Hamilton Leithauser: starting fresh after a decade with the Walkmen

Photo by Richard Swift

Hamilton Leithauser’s band the Walkmen might be 15 years old, but as the frontman admits, he feels like he’s just entered the music scene. The band, most famed for their 2004 single “The Rat”, which Rolling Stone named an anthem of New York’s rock revival, is currently on hiatus. In the meantime, Leithauser is embracing his solo career and is coming to Vancouver for the first time with his debut album Black Hours. But don’t let his trademark suite and tie, retro mic, and marimba sounds trick you into thinking he’s a vintage character – Leithauser says he’s all about the present.

Vancouver Weekly: How are you enjoying you solo career so far?

Hamilton Leithauser: It’s exciting. It’s almost like being a new act, which is strange because it doesn’t feel very new to me – I’ve been doing music for a really long time. But I’m really enjoying the creative side of it – writing so much music, working with different people, different places. There’s also a lot of organizational responsibility. I’m on my own. That can be a headache. There have already been six bass players on my tour! They’re all in other bands; I have to work around their schedule.

VW: Do you feel like you had to build your name from scratch?

HL: A little bit! What I found out is, people don’t know my name. I admit, it’s hard to spell. They know the Walkmen, though. A lot of people who came to my shows said they had no idea I was the guy from the Walkmen. They were like, “What are you doing here?”

VW: Is this series of gigs different from what you’ve been doing throughout the year?

HL: I have a lot of new songs! Some of them I only got to play a couple of times. The problem is getting the people from the band together to learn them all. Also, I’m not sure how much new stuff the audience is prepared to take. I always want to play new things, but I can imagine people want to hear the old ones.

VW: Is it hard going on a tour when you’ve got a young child at home?

HL: Sometimes it’s harder to be at home with the young kid. When my daughter was younger, touring was a bit difficult, but now I feel like touring is my restitution. It’s harder for my wife to stay on her own. The little girl loves my music. I wrote “Alexandra” while she was hanging around, so I guess it got engrained in her memory. Because she always wants to hear it. Either that or Katy Perry.

VW: Where does your fascination with retro music come from?

HL: Well, I think all the best rock ‘n’ roll was created in the 60s. And the electric guitar I’m playing gives that character sound. But I’m not sure about those comparisons with Sinatra – it’s just asking to lose. Also, I would like to think that my music is rooted in the present.

VW: Are you releasing anything new soon?

HL: The first thing I’m going release is going to be a vinyl-only record that will be hopefully be out in summer. It’s just me and Paul Maroon, my bandmate from the Walkmen. It’s a very spare instrumentation, just me and the guitar. It doesn’t sound like Black Hours. But then, that record was finished such a long time ago! When it came out, for me, it was already a year old. It’s funny and strange, especially if you have been working steadily since, and it wasn’t a major event in your life – you were progressing. It’s kinda scary: you thought it was the right thing to write at the time, but you’re in a different place now. Although, I am proud of all the Walkmen records.

Hamilton Leithauser plays Venue on June 4. Tickets are available at Red Cat, Zulu, and online.

Photo by Richard Swift