Photo from left to right: Sean, Nick, Kevin, Eli
It’s an unusually warm May afternoon when I knock on Heaven’s door. No, this is not an out of body experience (though the following half hour does seem somewhat surreal) – Heaven is the name of the London club and live music venue that is to host the incredible party that is a Walk The Moon gig. But before that, I have the privilege of speaking to the Ohio foursome just before the launch of the UK leg of their tour and release of their sophomore album, Talking Is Hard.
As I enter Heaven, the band’s sound-check reverberates thrillingly through the spacy, basement-like building and I am perched at the club’s bar to await their arrival. Frontman and keyboardist, Nick Petriccia walks through the door first, wearing a striking multi-coloured, Native-American-patterned vest-thing with half of his hair dyed fiery red. His manner is friendly and chilled, much like the rest of the band who trickle in: bassist Kevin Ray, guitarist Eli Maiman, and finally drummer Sean Waugaman, all will similarly colourful hair and breezy smiles.
Once we’re all comfortably installed on some sofas, the interview-proper begins at the beginning with the question: what inspired each of you to pick up the instrument you did? Eli starts, “For me it was Paul McCartney, who I didn’t understand played bass at the time, ‘cause I was ten years old so I just saw him with a string instrument and was like ‘Oh cool, a guitar! I’ll do that’”. Kevin was first a guitarist, listening to folk music, but was seduced into bass-playing under the influence of Flea, while Sean, as though through destiny, picked up the drums at a friend’s house, learned Greenday’s Brain Stew, and the rest was history. The band’s melodic knack may come from Nick’s early interest in songs, as well as a strong grounding in great piano music, that he garnered growing up listening to Billy Joel and Elton John.
This melodic knack is extremely evident from the musical diversity of the band’s new album. Being a cheeky journalist, I go in for the scoop with the hard-hitting question: if Talking Is Hard, what was your biggest challenge in making the album? But there are no Gallagher-style dramas in this band, whose only problem is being too prolific, too good for their own good. Eli explains, “We wrote fifty songs for this record. We wrote a lot, a lot, a lot of music and a lot of it we continue to feel really good about and so the hardest thing… was narrowing down what songs were going to be on this record, which is kind of the very first thing you’ve got to do. I was thinking triple record - that’s what I was thinking in my heart.” “I would so buy that!” is my own reaction to this idea. “I think in a lot of ways we got really lucky,” Eli goes on, “because we picked these thirteen songs and then as we got into the recording process we found that they were kind of connected with these themes of empowerment and togetherness and positivity and so it really just came together in a magical way like that.”
And magical indeed is the album. In order to voice my appreciation, I devised a few silly song-related questions for the band. We know they like Sidekicks but I wanted to know, if they were superheroes, what would their power be and who would be their sidekick. “My super hero power changes often,” Kevin says contemplatively. Eli jumps in, “I’ve always felt like psychic powers were the right choice, like incredible Professor X mental powers and I think my sidekick would be like Mila Kunis in a wonder woman outfit.” “With no superpowers, just being Mila Kunis,” adds Nick. “No she can hang,” Eli assures us. “I’m good. I’ve got a lot of shit going on up here.” Kevin decides on his power next. “I would have Aquaman’s powers,” he smiles coyly at the pun on another of their song titles, “mainly because the ocean has way more stuff to see. It’s humungous and we’ll never see all of it. And I think my sidekick would be like a dope dolphin, a really cool teenaged dolphin, like had a backwards cap on and could talk to me.” I feel he could be onto the next superhero franchise with this one. “I always liked Nightcrawler growing up so I would like to teleport,” Nick decides. “I have no idea what my sidekick would be. I’m hungry so I’m thinking about food so everywhere I teleported they’d have a meal for me”. “Would Gordon Ramsay be your sidekick?” Kevin suggests. “Perfect!” Sean, who has said very little thus far in the interview, comes in dryly with “I’d have probably something really lame like the ability to grow hair really fast and then I’d have like a hairdresser as my sidekick.”
On the songs Avalanche and Come Under The Covers, there is mention of feeling like you’ve known someone in a past life. So I ask the guys, what do you think you were in a past life? Kevin was a philosopher, Nick was Indiana Jones, Eli was a musician (“I think I’ve been doing this for several lives. I have like no other interests”). Sean, once again the dark horse, comments, “I was a large insect.” Oh? “I was a beetle in a pharaoh’s tomb, like a scarab,” he expands. “He got upgraded,” Kevin affirms. Well ok – scarabs are pretty badass, I guess…
My final song-related question is, when you are Down In The Dumps, what do you do to get pumped? “Music man!” exclaims Nick. “The fans, the shows – we were just saying this a couple of hours ago. No matter how shitty we feel about life, whether we’re tired or we’re arguing or we’re far away from home or whatever, the music is the thing that always brings us back together, it’s the thing that we all put our shit aside and focus on. Especially live, the fans and the audience just brings me to life every night.” Kevin continues, “Especially in a live music setting I like to think about what everyone has gone through to get here today because even though we’ve been travelling a lot, like everybody else to get here has travelled in some way or gone through something or spent money or time and it gets me pumped because they want us to be pumped!” “I usually take a nap,” says Sean. “Typical beetle answer,” Kevin squints at him suspiciously.
As any band that has hit number 4 on the Billboard Top 100, and number 1 on the Rock and Alternative charts (their song Shut Up And Dance is already an incontestable indie-pop classic), Walk The Moon has a pretty wide fanbase. Once again playing the sneaky journalist I ask the guys about their most unusual fan experience. Everyone looks to Sean. “There was one night,” Eli begins, “where this girl snuck back stage after the show and started yelling at Sean about how he wasn’t the real Sean and then proceeded to lock him out of our green room.” “This was all while I was brushing my teeth,” says Sean, “so I had like no rebuttal.” “Yeah,” Eli continues, “so she comes into the dressing room where everyone else is. She locks the door and starts telling us that he’s not the real Sean anymore.” He laughs, “No one does anything about it.”
But silliness and crazy fans aside, there is an important message in Walk The Moon’s music. “My favourite lyric from the album might be from Different Colours and it’s ‘when the people get to dancing they forget about taking sides’” says Nick. “That’s a bit what the record as a whole is about. There are so many different people, there are so many things to argue about… and music has a way of uniting people and has a way of allowing people to see each other’s differences and celebrate them. Different Colours specifically is about not just tolerating people’s differences but celebrating them and we’re at a time where I think that’s so important.”
Overall, it was incredibly refreshing to hear a band talk so passionately, with so much compassion, and such humour about the lives that they get to lead as a result of the successes they’ve had so far. In closing I ask the guys where they’d like to see Walk The Moon in five years. “We’ll be playing in the far corners of the earth,” says Kevin wistfully. “The earth doesn’t have corners! It’s round!” Eli interrupts in mock outrage. Nick answers straight up, “You know, it’s amazing that Shut Up And Dance is doing what it’s doing and it’s still growing and in some ways it’s just the beginning for that song and in five years I would love to have done that a few more times with other songs.” I’d love that too, Nick. For so many reasons, this is a band I want to see succeed.