Walk the Moon (Profile)

New album could be catalyst for big things for Cincy’s Art Pop group

Until recently, Walk the Moon’s membership had more turnovers than the Bengals in the fourth quarter. The band’s lineup has fluctuated since vocalist/keyboardist Nicholas Petricca officially put WTM together three years ago, but that situation changed in 2010. Since recording their debut full length I Want! I Want! in late 2009, the band underwent yet another complete shift with the addition of bassist Kevin Ray and drummer Sean Waugaman.

“These guys started playing with me last January/February and were kind of on a creative hired-gun basis, until this summer,” says Petricca over lunch at Sitwell’s in Clifton. “Then we really started buckling down and became the new Walk the Moon.”

There’s a difference with this latest iteration of WTM, a sense of history and connection that Petricca’s other lineups might not have possessed. Although the guitar slot is currently held by Chris Robinson, who is cutting back his band involvement, Petricca’s new rhythm section is down for the long haul. Ray and Petricca are childhood pals — their mothers were best friends — and although they’d been out of contact for nearly a decade and a half (they both moved from St. Louis at an early age), their renewed friendship has translated into a solid musical relationship. In turn, Waugaman and Ray were also childhood friends; the two musicians have played in a variety of bands together since seventh grade.

Watch the video for Walk the Moon's single "Anna Sun"

Walk the Moon’s constant is frontman and songwriter Petricca, who counts Talking Heads and The Police as influences. What comes out of that influence is a refreshing Art Pop shimmer that sounds like The Killers playing a Shins tribute band in a Jonathan Demme movie. The album is the perfect pay-off following the four-song taste on 2008’s The Anthem EP and last year’s odds-and-sods collection, The Other Side. With the lineup stable for nearly a year, the band’s potential has expanded exponentially — WTM’s 2010 MidPoint set was one of the festival’s highlights, by all accounts — and I Want! I Want! could be WTM’s ticket to the bigger time.

“I’m so happy with this album,” Petricca says. “It’s been a few years in the making. It was actually about to be released as a five-song EP a year ago, but we started taking to managers who had a lot of criticisms, as far as infusing the album with the same energy we have live. So we went back to the drawing board, recorded a few new things. There was a lot of pressure to make it any good at all and I’m really thrilled about it.”

Ray’s entry into WTM was a trial by fire. The Ball State music program graduate had been offering sonic suggestions for I Want! I Want! from his Columbus home when Petricca suddenly required a bassist for a short East Coast tour. Although booked for a Caribbean cruise with his family, Ray offered his services for the chance to play New York; he learned his parts on a practice guitar on the cruise ship.

“That was such a huge deal to me, so I was trying to figure anything I could do to play,” Ray says. “I rode the 3 a.m. subway from JFK into Brooklyn, which was the scariest experience of my life. Here I am, never been to New York City, flying in by myself. I just wanted to play New York City so bad!”

At the start of last year, Petricca had lost his entire band and he was using a revolving cast of temporary replacements to fill in wherever necessary. To force himself to resolve the situation, Petricca booked a full slate of WTM gigs and asked for volunteers.

“I had a roster of about 30 musicians from around the city and around Ohio,” Petricca says, laughing. “I would go to as many shows as possible and meet bands and collaborate with people.”

“And he just collected people off the street,” Waugaman says.

When Petricca visited Ray in Columbus, Ray suggested they jam with Waugaman. When they finished their brief session, Petricca knew he’d found his drummer.

“I was like, ‘I think you need to see how good Sean is,’ ” Ray recalls. “Afterward, Nick was like, ‘Holy crap. We need this guy around.’ ”

Waugaman’s entry into Walk the Moon was nearly as auspicious, playing first a problematic date in Dayton, followed by an Athens gig that Petricca describes as “kamikaze” and the band’s wildest show to date.

“I actually joined in Dayton,” Waugaman says. “With the guitarist who didn’t know anything.”

With Robinson’s reduced role, Petricca is once again looking for a new permanent guitarist (“We’re back to the list,” Ray says), but he’s confident they’ll connect with the right person soon enough. Given the band’s tenuous nature during the past three years (and even its direction — WTM was an a capella band when they were Kenyon College students), it might seem natural to think that Walk the Moon couldn’t claim the kind of creative evolution that stable bands enjoy. Petricca puts a refreshingly positive spin on that aspect of Walk the Moon.

“All the varying tastes in music and roots of each of the other band members have had an impact,” Petricca says. “I’ve always had an eclectic range of tastes. My parents raised me on mostly ’60s and ’70s artists, so for me it’s been great sponging up everyone’s tastes and making it my own.”

“Coming into the band later, and listening to the old music, the positive influences started to show up in the last year or two,” Ray says. “This album is the perfect coordination of all those influences. It’s really the perfect debut album for Walk the Moon.”

WALK THE MOON performs a free show Saturday at Northside Tavern with The Minor Leagues and The Pass.

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