The accelerated speed of tech developments over the past decade has changed the world in innumerable ways. The impact it has had on music is glaring, completely readjusting how the worldwide music industry operates and affecting everything from the way the sounds are created, recorded and distributed to the way they are experienced by listeners. Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon is currently in the midst of a quick rise in the music world that is a perfect example of how the career plans of aspiring young artists can today play out over an amazingly short period of time. It’s why you might want to catch Walk the Moon’s concert tonight at Oakley’s 20th Century Theater.
Tonight’s Walk the Moon appearance — alongside Cincy faves The Seedy Seeds and Louisville Electronica band The Pass — is a part of the “Red Shoes/Dance Pants” concert event presented by Reivax Records. Reivax is a music promotions/events/management business founded by some students at Xavier (read the Reivax name backwards) who built the company on money from the college, part of the school’s new business loan program that gives students a chance at real-world experience running a real-world small business. The show begins at 8 p.m. and admission is $10. (Click here for show details.)
Though it’s a cliché thing to say about a gifted new band, tonight’s show really might be one of those “I saw them before the whole country knew their name” moments you’ll brag about in a few years. Or, given the whiplash pace artists “blow up” these days, you may be able to start your boasting by summertime. With Walk the Moon’s accomplishments in just the past year, the band has achieved “not if, but when” status in terms of their chances of becoming a national (or maybe even international) sensation.
I have been pretty good over the years predicting which local music acts would be the next to breakthrough and draw major attention outside of Cincinnati city limits. But in 20 years covering the local music scene, I’ve never been as confident about a hometown group’s potential for breakout success on a wide scale.
My confidence is significantly bolstered every time I hear about Walk the Moon’s latest triumph. And it seems like I hear something new and impressive every week or two. The band is hitting major career benchmarks that have taken other successful artists several years to reach. With every milestone, my prediction for WTM’s success is starting to become the kind that makes people sarcastically respond, “Wow, really going out on a limb there, Nostradamus.” I feel like those baseball experts on TV who pick the Yankees to win the World Series at the start of every single new season.
Walk the Moon founder/frontman Nick Petricca isn’t new to having his music draw outside attention. Not too long after forming the band five years ago, Walk the Moon was invited play a showcase in England based on the strength of the music heard on a modest early demo/EP. Some major lineup shifts slowed things down momentarily, but Petricca reemerged with a new lineup and hit the clubs and the studio. Buzz built around the band’s live shows leading up to release of i want! i want!, WTM’s stellar debut LP. The album’s release show was a pivotal moment, drawing double the amount of people expected and marking the official premiere of the gorgeous and playful video for “Anna Sun.”
The album and video led to a lot of attention from music blogs, one of the main ways music lovers discover new things today. The bloggers were instantly seduced and created a domino effect of coverage and enthusiastic reviews. When one blog well-read by music insiders posted an item about Walk the Moon when they were in New York City for a gig, many of those music insiders showed up and were wowed. With the music industry paying attention and the band’s music and video (which has over 185,000 hits on YouTube, an accomplishment that surely impressed the biz folks) growing a grassroots fanbase that became increasingly passionate about WTM, the group shifted to a higher gear on the fast track.
The band caught the attention of big-wig Michael McDonald, who was (along with Dave Matthews) one of the co-founders of ATO Records, home to albums by My Morning Jacket, Widespread Panic, Liz Phair and several other well-known artists.
The band has stepped up its touring schedule as a result and they’re not just playing hole-in-the-wall dives, either. This summer, Walk the Moon is playing the two biggest music fests this side of the Mississippi — Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. This weekend the band is headed to the D.C. area to join The Strokes, Girl Talk, Lupe Fiasco and others at the Sweetlife Festival, then the band heads to the UK for a string of dates. Walk the Moon has also seen media coverage go up in quantity and quality, even notching an interview appearance on Carson Daly’s late night show on NBC (the result of a wildly successful showing at South By Southwest).
Not bad for an “unsigned band,” right?
The way the band has caught on so instantly (and the way they stick once they’ve caught on) mirrors my experience covering the band. When the group began, I started seeing the band’s name pop up on bills at local clubs. Then, writer C.A. MacConnell wrote a profile of Walk the Moon for CityBeat. But I still had yet to listen to them (I had “heard” them, but not truly “listened”).
Then, as I was preparing our massive guide to the MidPoint Music Festival, furiously writing thousands of words so that the guide featured short but accurate bio/descriptions on every one of the bazillion MPMF performers, I was stopped dead in my tracks by some band from Cincinnati that claimed influence from The Police and Talking Heads. Though I had days and days of non-stop writing ahead of me to meet deadline, I stopped and listened to every song on Walk the Moon’s MySpace page, losing about a half hour of valuable writing time. I was stunned by how accomplished everything about the songs already was, given that the members were all college-aged, and how Top 40-catchy yet still “Indie”-friendly the melodies were.
That MidPoint, I made a point of catching Walk the Moon live and had a similar experience. As is the way of MPMF, I was rushing all over town trying to see at least a little bit of several bands’ sets. When I made it to Walk the Moon’s show towards the end of the night, I was exhausted and planned on watching just a few songs. I stayed until the very end, though, just marveling at how talented the band members were, how impressive the music was and how intensely the audience was responding to them.
A few months later, Walk the Moon’s debut LP captured my attention big time and I listened repeatedly, not because of anything job-related like a review (though I did do one), but because it was so gripping and seemed like a major-label release ready to dent the sales charts by a band that had been around for a decade. When it comes to reviewing local music, there are bands that I think are good, but I don’t listen to much after the initial review. There are some I think are great, but will only listen to them occasionally. Then there are the albums that I really connect with and end up in my iPod on playlists. As soon as I heard that album, I knew it was iPod bound.
Walk the Moon’s music seems to have that kind of effect on people. Initial, jaded indifference turns into jaw-dropped fascination the very second people really start paying attention and listening.
Walk the Moon’s members have been very smart about taking full advantage of all of the new-world techniques for exposure available, playing the game like Bobby Fischer played chess. But more important than their ability to skillfully operate the modern, more user-friendly hype machine is their ability to make music that connects with people.
There’s something special about Walk the Moon’s music and Petricca’s songwriting. The band’s beaming Indie Pop pushes many buttons. The melodies and lyrics have a romantic emotional pull that is inviting and relatable, resulting in the kinds of songs people can identify with and attach to their own experiences. Chances are, your favorite songs are mostly the ones that you have that sort of intimate relationship with — the songs you’ll hear decades later and be instantly transported back to the emotional state you were in when you first connected with them. Walk the Moon has the special gift of being able to write songs that have that ability.
Another key attribute to Walk the Moon’s music is the very evident joy and passion behind it. The excellent songwriting skills it takes to create such alluring melodies are crucial, but it’s WTM’s soaring sense of exuberance that gives those remarkably catchy hooks an extra boost and sets the band apart from merely gifted craftsmen.
The other weapons in WTM’s charm offensive are within the music. There’s the natural feel of the group’s integration of influences, which include modern Dance Rock and Art Pop, as well as some of the New Wave and poppier Punk-era revolutionaries who inspired the sound of those contemporary acts, like Talking Heads and Squeeze. But the group has built its own identity out of the various inspirations, borrowing the best elements (dance-inspiring grooves, insistent melodies, etc.) in the same way those dorky kids in Weird Science built a stunning bombshell/live sex doll out of the ideal body parts from their favorite real-life hotties.
There’s a familiarity to the sound that is subtle enough to not be too distracting, but recognizable enough that fans of the band’s predecessors (from the old guy who saw Talking Heads in ’77 to the 14-year-old Killers fanatic) are easily converted into fans of the band itself.
One should never underestimate the immense power of danceability in music. If you’ve seen the Walk the Moon’s live show — where an irresistible, youthful zeal shoots off of the band like sparks — you’ve probably seen how the group’s tight dance-floor rhythms can hypnotically lead to a mass outbreak of boogying in the crowd. Some react instantly and get into the groove while others in the audience start out unconsciously bobbing their heads before giving in fully and busting a move. That’s a whole different kind of “catchiness” — coupling it with the music’s shower of hooks is like injecting steroids into Walk the Moon’s powerful allure.
There are many other things about Walk the Moon that bode well for their chances of achieving major success, the sorts of image-related attributes that make record labels take notice. The band members are young and cute and their interaction with audiences and dedication to making all WTM shows a fun escape for all in attendance (at some gigs, for example, WTM has provided fans the same tribal face-paint they sport onstage to self-decorate each other) is something a label can appreciate. It is all a part of the band’s broad appeal. They’re “the full package” that’s already ready to be sold to the masses.
I don’t know for sure that Walk the Moon will become the next Franz Ferdinand or Killers or even Talking Heads. The music biz is fickle and nothing is a sure thing. But, if two years from now Walk the Moon isn’t at the very least signed, touring and working their asses off towards a commercially and creatively successful career, it won’t be a signal of failure for Walk the Moon. It will be a failure for the labels that missed out on a rare, pure talent that, promoted correctly, could be the kind of smash sensation that record companies dream about every night.
That is, if they want major-label help. The quality of Walk the Moon's work puts them in a position where they could take the D.I.Y. approach and still reach the same amount of people a big marketing campaign might. If people hear it, they will come. That's the best marketing an artist could ever hope for.