Hamilton Leithauser is a quite singular talent.
Guiding The Walkmen through their many, varied iterations – debauched indie slammers, palatial acoustic balladry, and all shades in between – his solo debut ‘Black Hours’ was a low-key delight on its release in 2014.
A project with Rostam Batmanglij (once of Vampire Weekend) finds the songwriter once again crossing swords with a like mind. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam feels like an entirely natural collaboration, the sound of two kindred spirits kicking back and throwing ideas into the air.
“I mean, it’s hard enough to find someone you like enough you want to spent a lot of time with, but you also like their musical tastes enough that you want to work with them,” he admits. “But it worked pretty quickly. It came together pretty quick. The first day we talked about it, we started working on songs.”
New album ‘I Had A Dream That You Were Mind’ is a delight – sure, it’s classic fare, but delivered with enough style, panache, and personality to stamp out its universe as its own. “It was completely open,” he says of those fateful sessions. “And actually, when we started working we didn’t even know we were working on a record. There was no plan. The first two or three times we got together on this record we didn’t discuss a plan, we just kept going with it. And then pretty quickly we had about eight songs, and that’s when we decided to make a record under both our names. And that’s how that happened.”
Hamilton’s laissez-faire approach, though, belies an artist who is fastidious in his craft, who pours over the finer details of songwriting. Speaking to Clash, it’s clear that music has long ago seeped deep inside his body, and it shows no signs to vanishing any time soon.
Leafing through his record collection, he pointed out a few Foundations – records that he comes back to, and records that seem to come back to him.
- - -
- - -
The Rolling Stones – 'England’s Newest Hitmakers'
The first record I ever really got into was the American release of the very first Rolling Stones record which was called ‘England’s Newest Hitmakers’ over here. I think in England it was just called ‘The Rolling Stones’. I think that was just because my dad had it. He had all these records lying around I guess I thought they looked cool, so it put it on. I really loved it. I listened to it endlessly. I still know every note on that record. And I still listen to it, actually.
There’s not an original song on it. But I didn’t know that when I was younger – I thought they wrote ‘em all!
- - -
‘The Best Of Leonard Cohen’
When I was like 13 or 14 – this is just another thing I found of my Dad’s – he had, weirdly, The Best Of Leonard Cohen on cassette tape. I found it in his music, and I put it on and ‘Suzanne’ was the first song on it. The first thing that caught my attention. And I listened to The Best Of Leonard Cohen, like, a million times in my early teenage years. For some reason it took me a while to actually buy another one of his records, so it’s kind of funny – I just had The Greatest Hits for all those years. But I eventually did, of course, and I bought all of his records. I still listen to him religiously.
I’ve only seen him once. But Leonard was like dancing around, and played his guitar – he played every song you’d wanna hear, he played all the hits, he played all the obscure ones you’d want to hear. He’d play for three hours – it was like Bruce Springsteen or something. I was amazed.
- - -
The Jesus Lizard – ‘Down’
‘Down’ by The Jesus Lizard. When I got a little older I got a lot of teenage angst, a lot of male confusion. If you’re feeling angry or something that’s a good one to put on. It’s just got some all-out strength. But I haven’t listen to that in a long time. There’s so many records from back then that I don’t listen to now. I went through a lot of bad phases.
These days it’s a little less harder to listen to music. Sometimes I just have to stop listening to anything because I just hear so much music – and there’s so much information about music – that I need to take a break.
I do find that when you put something on that you haven’t heard in a long time – like, the reason I thought of The Jesus Lizard is that it just came on recently. I don’t know where. Maybe on some streaming thing. I hadn’t heard it in ten years and I was like: man, that rocks! I wanted to listen to it and go for a run around the park or something.
- - -
The Modern Lovers – 'The Modern Lovers'
I guess maybe The Modern Lovers’ first record is one that I still like. I haven’t listened to it in so long but I still really like that one. I got into that when I was probably 18 or 19 and he just seemed to have this really cool voice, and he had this classic sound that I’d never heard of before. It was so simple.
Deep down I was trying to be that band when I was 19. It was so stripped down, nothing that professional, and he sounds kind of like a kid on that record. And they all just sound like they’re screwing around. But the songs are great.
- - -
The Pogues – 'Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash'
I guess maybe one more I really liked when I was young was ‘Rum, Sodomy, and The Lash’ by The Pogues. I didn’t discover it until the 90s. That was a surprisingly good record that I liked when I was younger, in a phase when I liked a lot of crap.
I guess the first thing I ever heard by The Pogues was ‘Fairytale Of New York’ probably, and that kind of turned me off when I was younger because I didn’t get it. It just sounded like this Irish folk stuff that I was just not interested in when I was 14, 15. But I guess the punk feeling on ‘Rum, Sodomy & The Lash’ was what got me hooked. Once you started hearing his lyrics, and getting into that aspect, from then on out I started buying all the records. I’ve loved them for years and years. And I still hold that record up.
Shane MacGowan is really funny, and he’s got really good descriptions, and really good subjects. I just like the guy a lot.
- - -
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam's new album 'I Had A Dream That You Were Mine' is out now.