Photo Credit: Matt Barrick
UPDATE: Walter Martin’s show Wednesday at Normaltown Hall has been canceled, per the venue.
Walter Martin, best known for his bass work with indie giants The Walkmen, has taken to performing in homes instead of rock clubs in support of his whimsical new solo record, We’re All Young Together. Although his stop in Athens is at Normaltown Hall instead of someone’s cozy den, it was also organized through Undertow Music’s Living Room Showsinitiative.
Flagpole caught up with Martin to discuss what it’s like to perform so close to his audience, his star-studded new album and the status of his band.
Flagpole: You’re connected to the Undertow Music Collective for this solo acoustic tour. How did that relationship begin?
Walter Martin: My pal Alec Ounsworth, from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, is hooked up with Undertow and does Living Room Tours, and loves it. I liked the idea of intimate shows in unique places. I called them up, and they’d heard good things about my record from Alec, so they signed me up. The shows I’ve done so far have been really, really great. I’m totally hooked.
How does the living room environment change your approach to performing?
I like the living room shows, and how they are not amplified and very intimate. The first couple were scary, because you’re right there with the audience—the only thing between me and them is my cheap guitar strap.
But it’s great to be so close to the crowd and to have a dialogue. I’m used to playing in rock venues and not even looking at the audience, but this tour has reminded me that interacting with the audience is the whole damn point.
We’re All Young Together has been called a ‘children’s album.’ Do you take that as a criticism?
I have a hard time with humorless music, and I feel like there is so much of it these days.
I can’t tell what kind of record it is. I just wanted to make something original and different and funny. I have a hard time with humorless music, and I feel like there is so much of it these days. I mean, gimme a break! How boring is humorless rock ‘n’ roll?
I called my record “children’s music” to try to separate myself from all that overly serious stuff out there. I don’t know much, but I know rock ‘n’ roll, and I know that ALL the best rock ‘n’ roll is, on some level, humorous.
We’re All Young Together has quite a few high-profile guests. Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Matt Berninger from The National are just two examples. How did they wind up on the record, and how much of the writing process was influenced with their inclusion in mind?
“Sing to Me” is the love song on the record, and when I finished it, I honestly had a moment when I suddenly pictured it as a duet with Karen. I love duets and I love her voice, especially on slow romantic jams, so I asked her and she did it. She’s great on it—so pretty.
With the other guests, it was more that I wanted different characters on the album, like an old Disney soundtrack. So, I asked people who had really unusual, distinctive voices to do parts. I can’t believe they all said yes. My friend’s son believed that Matt from the National was actually an animal singing.
There’s talk that you’re working on a record influenced by painters. Do you find that some audiences have trouble with songs about more academic subject matters?
My approach to writing about art is not academic at all. It’s the opposite. When I was younger, I was intimidated by art that I didn’t understand, but I came to realize that you don’t have to understand art to appreciate it. It’s more exciting and magical when you are moved by something that your brain can’t grasp.
Two things helped me understand that idea: watching David Lynch movies and going to a Robert Rauschenberg show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In my songs about art, I’m trying to make complex art approachable.
The Walkmen are on hiatus, but all of the members seem to be creatively very viable at the moment. What’s the status of the band right now?
We are taking a break. We just wanted to break our cycle, no big deal. I’m not in the “writing-Walkmen-songs” zone right now, but someday it could happen again. There’s no bad blood or anything interesting like that. We’re playing a show in November, actually, for New Republic Magazine’s 100th anniversary gala. We’re basically doing it because Bill Clinton is going to be there and there’s free booze.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.