Preview: More mature Walkmen hit 10-year mark with 'Heaven'


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Earlier this year, indie-rock darlings The Walkmen looked back at 2002's "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone" with a 10th anniversary tour.

Given the age of most rock bands, it's not an unusual milestone, but it was meaningful to the band.

"It was a little legitimizing because you start thinking you accomplished something," says singer Hamilton Leithauser. "It's still a struggle for us. We don't make a lot of money, and we still have to travel in our van, but it does make you feel like you got somewhere."

The Walkmen

With: Woods, Coke Weed.

Where: Mr. Smalls, Millvale.

When: 8 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $20; 1-866-468-3401.

The New York post-punk revival band's breakthrough was the second album, "Bows + Arrows," which drew strong reviews from tastemakers new and old, who found the sound harkening back to U2, The Cure and Joy Division. Rolling Stone called the band's standout, "The Rat," "one of the greatest songs of the century" (it was 2004), and Pitchfork had it as the No. 6 single of the year.

Over the course of three more proper studio albums and one covers release, The Walkmen have continued to draw acclaim and expand musically, while building a club following, touring with Kings of Leon and playing such festivals as Lollapalooza and All Tomorrow's Parties.

In May, the band released "Heaven," of which All Music Guide wrote, "where their rockers used to rage, they now burst with exuberance." In some circles, it has been labeled the band's "dad-rock" for the inclusion of not only the fatherly "Song for Leigh," but also the band photo featuring its six adorable offspring.

"It's just that we included pictures of us and our kids on it," Mr. Leithauser says, "and that I think directed people into thinking and looking at it that way, but that was just a last-minute addition. I don't know if the music comes across that way if you don't look at it through that filter."

With the members of the band now split between Brooklyn, Philadelphia and New Orleans, a lot of the writing on the album was done via email.

"Back 15 years ago or whatever, it would have been like 'This is the end of the line.' We barely got together," Mr. Leithauser says. "It's a lot of working alone. We only got together twice -- me and Walt [Martin, the bassist/organist] and Paul [Maroon, the guitarist] in New York. When you get everyone in the room it becomes slow and unproductive, so it's a little lonely, but I think we got the job done a lot faster."

The album was produced by Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses) at a remote studio in the woods of Washington state, but a pastoral sound doesn't sneak into the Walkmen's elegant pop style.

"Everything is written by the time you get there, so I don't know if it sounds like woods music," he says.

In fact, while he was working on the album, the singer was reading a Sinatra bio and immersing himself in the music of Ol' Blue Eyes.

"He has the strongest voice of all time, and he's got a lot of versatility," he says. This album sounds nothing like Sinatra, he notes, but says, "Maybe in the future it will have an effect. It's just what I was listening to the most."

Despite the Walkmen still struggling in a van and playing clubs rather than theaters, he expects the band to continue on well past the 10-year mark.

"Yeah," he says, "I don't have any other backup plan."

music

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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