So I take her there, and then I go to the studio from about noon to six. So you'll be there, working by yourself, playing guitar and singing? Like, six hours of standing up, playing electric guitar through an amp? Yeah, or I'll have some thing that Paul sent, and I'll work on it, I'll sing over it. Occasionally I'll just do my own song. If you're going to sing with an acoustic guitar, how come you don't do it at home? Because the baby's there.Or because like honestly if you do it for that long, it gets weird. I used to do that. Like when I lived uptown I had a two-bedroom apartment, and I had nobody living in the extra bedroom and I had it set up, and it's just weird. You get up and you have your coffee and take a shower and then all of a sudden you're in the second bedroom. Do you drink coffee every day? Yes. Do you experience noticeable mood changes when you drink coffee? Probably, but I never don't do it so I wouldn't know the difference. Do you come down in the afternoon? Probably, but then I just drink more. What do you do at the gym? Run? I do a lot of biking, because I get so bored working out, so I read like novels. While you're on the bike? Yeah, I can't listen to music. It's the only way to do it honestly. Do you lift? Yeah. Do you bench? Yeah. How much can you bench? Max or reps? What's the most you can bench eight times? I'm not very strong so it's going to have to be a lie. To be fair, you're a tall person with long arms. I could do 170 eight times. That's no joke. It's a lie, too. But it's close.