INTERVIEW: Walk The Moon's Eli Maiman Reveals All About New Album 'What If Nothing'

21 November 2017, 16:46

Walk The Moon
Walk The Moon. Picture: Press

By James Wilson-Taylor

The guitarist talks new music and taking on the world after their biggest ever hit.

Following up on any hit single is always a challenge, let alone 'Shut Up And Dance', a song now synonymous with every student union and wedding reception across the world - a guaranteed floor filler if ever there was one.

But Walk The Moon have never shied away from a challenge and their latest offering, What If Nothing, displays their knack for moving between a wide variety of styles and influences while exploring topics, both political and otherwise, that place them at the forefront of the zeitgeist.

We caught up with guitarist Eli Maiman to talk through the writing process, how life has changed since their previous record, Talking Is Hard, and working with the producer behind The 1975.

PopBuzz: Let's talk about the new music because it feels like with 'One Foot' in particular, you have more of a modern dance sound. Was that a conscious descision going into the new record?

Eli Maiman: It was not. The best explanation I have for that is that we were extremely diverse musical listeners. At our root we're just huge music fans and we listen to a lot of different stuff. We try to let whatever bubbles up in our influences just kind of happen and not really try to control it or wrangle it into being this particular sound or that particular sound. Because we're just not that concerned about being put in a box or being put in a genre. So definitely, definitely, definitely 'One Foot' has that modern dance sound but it's just 'cos that's what we were feeling on the particular day we wrote that song. If you listen to 'What If Nothing' front to back you'll hear us getting kicked around by our influences all over the place. There's no way you could call a tune like 'Headphones' a modern dance track. It's much more of a punk, LCD Soundsystem kinda vibe.

PB: You mention LCD Soundsystem there, were there any other artists or influences you had in your head going into this record?

EM: Musically, this was our most natural record. Previously, we would go into a writing session and be like "what if we wrote something that sounds like Tears For Fears?". But we didn't do that at all on this record, it was just "let's get the four of us in a room, let's play music and see what comes out". So in a lot of ways, it's our most organic record to date. That being said, we're always influenced by musicians who weren't afraid to change direction even though they might have seen success. We always mention David Bowie who was many characters over the course of his fabulous career and wasn't scared of stepping forward into an unknown new direction.

PB: Speaking of success, 'Shut Up And Dance' has obviously taken you guys to a whole other level. Did it scare you going into new stuff after that huge crossover hit? Did you feel the need to regroup or react against it?

EM: Not really, no. It seems to be a really good interview question - "you've had this huge hit, what do you do now?" - but if we think about it too much, it would start to get into our head and we'd be like "oh fuck, what DO we do now?". But ultimately, what we decided was the best thing to do was just do what we've always done which is write music that excites us. That's how 'Shut Up And Dance' happened in the first place. We were just kids writing music that we thought was fun and that we thought would be fun to perform. The centre of the Walk The Moon universe is in the live performance and sharing music with people in a live setting.

PB: Did you find that touring off the back of 'Shut Up And Dance' and all that success changed the dynamic of the live shows at all?

EM: We certainly saw a change in the opportunities we were given. In the beginning of 2016, we did 22 countries acorss 5 continents in 2 months, which was something we had never done before. We went to new places, Singapore and Japan and all over Europe. We had never had those opportunities to take our music that far before and connect with those fans. So in that way, we're enormously grateful for the experience that 'Shut Up And Dance' provided. Because that's the whole point - spreading the music as far as we can and connecting with as many people across the world as we can gather in a room to play tunes for.

PB: Was there a change in the general makeup of the crowd now that you had this whole new audience reach?

EM: There was definitely a new variety of people showing up to the shows. The song, at least in America, was number 1 across three different genres. So we were bringing in younger people and older people who knew different songs. Some people were only excited about the songs off 'Talking Is Hard' and others were really more excited about hearing older stuff off of 'Walk The Moon' or even 'I Want, I Want'. And that's something we really like. We really enjoy seeing this varied response. We're seeing it on this record too. Some people say "every song's a banger", we're seeing other people say "this is the only song", "this is the best stuff since the first record", "this one is total sellout pop trash", "this one is total art". It's so much fun to create something that people have such varied responses to.

PB: Lyrically, it does seem to deal with darker topics and even some hints of politics too. Does it work the same as the music in that it just happened that way or was there a concerted effort to explore these themes more than in the past?

EM: Well, I don't think darker was the intention. As writers, we are always looking for ways to express ourselves more deeply. And on this one, it's more of a product of what we've been through over the last couple of years. There were a lot of inter-band disagreements and tensions. Nick's dad passed away after a long battle with alzheimer's. We were all pretty disturbed by the election in America and, frankly, by Brexit. So it left us feeling very unsure of the future and having more questions than answers. I think that is the theme of this record - asking questions and providing less answers. Owning the question and owning the fact that we don't have all the answers.

PB: Production wise, you guys were working with Mike Crossey who most people will know from his work with The 1975. Were you familiar with much of their work beforehand?

EM: Absolutely. We've been wanting to work with Mike for a long time. For four or five years. Mostly because of his work with The 1975. Of course, as a guitarist, I was super excited because he makes guitars sound so fucking excellent. He's just fearless in the studio. He'd take hours to set up for a single sound if he thinks it's gonna elevate the euphoria of the track just a little bit. We wanted someone we could get in the lab with and get that scientific and nerdy with. He was down, he went there with us.

PB: Last question for you - sum up the new album in three emojis.

EM: Ok, it's gonna be a lightning bolt, one of the eclipse suns and then one of the smiling faces that is also crying. That's the vibe we want all the time - we want you to feel uplifted and connected to your feelings and dancing. That's where we want you.

Walk The Moon's new album What If Nothing is available now.