WALK THE MOON On Rising Hit “Shut Up + Dance,” Sophomore LP ‘TALKING IS HARD’ & Magic Cards: Idolator Interview

WALK THE MOON's "Shut Up + Dance" Video
WALK THE MOON serve dorky '80s realness in their hilarious "Shut Up + Dance" video.

The guys from WALK THE MOON are on a mission to bring the fist-pumping greatness of ’80s pop/rock — and all the glorious weirdness that accompanies it — back to the airwaves with serotonin-raising hit “Shut Up + Dance.” The lead single from their equally-upbeat sophomore set, TALKING IS HARD, is steadily climbing the Billboard Hot 100 on the back of growing radio support and, arguably, the year’s funniest video.

The rockers recently dropped by the Idolator office in Los Angeles to chat about their new LP, which dropped December 2, and the band’s love of all things nerdy. WALK THE MOON opened up about their wide-array of ’80s influences — Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar, to name a couple — and incredible fan support. Oh, and frontman Nicholas Petricca also revealed his love of magic cards. Find out more about their new record after the jump.

“Shut Up + Dance” is more pop that your previous singles. Was that a conscious decision?Nicholas Petricca: We did want to write a song with a story that was easy to follow. It’s based on a true story, so it is relatable and I think everyone has been in the position before where they just want to get out their heads. They’re stuck in a vicious cycle, and some event or some song has been able to drag them out of it, and bring them into the moment.

Kevin Ray: I think there’s also some influences on these newer songs that are maybe from the same era as past influences, but that happen to be more poppy. Like Rick Springfield is definitely a more pop influence than Animal Collective, for example, but still an awesome one.

It also has an ‘80s New Wave sound.Nicholas Petricca: For sure. New Wave has been a big part of our sound for a long time, like The Smiths and Talking Heads. But now we’re influenced by straight rock n’ roll gods like Pat Benetar and The Cars. Something that’s really nice about our studio, is that if we get stuck we can listen to that music in a a beautiful environment for a little while.

Eli Maiman: So if that happened, we would take a break and listen to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” or “What’s Love Got To Do With It” or “Jessie’s Girl” and absorb the details of those classic tunes in a way that you can’t do every day. Then we deconstruct it, figure out how it works and how we can incorporate those elements into what we do.

Why are you guys are so interested in the ‘80s?Nicholas Petricca: I think the ‘80s and some of the ‘90s was a time when weird was celebrated. You had people in the forefront of pop culture like David Bowie who was the king of weird. The fashion was really over the top, and those extremes (which were not necessarily cool in the James Dean sense of cool) were considered acceptable or hip. So we really respond to that weirdness.

Let’s talk about the video, which is hilarious. There seems to be an emerging nerd-core movement, is that what you’re tapping into or were you just having fun?Nicholas Petricca: Nerd-core? I love that! That is absolutely it! I don’t know if we’re tapping into it, I just think that’s what comes from us. We’ve always made videos and content in general that just comes directly from us, and so if it turns out to be nerdy that’s great! That’s what we are. I think we’re trying to keep it as original and true as possible, and that’s what happens.

What’s the nerdiest thing you’ve ever done?Eli Maiman: So we’re doing shows for about a month right now, and Nicholas left his magic cards at home. So Nick had a friend go to his house and mail his magic cards to him, so that he could play with our monitor guy on tour. So that’s the nerdiest moment of anything I’ve ever heard! [Laughs].

I found TALKING IS HARD very upbeat. Is there a darker side to the band?Nicholas Petricca: I don’t think there’s a single WALK THE MOON track that doesn’t have a positive spin. I think that’s our niche. But songs like “Up To You” get really ferocious and heavy even, well at least a lot heavier than anything we’ve ever done.

That’s part of our exploring the outer reaches of the dark side of WALK THE MOON. Even if it’s asking a harder hitting question or exploring something dark, I think the spin is still that of empowerment. We’re saying that it is up to you to make a difference and it’s up to us to change individually so that we can all survive. That’s really what that song’s about.

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What was the inspiration for “Avalanche”? That’s a great song.Nicholas Petricca: In one way, it’s a story about a Midwest kid looking beyond and seeing what is out there and dreaming big. But it’s also about this moment of seeing someone and getting that jolt of ‘I know them somehow, but I’ve never met them’. The world and time work in mysterious ways, and whether or not you believe in past lives and reincarnation. I think we’re all operating on vibrations. And sometimes you find someone who’s literally on the same wavelength.

What about “Portugal”?Nicholas Petricca: It’s a song that started out on Eli’s laptop in Portugal. We were on tour with fun. and at that time, we didn’t have any extra time to write. We were just doing it in vans and hotel rooms. Eli had this beautiful demo that was really nostalgic with that repeating line, and the song grew from that. It’s just the feeling of longing that the music had, so the lyrics grew from that.

Eli Maiman: Interestingly, it’s the song that I have the heaviest hand in. And it’s the only song that doesn’t have a single guitar part.

“We Are The Kids” is a total anthem.Nicholas Petricca: That song has a darker vibe, and it’s about survival. There’s this line “hand over the future, hand over the future.” As we get older and I watch… my mom’s a teacher and I was a judge at their junior high talent show. I was thinking about this song and seeing all these 12 and 13 year-olds and just being like, “Wow! They are my future.” Very soon, we’ll be handing all this over and I hope we did a good job with it while we’ve got it.

Who won the talent show?Nicholas Petricca: This amazing kid! He was decked out in silver body paint and did Michael Jackson-level dancing. It was pretty incredible. He got perfect scores from all the judges.

Your fans at the Echo show [in Los Angeles] were singing to every song and going wild! How do you cultivate that sense of loyalty?Nicholas Petricca: If anything it’s something that happened on its own, but we appreciate it. We return that as much as we can. It completely occurred naturally but I think we have seen it and realized how precious that is — our connection with our fans. Their intense loyalty to us is incredible, and we continue to pull so much inspiration from them.

Kevin Ray: We did a thing last week called “Fansgiving,” where I just tweeted out something like “Today is Fansgiving, let’s celebrate the best fan moments!” And then hundreds of tweets come pouring in with picture of us or stories about people meeting friends at shows. It’s a “give a mouse a cookie” in the best way. It’s just like if you give them the slightest nudge, what they give back is so amazing. It’s humbling that they’re having these experiences with our music, it’s really special.

Sean Waugaman: We’ve found that they’re super creative and super weird! Before we released the “Shut Up + Dance” official video, we released the lyric vide which was built entirely of our fans dancing. We got high school marching bands, short films, or just a single person in a dorm room. And there was a cow costume, that was the weirdest!

Have you pinpointed your next single yet?Nicholas Petricca: No, we’ve got about 11 songs that we’d like to put out as a single. It’s hard because we’ve seen a variety of reactions to the record. The support that we’ve gotten is really amazing. But it seems like everybody has a different favorite song, so there’s no clear leader of what the next step should be.

Do you have a favorite song and album for 2014?Kevin Ray: One of the top contenders would be a band called Bear Hands, and I really like their song “Agora.” They’re such a cool band. They also have this new wave thing but they mix an almost Fred Durst, ’90s male vocal with these hip sounds and really smart lyrics. We like that band a lot.

Eli Maiman: I really love Before The Waves by Magic Man, and the song “Waves” off that record is maybe the most listened to song on my iTunes — right behind [Taylor Swift‘s] “Out of the Woods.”

Sean Waugaman: I’ve been listening to Zed Bias a lot lately. I really like their song “Neighbourhood.”

Have you fallen in love with WALK THE MOON yet? Let us know in the comments below.

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