The 2016 release of Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij’s collaborative album, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, yielded the indie-rock hit “A 1000 Times” and scored an iPhone synch for “In a Black Out.” But after, Leithauser — who released his debut solo album in 2014 after nearly 14 years as lead singer of The Walkmen — struggled to record and release new work. The music came easily, but the lyrics… not at all.
A chance encounter on a commuter ferry between New London, Conn., and Orient Point, N.Y., changed that, and by mid-April of this year, the 42-year-old musician had released his second solo album, The Loves of Your Life.
On a 9 a.m. cross-sound ferry, says Leithauser, a neatly dressed man at the bar, “enjoying the ride, having a drink,” approached him and his two daughters. They briefly chatted, and the stranger left an impression on Leithauser, who immediately started to imagine a backstory for the man — which became the track “Cross-Sound Ferry (Walk-On Ticket).” Says Leithauser: “I thought what might be really dangerous and fun would be to write about people I know” — and from that, an album concept was born.
While Leithauser says there are no plans for The Walkmen to reunite, he still collaborates with guitarist-pianist and former bandmate Paul Maroon. Leithauser, who calls Brooklyn home these days, doesn’t see much of Maroon, who lives in Baltimore, but says, “We have a really good writing assembly line.” Maroon emailed Leithauser instrumental music and soundtracks, inspiring five songs on the album — including “Ferry,” which evolved from “a big, banging guitar track.”
Much of the initial music for the album was recorded at The Struggle Hut, the name Leithauser gave his cramped home studio. Though it’s tiny, he says it’s an improvement from his last space, a basement in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood: “For 20 years I had these hole-in-the-wall practice spaces, always with a heavy metal drummer next door, and you’re at least 50 yards from the nearest window,” he recalls. “I’m not that loud when I’m sitting there writing music, and there was some drummer just pounding away.”
Album guests include The Late Show With Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste, woodwinds ace Stuart Bogie, guitarist and Fleet Foxes co-founder Skyler Skjelset and a pair of collaborators who hit close to home: daughters Georgiana and Cokie. “They’ve got such sweet little voices, it’s handy to have them around,” says Leithauser. The girls’ preschool teacher also sings on a few songs, while Leithauser’s wife, Anna Stumpf, plays keys. “I like getting my own gang,” says Leithauser. “That’s my real world.”