Walk the Moon named their second full-length album “Talking is Hard,” as if to take it upon themselves to say the things we couldn’t say. Shut Up and Dance, an anthem that remains on everyone’s playlist and everyone’s head, has carried the record through a number of countries, cultures, and clubs — but the story never gets old. Boy meets girl. Boy, for some reason — be that lack of confidence, arrogance, nervousness, or just plain inexperience — cannot stop talking, burying himself deeper into the ground, killing any chance he might have had to make a connection. Man or woman, we all know how that feels, and how we just want to kick ourselves for being such idiots after that. Shut Up and Dance comes across as a challenge to just let go, and well, move.
“Talking is Hard” is chockfull of these practical nuggets of wisdom disguised as what singer Nick Petricca describes as dance-y rock ‘n’ roll. Don’t let the sunshine-yellow sleeve fool you: it’s a record that goes deep, and fans of Walk the Moon would tell you how their songs have propelled them to better places, figuratively, and literally — like maybe to the middle of the dance floor on an otherwise regular night.
Walk the Moon, composed of Nick on vocals, Eli Maiman on guitar, Sean Waugaman on drums, and Kevin Ray on bass, is an indie-rock band based in Ohio that broke into the music scene in 2010 with a song that was completely alien to many of our ears, called Anna Sun from their debut album “I Want! I Want!” It was an indie effort that had the makings of pop classic. It starts off quiet, then bass comes on, then the drums, and suddenly it’s a party and the freaking house is freaking falling apart.
The video for Anna Sun, in an age where videos are hardly ever seen unless you spend quite a bit of time on the Internet (thankfully many of us do), portrayed the band exactly as they hoped to be seen — happy with a chance of kooky, earning a huge chunk of the audience that were mostly tired of mope-y ballads, or maybe just looking for a dance intermission that was worth their while.
With the sophomore album, Walk the Moon shows that they are capable of sticking around and that they are in fact more than just a fleeting commercial amid the folk rocks and the house tracks. “Talking is Hard” is an exercise in both sonic and interpersonal harmony — it’s hard to imagine a band that hates each other playing such positive melodies. The first track Different Colors says it all: they’re all about embracing — not just tolerating — diversity. Portugal tells you “growing up is a heavy leaf to turn.” Even when they get heavy, as they do with Up 2 U, with its minor chords and seemingly angered chorus, when Nick sings “If you want a storm come dance with me,” you do it.
Walk the Moon is currently in Manila, touring the Ayala Malls. At a press conference held recently at Fairmont Makati, the band got pretty detailed about life in a band, their album, interacting with fans on the road, and yeah, watching too much TV. It doesn’t seem like talking is hard at all for this bunch — eventually they just shut up and danced. (Videos are over here!)
On writing and selecting songs for “Talking is Hard”…
NICK: It feels recent but it was in 2013. We were on the road for about four years straight. It was the first time that we really set aside just a month and a half, just the four of us, to live in this weird, old Masonic lodge in North Kentucky. We wrote 50 songs for the record. We love all of them, so it’s a painful process. But with the help of our producer, we realized that we had a certain amount that really spoke to one another, the best songs that worked together. There are still 38 songs that we really love. It’s great ammunition for the next record.
ELI: It’s fun because everyone is a lifelong music person. Everyone started playing at such a young age, in school, in university, in one way or another, everyone brings something different to the table. We try a lot of things, we experiment with our influences, whether it’s heavy and dark, or dreamy and landscape-y. It’s cool that we can put on different hats depending on what we feel.
On what makes this record different from their last one….
NICK: It was kind of a magical place. There were a lot of other artists working there as well, graphic artists, grafitti artists. We took over the second floor, which had a tall ceiling and open spaces. It was a conscious decision to try and evolve. I think people who come to the album through Shut Up and Dance will be surprised. It was important to us on this record to take the opportunity that was really important to us. The record as a whole is a lot deeper than the first one. Different Colors is a message of celebrating diversity and coming together to affect positive change in the world.
On this record it was really important to us to keep our spirit of this ecstatic, joyful, dance-y rock ‘n’ roll alive. But I think people who come to the record having only heard Shut Up and Dance will be very surprised because we actually expand a wide range of styles and intensities and lyrical meanings as well. This record gets much more aggressive and much more in your face than the last record, and also has moments that are much more dreamy and “soundscape-y.” Lyrically we were taking this opportunity to use our platform to speak about things that are really important to us, like the environment, equality and diversity.
On their favorite songs on the album….
KEVIN: Aquaman was a really special recording experience. We started at 6 a.m. on the last day of recording, and worked till 7 in the morning. We felt inspired to get it done and get it on the record. Going into it, we just had an acoustic demo, so this was just an entirely new arrangement that we came up with.
On Shut Up and Dance almost NOT making it to the album…
NICK: It was in our final writing sessions in L.A. that we wrote Shut Up and Dance. We were out at a club and there was a girl there with a backless dress and beat-up red sneakers and she actually told me to shut up and dance with her — it’s actually based on a true story.
On performing live…
NICK: The feeling we get from playing live is so incredible. We started doing music because music is fun. But we found that what naturally comes from us is music that’s got this positive message and this joy. The fans are so creative and so willing to put themselves out there with letters and stories, and I think that had a lot to do with the direction we took for this record. You hear stories about a kid who is gay who came out to their parents and he had the courage to come out through our music. Stories like that really inspire us to put our hearts out there and take this platform seriously.
ELI: I think that’s where we draw our strength. Making that connection in a live set, seeing people sing along and having a viseral reaction to the music is what keeps us going from day to day.
On that signature ‘80s nostalgia vibe…
ELI: I don’t think we can help it. For some reason, for the four of us, the ‘80s was a really special time because it was the first time that electronic and rock music came together in such a popular way. You have artists like Prince, Talking Heads, or David Bowie, who were really experimenting with these wild sounds and fashion at the same time.
On getting schooled by a street band in Tokyo…
NICK: Sometimes inspiration strikes you when you least expect it. We’re kind of known as a live band, but when we were in Tokyo, we saw this band playing on the street who destroyed us! They were so much better live and they were playing rockabilly music and killing it. And the end of the set was a guy running down the street doing cartwheels. It was amazing.
On taking charge of the future…
NICK: I think something that was just crucial for us is that we didn’t wait for anyone to come find us. We didn’t wait for some magical moment. We had no choice but to make our own record and book our own gigs. And I think that is the best decision we could’ve made — having that attitude of doing it yourself. Nowadays, anyone can make a record in their bedroom and there’s a lot competition out there and that makes it all the more important to take it upon yourself. No one’s going to do it for you.
On being the nice rockstars that they are…
NICK: Something that’s really important to us as well is just kindness and friendliness. The first band that we went on tour with was Fitz and the Tantrums, and they were so gracious and so generous and so kind to us and they treated us as equals even though we were the “baby band.” And from that moment on, we thought, “That’s the way we need to treat everyone. In our crew, the people we meet. That kindness always comes back around in ways that you don’t expect.
On embracing their crazy…
NICK: The importance of craziness…. I think we have — forever — responded to so many artists who have been unafraid to be crazy and be kooky and weird, because we all have that inside us somewhere. It’s really enthusiasm, it’s passion. Those artists have been fearless in showing that side of them and everyone supports it and sees it in themselves. That’s something that we strive to do but still struggle with as well.
KEVIN: It’s the weird stuff that breaks the mold and inspires new artists to do their own thing. For me, that’s how we became who we are.
ELI: But that’s an important point — that’s the part of us that we are expressing to the world. For some people, it’s not right for them to be kooky and weird. I am just as inspired by The National and Eliott Smith, people who are quiet and reserved. Not everyone should be bright colors and dyed hair.
On the fans…
NICK: We still see ourselves as the underdogs, every night, on stage, fighting for our lives, fighting for that new fan.
ELI: For years, we’ve gotten a lot of response from the Philippines on social media. So we’re really excited to be here. To see a fan-base so invested is really exciting.
On getting along…
KEVIN: We are about as close to a family as people who come from four different families can be. Fights are bound to happen. We’re close friends, business partners, roommates, and we also make music. But we’re all in this for the same reason — to make music and have fun and to share it.
ELI: We’re enormously lucky to have the greatest crew on earth. They’re just the funniest guys I’ve ever met. They keep it light and keep it happy.
On the one thing from the ‘80s that they wish was back…
ELI: It’s the guitar solo. There are so many great guitar solos in ‘80s music that we’ve kind of lost touch with in a lot of today’s music. If there is a guitar solo, it’s just a restatement of the melody. We’ve kind of lost connection with the great, epic melodic guitar solo and I would love to see the return of that in music. That’s the guitar player answer.
KEVIN: I agree. The guitar solo was the reason I wanted to play guitar. Van Halen was telling me that I could be the most famous person in the world if I could just play…fast.
On their favorite part of filming the video for Shut Up and Dance…
KEVIN: My favorite part is a completely improvised part. We were filming a tender kiss moment between Nick and the girl, and Eli, out of nowhere, post-Nick kiss, decided to dip me and kiss me. In the moment it was great, it was hilarious. And the director was like, “That’s great, let’s do it again!” And we did it again and again and again.
ELI: My favorite part didn’t make the video. They put Kevin and I in a green screen suit, which are skin-tight, bright green suits with hoods — which show EVERYTHING. So I was standing there in this green suit with all these pretty girls around, just humiliated, feeling like a dog that just got shaved or something. And we ended up not even using it. There are photos, but they’re for my private collection.
On being big TV junkies on the road…
KEVIN: All those streaming services online are really a Godsend for us, fills up a lot of downtime. Especially early on in the band days, when we were just rolling around in the band, the four of us would watch a lot of Lost, Breaking Bad. And right now the big one is Game of Thrones. Even though I’m behind and Eli is very upset.
NICK: The one with the old lady who’s like a bitch? Tyrell! I love that old lady so much, she’s so badass.
ELI: It’s an interesting show because I don’t like any of the characters. But I do have a Stark shirt that I wear proudly.
KEVIN: I’m a Targaryen.