One of many success stories rising from the Athens music scene, Walden launched into the national spotlight after winning the Road to Roo Competition in 2016 and 2017. Composed of Eric Hangartner, Andrew Mendel, Richard Becker and Jamie de Lange, the group formed while still in high school. Walden released their latest EP, “The Static,” on April 5, and plans on bringing some of their new songs, as well as their high-energy performance, to the Shaky Knees Music Festival taking place May 3-5 in Atlanta. The group will also be headlining the 2019 AthFest Music Festival in June, in the Classic City.
We talked to singer, keyboardist and guitarist Eric Hangartner about the inspiration behind ‘The Static,’ what it’s like to be on the other side of the festival scene and the legacy Walden wants to leave behind.
The Red & Black: How are you feeling about your upcoming performance at the Shaky Knees Music Festival?
Eric Hangartner: Good question — I’m excited. I think for our band anytime that we get a big opportunity like that to showcase our live show which is what we feel like we do best at. We’re just pumped about it because that’s all we really want to do is just be playing for a lot of people in a festival atmosphere. The festival atmosphere’s our absolute favorite so we’re super excited.
R&B: How is the festival atmosphere different than when you perform at a regular concert?
EH: A big part of the festival atmosphere is the young energy. Because we’ve had the privilege to see some of our favorite artists … in a large venue or arena setting or a festival setting. The nice thing about the festival atmosphere is that there’s so much energy because people didn’t buy tickets just to see that artist. They bought a ticket to be a part of the whole thing and everyone’s there to just enjoy music and have a good time and the energy is always just a lot more palpable at the festival. And that’s not to say some venue shows aren’t fantastic, because they definitely can be but I think some of our favorite memories seeing some of our favorite artists have always been at big festivals.
R&B: You’ve played at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in the past, do you think Shaky Knees will compare?
EH: Well, it’s definitely going to be similar in terms of just that festival atmosphere. But it’s definitely a bit different for us because it’s a hometown festival for us, we’re all from the area. And so you know there’s a special added something to the fact that I think all four of us have been to Shaky Knees prior to this and so we had always dreamed of doing something like this. So the fact that we actually have the ability to play the festival now is just super surreal and honestly such an honor that we get to represent some of the local talent.
R&B: Having played together since high school, how have you seen Walden’s dynamic change over the years?
EH: Basically over time we’ve grown into such a democracy and really the whole band is about all four of the guys, not just the guy singing or the guy who’s holding all the attention. It’s about all four of us, whenever we make decisions and even in our live show, it just reflects the fact that we value all four of our members just as much. And that’s really the vibe we really want to get across, just four best friends who put each other over anything else. Because what we’ve come to realize, playing in Athens for so long, is that we have a lot of friends who are super talented and they have bands as well. But the hardest thing to do was to keep a band together. It’s really tough — it’s like a relationship basically. But instead of having one girlfriend, you have three other girlfriends and you have to keep all of them happy all the time or else the whole thing falls apart.
So luckily we learned that early on and we recognize that our members are our most valuable asset and it’s not who plays the best or who contributes the most. It was all about making sure keeping all these four guys together. Because if we stay together, and work hard enough at it we have no doubt that we can make it happen. But again it’s that tricky dynamic of figuring out how to keep all four happy all the time. And that’s what’s so important.
R&B: For you personally, what’s something you’ve found to be important to your life?
EH: The obvious answer is music for me. And I think that’d be the common answer between the four of us because it’s just something I feel like I’m meant to do. I feel the most fulfilled when I get to perform for people and share music between me and a crowd. For me, that’s the most rewarding experience I can have. So I’m just so thankful every time I get to do that. But another answer besides that is, I’ve just realized how much the people in my life matter to me. The close friends and family in my life they mean everything to me. There’s been a lot of ups and downs and craziness in my life recently which has reminded me even more how much they mean to me. And I prioritize them more than everything because the people around you are so so important.
R&B: Sonically, how does “The Static” compare to your other music?
EH: I would say it’s a bit more modern in its production. We’re still trying, as a band I feel like it’s kind of backwards (sic) because we don’t listen to as much modern music as your average person. And I think one of the tricky things for us is trying to balance what feels new and fresh with more of a classic, timeless sound.
The bands we look up to are the legends like The Beatles and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and U2 and Coldplay [and] all these bands did a really great job of making music that stood the test of time, and that is our goal to try and accomplish something like that. And also I’d say this one’s a bit more rock orientated which I think is a reflection of us playing a lot more live.
We just don’t have that much music out and we wanted to put something out that we could play live and share that with the fans. But I don’t think it’s a declaration of us leaning more towards a very like super rock-oriented sound. I think that’s just what we felt was more appropriate for this one. But we’re still writing all sorts of songs but just for this EP we just felt like we wanted to rock out a little bit.
R&B: Why do you think Walden has become so successful?
EH: Personally I think that the biggest thing for us is this emphasis on the brotherhood between us. I think everyone who has seen us live or has been following us for a long time recognizes this kinship that we have is really tight and that has translated into all parts of our band and has made everything we do much stronger and more put together. Because we just all care so much about his band, we all just care so much about this band being successful and we all put ourselves out there as much as possible trying to make sure everything we do can make us as … I think that’s why we’ve been able to do what we’ve done.
I think if it was just one guy that was super passionate about this project and the rest of the guys were hired or generally uninterested, I think that what happens is the one who is passionate and really into the project doesn’t get pushed enough, doesn’t get challenged enough and in the music and everything ends up falling flat. Whereas when you have four people constantly pushing each other to be better and to challenge each other like you guys need to do everything we do as strong as all four of us think we can be — it just makes everything better and decisions are made better too.
When it’s not just one guy making decisions it’s four guys putting their heads together … and honestly, I think that’s our biggest asset. We’ve got four dudes that are super passionate about this project instead of just one. And I think we’re just relentless and we’re going to figure out any way possible we can pull this off as a career, a career of longevity too. We’re not necessarily worried about having a quick come up or being trendy for a couple of years. We want to establish a long career of dedicated fans and creating some really great art and leaving a mark on the music scene as it was in 2019 and beyond.