See more: The Best of 2012: The Year in Music
"Anna Sun," a catchy track by Ohio art-rock band Walk the Moon, is technically the first single from the paisley revival group's self-titled, major-label debut album, out June 19 on RCA Records. But the song, penned by lead singer/keyboardist Nicholas Petricca in 2009, has actually been the act's flagship single for nearly two years. Not since MGMT's "Kids" has one song spent so long gestating before it became known to the general public.
The track first appeared on the band's 2010 disc, "i want! i want!," and a compelling, Peter Pan-inspired video was released in early 2011. "It's a classic case of a real grass-roots, progressive process," RCA senior VP of marketing Aaron Borns says. "'Anna Sun' is obviously a special song, but there was no reason for us to feel like this was a put-the-hammer-down sort of project. Although it's a huge priority at the label -- and it is a huge priority at the label -- we knew that this band's quality could speak for itself."
Petricca, who formed Walk the Moon in 2008 and hired bassist Kevin Ray, guitarist Eli Maiman and drummer Sean Waugaman a year-and-a-half ago, doesn't seem to mind that he's been supporting "Anna Sun" for two years. "'Anna Sun' was just another song," Petricca says. "Like with everything, the right things locked into place and it somehow became what it is now."
Those "right things" included the newfound success of the song, currently in heavy rotation at a slew of alternative rock stations. The group's manager, Michael McDonald of Mick Management, discovered the band thanks to the "Anna Sun" video and signed it in early 2011, facilitating the deal with RCA that summer. Walk the Moon then spent July and August in Atlanta with Ben H. Allen, the producer behind Animal Collective's "Merriweather Post Pavilion," which Petricca counts as one of his all-time favorite albums.
"Our intention going into this album, especially in comparison to "i want! i want!," was to bring energy from the live show onto the recording," Petricca says, noting that live performance is "the core of our music." He adds, "If anything, we felt like that was lacking on the independent record. Ben just knew how to accomplish that, how to get the right sounds."
RCA developed the band slowly, putting it on tour with Young the Giant and Kaiser Chiefs in early 2012 and releasing a three-song sampler, "Anna Sun EP," in January. The label relaunched the "Anna Sun" video in February with a new version of the track and followed up the band's South by Southwest performances by sending the single to radio.
"It has this great natural momentum, as opposed to feeling like it's being imposed on people," Borns says. "The band made a great record, but it's predicated so much on the strength of its live shows."
Indeed, the band's invigorated performances give fans a sense that they're seeing something exciting and promising for the first time, in many ways similar to early shows from the Killers. Walk the Moon, slated to support fun. on a massive European tour later this summer, created a deep connection with its burgeoning fan base, one that now involves everyone wearing streaks of warpaint-like face makeup.
"We started bringing face paint to shows and it just became this ritual," Petricca says. "Then people started coming to shows that way. It's just another informal way to share something with the audience. The emphasis is still on the music."