Walter Martin is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with rock 'n' roll bands The Walkmen (lyricist, co-writer, multi-instrumentalist 2000-2013) and Jonathan Fire*Eater (co-writer, organist 1994-1998). In 2014 he launched a solo career and has subsequently released three studio albums – two award winning family albums (2014's We're All Young Together and 2017's My Kinda Music) and a critically acclaimed album for adults (2016's Arts & Leisure). On February 16, 2018 Martin will release Reminisce Bar & Grill, a new album for adults. Martin's work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR's All Things Considered, Pitchfork, NPR's Morning Edition, USA Today, SPIN, NPR Music, WNYC, The Atlantic and various other press outlets. When not working on his albums, Martin writes music for film and television. Martin lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and two daughters.
About Reminisce Bar & Grill
“I think this is my mid-life crisis album,” explains Walter Martin. “These days my friends and I all seem to be thinking the same dark thoughts – ‘What the hell am I doing? What the hell's going on? I’m lost. I’m running out of time and I’m doing everything wrong. And I’m probably dying.’ – This is definitely an insane period,” Martin continues, “but most of the time I kind of love it.”
Reminisce Bar & Grill is the fourth solo album Walter Martin has recorded since his band the Walkmen split in 2013, and it’s one that might throw fans of his two award winning kids’ records for a loop. With frankness and poignancy, Martin, now a 43-year-old married man with two young children, squarely tackles the subject of adulthood – specifically, his own.
“I’m very proud of the kids’ records,” Martin explains, “but recently I’ve felt compelled to write more about real life and to write about things that aren’t quite so tidy.” Listeners will recognize the same affable narrator from Martin’s previous work – particularly his other non-kids’ album, 2016’s Arts & Leisure – but here the subject matter has shifted dramatically. As Martin explains, “I wanted this album to be an entertaining discussion of marriage, fatherhood, work, fear and weakness.” While Martin approaches these subject matters with candor and sincerity, he clearly also enjoys mining them for humor.
“I’m definitely influenced by Woody Allen movies,” Martin notes. “No matter how serious or romantic or dark his story may be, there’s always a strong undercurrent of comedy. I really relate to that kind of storytelling and I strive for a similar balance in my songs. To me it makes things feel human.”
On a number of tracks Martin walks the listener through terrain he knows well – the life of a working musician. On the gloriously ragged, Randy Newman-esque “I Went Alone On A Solo Australian Tour,” he engages in a rousing call-and-response conversation with a gang of friends. In a hilarious spoken section, the friends casually discuss poorly attended solo concerts, money and mortality. But the gags slip away with the trenchant line, “Down here I don’t know no one/and no one knows me.” Later in the album, in the transfixing neon glow of “I Wanna Be A Country Singer,” Martin runs down a list of rejected trades with stinging barbs before finally landing on his fantasy career choice as a country singer, “driving my bus across this land, turning that wheel with my own hand, singing songs that the people understand.”
In the centerpiece song of the album, the sweeping rocker, “Ride Down The Avenue,” Martin finds himself “thinking through a hard year” while driving through the night with his sleeping wife and children. Scenes from his past come in and out of focus as Martin wrestles with the present – “I’m alone, I’m not alone. And I’m scared, but I’m not scared...and I know I’m old it’s true, but I know I’m young too, as I ride down the avenue.”
The spacious, echo-drenched sound of Reminisce Bar & Grill rolls over a listener like waves, and Martin notes his inventive use of reverb as being a key part of the album’s sonic foundation. “It’s kind of magical and elusive, and it really adds to the nostalgic, romantic feel of these songs.”
The album was recorded over a two-and-a-half year period at various studio in Brooklyn and at Richard Swift’s National Freedom Studio in Cottage Grove Oregon. The songs were mixed by D. James Goodwin (Bob Weir, Craig Finn), Richard Swift (Shins, Foxygen) and Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses). A nimble multi-instrumentalist, Martin handled guitar, piano, organ, bass and percussion duties, but he also relied on the services of a coterie of crafty players and singers: Brian Kantor (Fruit Bats) on drums, Josh Kaufman (Craig Finn, Josh Ritter) on guitar and Jamie Krents (French Kicks) on bass. The soaring harmony vocals woven throughout the album are delivered by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah singer, Alec Ounsworth.
“I’m very happy with how this record turned out and everything it says. Maybe in 10 years, when I’m in my mid-50s, I’ll look back on it and think, ‘Wow, that stuff sounds so naïve.’ All I know is that, at this moment, it feels like exactly what’s going on in my head.”
About the other solo albums:
On January 29th 2016, Walter Martin released Arts & Leisure — a collection of songs that take inspiration from Martin’s years of world travel as a musician, his younger days working in art museums and what he refers to as his “shaky grasp of college art history.” The inventive use of drums and percussion, conversational lyrical approach, and trademark vintage instrumentation that Martin brought to the Walkmen are employed to wondrous new effect on his first big production since the band split. Martin’s years of behind-the-scenes writing seem to have been the ideal staging ground for this inspired new chapter.
Martin’s solo debut was 2014’s much-loved kids’ album We’re All Young Together. This unexpected departure served as a palate cleanser for Martin after years in bands and, surprisingly for Martin, the album found miraculous success. As he explains, “I was about to apply for a job at Kinko’s or something and then suddenly all these great things started happening with the kids’ album.” The album won a Parents’ Choice award and its songs were featured in two major advertising campaigns — one for iPhone and one for Android. Additionally, the album produced a longstanding #1 single for Sirius XM’s family station and was embraced by national press outlets including NPR’s All Things Considered, NPR’s Morning Edition, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and Spin.
But most importantly, Martin credits We’re All Young Together with helping him find a way to write songs that made sense for Martin himself to sing. Martin explains, “Through writing songs about rattlesnakes and chimpanzees, I figured out how to write lyrics that express my inner self in a voice that’s indistinguishable from how I naturally talk and joke around. Thankfully I was able translate it to non-animal subject matters.“ After years writing for what he refers to as the "collective personality” of his previous band, Martin now finds himself writing for a personality that is all his own — one characterized by a unique blend of absurd humor and sincere emotion. “I’m no good at talking about the art I like but I feel like these songs express in an unfussy way some things that I like about certain artists and ideas.” Arts & Leisure was originally conceived as an “art- themed comedy album” but after two years of writing and rewriting, the album developed into something far richer. Martin explains, “I wrote all these funny songs and I got sick of them. Then I wrote all these serious songs and realized they were boring. Then I broke my back writing a two minute song about Alexander Calder’s miniature circus and I thought it was perfect — it was whimsical and weird but also had personal ideas about art tucked in there that gave it the depth and warmth I was looking for. So, lyrically, that was the starting point."
But the lyrics are only half of the story. The rich analog sounds, playful instrumentation and bittersweet melodies that fill this album are some of the most charming and original of Martin’s career. Performed and recorded almost entirely by Martin at his vintage-gear-filled Brooklyn recording studio (with a few outrageous performances by Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick) and primarily mixed by producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins) Arts & Leisure’s wide-open sound serves as a showcase for Martin’s true multi-instrumentalism. He moves easily between drums, guitar, upright bass, piano, trombone, organ, mandolin, xylophone, slide whistle, glockenspiel and just about every noise-maker and percussion instrument you can imagine. Martin jokes, "If you’re in bands for almost 30 years, you eventually figure out how all the instruments work.”
Whether he’s making prank calls from the switchboard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, admiring the high-back chairs in a tearoom in Glasgow, or casually dismissing all eighteenth century European art during a museum visit, Martin’s stories have the familiar warmth of a conversation with an old friend. These songs feel as much like a collection of personal letters as they do a rock ‘n’ roll album. While offering a perspective that is distinctly modern, Walter Martin’s Arts & Leisure is rooted in an old tradition and serves as a reminder that there is still sublime power in the marriage of great music and great storytelling.