Hailing from San Francisco, Weekend’s first album Sports appeared on many a top ten list at the end of 2010. The comparisons are a who’s-who of the bands that anyone would want to be placed next to (Wire, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, etc.). But the hype surrounding this band evolves from their ability to take their influences and make them seem fresh. Dark, loud and noisy isn’t a sound that’s going to give me goosebumps filled with surprise. But Weekend’s success comes from their ability to take layer upon layer of instrumentation and melody, melding it into something that seems simple, yet rewards listeners with every listener. Guitarist Kevin Johnson talked about the dangers of hype and cookie-cutters with us.
TDOA: We love the video for Monday Morning/ Monongah, WV. I feel like I’m watching a Todd Haynes movie, which is about as high a compliment as I can give. Who came up with the concept for the video?
KJ: I came up with the basic concept for the video and then Shaun and I sat down with my brother who is a film maker living in New York to flesh out the rest of the story. Many of the shots just came together as we drove around on warm days in Novato, CA, our home town.
TDOA: There are a ton of bands out there that get the Joy Division tag, but I genuinely don’t get it with you guys. Why do you think critics feel compelled to tag bands with comparisons or cookie-cutter genre assignments?
KJ: That is a really loaded question. Personally I think the “echo-chamber” quality of music journalism these days is symptomatic of a bigger issue which is the internet’s ability to polarize groups of people very effectively. People can now seek out specific information that applies to the tastes/political views/aesthetics they already embrace. People used to consume information through larger media outlets such as newspapers and radio which presented a diversity of content. It’s only a piece of the issue, but I think this type of lazy music journalism mostly serves as a way to quickly segregate content into groups that listeners can easily find and align themselves with. For me it’s really scary considering how many of my favorite bands growing up were bands that I at first never thought I would like.
TDOA: There’s certainly enough buzz surrounding you to indicate that perhaps an even larger group of people are about to recognize what a wonderful band you are. First, how do you buffer yourself against those expectations as you play live or as you write new music? How do you keep it from impacting the way you approach things?
KJ: I think that it is important for a band to evolve and change. As your band grows, more opportunities to make shitty art present themselves, but more importantly greater opportunities to do something better than what you did before become available. If someone came along and said “Hey, here is a bunch of money to make your next video” I wouldn’t be like, “No way man, we made our last video for nothing and that’s the way it’s gonna stay!” Instead I would take their money and do something really rad with it.
TDOA: As bands rise in popularity they’re surrounded by managers, pr people and an assortment of people who aim to help you. How did you approach this task and how did you decide who to put on that team?
KJ: I consider myself a pretty good judge of character; I can usually pick up a lot from spending a few nights with someone. Most of the people we work with directly are people we clicked with over many drinks late into the night.
TDOA: You’re playing Roskilde in July, which would seem like a tremendous thrill. Have you played outside the U.S. before and what excites you the most about playing in Denmark?
KJ: Yes! We are really excited for Roskilde. Our drummer Abe said he cried the last time he saw Iron Maiden…we are heading to Europe in February as well to support Wire, one of my favorite bands of all time. This will be our first trip overseas and we can’t wait to meet people from different cultures and play for them. It’s a huge honor.
TDOA: Your approach to songwriting seems to be separates you from the rest of the pack. Whenever I here densely layered songs, I always wonder what those first tracks on each song were. Do you generally start with bass lines, vocal melodies….?
KJ: Any simple idea can spark a song, sometimes a bass line, sometimes a drum beat…When recording, things usually start as a bare bones punk song that we then pull apart and recreate with different sounds and layers.
TDOA: Sometimes you hear a new band and you wonder if they merely plugged in their guitars and pressed record. You seem to have taken great care to get a certain “sound” on Sports. Is this something that developed during the production of the record or is it something that had been part of your live sound all along.
KJ: We always wanted to intentionally separate the live and recorded environments. We had a really distinctive live sound that we worked on before ever going into the studio and instead of trying to ineffectually recreate that sound, we wanted to create something new in the studio, which was a long process.
TDOA: In all likelihood, you’ll be spending much of 2011 on the road. Can you talk about your the relative benefits of playing live versus in the studio? Have a preference?
KJ: Tough question. Obviously playing live is way more fun, cathartic, raw, hallucinatory…but it can also be really frustrating to have some random sound person in control of your sound. People in the audience don’t realize that about shows. They always want us to turn down, and change the way we mix things. You also usually can’t hear shit while playing on stage. Being in the studio it’s really amazing to have complete control over every small detail of the music, but can also be very tedious. I’ll cop-out and just say the two are different.
TDOA: You clearly have an understanding and appreciation for the history of music. Given that, can you talk about discuss your feelings about joining Slumberland?
KJ: Slumberland is one of our favorite labels of all time. Old records from Stereolab, Black Tambourine, Lorelei, Whorl, etc are really big influences on our music. When Slumberland started putting out some of our favorite new bands like Crystal Stilts and Pains, we wanted to be part of the label even more. It also helped that they had this mysterious air to them, we never knew how the label operated and their website even says, “Don’t send us demos.” When Mike from the label approached us casually we were really excited. We went out with Mike a few times, and many drinks later decided he was the right kind of man to father our child, Sports.