Guitarist Eli Maiman chats about recording Walk the Moon’s major label debut, the success of “Anna Sun,” the magic of happy mistakes, and what it was like doing the band’s first record independently.
This year has been pretty great for you guys so far, with the new record coming out soon and the single doing really well. What have these last couple months been like?
The last few months have been pretty insane. When you’re in a band, things move real, real slow for a real long time. For us, there was one catalyzing event, which was putting out the “Anna Sun” video. Since then, things have moved exponentially faster all the time. We got to hold on tight and try to keep up with everything. We’ve been extraordinarily lucky. We’ve all been able to cross some things off our musician’s bucket list the past 12 months, playing Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Sasquatch, and then playing Jimmy Fallon in April. It’s been pretty awesome, seeing it all accomplished.
That “Anna Sun” video is around a year old now, right?
Yeah, the video came out in November 2010, actually. It’s been in circulation for a long time. It’s been fun to see the steps that it has taken and the life it has had. We’re excited to see where it goes. We hope it hasn’t peaked yet. We’re excited to see what happens, especially with the record coming out June 19, and we’ll see where it goes from there.
This album coming out is a little weird in that most of the songs have already been released. Six of the songs were on your first album, and then two of the new songs were on the digital EP from earlier this year. Is it weird to have a new album that’s not necessarily new?
Yeah, it’s definitely a weird situation. We had gained a certain level of notoriety with the independent record, but obviously this release is going to be on a much larger scale. What we wanted to do is we wanted to go into the studio and really capture the energy of the live show. We felt like that was the main shortcoming of I Want! I Want! It wasn’t expressing what we do live.
So we went into the studio with Ben Allen in Atlanta and made a record we’re really proud of, and we think captured that a lot more closely than I Want! I Want! did. Hopefully, it just sounds more like Walk the Moon, and hopefully the bigger sound and more Walk the Moon-iness will be satisfying for both old fans who know the songs and new fans who are just coming to us now.
How did you decide what songs from I Want! I Want! to include on this one, and also how did you decide what mix of old and new material you wanted to have?
We really went into the studio with maybe 20 songs that were in the running and nothing got preferential treatment. We knew “Anna Sun” would be on the record, but nothing really got preferential treatment. All we wanted to do was pick the 10 or 12 best songs that created the most complete album. What we ended up with was 11 tracks and what we feel like was the finest batch of songs that we had.
Will the other songs be seeing the light of day at some point?
Well, some of them are the rest of the songs from I Want! I Want! and the others weren’t quite ready or weren’t fully developed. We recorded a song called “Anywayican,” which we used as a b-side for the 7” release of “Anna Sun.” We also did a new recording of “The Liftaway,” which is a song off of I Want! I Want!, that we decided to put into the vault because it just wasn’t quite right. Some of the other songs are actually in the live set right now. We’re just trying to further develop them and become more and more comfortable with them, and hopefully put them on a record in a year or two.
Obviously, there’s some new material on this one as well. How was it different writing these newer ones compared to the ones from I Want! I Want!?
I think there was some time in between the older songs and the new songs. The older songs were written the last few years of college. They were coming from that place. Some of the newer stuff has a more mature vibe, a more mature element to it. It is coming from a different place personally. There’s new influences and new experiences that we’re all drawing from. That’s where songs like “Next in Line” and “Tightrope” and “Shiver Shiver” all came from.
As far as stylistically, you write energetic music with some electronics and synths and stuff, but as a guitarist you keep that pretty front and center as well. How do you mix and match those different elements?
A lot of what we do comes from mistakes, or just impulses, rather than a set plan. It’s really rare that we come into rehearsals saying, “Hey, we’re going to mix some electronic percussion with some live rim clicks and some acoustic guitar.” It’s mostly maybe Sean is experimenting with an electronic drum pad on one side of the room, I’m playing a 12-string guitar on the other side, and then something magic happens and they lock in together. That’s the way a new idea comes together.
It’s really kind of alchemy, mixing things that should not work. It’s a lot of happy mistakes. I think it’s a testament to the importance of playing as much music as you can and just being at the instrument. If you’re not at the instrument, you’ll never have the opportunity to be inspired or have the happy mistakes. You really just have to be there with the instrument. We play and practice a whole, whole lot. I think that’s where the sound really comes from.
So you play a 12-string?
Live, I’m playing exclusively six-string electrics. Actually, 12-string did not make it onto the record. We did some 12-string on “Anywayican,” the track I was talking about earlier, but there is some electric sitar on the record, which I’m pretty excited about.
Are these things you picked up on your own or did you take guitar lessons when you were growing up?
Yeah, I took guitar lessons growing up. I had never played an electric sitar, actually. Our engineer brought in this electric sitar that sat around the studio for the entirety of the time we were there. On one of the last days we were there, we were working on a song called “I Can Lift a Car.” I just picked it up, and it happened to work and give the song a little extra sheen, so that’s how that ended up there. Once again, it was just being there and playing and happy mistakes.
I want to talk about I Want! I Want! real quick. You self-released that on your own, and obviously it did pretty well because it got you to where you are now. How were you able to work that album and get it out there and heard?
I Want! I Want! was recorded entirely in Cincinnati in little living room and garage studios. We financed it entirely ourselves and released it independently. We got a really, really good reaction, which is a really amazing feeling to have done it entirely ourselves and see it do so well.
Was it hard to get exposure outside of Ohio?
Yeah, we did the weekend warrior thing a lot. We were playing weeklong trips to get out and do some touring outside of Ohio, but what really helped was again the video. There was this blog in D.C. called All Things Go, who posted the video, and then Neon Gold Records in New York posted the video. That ended up being the best business card we could ever have. That really is what helped us get exposure outside of Ohio and got this train moving.
The whole independent release also made us appreciate what a real record label could do. They brought the budget and production value up so much. It really did help us, like I said earlier, sound more like Walk the Moon than we could have done on our own.
Nowadays, things like Kickstarter are really big on funding records for young up-and-coming bands. Do you think things would have been different if you would have financed it that way?
Let me think. [Pause] It would have been different, but just in that we would have… How do I say this? Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion on Kickstarter versus financing it ourselves. We financed it through loans from friends and family friends, in person and not through the Internet, you know what I mean? It worked out all right for us.
There’s been a few big bands that have made it from Ohio, like Black Keys and Relient K. What was the Ohio scene like for you and how did you first get started in that?
We’re really, really fortunate in that Cincinnati has developed a great DIY scene, a really supportive, young music scene that both has a lot of fans and people that come to shows, but also a lot of brilliant artists. We were lucky to be in Cincinnati at the right time. Things were just happening and we got a whole lot of support, both from listeners and other artists alike. We don’t forget that. We still appreciate all the support they’ve given us.
Do you all still live in Cincinnati?
Two of us still live in Cincinnati and two of us live in Columbus.
So do you get asked about the face paint in every interview?
[Laughs] We get asked about the face paint a lot. I don’t really know what people are looking for in that question, because the answer is not all that good. It kind of happened organically. We had some face paint in the video for “Anna Sun” and then people started coming to the shows in face paint. It really was just a thing that developed real organically, and it’s become a really neat way to express visually this community we have at the shows. The shows are pretty much a group experience, where the band and audience are sharing this concert going experience.
I was wondering one thing, though. When you get all sweaty playing a show does the paint stay on there pretty well or does it get a little messy?
Yeah, usually halfway through the set I’ll look over at Nic and Nic will have no more face paint on. He’s sweated it all off. There was a show real early on where Kevin was playing shirtless. Kevin had this paint all over his chest and he sweated it all directly onto his pants. It was black and purple paint, so the paint completely ruined his pants. He still wears them like a badge of honor, but it gets nasty sometimes. It’s part of the job.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, I’m sure your schedule is going to be pretty packed out. Does that excite you? Are you looking forward to some stuff but dreading others?
I got most of May off. I was sure to appreciate the time at home because I’m pretty sure there is not going to be a whole lot of it in the next six months. We are all looking forward to all of it. The physical traveling, like what we’re doing right now being in the van, is not our favorite part. We still think it beats every job we’ve had before now.
We’re playing some really cool festivals this year. We’re playing Governors Ball in New York. We played Sasquatch and we’re playing Forecastle in Louisville. We’re looking forward to all of it. Mostly, we’re looking forward to the record being out and seeing how it does. The record has been done for a long, long time. It’s been inside our bellies gestating and we’re about to give birth to it. We want to see it grow up and see what becomes of us.
The record’s been done since last year, right?
Yeah, we finished recording it in August and then got the mixing done early this year.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add or are anticipating coming up?
Let’s see. The record comes out June 19. That week we’re going to be on David Letterman, so we’re real excited about that. We are out on tour a lot this year. We’re out headlining our own tour right now. We’ll be traveling around with a great band from Essex, England, called Morning Parade until the end of June. Then we’re going to go over to Europe and do a few dates over there.
That’s with fun., correct?
In July, we’re doing our own headlining dates, but in the fall from September to October we’re going to be doing dates with fun. in Europe, which we’re really looking forward to as well.
Have you decided on a second single or is that still in the works?
We’ve got several songs that we really feel are contenders but haven’t made any decisions yet. We’re still enjoying seeing what happens with “Anna Sun.”