“Tons and tons of different stuff,” says Leithauser, the singer for oddly retro rock band The Walkmen, “but I started with the Rolling Stones. My influences are classic rock, I would say, different ’60s and ’70s stuff.”
It’s no surprise. The Walkmen sound like they just pulled up in a Volkswagen van covered in peace graffiti to jump on stage with tube amps and now-vintage guitars and wow an acid-drenched crowd of muddy Woodstock goers. Their music oscillates between the moody, drifting wisps of late-’70s ballads and the raucous and fiery rock sound of the previous decade. There’s even a hint of the early reggae vibe of innovators like Delroy Wilson and Toots and the Maytals, when American soul was still the biggest influence on the genre.
And that throwback sound isn’t hurt by the fact that Leithauser sounds for all the world like a young Rod Stewart, with moments of Bob Dylan thrown in for good measure.
“I’m not trying to,” Leithauser insists. “The first guy to ever say that, I thought it was hilarious. But I don’t think it’s a problem.”
Clearly not. The Walkmen have certainly never dodged their ties to the past. They’ve embraced them so wholeheartedly that in 1996, shortly after releasing their album A Hundred Miles Off, the band recorded a song-for-song cover of the 1974 Harry Nilsson release Pussy Cats, an album famously produced by John Lennon. The album was meant to serve as a goodbye of sorts to the band’s personal studio, Marcata Recording, located on the property of Columbia University. The university wanted the property back, and The Walkmen had no choice but to comply.
The album elicited strong reactions from fans, some of whom loved the band’s take on the classic.Others were not so impressed.
“Some people didn’t understand why we even did it,” Leithauser says. “We did it faithfully, but I think it may have been presented wrong.”
That’s not to say The Walkmen are stuck in a time warp, unwilling to move forward with their music. The band’s latest record, Lisbon, is easily the mellowest in their catalog. They recorded outside their New York City comfort zone for the first time. Looking for a change, the band brought in producer John Congleton to light a fire under their collective asses, and it was a good move, according to Leithauser.
“It was different in that we had worked for a very long time in the same city [New York, in Gigantic Studios], with the same guy [Chris Zane],” Leithauser says. “We worked much faster and happier, which was so much fun for us.”
Recorded mostly in Dallas, the album essentially exploded from the band’s instruments. The Walkmen finished 13 songs in five days, an amazing feat by just about anyone’s standard.
“The last actual recordings of those songs couldn’t have taken more than three or four hours each,” Leithauser says.
The album serves as a bridge between the bookends of The Walkmen’s career. The first two songs on the record were written earlier in the band’s career, while the rest are brand new. The final song, Leithauser says, has been part of the band’s on-stage repertoire for well over a year.
“[The record] really spans about two years,” Leithauser says. “A lot of times it’s an 11th-hour thing, but when you’ve had the time to really work on a song it makes recording a lot easier.”
The band has also made a habit of stopping by the Daytrotter studio in Davenport, Ind., on just about every tour to record a live set for the Daytrotter website. The site offers free sessions from dozens upon dozens of bands of all genres. It’s something Leithauser says the band looks forward to.
“It’s fun to stop through because it’s in the middle of Indiana,” Leithauser says. “Usually, in places like that, you just drive in and drive out. The last time was really incredible. We went on the Fourth of July and they did a great job. It was in a big grain storage bar, way out in the corn fields, and they had a big party.”
Despite their classic rock sound, The Walkmen continue to draw in a varied crowd.
“It sort of weirdly varies from city to city,” says Leithauser. “In some cities it’s older people, and in some it’s college kids just going berserk.”
On the Bill
The Walkmen play the Fox Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 17. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Japandroids and Tennis open. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the show. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.