Walk The Moon’s What If Nothing is equal parts darkness and light
Walk The Moon lit up the pop world and the charts in 2014 with their anthemic, 80s influenced ‘Shut Up And Dance’. Now, the Cincinnati-based band are ready to show fans what they can really do with the release of their third studio album, ‘What If Nothing’. Frontman Nicholas Petricca talks to us about reinventing themselves and more.
After taking a little break from music, you’re back with your third album ‘What If Nothing’. For those who haven’t picked up a copy of it or given it a listen, how would you entice them?
This is the money question, haha. I personally, and the band also but especially me – went through a really tough time this last year and my whole life, music has been something that has made me feel less alone and connected with more purpose. And you know, feel more human. This year especially, this album was as much a survival mechanism as it is an expression of my art. This record is… it goes deep and it goes tall and wide and it’s like it’s equal parts, darkness and light. That was a very mystical answer.
Very mysterious, but I like it. You’ve said before that writing is almost like a release for you, what advice would you give to people who are trying to start a career in music?
I think especially now with the way that everything is online and is available at all times, it’s of crucial importance to be authentic and to be yourself. People can really sniff it out, I think that’s what people are really looking for – something real. To know who you are and to know how to express that to people, that’s power right there. And to not wait for anyone to do it for you. The technology is so available anyone can make a recording, they can do it in their bedroom now – nothing is stopping it.
Going back to the new album ‘What If Nothing’, you’ve spoken a lot about how difficult last year was and it was no secret you took some time apart. What was it like when you finally got back together and started making new music?
We initially took the time off because my dad was sick, but in that time that we took apart, that was the first time in 5 or 6 years that we were able to consider life outside the band and realise that we’d been kind of… hadn’t been dealing with a lot of inner personal stuff as brothers. Coming together to make this record was definitely a choice of… we weren’t able to make it unless we could work through some of that stuff and so a lot of the music is inspired by facing the unknown or facing the void and deciding to go forward anyway.
The record is a collection of really diverse songs.
I appreciate that!
You’ve said before in interviews that Walk The Moon’s universe is the live performance, what can people who haven’t seen you live expect?
The shows are really visceral and sweaty and loud. We’re a rock band, so I think everything that’s on the record becomes amplified and kind of blown out past the edges and the borders. It’s a little bit more… It’s a little more wild. I think that the thing I also feel from the shows is a real sense of community, that’s one thing that we really get an energy that we really feed off of. The sense of community and the crowd, the music’s very much about that connectedness and finding a way to connect despite differences or trauma or whatever. The shows are very tribal in that way.
Obviously, we have to talk about ‘Shut Up And Dance’. Did the dynamic of live shows change after the success you had with that song?
Yes and no, the success of the song enabled us to go to more places around the world than we had before. We went out to Japan, Australia and South America, the song kind of expanded our reach. At the same time, the song was so big that the identity of the band was a little confused because people knew the song but not the band. We’re in the interesting position now, we have this opportunity to sort of redefine ourselves. There are a lot of these listeners who are only aware of ‘Shut Up And Dance’, you know? That is a part of us, but we’re a totally three-dimensional band, we have so much more going on than just that one side of us, and that’s another thing that comes across live I think.
The new album is a lot different to what people have heard before – it’s very clear you’re not afraid to be yourself. What would you say to people who are struggling to be themselves in everyday life?
It takes courage to be who you are around people who are not like you. For some reason I’m thinking about David Bowie right now, who had this amazing ability to express himself in one way so fully in one character; then the next year, show a completely different side to himself. That takes a lot of courage and vulnerability. I guess, do like David! When you are yourself and you choose to own that, it’s a permission slip for others to do the same.
Within ‘What If Nothing’, it seems as though you’re asking a lot of questions, some are political, some are personal. Can you tell us a bit about the writing process behind those songs?
Thinking back off the previous question, it’s definitely a conscious choice this time around to share some of the parts of myself in the lyric that maybe I wasn’t able to before. I think on the previous record we were more inclined…we felt like we had some of the answers and we wanted to share them. This record, like you said, it’s a lot more about the questions and owning that we don’t have the answer. I think there’s power in that, there’s power in accepting that you don’t know what the fuck is going on; from that place, you can understand what’s going on.
Were there any specific artists or specific times in your life you pulled inspiration from?
I got to work with Wyclef Jean, he’s such a legend. I wrote and produced a song with him that came out on his record in February – that experience, working with him reignited my love for reggae. There were just a slew of reggae artists that inspired me – even though our album isn’t reggae, there’s a lot of rhythmic and melodic aspects of reggae that are just so juicy and hypnotizing, that I really love. There’s a young producer out of NY called Photay who has this really unique style of making music that kind of melts and crumbles and he has a way of making the organic sounds, sound futuristic and glitched out and electronic sounds sound really organic, I love that. Lastly, there’s a South African artist called Johnny Clegg who’s a major inspiration for me, his music is just so joyful and colourful and vibrant. He uses the human voice in a way that’s really percussive and powerful.
There’s another producer that you worked with on this album, Mike Crossey, who’s known for working with The 1975, how did that come about and how did he shape the songs?
He was one we’d been wanting to work with for years and our schedules didn’t align previously, we’d been admiring him from afar for a while. Getting to work with him was a dream come true, in that way he’s just kind of this mad scientist! We came into the studio on the first day and listened through to some of our demos and he just went off on an ideas safari. He was like, “two simultaneous drums, we’re going to cut up the guitar part and put it through 4 different amps and send it through all these pedals”. We were just allgooglyy eyed and salivating, we loved it! It was the perfect mix for us, his tastes are really eclectic and our songwriting is really diverse, no two songs have quite the same character. He was really willing to go the distance with us and bring each song to live in a totally unique way.
It sounds amazing and you had a great time so that’s rad.
He was really willing to really collaborate, we had a song ‘Sound Of Awakening’ that I brought in and it was kind of like it’s own production already. He was stoked to carry that to fruition instead of making that, you know? I think some producers are really heavy handed and he was willing to… sometimes he would have a vision and other times he would help us bring our vision to life, it was a great mix.
By now you’ve done a lot of touring, what are the best and worst sides of it?
Haha, the worst side is just time away from loved ones. It just makes all your relationships kind of answer to the band to some degree. The schedule can be pretty gruelling, so that’s intense. But also one of the best parts is that you get to see the world, it’s such a great excuse to meet people from such different backgrounds and get to try all sorts of yummy food and see places that our parents and grandparents didn’t see.
What are some of your top food picks then?
I’m a big fan of curry, I like to try that everywhere I go. The UK has some great curry – although Cincinnati where we grew up, still has some of the best food I’ve ever had in the whole world – across the universe. There are some really fun dishes in Japan, there’s this special way they cook meat called Yakiniku, it’s actually Korean. It’s really popular in Japan and it’s super delicious. Now I’m hungry, thanks a lot!
So what’s next for Walk The Moon? Where do you wanna see yourself in 5 years time?
We’ve got a handful of badass singles on this record, there’s a song we’ve got coming out soon called ‘Kamikazee’ so we’re just going to ride this as far as we can. We’re coming to the UK in April so this is just the beginning of the world tour. We’re kind of in the lab right now upgrading the live show and the production, just wanting to expand the way that we do the show and making it bigger and badder than it has been. The album is super raw emotionally so it’s really dramatic and theatrical – more music, more, more, more!
Tickets for Walk The Moon’s UK tour are on sale now.