Editors’ Notes After writing a pair of collaborative LPs with Rostam and former Walkmen bandmate Paul Maroon—2016’s I Had a Dream That You Were Mine and 2015’s vinyl-only Dear God, respectively—Hamilton Leithauser felt like he had nothing left. “I was spent on words,” he tells Apple Music. “I didn't know what I wanted to sing, but I knew I wanted to.” While remodeling a home he’d purchased in Brooklyn (“the worst thing I've ever been involved in, in my life”), Leithauser started hearing what would become The Loves of Your Life, his second solo LP. “I felt like I had a new sort of sound and strong melodies, musical ideas that were pretty well fleshed out,” he says. “And then, the only missing piece: I just didn't know what they should be about.” A breakthrough came from a chance encounter as Leithauser was on a ferry with his family between Connecticut and Long Island. “Me and my daughters are waiting in line at the snack bar, and there's this sort of odd dude sitting at the bar,” Leithauser says. “And he told us his sort of long, boring life story, and later, I thought, ‘Jesus, that dude is just riding back and forth all day.’ I thought I could imagine what he was thinking, or get into his head a little bit, take a few details of things that he told me and put them into a song. It was funny, especially if it became this huge, powerful rock song, like in the vein of an old Walkmen anthem.” That conversation inspired “Cross-Sound Ferry (Walk-On Ticket),” but it also led the way to the rest of the album, as Leithauser began filling pages with character sketches of strangers and friends, then converting them into a set of his best songs to date. “I’d never done this before,” he says. “The idea was to have each song be about an individual person. Everything is real. You got to be careful. But I think I was.” Here, Leithauser walks us through the entire album.

The Garbage Men
“I played everything I could play, but I hired people to play the sax and I hired a pedal steel guy. There are five songs on the record that started with instrumental parts that Paul Maroon from The Walkmen had sent me. The horn—the trumpet sample—at the beginning of ‘The Garbage Men’: He made that. And then I had my daughters sing on it, and I pitch-shifted it, and I got a real horn player to come in and play along. It’s about a friend of mine who moved away, and I wish he would move back and we could party and do all our fun stuff. The idea was ‘till the garbage men go by,’ which is another way of saying ‘till 6:00 in the morning.’ Right?”

“It's about a friend, a girl who is maybe the kind of friend that everybody knows a lot in New York. Someone whose parents are paying the rent, and that's maybe why they don't have a job and can’t get things together. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also somebody caught in a little bit of a rut. That’s my daughters’ preschool teacher [singing]. Her name's Lacrisha Brown. She taught both of them over a couple of years, and I'd go drop them off at pre-K and Lacrisha would be in there singing to the kids, and she just had the most beautiful voice. It was almost funny how good it was. And so, I just asked if she would come sing. She lives nearby, so she came over, and we did ‘Isabella’ first and I loved it so much I was like, ‘Can we do another one?’ And she ended up doing most of the songs on the record.”

Here They Come
“The whole story behind it was this friend of mine who used to live in this little apartment in the East Village with a lot of his other friends, a ton of roommates. I used to do that too, and it was just miserable. We all share a bedroom, we're having our shower in the kitchen, and it was just a dude-y hell. And this friend used to go to the Union Square movie theater and buy a ticket for one show in the morning and then sneak into every other show that was playing all day, whatever was on next. The idea in this song is that it's like the moment where he's running from his roommates, but maybe he's also running from all his problems. So when the lights are coming on at the end of the show is when your problems are coming back into focus. You're coming back down to earth and you're thinking, ‘Okay, do I head out and face my problems, or do I sneak into another show and just sort of keep kicking the can down the road?’”

Cross-Sound Ferry (Walk-On Ticket)
“The beginning has that 4/4 beat. Yeah, that sort of stands out on the record because I don't have anything else like that. It's just an excuse to have a big time change. I like that sort of walking-down-the-street dance music. Everything's not just jacked up in your face—I don't have to have, like, a million synthesizers just blasting in little blips and bleeps at all. It’s more like chilled-out disco, where not that much has to happen. I just wanted to emphasize that this guy was most definitely a walk-on. I figure this dude's got to have some passion. He's a very calm guy, sitting there, but there's got to be a story. Either he's estranged or he doesn't want to go home. Maybe he's getting a little worked up about all the bad choices he made in his life. I thought it would be kind of funny to harness whatever fire I imagine was in this guy's belly while he's just sitting there, take that little calm moment of meeting this guy sitting there and turn it into a real banger.”

Don’t Check the Score
“It's a ‘We still love you, maybe you did some bad stuff, but we're still your friends’ song. It's a long story of a friend who's real, who had a lot of troubles. And we maybe haven't even totally worked it out yet, but somewhere, deep down, we're friends. When you're writing about friends, one thing I did find is that it's not really that fun or interesting to write a really rosy song. And it's not really that fun to focus on the positive. You don't have to necessarily focus on the negative, but it's just a lot less interesting when everything's going fine. But that's what the song is, and now that's the reality of that song, which I feel like it’s justified in being there. I try to tell the truth. I thought the truth was more interesting, to be honest, than inventing something. But at the same time, you are writing songs—I’m not writing prose. So taking liberties with the facts is fine. I don't have any problem with doing that.”

Til Your Ship Comes in
“I use 808 machines now. I’m not going to ever play hip-hop music, I don't think, but I'm not afraid to. The new music that I'm working on right now sort of has even more of that feel, like ‘Til Your Ship Comes In’ and ‘Don't Check the Score.’ They both have a little bit of a pickup, almost like reggae feel to the drums, and actually, that's going to be, I think, the launching point for the next thing I'm doing. This song is about another friend that has had a lot of problems, a very similar vibe to ‘Don’t Check the Score.’ But two different people. I was very aware when I wrote both those songs that they have a very similar message, but they're kind of bros. The songs, not the friends. No, definitely not the friends.”

The Stars of Tomorrow
“I met this very strange woman on the beach who'd come up and told me her whole life story. Like, I didn't ask, and she told me this long story about her husband abusing her and all this crap. But the story did not make any sense—so many inconsistencies in what she was saying. After she left, I thought, ‘Man, I'm going to try to do what I did with the ‘Cross-Sound Ferry’ guy and write a song about her.’”

Wack Jack
“That's a nasty breakup song—the relationship ended and didn't go well. You're a little bit stuck on this person, and it lasted a really, really long time, maybe since you were a kid, till you're an adult. I find one of the hardest things to deal with when you get older is to try to lighten things up. Because everything, especially now—the coronavirus and Donald Trump and all that stuff—everything, every day is so apocalyptic. In this context it would be referring to the hold that somebody might have on you, that you kind of wish you could shake it. Maybe you can’t.”

Stars & Rats
“That's about a real moment when I was walking down the street in New York, and I was headed home, and my friend's band’s music was coming out of this bar. And I hadn't heard it in so long. And it was really funny because it was, like, a flash from the past, it was so familiar, you don't really even know what it is at first. And I thought, 'Oh, right.’ I wrote that song about going home, and hearing that and what it sort of made me feel.”

The Other Half
“When I was writing that line [‘behind the window bars as the other half lives on’], I was sitting right here on the third floor of my house with the window. But I was writing about a friend of mine who just can't let a relationship go. And it's kind of like, ‘You know what, man? I think it's time. I think it's time to move on.’ The other half would be the other half of the relationship still living on, when maybe the girl has been gone for five years.”

The Old King
“‘The Old King’ is about a friend who was very successful when we were younger, the kind of person who buys the castle and then lives in it alone. I originally sang that over this other song where the music never made it on the record, but it was like a waltz, a 3/4, very cold-sounding kind of ballad. And I had it that way for probably a year, or maybe even more. And then one day I just heard it and I thought, ‘This is so sad, it's just miserable. There's no uplifting part to it.’ It’s important to not just wallow—I mean, that's boring. So I had my daughters come in and sing, and their voices are so sweet and small. I thought that instantly gave it an uplifting feel. It sounds sort of triumphant at the end, even though it might have a little bit of a melancholy feeling.”


More by Hamilton Leithauser

Featured On