Discussing the finished album this August, mere weeks before the release of “Lisbon,” Leithauser had a different story: big rockers were toned down; horns remain on but one song; 30 songs were written, 11 made the cut. And while the reverb is less apparent, he found himself arguing for more of it on “Victory,” the last song the band would record for the album. “I got vetoed,” he says, admitting it was the right choice. “The vocal sounds so much madder because it’s so dry.”
That madness comes off as celebration, a fitting testament to the end of an album that took shape as the band went. The disc was recorded in New York and Texas, but it was on two trips to Lisbon that the Walkmen found its inspiration.
“It was this place we went that was really good to us,” Leithauser says. “It just seemed like looking back over writing the record, that Lisbon had been a really motivating for us.”
Sometimes recalling an Elvis-era Sun Records sound, “Lisbon” trades the garage thrash of earlier Walkmen records for clean guitars, simple arrangements and restrained vocals.
Ahead of a hometown show at the 9:30 Club Friday, Leithauser spoke to Express about each track on “Lisbon.”
That song was probably the most worked on song on the record, which is weird because it ended up just being this raw, very simple thing. It’s just the same part over and over and then we have the big end.
We did a country version. We did one that sounded kind of like “Sesame Street” music. We did one that was rock and really just trying to get everybody involved. And then in the end … I had the idea for [a] groove change. We recorded that, and then we said, “Let’s just not talk about it until we get to Texas.” So then we went to Texas and it was a one shot deal: Either it works or it doesn’t. So we played the recording. Then immediately everybody started playing, hit record and just recorded all of the song. And it was like a gift from the lord.
“Angela Surf City”
That’s the same thing [as “Juvenilles."] I think that’s actually why they ended up next to each other on the record. It was dead in the water; it had probably three or four versions of it from New York where it just went through the ringer.
“Follow the Leader”
You have those two rockers at the beginning, which are just … very heavy. And it surfaces as a bit of a vibe-setter for the rest of the record. That’s the way that I hear it.
“Blue As Your Blood”
It’s one of my favorite ones. I just thought it was really solid. It was the first song written after the last record, actually. And it was written very quickly, and I thought it was really well put together. It was the first time that we recorded for [“Lisbon"] — and we never re-did it.
That is from a period where we were really doing a lot of horn-based stuff. The horn stuff had just started toward the end of [“You & Me"] and then at the beginning of this record we were just sort of full on with the horns. We had been traveling with them, we had them on tour with us.
That was the last the last song we did, actually. That was the end. I just wanted it to rock and it felt like we could kick the doors down a bit. And then [producer John Congleton], for the mix of it, I wanted to put more reverb on it and make it bigger, but John was just not listening. But then after hearing it more I’m really glad he stuck to his guns, because it’s so dry — the vocal just sounds so much madder because it’s so dry.
“All My Great Designs”
That’s got the sound of that room, of that Texas room, and it’s just very raw. It’s got that sort of, like, reggae-sounding groove. That’s how I think of it. It was nice and spare — after some big vibes, it’s nice to have an empty-sounding song.
“Woe Is Me”
That was another one we had done in New York and it was never that fun-sounding, and we stripped it down. There was a chorus on it that we just stripped out, and we really made it so simple and recorded it, but [Congleton’s] got that great presence in that room. He’s got those two little things going; he’s got the mics right up in there, and it sounds so good. That one just came together in the simplest, fastest, thoughtful way, and we were all very happy with it.
I really like that vocal thing at the end. That was just it. That’s what that song is. It’s just nice-sounding. We’ve always tried to do backup vocals. Actually, we have this new song recorded for our, I guess it’ll be our next record or maybe it’ll be an EP, I don’t know. But it’s really great and the whole thing is based on the back-up vocal. It’s less period piece-y, but it’s that, in a sense.
“While I Shovel the Snow”
I thought it was going to be like the new “Finding Nemo” soundtrack[-type song]. Once you start singing in a room with that song, there is just not very much else going on. You’re going for a Frank Sinatra kind of thing. You’ve got to just do or die at that point, because you’re out there on your own.
The title is more than the song, but I just think the whole vibe sort of worked out. For us, it was this place we went twice during the record that was really good to us and that we hadn’t ever been before, and we all really loved the place. And then, when we were coming with titles, that title was suggested, and it sort of just seemed like looking back over writing the record, that Lisbon had been a really motivating for us.
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