Ohio natives Walk the Moon have always possessed an uncanny proficiency for styling off-kilter but inescapable sonic vibrancy. Each studio installment provides its own developments, but there’s always a guarantee somewhere on the record that you’ll find some sort of uplift, or greater affinity which will travel with you ever-after. With the 2014 release of ‘Shut Up and Dance‘ (a clarion call taken from second studio album, Talking is Hard), the band’s fame skyrocketed. Providing Walk the Moon with a crossover hit and a broader platform for their music to reach many millions across the globe – as well as the scope to tour more extensively than ever before.
Meeting Walk the Moon in 2018, a metamorphosis guided by time and disconcert has immersed their vision towards a place of true individuality and honest (sometimes painful) reflection. Their third long-player on RCA Records, What if Nothing, impacted last November and instantly resonated with its listenership, often delving into heavy subject matter that places intimate sentiment over dramatised sensationalism.
Opening a direct dialogue into their world, for each listener to interpret in whatever way they will. The collection isn’t bereft of nuance or beauty, the thirteen tracks within, search and confront deep human struggles through rumination and philosophical imparts. The instrumentation is raw, futuristic, introvert, extrovert, wild, joyful, technicolor, expressive; the list goes on and on. All together the importance of this record is what you make of it, but for us, it’s disruptive, cathartic, therapeutic, and brazen all at once – a testament to Walk the Moon owning their darkest moments and transforming those experiences into a beacon for bravery and resilience.
Taking the album on the road, the band have forged their biggest stage production to date. Already having made stop-offs in the USA, Canada and Europe, April sees the four-piece unveiling the new material in the UK. Embarking on the first date of the run at Manchester’s O2 Ritz, we catch the band pre-show in a backstage meeting room to discuss this new era.
Firstly welcome back to the UK, and congrats on the new album. Now that the music is out there and you’ve had some time to settle into the rhythm of touring again, how are you all feeling?
Eli Maiman: Feeling really, really good. This record is a little different from our previous records, the songs are coming from a really personal place, and so we felt kind of vulnerable and exposed putting ‘em out, and seeing the reaction we’re getting from fans especially in the live setting. You know, people showing up and supporting this very personal music has been really rewarding. So we feel f****** great right now.
‘What if Nothing’ as an album feels untamed, bolder than anything Walk the Moon has ever released before, more self-aware –
Eli: ‘Untamed’ is awesome. [He says enthusiastically.]
Did the album making process feel different this time around to previous cycles?
Nick Petricca: Yeah every album is a little different. For each record that we’ve made we’ve had a completely different producer, and on this record we’ve gotten to work with two amazing producers – each one did half of the record thereabouts. They’re both named Mike. One is Mike Elizondo, who’s worked with Eminem, Dr Dre, Twenty One Pilots, Mastodon, Fiona Apple.
Sean Waugaman: It’s basically like half of the things that people listen to in the past fifteen years. [The others agree unanimously.]
Nick: And then the other Mike [Mike Crossey] has done the 1975 and Arctic Monkeys. So just the experience of working with new people brings out a different side in us, and both of those producers they’re like artists that we’re collaborating with, in a way. They did a great job of funnelling what we’re best at and letting our creative minds go wild, while also hammering in some more gritty production and futuristic production.
Going into this album, was there ever a part of you–conscious or otherwise–that wanted to make a more sonically mature album than maybe you had before?
Eli: I think we wanted that, yeah. But I think also, more than anything, we were running on instinct. We’re just different people than we were four years ago and seven years ago. We’re bringing different emotional depths and perspectives to the table. I think the record is mostly reflective of that. Though we certainly admire musicians who actively push forward, you know, who never did become stagnant in their careers. We really admire David Bowie, Prince, David Byrne. So, it is a priority for us, to keep moving forward. To just keep swimming.
What was it about the thirteen tracks you chose for this album that qualified them a place on the final cut? Because even though it is nuanced, the record is very cohesive…
Kevin Ray: That is a very long answer… We start with a lot of songs. When we go in to record the album, this time specifically, we had about 50 songs. They were in very different stages of completeness but there were definitely 50 ideas there. A lot of the time at that stage you don’t know what’s going to be the best song, what’s going to be cohesive as a group, and you can’t rely on that, at that stage. So really you’re just going off instinct and off gut reactions from our producers.
You know, we’d play bits of songs, or demos, or whatever, for a producer and if something got a reaction in the room that was a good indicator of what they were going to be passionate about working on. We had some of our favourite ideas too. By the time you get into the studio to actually record, you’re not going in with a ton of songs, you’re going in with much less songs, much more focussed energy and effort because you don’t wanna be there for years, recording a bunch of songs that won’t make the album. So by that point you’ve narrowed it down, and it happens pretty naturally, I think. But it is really hard, it is hard to cut out some of your favourite songs if they’re not working. Probably my least favourite part of the process is saying no to songs that you’ve gotten used to, or gotten excited about for a long time.
Eli: Yeah a couple of these songs have been cut before…
Charlotte, BSS: Like ‘Tiger Teeth’…
Eli: Like ‘Tiger Teeth’ – and ‘In My Mind’ is actually a song that is like seven years old, we’ve changed the arrangement up a little bit, of the beginning. Yeah, it’s just part of that whittling process.
The day ‘What if Nothing’ was released you all jumped online to host a Facebook live stream, within the Q&A you seemed to allude towards some deeper meaning in the album’s running order. As I was very curious about this, I wanted to try and uncover more to the story…
Nick: I don’t know. There’s a nice story with how it was chosen. In that, we had finished the record, we had gone through, I don’t know, ten, eight, different orders and picked one to go take a drive with. We hopped in a car with our producer and took a ride down the coast, and it was just this magical moment, everybody in the car was like, ‘Well, that’s the thing. That’s what people should hear.’ So that was really cool. There were a few must haves, like ‘Press Restart’ seemed like it just had to open the record, there’s something about that song. It kind of is the trumpet call for saying goodbye to our past selves and saying hello to the future of Walk the Moon, and that is kind of magically lining up with the lyrics of the song. But there isn’t like a secret concept underlying the order.
Charlotte, BSS: It was just me reading too much into it!
Nick: That’s the thing with any person who listens to the record, if they find something there, then it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t. The meaning that you find, listening, is equally important.
Eli: I was just thinking about this, the way we test drove it was kind of biased. I mean, we chose a really beautiful drive during sunset, what if it was raining that day? What if we…
Kevin: Drove through a tornado? Then that would’ve been totally different…
Nick: What if we had just sat at a really sad gas station and listened to [the record]. Then we were like, ‘Wow, this is the worst order ever.’
It’s a known fact that voice memos play an important role in Nick’s creative process, if we were to crack open a few of these what would we find?
Nick: You would find a lot of mumbling and a lot of really terrible ideas, I’m sure. Yeah, sometimes I would just start rambling, free association – it’s a stream of consciousness, talking to myself to talk out an idea or a lyric. Or a sort of similar method with a melody, just kind of taking it in and seeing where it goes, and usually the time I feel most comfortable and safe to do that, is alone in the car. One particular voice memo inspired the title for the record, and that was another time where I’m just driving, I don’t know if I was just driving home, or to the studio, or something like that. But all the pieces of our personal lives, and the development of the music, and what was going on in the world seemed to kinda line up and for a moment there seemed to be a pattern there.
Nick explains in the album promo trailer that to make this record you would have to ‘face [your] dark side’ – but if you were to literally embody your dark side, what would that look like – Marvel / DC style?
[The room fills with laughter and Nick murmurs ‘Shadow Walk the Moon.’ Giving the others some time to contemplate an answer.]
Eli: I would be Charlie Brown, with a storm cloud over him that just follows him everywhere. That’s my dark side… it’s just kind of a bummer.
Kevin: I identify with Silver Surfer, who’s not necessarily a hero or nice guy all the time, and he’s not the worst guy. And for some reason I’ve been wearing this shiny silver hoodie on this tour, so I’m really identifying hard with Silver Surfer. I don’t think I could ever be purely, purely evil.
Nick: I feel like my dark side is like mega-Godzilla. Like giant robot, alien, dinosaur destroying things –
Eli: [In response to Nick’s answer] You just want to live in Japan.
Sean: I didn’t know there was a light side to me, I thought I was, like, in my dark side all the time. It’s just me.
Nick: Yeah, your light side is just like… a muppet.
Sean: It’s non-existent.
Have you begun to think about the next album or next project?
Eli: Woah. We’re super focussed on touring right now and we’re having so such fun bringing the tunes to the people. We sat on this record for a while; I think that’s something that didn’t get mentioned before about what makes this different, is the previous projects have been very concentrated efforts. Like [spending] three months [in the] studio every day, and this one was real spread out, so we had time to contemplate the entire thing, and what it looked like, and how it was going to come together. And so, having put that much time into it, we’re really enjoying taking it to the people, and that’s where the heart of Walk the Moon is: playing these live shows and interacting with fans directly. So, we’re doing this, and then I’m getting married, and then we’re going on tour with 30 Seconds to Mars this summer and we’re doing [shows in] Asia, some places for the first time.
Charlotte, BSS: And you have your hometown show.
Eli: Yeah we’re going home, we’re gonna play the Red Stadium which is pretty f****** wild. And that’s going to be it. That’s what’s in our sights for right now.
I have a few tweets from the band’s personal Twitter accounts that I’d love to learn more about, if you’re up for it?
Charlotte, BSS: The first one’s from Nick. This is from a while back because you’ve stopped using it now.
Nick: Yeah I’ve kind of abandoned it.
UK is swallowing me whole
— Nick Petricca (@petricholas) May 24, 2015
Eli: Sounds like a ‘Tiger Teeth’ reference.
Nick: Yeah, yeah right. What was I thinking in that moment? I don’t know what to say about that.
Kevin: You probably got really hungry and you ate way too much…
Nick: Curry. Something like that. That’s better than any other answer I’ve got.
had a dream that walk the moon was literally at war… not in one, just present at one.
— Eli Maiman (@brosemaiman) March 28, 2017
Eli: So that was March of last year, so we were in the studio and…
Kevin: Yeah, I remember you telling us about that.
Eli: Yeah uh uh uh [Eli seems lost for words in this moment]. It’s interesting. That’s interesting. I had forgotten about that. Making this record, even though we weren’t overthinking things, was definitely a little bit of a battle. Like it wasn’t necessarily a smooth birth for this record, so I think that was probably manifesting itself, you know, in my subconscious. I have a lot of work dreams, I have a lot of crew dreams when we’re touring. Like the crew will just all quit and we’ll be out here on our own, you know, with no idea of how our s*** works. I have a lot of those work stress dreams.
Charlotte, BSS: So this one’s from Kevin…
Kevin: Ah, I’m so scared.
There’s no incentive to make good art anymore. Only incentive to be a famous person who happens to make art. Celebrity above art. :/
— K-Ray (@wtmkevin) October 9, 2017
Eli: Holy f*** dude!
Kevin: Yeah. Who was I talking about that day?
Nick: Wow. Heavy.
Kevin: Yeah it was heavy… I think I was pissed off about some celebrity. Man… I forget who it was. But it was definitely… like something happened in the news, some celebrity did something, or maybe like a musician made something really terrible. I don’t know. I don’t get that heavy that often. That’s a big one.
Charlotte, BSS: Sorry, I don’t have one for Sean and I looked deep through Twitter and Instagram…
Sean: I really don’t tweet much.
Eli: Not taking a lot of stands.
Just before I let you go, I wanted to ask seen as this is probably Walk the Moon’s sixth or seventh time in Manchester – what have you noticed about the city in of all the times that you’ve played here?
Nick: The people are always very sweet here. I remember the very first time we played, we must have been with fun. And I remember meeting some folks at a pub near the show, and just hanging out with some Manchester homies, and you know, getting brews after the show. I have fond feelings about England in general, but yeah, the people here tend to be, in my experience, very sweet.
Eli: Is this where Sean’s drum set flew, or was that in Birmingham?
Charlotte, BSS: Yeah that was at the arena here.
Eli: People were mean about that.
Kevin: We’re still looking for footage of that, by the way, if anybody’s out there… send us footage.
Eli: I always feel like the venues are pretty cool here. We played Gorilla last time, which has the weird power station vibe, and I remember that standing out on our last UK tour as being a really fun show. So, I’m psyched for tonight; it’s a great room.
Walk the Moon’s What If Nothing is out now via RCA Records – available to Stream/Purchase here.