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The Walkmen's Bauer talks 'Heaven,' sports

6/5/2012

After more than a decade together, leading up to the release of their seventh studio album, "Heaven," on May 29, The Walkmen found a little time to reflect.

The band recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first album, "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone," by playing the older material during a series of shows.

"We ended up playing these Bruce Springsteen-length shows -- three-hour things -- which was very different for us," said Pete Bauer, a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass and organ.

"Heaven" continues that theme of longevity for the band, Bauer said.

"We've just gone around the bend so many times. We're very aware that not a lot of rock 'n' roll bands end up making that many records that end up being what they want them to be," Bauer said. "I think that we're very proud that we've kind of figured out a new way to do it every time. This one just feels a lot grander and bigger than the previous ones."

Critics, such as Stereogum, have agreed, calling "Heaven" the band's best album yet and naming it No. 2 on its running list of the best albums of the year.

They even compared it to the band's NBA Finals, which is fitting because Bauer said the whole band, whose members grew up together in the Washington, D.C., area, is made up of serious sports fans.

Bauer and his bandmates -- singer Hamilton Leithauser, guitarist Paul Maroon, drummer Matt Barrick and bassist Walter Martin -- went to New York, but now the members are spread between Philadelphia (where Bauer lives), Brooklyn and New Orleans.

Bauer spoke to ESPN Playbook about his sports roots, the new album and the lengths he has gone to watch a playoff baseball game during a show.

Are you still loyal to the Washington teams, even living in Philly?

It's complicated, because D.C.'s a really hard place to really love these teams. Like the Redskins. Whenever the Redskins, something good happens, you have this feeling from childhood that returns. And then by the end of the season, it's really hard to stick with it. It's amazing, because when you're growing up there in the '80s and '90s, you're just totally die-hard. But Dan Snyder's done a great job of making sure it's hard to really love them. Hamilton, our singer, he sticks with them more than I can. In preseason, you're like, "OK, I'm in. I'm back in. Count me in." And then it's something over the course of the season. It's just hard. They're so bad.

So are you feeling these childhood emotions rushing back with the Robert Griffin III era?

Yeah, definitely. You have the "Hope" posters and everything. All right, maybe this is it. He's such a likeable guy. Maybe his likeability wins out over Snyder and [Mike] Shanahan and all those clowns. [Laughs.] He seems like a big enough personality that D.C. can finally embrace. There just hasn't been anybody on that team even that's embraceable, for a while.

You did a SportsNation chat a few years ago where you talked about being a huge Kentucky basketball fan as well.

I married into it about seven years ago. I didn't know anything about Kentucky basketball. I'm a big NBA fan but I hadn't been that big of a college basketball fan in a while. But my in-laws wear blue six out of seven days of the week. They go to every game for the football and basketball games. I definitely had to sign up. I really love them now. I really like [John] Calipari and their whole program now more than I did at first [in the Billy Gillispie years]. I'm fully invested now.

One of the reasons I struggled liking Kentucky and college sports at first, when I first got married, is I think it's really strange that guys at these huge programs don't get paid. I have a weird thing with that. The way Calipari does it, and even if this is lip service, he says it's all about the kids, and the draft is bigger than the championship, and stuff like that. At least he's saying that. To me, I can kind of get behind that.

As great as they were, and they're sort of the bad guys by virtue of being so good this year, at the same time all the players are so likeable. Anthony Davis and [Michael] Kidd-Gilchrist were so likeable. I loved it. I had so much fun.

You guys have been gone from D.C. since the Nationals began playing. But in Philadelphia, it seems like the Phillies and the local musicians are especially connected.

Oh, totally. There's a lot of die-hard sports fans in music. If you saw them walking around, you wouldn't guess it. Being in Philly, you definitely gravitate to the Phillies, if there's any Philly sports team that you're going to like quickly. I never really liked New York baseball teams at all. In fact, I sort of disliked them. The Phillies are very, very likeable. I've gone to a lot of games with my son. In fact, I caught a foul ball last year, which was amazing for me.

I've seen Philadelphia shows where the band advertised that they'd also have the Phillies game on. Doesn't that seem odd?

We had a real problem with that in Philly in last year's playoffs. It's a disaster when that happens. We didn't want to be on the stage. We had this sold-out show at the Trocadero, which is very exciting any other night. It's like, "Oh my god, what are we going to do? There are TVs on everywhere." The promoter guaranteed there would be TVs so they could watch both things at the same time. Over the years we've had a couple of run-ins like that. We played in Cleveland when the Indians were in the playoffs. You'd be playing and you'd look at the crowd, and they'd all be facing the other way.

We played in London when England was in the [quarterfinals] of the Euro [in 1994]. That's as big of a deal outside of the World Cup as it gets. We held off for as long as we could, and it went into overtime with the kicks and everything, and England lost. Then we had to go on stage literally that minute. That was a heck of a scene.

Do you change your playlist at all? Or just play some condolence music?

It's hard ... I think what we did is we went very aggressive. We have enough dark, minor hell-rock sort of music to get by in that scene, when the people were very angry. You're struggling against people who have really been let down at that moment.

It sounds like you make ways on the road to watch sporting events?

I hid an iPhone in my piano last year during one of the Phillies' playoff games while we were on stage, so I could watch the game.

With the live stream playing?

It was like Game 6, and we had to go on stage in the seventh inning. So I downloaded this thing, and then hid the phone in my piano. Our guitar player couldn't watch along, so I'd be flashing him the score with hand motions.

Touring is a little bit on the dull side, except for the show. There's plenty of time, like if there's a Sunday and there's nothing to do, going to a sports bar in the middle of nowhere is about as great a thing as you can do. I think it's probably why so many musicians end up liking sports so much. Because it's something to follow the whole time.

Any other brushes with sports greatness?

Jerry Stackhouse came to one of our shows one time, when he played for Philadelphia. It was in this little club ... it was right when we started out. And he walked in and quickly turned and walked out the door. [Laughs.] He thought it was like this big party that he wanted to go to, but then realized it didn't look so great to him.