WALDEN: FINDING MEANING THROUGH THE NOISE

BY: MIA POHLMAN

If there’s one concept the band Walden hinges upon, it’s friendship.

It’s what started the band, who played at Shipyard during the afternoon Saturday, September 28, and it’s what keeps it going. The band was formed by vocalist and pianist Eric Hangartner, vocalist and guitarist Richard Becker, bassist Jamie de Lange and drummer Andrew Mendel in 2012 in their hometown of Athens, Georgia. They continued to grow in musicality and popularity throughout college while the members were full-time students. Now, amidst touring the country, they’ve played Sloss Music and Arts Festival and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (twice), headlined Athfest and directly supported names such as Moon Taxi.

“I think the most important thing to understand when it comes to our band is that we have been friends for so long and that this band is really formed out of a friendship more than anything else,” Hangartner says. “We all kind of shared a dream to travel the country and play music together and do that for a living, and I'm sitting in a van, and we’re currently doing that right now."

It’s a lifestyle that studying the texts of the Transcendentalist movement of the 1800s gave them the courage to pursue. The band takes its name from Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden,” a meditation on society and self-reliance.

Although Hangartner says the band isn’t trying to be a Transcendentalist band or push an agenda or philosophical school of thought, they are glad they can pay homage through their band name to Thoreau and fellow Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, thinkers who have been and remain highly influential in the band’s own thinking, as well as in their decision to break the status quo of their upbringing in order to pursue music.

“I think we were so stuck in our ways of thinking in terms of what our lives could be like just because we came from a very suburban background where the path of your life seemed to be graduate high school, graduate college, get a degree, get a job, get married, and it seemed like our lives were maybe already written for us,” Hangartner says of how the band has evolved and grown into their name. “But now we’re doing something that where we come from seems pretty radical, but it’s something that we may not have otherwise imagined.”

The name of their EP, which was released in April, could be read, perhaps, as a modern-day exploration of the same societal concepts Thoreau critiqued in his own work.
The EP is called “The Static” and explores an issue Hangartner says many people in the band Walden’s generation deal with: the noise people are constantly exposed to because of phones, technology and digital media, tools that create what Walden deems “the static.”

“There’s so much static fighting for your attention everyday, and it’s a really confusing thing because as kids, we weren’t really taught the ways to combat this,” Hangartner says. “So all of us are trying to figure out ourselves how do we navigate through a world where the possibilities are endless, but that’s equally as paralyzing as it is liberating.”

Each song on the EP, Hangartner says, explores the pros and cons of living in a world in which so many things are constantly fighting for our attention. Rather than only creating catchy songs, Walden worked to ensure each song on the EP has a deeper message and that each decision they made was thought-out and purposeful.

As the band matures, the members are becoming more collaborative in their writing process; Hangartner describes their songwriting process as a Venn diagram in which each of the members are a circle with their own musical influences, with Walden’s sound being created from where the four circles meet. A few of their influences include classic rock bands like AC/DC and Foreigner, modern acts like Coldplay and U2, and a jazz fusion band called Snarky Puppy. They are especially proud of songs like “Fool’s Gold,” which Hangartner says wouldn’t exist if one of the four members hadn’t contributed to its writing.

Playing live shows, Hangartner says, is where the band thrives. They enjoy interacting with people, and at Shipyard specifically, they are looking forward to meeting new people, being in Cape Girardeau for the first time and being a part of an event that has been created to give bands a “platform to do their thing.” It’s something Hangartner says the band doesn’t take lightly.

“Music is meant to be shared. That’s how I’ve always felt,” he says. “A lot of times it starts from such an isolated place, but I wouldn’t even want to write music if I knew it couldn’t be shared. It’s expression, and that’s a pure form. … There is something special about that physical exchange that happens when you are sending something so invisible and yet so real out into the crowd. It’s just a really special thing to be on the sending end of it.”

If friendship is one pillar of the band, another is hard work. The band is one of discipline and rigor, as they work to make music that matters and realize their dream of being musicians.

“None of us have been blessed with any sort of crazy talent or gift or anything,” Hangartner says. “But we’re just so passionate and hungry to be better and continue to try to push forward, and that is way more important than any sort of thing you’re born with.”

Hangartner recognizes this next year and the ones following are “formative” for himself and the band. Rising to this, he says they are “working as hard as they possibly can” to hone their skills while they grow and evolve. While they are constantly working to get better, they are comfortable with the process and patience of becoming.

“Everyone’s on their own timeline,” Hangartner says. “I think it’s so easy, especially in music, to be comparing yourself to your peers and what other people around you are doing and how many plays other artists have, but if you let go of that and just accept that you’re on your own journey and that you’re going to arrive when you’re going to arrive, it’s a way more fun and liberating experience. I think we are always going to become the band that we’re going to become, and it’s just our job to work as hard as we possibly can in the meantime, and I think we’re really starting to come into that. And it will be something that I don’t have to tell anyone because it will just be obvious, you know? I think in a few years people will be impressed with what we’ve done.”

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