With the current album “What If Nothing,” Walk The Moon hasn’t just returned from an extended gap between albums, the band members have come back with a whole new level of understanding about why they’re in the band, the kind of music they want to make at this point in their career and what being part of Walk The Moon means to them.
The band performs as part of Pittsburgh Pride Week’s Pride Rocks PGH concert series June 7.
It’s all the result of a period of considerable uncertainty that began in summer of 2016 when the group canceled a tour so singer/guitarist Nicholas Petricca could be with his father, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
According to bassist Kevin Ray, the unplanned stoppage came at a bad time career-wise. “Shut Up and Dance,” the single from the second Walk The Moon album, “Talking Is Hard,” had spent seven weeks in summer 2015 in the top five on “Billboard” magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 chart on its way to becoming a triple-platinum hit.
Pulling the plug on the tour, as necessary as it might have been, meant the band wouldn’t be able to build on the momentum that had been generated by their breakout hit.
“For me personally, it was a strain because I saw what we had built with ‘Shut Up and Dance’ just sort of lingering in limbo and not capitalizing on it,” Ray said. “It was tough. It was really, really tough.”
What started as a canceled tour soon grew into a hiatus. Petricca soon was dealing with the death of his father and other personal issues. And for all four band members – Petricca, Ray, guitarist Eli Maiman and drummer Shaun Waugaman — stepping away from music prompted them to face some important questions that had been hanging unanswered over the band up to then.
“I think trust is a big part of it, trust that each member of the group is focused on making the same thing for the same reasons, or at least the right thing for the right reasons,” Ray said. “You spend so long on this daily basis with each other that if you talk about all these deep, emotional things, it’s so draining. So you spend a lot of time in like a casual relationship with each other because you can’t get away from each other and you don’t address those things, and not just the issues, but just being able to talk deeply and emotionally about what we’re doing here and what it means to us and exploring ourselves.
“We spent so many years not discussing just what the band meant to each other because we were just on the road every day playing shows,” he said.
He added that it was hard to ask tough questions of each other, but the answers showed that the four musicians still had plenty of common ground and a shared sense of purpose.
“I think discovering that we all still had a lot of the same intentions was so comforting,” Ray said.
They also agreed that with the album that would become “What If Nothing,” they wanted to rock up their sound and lyrically address some of the issues they had confronted leading into the project.
Actually, the group — which was started in 2006 in Cincinnati and notched a top-10 alternative rock hit with the song “Anna Sun” from the band’s 2012 self-titled major label debut album — had already shown some lyrical depth on “Talking Is Hard.”
“Shut Up and Dance” may have created the perception of a band that’s all light and sweet, but other songs on that album (“Up 2 U,” “Spend Your $$$” and “Different Colors”) went considerably deeper in subject matter.
“The last record, I think we were trying to deal with a lot of stuff outside of ourselves,” Ray said. “We were trying to answer a lot of questions about the world and the environment and politics or whatever. And now (on “What If Nothing”) we just sort of wrote what we know, looked inside and just asked questions that we had.”
Serious content, upbeat music
The more serious lyrical content, though, doesn’t keep Walk The Moon from sounding plenty upbeat musically on “What If Nothing.” The band makes good on bringing more of a rock edge to the proceedings with songs like “Headphones” (a rare pop song to feature guitars) and an overall anthemic feel to the album. But fans don’t have to worry that Walk The Moon has lost its pop chops.
Hooks abound throughout, and songs like the bouncy “One Foot” (which topped “Billboard” magazine’s Alternative Songs singles chart) and the hip-hop flavored “Kamikaze” (a top 10 alternative rock single) should please the “Shut Up and Dance” crowd.
That sort of upbeat atmosphere will carry over to the group’s concerts, Ray said. The band hopes that as touring continues and more music is released (the group recently released a new single, “Time Bomb” — which is not on the “What If Nothing” album and went top 15 on the Alternative Songs chart ), venues will grow bigger and so will the visual production the group can employ in the show.
“We have the future in mind and we have the biggest possible version of ourselves in mind and we’re working toward that,” Ray said. “It’s finally going to be time for us to have our party the way we’ve wanted to. That’s what we’re most excited about.”