Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Walkmen: "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone"

Oh, this is so neat! In celebration of their 10th anniversary, the Walkmen are finally releasing their debut record on vinyl.

At some point during the deep, melancholy winter of 2001, I took the subway up to West Harlem to record strings on the title track of that record at the band's own Marcata Recording studio.

Hard to believe it's been a decade. I remember Marcata like I was just there! The place just had enormous character. It was one of the last truly unique and vital analog recording studios left in all of Manhattan at that time; 900 square feet in a grimy industrial building, packed to the gills with vintage gear. Chill and booming, somehow untamed. (Don't hold me to this, but if I recall correctly, studio co-founder and Jonathan Fire*Eater/Walkmen band member Paul Maroon told me they'd inherited the 24-track mixing board that Pink Floyd used to record The Wall.)

Largely as a result of that space, the Walkmen developed a highly distinctive and atemporal sound; very deconstructed and gritty, yet anthemic, but old-fashioned, and all very New York, somehow! Thick natural 'verb. Sweeping atmospherics. Bright, dynamic drums, thudding bass, gorgeous tube amp guitar tonalities, the rasping elasticity of Hamilton Leithauser's vocals, and (my personal favorite element) the cold, shimmering fairy light strangeness of Paul's upright piano stylings. For the first couple LPs at least, I know Paul exclusively used this ancient, battered, hadn't-been-tuned-in-decades parlor upright he'd presumably dragged in off the street, or hauled up from his grandma's house or something. They even lugged that thing to live shows with them. No other instrument could hope to replicate the sound.

Those guys were a bunch of sweethearts, too. I had a blast recording in a trio for them. Sadly, I can't remember the cellist's name offhand, but Karen Waltuch --the violist from that session-- and I have been buddies ever since. The Walkmen were DIYing it at the time (having spent all their Jonathan Fire*Eater dough on building Marcata from the ground up), so by way of payment, they fed us some greasy Chinese takeout and covered our cab fare back downtown. About a month or two later, they signed some epic distribution deal with Warner Bros. Not long after that, "We've Been Had" was featured in this Saturn Ion commercial. I had such a cacklefit when I saw it.

Ten years later, "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone" still a highlight of my NYC session reel. Pick it up on vinyl, or mp3.

Vive le Walkmen!

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