"I have a song called 'If I Were A Tiger' which has sort of an Astral Weeks kind of vibe... There's all that really incredible bass playing. I was trying to copy that style but I did it in a very sloppy way... But I kind of like the way it came out," Walter Martin of The Walkmen admitted to us when we visited his studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn. We had originally dropped by to check out his Kay upright bass, but the magic of the place where he writes and records led us to so much more. His '74 strat, a Randy Newman autograph, microphones, a Yankees hat, a piano, and a mid-60s organ held together by duct tape are just a few of the things that help shape Martin's creative space, and it comes through in his music.
"I don't even know if it's supposed to be quiet if you're a really good bass player. I actually don't know," he told us as he continued to offer a little upright bass performance. Even though he doesn't know too much about the technical aspect of the bass, it's something he completely embraces and uses it in his own way. Although he's clearly capable of playing the instrument wonderfully, Martin kept joking around, saying that he's not a "real bass player," which was actually refreshing to hear. For Martin to pick an instrument that he thinks he's not well-versed in and show us that yes, there is a way to use it anyway, gives aspiring musicians a lot of hope. It also helps give him that raw, authentic sound which you can hear on his latest album, My Kinda Music, out now.
Walter Martin is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with rock 'n' roll bands The Walkmen (lyricist, co-writer, multi-instrumentalist 2000-2013) and Jonathan Fire*Eater (co-writer, organist 1994-1998). In 2014 he launched a solo career with the release of We're All Young Together, a critically acclaimed and award winning children's album. On January 29, 2016, Martin released Arts & Leisure, a new album of original songs for adults. The album received much critical acclaim and has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR's All Things Considered, Pitchfork and SPIN.
On May 5, 2017, Martin is releasing My Kinda Music a new album intended to be listened to while making pancakes or driving on family car trips.
About the other solo albums:
On January 29th 2016, Walter Martin released Arts & Leisure a collection of songs that take inspiration from Martins years of world travel as a musician, his younger days working in art museums and what he refers to as his shaky grasp of college art history. The inventive use of drums and percussion, conversational lyrical approach, and trademark vintage instrumentation that Martin brought to the Walkmen are employed to wondrous new effect on his first big production since the band split. Martins years of behind-the-scenes writing seem to have been the ideal staging ground for this inspired new chapter.
Martins solo debut was 2014s much-loved kids album Were All Young Together. This unexpected departure served as a palate cleanser for Martin after years in bands and, surprisingly for Martin, the album found miraculous success. As he explains, I was about to apply for a job at Kinkos or something and then suddenly all these great things started happening with the kids album. The album won a Parents Choice award and its songs were featured in two major advertising campaigns one for iPhone and one for Android. Additionally, the album produced a longstanding #1 single for Sirius XMs family station and was embraced by national press outlets including NPRs All Things Considered, NPRs Morning Edition, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and Spin.
But most importantly, Martin credits Were All Young Together with helping him find a way to write songs that made sense for Martin himself to sing. Martin explains, Through writing songs about rattlesnakes and chimpanzees, I figured out how to write lyrics that express my inner self in a voice thats indistinguishable from how I naturally talk and joke around. Thankfully I was able translate it to non-animal subject matters. After years writing for what he refers to as the "collective personality of his previous band, Martin now finds himself writing for a personality that is all his own one characterized by a unique blend of absurd humor and sincere emotion. Im no good at talking about the art I like but I feel like these songs express in an unfussy way some things that I like about certain artists and ideas. Arts & Leisure was originally conceived as an art- themed comedy album but after two years of writing and rewriting, the album developed into something far richer. Martin explains, I wrote all these funny songs and I got sick of them. Then I wrote all these serious songs and realized they were boring. Then I broke my back writing a two minute song about Alexander Calders miniature circus and I thought it was perfect it was whimsical and weird but also had personal ideas about art tucked in there that gave it the depth and warmth I was looking for. So, lyrically, that was the starting point."
But the lyrics are only half of the story. The rich analog sounds, playful instrumentation and bittersweet melodies that fill this album are some of the most charming and original of Martins career. Performed and recorded almost entirely by Martin at his vintage-gear-filled Brooklyn recording studio (with a few outrageous performances by Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick) and primarily mixed by producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins) Arts & Leisures wide-open sound serves as a showcase for Martins true multi-instrumentalism. He moves easily between drums, guitar, upright bass, piano, trombone, organ, mandolin, xylophone, slide whistle, glockenspiel and just about every noise-maker and percussion instrument you can imagine. Martin jokes, "If youre in bands for almost 30 years, you eventually figure out how all the instruments work.
Whether hes making prank calls from the switchboard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, admiring the high-back chairs in a tearoom in Glasgow, or casually dismissing all eighteenth century European art during a museum visit, Martins stories have the familiar warmth of a conversation with an old friend. These songs feel as much like a collection of personal letters as they do a rock 'n roll album. While offering a perspective that is distinctly modern, Walter Martins Arts & Leisure is rooted in an old tradition and serves as a reminder that there is still sublime power in the marriage of great music and great storytelling.