After “Blue As Your Blood” and “Stranded” were recorded in New York, the band made the fateful trip to Texas and were galvanized around the new sound of “Angela Surf City.”
“It was a raw, quick sound,” Leithauser says. “Just really spontaneous and fun.” A number of the other tracks on Lisbon also found life within those concrete walls, including the jangly, upbeat album opener “Juveniles.” But, like “Angela,” “Juveniles” didn’t come easy.
“There was probably six start-to-finish different versions of that song and it was dead in the water, but we all knew that we liked it,” says Leithauser. Eventually they got “Juveniles” down too, and for the ten-day session with Congleton, the band recorded seven of the album’s 11 songs.
“It was sort of remarkable,” Leithauser says. “The studio wasn’t a particularly fancy setup at all. You don’t walk in the room and take a look at the equipment and [are] blown away immediately. But once we got things going, we all were.”
Bauer agrees with Leithauser on their time spent in Texas. “That was the best place for us to record,” he says. “From the end of the last record into this record, we’d probably done three sessions [in New York], but it just sort of went on and on. It was a really great place for us for a long time. I think we just needed a change of pace – a different scene altogether. So we went to Texas. It was a very fresh perspective on things.”
The idea of success and failure is at the heart of the Walkmen’s existence, and Lisbon finds the band finally at a creative peak – comfortable in its musical skin and yet willing to challenge its own complacency. While “Angela” is the album’s best track, “Victory” is the thematic centerpiece, with its winsome refrain: “Victory, right beside me/ Victory, you should be mine.”
While the band has been something of a critical darling, they haven’t necessarily achieved the same popularity as their peers – such as The National who had a Top 5 album in 2010, and with whom The Walkmen will tour this fall.
And it definitely stings a little. Leithauser curtly concedes that the song “Victory,” with its overt cries for success, is about just exactly that. “Sure, why not?” he says. “That’s sort of right over the plate, right? …If finances equal popularity then, yeah, we feel like we’ve got a lot of room for growth.”
But, similar to the way You & Me’s “In the New Year” suggested that hope might lay right around the corner, “Victory” also seems to presage a new optimism for the band, though Leithauser sees the song’s correlation as mostly musical in nature. “They are both loud 6/8 songs, which sort of relates it,” he says. “6/8 basher- rockers. That, to me, would be the connection.”
Bauer describes the songwriting genesis of “Victory,” recalling the influence of the psychedelic intro Martin and Maroon brought to the table. The 6/8 time signature helped lure the rest of the band into the song’s grasp. “Paul and Walt had this one part,” he says, “which was the beginning to that song. It was basically going for a loud, weird, sort of spacier sound than we normally use. It’s a lot of delay. It was really confusing at first. You almost couldn’t even tell what time signature it was in. So that is what drew us all to that part. I think as we put everything together on it the idea sound-wise was to have this very delay-heavy, kind of, sparse but heavy rock sound.”
The themes of maturity and finding commercial success extend to the band member’s personal lives as well. They are grown up now, with families, and the majority of them have children. But for a band that makes its money on the road, Leithauser isn’t sure how touring would affect domestic life.
“I guess we’ll find out by Thanksgiving,” he says. “I think we get back on November 24th. I guess we’ll have a better idea by then of how things are working out.”
Bauer is optimistic about the band’s current place. “It always feels like you’re right when you do it,” he says. “It’s hard to get a sense of those things until a couple years after you’ve worked on it, but I hope so.”
With a new direction, a new label and a great new album, perhaps victory is finally in The Walkmen’s grasp.