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Walkmen Don’t Run: Catching Up With the Band Before Their SF Date with Kings of Leon

Wondering about the whereabouts of the Walkmen? The band -- not the dusty cassette player buried beneath that crusty sleeping bag, past-sell-date condom lei, and smudged mix tape of Minor Threat, Leaving Trains, and Saccharine Trust. You know, the dudes who strolled on past those New Yawk new rock tags and decided to carve out a sound of their own, choosing clattering, left-of-center arrangements crammed with rickety instruments and closer in spirit to Arcade Fire than the Strokes. I caught up with the Walkmen’s droll vocalist-guitarist Hamilton Leithauser via e-mail on the cusp of the group’s show tonight, May 21, with Kings of Leon at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Q: How has it been touring with Kings of Leon? Fighting off more girls than ever?

Hamilton Leithauser: People are usually like getting hot dogs and pounding beers in the aisles while we play, but the Kings guys are swell.

Q: What has the band been up to since You & Me?

HL: We've written a ton of stuff. We're going to start recording it in June in Philadelphia. Also, we've been playing some really sub-par golf on public ranges on this tour.

Q: How are the new songs shaping up?

HL: They're tip notch!!! I'm putting a down payment on a new Tesla roadster!

Q: Pussycats was a farewell to your old studio location. Do studios figure largely in your outlook and direction as band?

HL: We are actually trying to find a place right now. We've found a few in Philly, but nothing has totally jumped out at us. We see all these sterile, really expensive joints where there's like three guys to get you coffee, a guy to prop your guitar up for you, flat-screen TVs and like a gold Coldplay record on the wall... It's kind if creepy. So, anyhow, sign me up!

Q: What made you take on Harry Nilsson and John Lennon’s Pussycats track by track in the first place? It's an interesting and not exactly expected choice to cover. What do you find interesting about covers?

HL: Well, it was a flawed plan -- probably because there was no plan. Our studio was just closing, and we wanted to do something fun. We had some friends in, which I'd love to do again. It really changes the dynamic.

We've recorded a bunch of covers since, which are all available free at Daytrotter.com. We were very happy with those. They were done very quickly.

Q: In your view, what's the music scene like now?

HL: There's a bunch of records I'm into now from newer bands. I like Beach House from Baltimore, and the Oh Sees from San Fran a lot. I find myself liking a lot more new music these days than I did a few years ago.

Q: Half of the Walkmen was once in Jonathan Fire*Eater and the other half in the Recoys. Has it been a hassle living down the past -- and pleasing old fans?

HL: Not at all. All the Fire*Eater fans ran for the hills once they got a load of us. That was great actually.

I have very fond memories of the Recoys. We were totally hopeless, though. It was more about trying to get a show -- nobody wanted us. Then it was a matter of trying to get through the show -- we couldn't handle our own equipment.

Pete and I started out trying to be all cool like Jonathan Fire*Eater or something, but our bassman, Mike, who really thought Fire*Eater (and us) were totally lame, used to insist on wearing his "World's Largest Source of Natural Gas" T-shirt.

The Walkmen play with Kings of Leon
5/21, 8 p.m., $45
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
99 Grove St.
(415) 421-8497