Walter Martin, late of the Walkmen, has swapped indie-rock rattling-around for family life, and his creative output has taken a similar pivot: His first solo record, We’re All Young Together, is an album for families. With collaborators such as Matt Berninger of the National and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s a sweet and mellow Sunday-morning record, as good for kids as it is for adults, and a fun listen even if you’re currently terrified of reproduction. Walt spoke with us recently about his unconventional children’s-music influences (Johnny Cash), kid’s-book recommendations, and his very cool-sounding next album.
Why an album for families?
I really just wanted to make a solo album, an album that was like uniquely mine. This is really the kind of music that just comes naturally to me. There really wasn’t that much of a plan in place for who it was for. I felt like I was making it to entertain my friends who have kids, kind of, but calling it a kid’s record sort of sounded funny to me.
What was your concept of a children’s album, and did that change?
I didn’t know that much about children’s music. I’m a total record nerd, so I bought Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie’s children’s albums, because they’re people you love, and when they make something weird like that, you want to hear it. I never thought of them as children’s music, really.
Did you have them in mind as you were composing?
I definitely wanted to keep it fun and optimistic. I wasn’t thinking even that much about what kids would like, or what would make sense to kids. There’s a youthful sound to what I naturally do. I thought if I could sort of put a microscope on that, I’ve had a feeling that it appeals to young people.
How did the collaborators come around, and what was their reaction to the project?
I don’t fancy myself a vocalist. I think of myself more of a narrator. I wanted to have some unique and great voices on there, and so I was like, “Hold on, I sort of know a lot of people who have unique, great voices.” I just called them up, and they were luckily all very into it.
What albums would you recommend that dads buy?
I really love Johnny Cash’s children album. I think it’s a little bit half-assed, like the record company kind of put it together, but there’s one in particular called “I Got a Boy and His Name is John.” When I heard that one, that was sort of my reference point for the album. It was really funny and very sweet. I really like Woody Guthrie’s record called Songs to Grow On. It’s a little bit more babyish than the stuff I like, but he’s just so himself and so charming, that it’s really something that adults can really listen to.
What children’s books do you recommend?
A lot of the classics. I really love Madeline, and the Babar book. The illustrations are so fun and beautiful and they’re so like funny. I actually just read this book last night. He’s a Czech children’s book writer from the middle of the 20th century. I guess he made those books in the ’60s. He did a whole series about countries, and the art in it is really great. There’s this new guy John Klassen who has a book called This is Not My Hat. He has another one, I forget what it’s called, but They’re really funny.
What’s the first music that you remember listening to when you were young?
I remember buying like the Men Without Hats, that “Safety Dance” record. I really loved “Gloria” by Laura Branigan and Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant, who I still actually love.
How’s fatherhood sitting with you these days overall?
I love it. They’re the best two years of my life. But it’s really hard. Our oldest is going to turn two in July. Our youngest one is seven months. The last two or three months, we have slowly started feeling like we’re losing the battle. [Laughs.] It’s exhausting. But thankfully they’re both really excellent sleepers.
Are you able to write very much?
I actually have a whole follow-up album written. I have ten songs about ten different visual artists. It’s also for families, but a little bit more for adults. I guess they’ll see more jokes that kids won’t get. I feel like it’s really hard to talk about art. If I had too many drinks late with a business partner, I’ll start talking about what art I like, and I’ll probably regret it the next day. So I’m sort of explaining it to kids, but I’m also just explaining things I like about art. Saying like you don’t have to understand everything that’s going on in what you’re looking at, but don’t be afraid to just really love it.