Walk the Moon, a new wave quartet from Cincinnati, Ohio, comes to headline a sold-out show at the Black Cat this Friday, June 22, after passing through DC a couple of times already in the past year. They arrive on the heels of their debut album, Walk the Moon, available today. We Love DC caught up with Eli Maiman, the band’s guitarist, to talk about mostly other awesome bands like the Talking Heads and The Police, as it turns out, but also about appreciating dedicated fans and getting big fast.
Mickey McCarter: The first time I ever heard of you guys, I was here in Washington, DC, and I was hanging out at the Black Cat. And the band played a sold-out show at the backstage room at the Black Cat. All of your fans were going in there and I saw all of these young girls in the warpaint and the feathers. I was like, wow! That visual really left an impression on me and I didn’t even know who you guys were yet.
How did that come about? How did the warpaint get started?
Eli Maiman: The very idea of the facepaint occurred when we were working on the idea for the “Anna Sun” video. Our director, Patrick Meier, wanted to include some reference to The Lost Boys. The facepaint was his idea. And it became the central theme in the “Anna Sun” video. At our video release party, we had a facepaint station and people really took to it. They really enjoyed it, so much so that people started showing up at other shows in facepaint.
It’s evolved from there where people will come in facepaint and we will provide facepaint at shows. We’ll wear the paint ourselves on stage. It has really become this unifying element of the live show. It’s a visual expression of the community that we have and this group experience we all have together.
MM: It’s really distinctive, I gotta tell you. If somebody doesn’t know anything about Walk the Moon and they see all these girls rushing into your concert, it leaves an impression.
EM: We played a show in Austin recently where the venue was on 6th Street. It just so happened that it was on the same weekend as the Republic of Texas bike rally. 6th Street is shut down and there are these enormous beautiful motorcycles lining these streets and these big rough looking dudes in leather. Then there was our audience mingling about too. So around 11 at night, we released about 450 face-painted adolescents into this world of bikers and leather. It was a pretty funny sight — just the juxtaposition, y’know?
MM: I got to see you guys at the 9:30 Club recently when you opened for the Kaiser Chiefs and you were great. You have a big and sophisticated sound for a band that’s just about to put out your first album [Walk the Moon, Walk the Moon, RCA Records]. Where does that sound come from and how does it manifest itself on this new album?
EM: We are a group of music students. We all went to school to study something different. I personally studied jazz guitar in school. We have a lot of focused practice time and we all spent a lot of time developing our craft as musicians. So I think it allows us to sound maybe a little bit mature beyond our years?
Another important element in that is that Nick [Petricca, lead singer and keyboardist] went to school for composition and theory. That helps a lot.
In terms of our sound, our goal is always to write the catchy pop song that is full of hooks but also to make sure that each song takes a left turn at some point in time. There is always something quirky about it. We use the Talking Heads as a reference point a lot. Their songs are so catchy and get stuck in your head so easily, but they are endlessly quirky and weird. That’s really our model and what we aim for.
MM: The Talking Heads are one of my favorite bands, so I’m pleased that you guys like them as well.
EM: Even within that, I came to the Talking Heads through Stop Making Sense. Nick came to the Talking Heads through the studio albums. And I think they are two entirely differently approaches. So even just within that one influence, there is still a variety of sounds that we bring to the writing process.
MM: I totally see what you’re saying.
EM: We do a cover of “Burning Down the House” sometimes. When we were working out that cover, it would be me against Nick sometimes because Nick wanted to recreate the studio version and I was really into the version from Stop Making Sense. So we hit a middle point for the cover that we both enjoy playing.
MM: You remind me of when I first heard of you guys, someone told me you took your name, Walk the Moon, from The Police song, “Walking on the Moon.”
MM: That’s kind of interesting because you don’t really hear a lot of that reggae-based rock that The Police are known for in your own music. Or do you disagree?
EM: I think it’s in there. It’s a little more subtle. We gained a certain playfulness from The Police. With “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and the chorus of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” there is an affinity for fun and playfulness. We also played some older stuff that was more heavily influenced by The Police that we don’t play as much any more.
MM: Thinking of things you play, my favorite song of yours that I’ve heard so far is “Next in Line.” It’s a very catchy song. So the album is coming out this week. If somebody buys it and listens to it, what should they listen to? What are your favorites?
EM: That’s so hard. One of the cool things about the album is that, of all the reactions we have gotten so far, everybody likes something different on the record. There’s a song called “Shiver Shiver” on the record that is a little slower and it’s kinda funky and it has a unique vocal. That really appeals to some people. Then some people like the straight-forward fun of songs like “Quesadilla.”
I think if I were to sit someone down and I didn’t know them, I would probably play the songs from the Anna Sun EP, which are “Anna Sun,” “Tightrope,” and “Next in Line.” Those are probably best for beginners.
MM: You guys sure seem like you’re getting big fast already. Big opening gigs with the Kaiser Chiefs and soon with Fun. You have your own headlining tour now. How does that feel?
EM: It’s amazing. It does feel fast for us. It’s so fast and there is so much going on all the time that it’s sometimes easy to forget how big the things we are doing are. We take a moment to reflect and then we’re like, omigod, we are on the stage at Bonnaroo! How did we get here?
But we are accomplishing our dream on a daily basis — it’s a dream come true every day.
MM: So what’s next for the band? Another album? Bigger pavilion shows? Where do you guys see yourselves in the next couple of years?
EM: We already have 10 or 15 new songs ready to go. We are playing a few of them on this tour. I know we are putting out a new record right now, but we are really excited to do the next one already. We are already chomping at the bit. So we want to do more records and honestly we want to keep having fun. We want to keep connecting with people in the live setting and to meet as many people as we possibly can.
As long as people are coming to the shows, smiling, enjoying themselves, and connecting with us in the way that only music can bring people together, we are going to be happy doing this.