January 29 2016 saw Walter Martin, co-writer, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist of The Walkmen, release 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.”
His 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.”
Most importantly, he credits We’re All Young Together with helping him find a way to write songs that made sense for Martin himself to sing. Walter 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 characterised by a unique blend of absurd humour 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."
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.