After years of recording with The Walkmen, Walter Martin recorded his first solo album in his basement with Pro Tools and an Apogee Duet.
Walter Martin is best known as a member of The Walkmen, an indie-rock band that released a string of albums since the early 2000s—all of which were well received in both the U.S. and U.K., and many of which charted. With the band now on “extreme hiatus,” Martin has taken the opportunity to rediscover his own songwriting style and now releases his first solo album: We’re All Young Together. The album was written for audiences of “all ages” rather than the more typical, overly discerning “indie music fan.”
While it was recorded almost entirely in his basement with a two-track interface and Pro Tools, Martin enlisted Phil Ek (The Shins, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses) among others to handle production duties. The result is a wonderfully accessible musical gem that is accessible and unpretentious. Pro Sound News spent some quality time with Martin on the eve of the new album’s release.
ON BREAKING AWAY:
I’ve been playing in bands with my dearest friends since I was 19, so it is easy to fall into a pattern of being one of five guys, just sort of doing your thing. You’re not responsible for that much, and it is a luxurious position to be in. I think it was after I had kids that I decided that it was time to step up to the plate and take a really big risk. The process of making this record—particularly the writing and recording—was extremely pleasurable and fun. I feel like I learned a lot about what I can do songwriting-wise. Most importantly, I found exactly what I really love doing, which is basically making whatever the hell kind of record I want. Now comes the challenge of promoting it, pulling together a live band and figuring out if people are going to come to your show. Suddenly all that business stuff is all on you and that can be hard.
ON COLORFUL VOICES:
I live in a luxurious spot, knowing all of the great folks who collaborated on my record. I have no illusions about my own singing voice, which can often sound dull and conversational, so I felt that getting some great, colorful voices on there would benefit the album tremendously. I immediately thought of Alec [Ounsworth, of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah], whose voice I have always loved. Alec has the sharpest voice you can imagine. It was the same thing with Karen O [Yeah Yeah Yeahs] and with Matt [Berninger] from The National. I had several spots where I needed another great voice, and luckily, they all came on as guests and it was thrilling for me.
ON KEEPING IT SIMPLE:
I made 90 percent of this record on my laptop using Pro Tools and an Apogee Duet, then we mixed the tracks properly using analog equipment at Marcata Recording in New Paltz, NY—which is The Walkmen’s and my old studio. I tried to stick to an analog process in which you press play, then you press record, you get one take and then you leave it. Each tune probably has 10 or so tracks. I keep things simple on the drums and don’t like to mic everything—usually a kick drum, an overhead and maybe a snare. There isn’t a lot of rock ’n’ roll drumming on this album, so it didn’t eat up that many tracks. There are a lot of background vocals, percussion and guitar details though. I didn’t experiment with mic placement too much—I would just put the mic about five inches away and when it came time to mix, everything sounded great.
I have always struggled with the fact that when you make a demo, you just absolutely fall in love with it. For whatever reason, a finished recording can lack the spark that an original demo has. While we were in The Walkmen, we tried to sound bigger, more polished and worked with producers just to expand what we were doing. And I think we did some great stuff working that way. But I think a part of us always loved the demos we made. We would make these great demos and sometimes when the album was done, there were moments where we thought they had so much more magic to them. It drove our producer, Phil Ek, crazy. I guess they call it ‘Demoitis’— or at least that’s what I call it.
ON ‘SILOED’ TRACKS:
Kevin McMahon, who runs Marcata recording, mixed six of the songs. He’s got a big MCI board, spring reverbs and tons of other equipment, and the studio is in a big barn. He’s got a grain silo set up for his natural reverb. I ran all the tracks through this chain and at the end, it really gave the record some life that I really liked. I also had Phil Ek [Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes] mix two songs that I really wanted to have an extra kind of polish on them, which were “We’re All Young Together” and “Sing To Me,” which is a duet I did with Karen O.
ON STAYING CREATIVE:
For our first two Walkmen albums, Matt, Paul and I worked in a studio that we had just built and owned ourselves. We were just figuring out how to use all the gear and what kind of music our band was going to make. Everything seemed to be happening at once. It was a really exciting, creative time, yet the sound quality was pretty crappy. To me, it felt familiar and was kind of like this album because it was so experimental and DIY. The whole process felt so creative.