Walk the Moon Frontman Nicholas Petricca Talks New Beginnings, New Tour and New Album
In 2014, Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon unleashed their sophomore album “Talking Is Hard” to instant pop acclaim. After such a rapid upshot, the band’s lead singer Nicholas Petricca wondered where they’d go from there. At the very least, they intended on sidestepping the one-hit wonder cliche from their standout single “Shut Up and Dance.” After a brief hiatus – including a canceled summer tour due to an illness in Petricca’s family – this loveable gang of pop interlopers returned with a fresh take by way of their third album “What If Nothing” in November 2017.
Petricca, currently on Walk the Moon’s “Press Restart” world tour, took some time out of his schedule to indulge in a Q&A with Entertainment Voice.
“What If Nothing” manages to sidestep a lot of the pop clichés by remaining really sonically unique. How would you describe the sonic themes on the album?
Well, lyrically on this record, it’s perhaps the most raw we’ve ever been; lyrically and with the emotional content. And really intimate and for whatever reason – contrast – we ended up making something sonically that is more the other direction. Big and epic, tall. We wanted to have something that felt like it was breaking out of the speakers and that when you played a song, it sort of opened a Narnia door into like a little universe for each song. Something that was bigger than the speakers around your head. It ended up being really diverse. We have songs that are heavier, like “Headphones,” which have more of a rage or punk influence. But other songs are sort of like spaceship-ballads.
You’ve said that this album found yourself and your bandmates “getting nerdy” about your gear, opening up a bunch of new instrumentations. What sounds were you really excited about exploring this time around?
Personally, I was really inspired by a couple of young producers. One is named Thotay and another is named Mura Masa. Taking really organic samples and making them sound fucked up and futuristic. And then also taking really electronic sounds and making them fall apart or break up in a really natural or organic kind of way. They have this really crazy juxtaposition. I didn’t know how they did that but was going to find my own way to do it. Particularly on songs like “Sound of Awakening,” where we really take our time. I took my voice and found a hundred different ways of making it sound like a dying robot (laughs). I love that juxtaposition of real and robot and finding the middle point. It’s also connected to the themes of finding your authentic self and stripping away or…simultaneously getting to know yourself and stripping away the things that aren’t you, that are fake.
A lot of the lyrical themes are very vulnerable, which it seems helped keep things interesting from start to finish. Did you make it a point to totally embrace that headspace as a band when making this record?
Yea, absolutely. It was a conscious choice, but also it felt like we had no other choice but to do that. What we’ve been through as a group and I went through in my personal life, seeing some of the darker or unhappy moments and coming out the other side. Just kind of realizing that the record that we needed to make in order to sort of break beyond the kind of bubble of “Shut Up and Dance” and also just, like, grow up and be true to ourselves. The only way to do that was, yea, to be really open with where we’re at.
You’ve said the single “One Foot,” in part, represents your time at Burning Man. Will you speak more to what that experience was like for you?
So Burning Man is this city, this temporary city, that pops up in the middle of the desert where rules of culture and society are just a little different. There are these pillars of society like radical inclusion, radical expression, radical self-reliance. So it creates this world where everyone is a little bit more in their imagination and it kind of feels like more is possible. You see all these wild sides of people that I think we keep to ourselves, or we don’t know are there because we don’t have an opportunity to show them. Meanwhile, it’s in the desert so it’s this totally barren landscape. And this really exciting, life-giving party is happening. It’s this weird duality of nothing and everything all at once. And that kind of became…that’s basically what “If Nothing” is. The idea of that (the) unknown could be the end of it all or it could be the beginning of everything.
One thing that’s really important, that makes Burning Man really special is that self-reliance. It really puts you in a place of having to take care of yourself and step up into, like, that warrior mentality. And “One Foot” is also about perseverance, and sticking it out, and having faith in yourself, and having faith in the future. So, that’s just a really important part of that connection.
Your style alone seems tailor-made for a festival like Burning Man. Did you feel like you fit right in as soon as you stepped onto the desert in Nevada?
Totally (laughs). I dressed up for Burning Man, and then never stopped living in that. I just stayed (laughs).
You’ve celebrated the idea that this may be Walk the Moon’s best work to-date. Now that the album has settled into the mainstream and you’ve taken the songs on the road a bit, are you and the guys feeling even more strongly about “What If Nothing?”
Yea, absolutely. I think we’re feeling even stronger. We’re like five shows in to the “Press Restart” tour and they’ve been absolutely nuts. The energy of these shows is on a different level than anything we’ve experienced in the past. It’s everything, it’s like…we’re just a better band than we used to be. The music is better. We now have production to match. The production we’ve got going is literally… we’re transporting people on spaceships. I think we’ve really created something that’s special.
Speaking of hitting the road, the “Press Restart” world tour kicks off on Jan. 12 in Washington D.C. before it hits New York and Los Angeles. How have you found turning “What If Nothing” into a live experience?
It’s kind of backwards than what we’ve done in the past. We started just as a band playing wherever we could, then we got signed, so we wanted to funnel the live show into the record and capture the live show on the record. This time, we did it the other way around. We started in the lab and made our laboratory monster and then figured out how to train it and put it out into the world, put it in clothes (laughs).
With “What If Nothing” feeling so cohesive and sort of epitomizing the Walk the Moon sound. Where does the band go from here?
We just want to take this (album) around the world. We’ve got the rest of the album (that) we want to share with people. We just have high hopes for this just being the start.