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Walk the Moon Brought Positivity and Face Paint Back to Rock 'n' Roll

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Cincinnati's jubilant Walk the Moon, named for a Police song, gained national exposure in 2012 when their single "Anna Sun" received extensive airplay on modern rock radio, as well as some top-40 stations. Their third album, It's Hard to Talk, released this past fall, contained the top-30 hit "Shut up and Dance."

The band is currently in the midst of a North American tour to promote the album. Gimme Noise reached Walk the Moon's Eli Maiman by phone in Boise, Idaho. The guitarist talked about the band's '80s influences, face paint, and the fun of playing festivals.

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Gimme Noise: Nick Petricca started the band in 2008. When did you come on board?

I had played bass in Walk the Moon for a while, just kind of filling in on random gigs that Nick had. Because really he was running and operating the band as a solo project for a little while. So he would just play with whoever was available, and we had met just from being in the Cincinnati scene. I ended up playing bass and it wasn't until 2011 that Nick had [bass player] Kevin [Ray] and [drummer] Sean [Waugaman] locked in that I got brought on board.

Is everyone in the band influenced by the '80s?

Yeah, there's a ton of '80s influence on the band. The Police are always a band that we're looking to, Talking Heads we've talked about that a lot, Prince, and ELO. Personally, my guitar playing is heavily influenced by Pink Floyd and Dave Gilmour, so much so that I purchased a black Strat so I could feel more like Dave Gilmour on this tour. There is lot of influence from that decade.

But there's also a very contemporary feel to the music.

Right. I think what we really take from the '80s influence is we like to write songs that have big hooks and catchy choruses, so much so that they might be called pop songs. But we always strive to take a left turn into the weird and throw ourselves into the abyss. And that's something we really admire about bands like the Talking Heads is that they'd have really catchy songs that got stuck in your head, but then there was always something weird going on, or some odd left turn.

How did the face paint thing come about? Was it inspired by Adam Ant?

The face paint came from the "Anna Sun" music video. Part of what we were going for was a the Lost Boys, Peter Pan, Neverland vibe in that video. It worked really well with that and then people started coming to the shows in the face paint and it really happened organically. It ended up being a great marketing tool, especially early on. People would leave the concert and you'd see them at a restaurant after the show and other people would ask what the face paint was from.

So it became this great marketing tool totally by accident. Since then it's really become this visual representation of the community we strive to create at Walk the Moon shows. The show is meant to be this very positive communal experience where we all come together and kind of have a bit of a catharsis and are able to forget about what's going on in your daily life and bullshit that's weighing you down.

Do you get a lot of fans coming to festivals, or is that where you make new fans?

Well, it's fun to see who's there to see Walk the Moon. You can point them out much easier when they've got it painted on their faces. I remember the first time we played Lollapalooza, we were the first band on the main stage, and the headliner that night was Eminem. We walked down the front row before our set and handed out face paint. And this one girl who was in the front row took some face paint form us and then wrote "Eminem" across her breasts. And so she was standing in the front row giving us a look during our entire set. Spreading the love, that's what we do.

Early songs are credited to Nick, but subsequent songs are credited to the band. How does the songwriting process work these days?

The first record, a lot of it was written before we joined and was fully formed during the period of time when Nick was in college up at Kenyon, and so a lot of that writing was done by him. With this record the songwriting was extremely collaborative. We actually rented out a Masonic lodge across the river from Cincinnati in northern Kentucky for six weeks in the summer of 2013. We just set up our stuff in the main hall and played and wrote for 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week for six weeks and ended up writing about 50 songs for this record. We wrote a ton of material that everyone was a huge part of. I think the end result is a better representation of what it sounds like when the four of us play music. You have more of each person's voice on this record than we had before.

How do you whittle down 50 songs? Take a vote?

It felt terrible. It was awful. It was the worst. We had a meeting where we voted on the songs and we narrowed it down to 25 and took those to our producer Tim Pagnotta who said, "These songs are really happening and these are not." We said, "Tim, you're totally full of shit," but more often than not Tim was right and he definitely was a positive force on this record. The process of choosing songs is one of my least favorite. It's just awful. But the good news is we got a ton of material that I'm still really looking forward to putting out at some point in the future.

Walk the Moon. With the Griswolds. All ages, sold out, 6 p.m., Friday, March 27, and Saturday, March 28, at First Avenue. Info.

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