Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with The Weakenders

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with The Weakenders

When listening to this band, you can’t help but imagine yourself out on the open road. I see myself sitting back, cruising down the highway with the windows rolled down and the stereo turned up. I am by myself on this ride… headed south with nowhere to go. Songs like Hazy Eyes and The Party’s Over have me singing along, even though I don’t know the words. Yet. These guys are incredible, their sound is polished, and their lyrics belong on your iPod. The vocals are also solid, making this band the entire package. I haven’t seen these guys live yet, but they are going to start playing around the Circle City. Their brand is also solid, from the photos on their Facebook page to the cover of their latest album. I am serious when I say they are the total package. It is my pleasure to listen to and to be sitting with The Weakenders.

I love the name… but the name The Weekenders was already taken. Is that why you spelled it this way?

We actually started the band as a semi-serious batch of recording sessions amongst the four of us. Two of us lived in Indianapolis, and two in Nashville at the time we got started. We would do these sessions on weekends, and didn’t really have a name for the project. We tossed around names, and landed on The Weekenders, more or less as kind of tongue in cheek. Deciding the distance between us all was the true weakness of the band, and knowing the name The Weekenders was taken, we just shifted the letters. We also talked about the story of how The Beatles swapped an “e” for an “a”, as to reference the back beat of rock and roll, instead of the bug. If it worked for The Beatles… it will work for us.

Where are you guys originally from?

Three of us met in Indianapolis playing in the punk, metal and hardcore scene, and we met Blair, our guitar player, once Joel, who plays bass, had relocated to Nashville to work as a producer and recording engineer. He knew Blair and had been playing with him, and just happened to call him during one of those above-mentioned weekends of aimless recording. Blair showed up, listened to the track, and instantly started playing things we all liked. It was love at first sight/sound.

Your brand matches your sound perfectly. Did the brand come before or after the music?

The music came first. We toyed with a few different stylistic approaches before landing on the kind of semi-classic sound we try and embody currently. Initially, there was kind of a Foo Fighters and Bends era Radiohead vibe to the band. Those forgotten songs are still on the original MySpace page we created after the first weekend of demoing material. Eventually the sounds we started coming up with led us to where we are, brand wise.

Who designed the cover for “EVERYTHING AND NOTHING”? I love that picture, by the way.

Joel, our bassist, did the design for that record. He took the photo with his iPhone; a Tennessee sky. I had the idea to kind of keep the layout clean and basic, similar to a classic hardcore record or something. So, we just kind of melded to the two ideas and that’s where we ended up.

Do you guys play the Circle City very often?

Our first show in Indianapolis was on May 18th, and it was actually our first show of the year. We knew Indianapolis would draw out some friendly faces, and we all knew we wanted to get in the van and drive and go play and kind of be insular in the band world for a second. We will always play Indianapolis, because ¾ of us cut our musical teeth there and have so many supportive friends and family who call Indianapolis home. It will always be our runner-up home and we will always work the city in for any tour or traveling.

So the album was recorded over 6 days of recording, 6 days of mixing, and 1 night of mastering. Listening to this, I would have thought it took months. Who did all of the production on this release?

Yes; I wrote and demoed the songs with our drummer Joshua initially. We recorded those demos in Joel, our bassists studio space. We circulated the new material we had to the other guys, and they all liked it. I didn’t tell any of them I had the financial backing lined up to go in and make a proper recording. So, I just start texting everyone about a few open weekends. I end up booking the studio time and paying for it without their consent and just saying; “HEY BRING YOUR GEAR WE’RE MAKING AN ALBUM”. No one argued with me, and that’s the record you heard. We worked out the songs in the studio, arrangement wise, and spent 3 days on 3 songs, took a month in between, and did 3 more songs. Before we knew it, we had mixes and masters, and we were done.

We self produced the entire thing. Joel and I produce and engineer records for a living, and Josh and Blair are also very busy musicians playing in other bands and on sessions in Nashville, so we knew we could handle it, production wise. We had a lot of help with engineering from our trusted collaborator Wesley Deboy. Wesley is a super talented engineer and mixer based in Indianapolis, and he and I have done a lot of projects together. He actually kind of spurred me into booking the time for the band and making the record, so technically, this is all his fault.

Who writes all of the lyrics?

It really depends, lyrically. Joshua wrote every lyric to I Get Down, and it has his sense of humor and really makes that song happen. I didn’t change a word. Some of the songs I wrote by myself, and a few of them I just sat in the control room of the studio with the band and we just tossed ideas until we had something cool. Henry French was involved in a few of those kind of spur of the moment songwriters as well, so he can’t be forgotten.

Wait a second… you worked with Static Shack? How do you guys know Alan Johnson?

I met Alan through my father, who has been guitar tech for former Mellencamp guitarist Larry Crane for basically my entire life. Larry cuts all his records with Alan, so I was able to go into the Static Shack a lot as I was learning to write and record and just watch sessions go down with Alan and Larry, who are serious legends, especially in the Midwest.

Alan didn’t help record our record, but he was there with us, just keeping things positive and telling stories. We actually used his room not only because of my connection; Wesley interned for Alan and had cut one of my solo records in the Static Shack as well. It was the first proper recording studio I had ever worked in, and it is still like a second home; absolutely the best room in Indianapolis, and my favorite room to cut records in. I honestly don’t understand why more bands don’t go in there and work with Alan. It’s a special place and Alan has done a fine job with the gear, the room, and the vibe.

Alan has a vintage 2″ tape machine, so we cut 3 of those songs all analog using no pro tools or digital software whatsoever. Truly did it the authentic, hard nosed way without any fixes, auto tuning or computer assistance (we to this day have not used any of those tools on our records). Alan made sure the old machine was in top shape and helped us stay on task. Truly a great guy, great room and great experience for us.

What is the live music scene like in Nashville?

You know, the joke here is this; no one in Nashville pays attention to you until the rest of the world is. I have found that to be basically true. I like live music settings where the crowd is excited to hear a solid live band, and the energy can be shared between the band and the audience. You don’t get a lot of that in Nashville. Most of the crowd has their own band, and probably a pretty good band. Or, they’ve written countless #1 songs or produced a hit record of are sleeping with someone who has. It’s just a tough crowd, not super enthusiastic and not very enjoyable. We play Nashville and we always will, but, not my favorite place to play by any stretch.

Don’t get me wrong; we all LOVE living here. The city is special. It’s great to be close to our people, our new producer, hundreds of studios and the best craigslist in the world for musicians. Basing our band here has been a blessing; but playing here is kind of overrated. Even top tier bands will tell you that; it’s just an unforgiving crowd.

Folks can buy the album on your BandCamp site for $5. That isn’t very much. Why so cheap?

It’s funny you mention that; we think it’s priced too high! We left it up as a free download for 6 months and had thousands of downloads. The second we decided to try and raise a little money to fund the new record, our downloads have decreased exponentially, and we know it’s the price. People don’t like to pay for music anymore without trusting the band. We have no other records out, and people have no real reason to trust us. I think to some, $5 is a big stretch on a band you’ve probably never seen live, and who you have no reason to think will deliver you another solid record. Luckily, we know that and we don’t really get salty about it; basically, we get it. But, the simple fact is; record sales aren’t going to fund your musical endeavors. It’s a new world out there, and the quicker everyone else sees that and rolls with it, the better all of us will be. People are going to find a way to get your music, and rather than fight them about it or worry about why you spend so much to cut a record and get so little in return, find the other ways to make money for your band and get good at them!

You guys are all over Facebook and Twitter. Who manages those accounts? Do you have a favorite social network?

Joel, our bassist, does a lot of the tweeting. He likes working the numbers game and gets really interested in demographics and targeted sharing of our music. I spend a few hours each morning gathering posts, reviews, interviews and live clips and making sure they are all easily accessible on our Facebook page. Basically, we all have access to it, we all know what we want to say and try and keep people, even if it is a small number, interested in what we’re doing. We all post Instagram photos from rehearsal, we record new songs and release demos and we interact, every single day, with any fan who interacts with us. Especially with Twitter, this has provided us some interesting opportunities. We have fans in basically every country on the planet and it’s all because of social networking. We’ve only played a half dozen gigs! We’ve done interviews that were translated into Italian and Spanish, we’ve sold records to people from Japan and South America, and we’ve got shirts on bodies all over the world.

Looking at you, I want a shot of whiskey and an ice-cold beer. So… beer. Wine. Spirits. What is your poison?

I personally do not drink. However, the rest of the band, in true rock and roll fashion, are beer and whiskey guys. We take our music pretty seriously so no one drinks on stage or in rehearsal, but when we’re all hanging out, everyone but me loves a good craft beer. Joel loves whiskey, and I stick to soda water and lime, coffee or diet coke. I’m kind of an old man in that regard.

NUVO was at your show here in Indy. What did they have to say about the performance?

We’ve established a bit of a friendship with one of the staff writers at NUVO, Rob Nichols. He found our EP via Henry French, and we have been in communication about the band ever since. Judging by his review of the gig, he really got what we do and appreciated it. We took no offense to anything he had to say, and seems to really understand who we are. It’s been good to have someone like him on our side, especially as Indianapolis is home away from home (that used to be home).

You know the guys in And Away They Go. How did you meet those guys?

Long story short; I let a girl named Amanda wear a hoodie I LOVED home from a bar years ago. She ends up dating the singer, and ends up following me on Twitter. I ask for my hoodie back, we share a few internet LOLs and she says, “You should meet the guitar player in my boyfriends band, you have similar outlooks on music”. So, Aaron and I start chatting and turns out we do have similar tastes. We actually just met Aaron for the first time at our last gig in Indianapolis. Really a rad guy. I’m sure we will play a show with them soon enough.

In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the way people absorb music?

Man, I could go on for pages about this, but I won’t. In short, the Internet has made us consumers and thrown a wet blanket over the idea of being a FAN. The days of the LP getting countless spins on the record player and sitting around passing a bong and listening in Hi-Fi are gone. Some people may still do that, but most don’t. The Internet is a big part of that. We all work more, we move more and we carry music with us. I’m guilty too. We still sit around after rehearsal and listen to LP’s on a record player, but we also share YouTube links to songs we want to borrow a drum sound from or whatever. It’s just the way it is happening. I think it’s fine, and for us, it’s good for business. We have Japanese fans and have never left the United States. But, it’s a constant DAILY battle to engage those fans and keep them. Attention spans are shorter than ever, new things come up every day, and that’s the world we live in. There’s a new model for bands and musicians, and the sooner we all find out what that is and how it’s going to work, the better. The days of putting out a big LP and sitting on it for two years are long, long gone. It’s a daily engagement of not only new music and new insight, but interaction with fans and creative revenue streams and marketing that will shape what we all do, as bands and musicians, for a long time to come. We like to think we’re kind of hip to some of it, but, only time will tell what will work, and for how long.

Did she ever zip up that jacket?

She did. She ended up my wife, and wears all her jackets well! That song was written when I didn’t know she was going to be my wife; I was still just hoping for some more dates!

Can you imagine your life without music?

Absolutely not, and I think I can speak for the entire band with that. It’s inherently what we are all best at. We all share that. We mark dates with songs that mattered to us and relate eras and times in our lives based on the records we were listening to. For us, it is just a part of life. Writing, recording, rehearsing and talking about music is what we all love to do together. We all get along best with other musicians, and when the conversation at a hang gets stale, someone will just ask a thought provoking question about best guitar riffs from a Slayer record or the best drum tones on a Steely Dan album and we are off to the races. That’s just the language we all speak, and it’s constant.

Tell me about your relationship with Golden Astronaut.

Scott, who we all lovingly call Scooter, is an old friend. I played in his band once, Mardelay, and we have been friends for years. He heard the record and really got it, and has been working in LA for a few years. He is one of those kind of guys that every band needs; a handsome and savvy character that knows how to make things happen and believes in the tunes. We’re glad to have a relationship with him, and that relationship will continue.

Do you have jobs outside of music?

We do; I write, produce and engineer records for a living. Most of the guys make a certain portion of their income either playing in or on records and bands, producing or engineering recordings. Joshua has a day job he really likes, and so does Joel but both do a ton musically outside of our band. Blair is a bartender, which suits him well. He plays guitar and drums off and on for various bands as well. I think everyone is biding time until music can take over and we can get on making records and traveling and sharing our songs with people. But for now, we all work and we all are pretty OK with it. I’d easily guess we all work 80 hour weeks after the jobs that pay us, and the music we make. It’s the only way to live for now!

This summer promises to be big for live music. What concerts are you excited to see?

It’s funny you ask; we all talked about this the other day. We all made a pledge that we would spend the summer working on the band. We are releasing a new record, are going into the studio off and on all summer to start working on the next batch of songs, and are touring consistently. We all decided to skip the fests and big shows, because a weekend away is a weekend the band can’t work. However, I know Joel is going to see REFUSED in Atlanta. Luckily, it’s on a Monday and we take Mondays off. I’m sure we will all sneak in a show or two; it’s bound to happen.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?

Luckily in this band, there has only been one bad show. We got cocky and we didn’t take ourselves seriously and it came back to bite us. So professionally, that would be it. Just not playing our songs as good as we could have played them. As for truly embarrassing? I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I’m sure there will be something sooner or later.

Where can I get some The Weakenders merchandise? I would love a shirt!

We travel with a few shirt designs, and will launch our official web store in June when we begin releasing the new record. For now, come to a show, or send us a Facebook message and I’ll ship you one!

I think The Party’s Over is my favorite song on the album. I can see myself rolling the windows down and just blasting that while cruising down the highway. What is your favorite tune on the album?

I think we all love The Party’s Over. It’s got the hook and the vocal sound and pacing we all really love. I Get Down is a very solid rock song and we still love playing it live. Personally, Four Letter Words is my favorite. I think it’s more complex than anyone gives us credit for. We used an alternate tuning, we experimented with the arrangement, and we found cool voicing for chords we don’t typically use. I like the subtle jabs I wrote lyrically, and the riff reminds me of Transcendental Blues, a sick Steve Earle tune.

There are SO many great bands out there… what are you listening to these days?

I’ve been stuck on Beady Eye; it’s the 4 guys from Oasis minus Noel. It was produced by Steve Lillywhite who is fantastic, and has Liam singing; he is the voice of Oasis, and to me, the best rock and roll singer of the last 20 years. That has been on constant rotation in my house.

I’ve also been really into Dawes, who I think do a similar throwback and classic take on American rock and roll, much like us. They have the California vibe nailed as well as any band I’ve heard from there in a long, long time. It’s a great sound and they write great songs.

How did you get hooked up with Emerge Music Group?

We, to this day, have no idea where they came from or who they are. I will assume Twitter. They seem to like the band, and we are happy to appease a blogger who wants to tell folks about our records.

I haven’t seen you live… but what can someone expect from a live performance?

What we do live is really simple; we play our songs as 4 guys can play them. We don’t gloss it over, we don’t use backing tracks or do things that seem unnatural. We take our often elaborate productions, and we give people the honest rock and roll version of those songs. It’s loud and it’s honest and it’s fun. We don’t try and fool anyone into thinking we’re something we aren’t, and we just jam the tunes for the live setting. Initially we struggled in rehearsals with that; “how do we play these songs”. We all love to make big records, so it was frustrating at first because we couldn’t find that groove on how to pull of the songs without 12 people on stage. But once we got comfortable with the fact that we weren’t going to mess with people, we just started playing the honest versions. It’s kind of awesome to us, almost like we get to cover our own songs. Would we love an organist, a 3rd guitar, 3 back up singers, a percussionist and a pedal steel player? Absolutely. But for now, we have the 4 of us and that’s what we give people on stage.

Tell me about the #SuperMajor hashtag on Twitter.

“Super Major” is the name of our new record, so anything related to the making of that record got the hashtag. We wonder if it will catch on once the record is out, but, regardless, it’s been a nice way for us to go back and see that journey.

It looks like you have had a lot of success on Twitter. Do you ever run out of things to say?

Of late, no. Initially we realized we had 100 people who liked the band and there wasn’t a lot to talk about. But over the last couple of months, it seems like something exciting, be it big or small, happens with the band on a daily basis. So we try and keep people who might want to know informed, and let people in on the awesome, and the mundane. It’s not that glamorous to be an undiscovered rock and roll band, but there are glimmers of excitement. We try and let people see and share all of it with us.

When you are on the road, who drives?

Blair does all of the driving. He is the worlds absolute worst back seat or shotgun driver, and rather than argue with his issues, we just let him drive. He is a road dog like no one I’ve ever toured with. He just presses on, and it’s great. Joshua and I hang out in the back seats and sweat. Joel rides shotgun because he paid for the van.

First there was #SuperMajor… but what is #WeakendersWednesday?

I have no idea! Perhaps I should ask someone in the band. Or maybe that’s something a fan started? I need to do my research apparently.

What is SESAC?

SESAC is our performing rights organization. They collect radio royalties, live show compensation and make sure we get paid if there is money to be made off of our records. We have a great relationship with John and Tim from SESAC, and they treat us with respect. They are an invite only P.R.O. and we feel really happy we affiliated with them right from the start. It’s the smallest of the big 3, and we are a phone call away from our people there. It’s great.

What songs feature Henry French? He is incredible!

Henry has yet to play on a Weakenders tune, but has been there for the writing of a bunch of them. He is more or less my rock and roll mentor and has been a big force in keeping me motivated and helping me hone in on my skills. He is a very dear friend and has been a big part of this band, albeit indirectly. We actually just played with Henry last weekend, and he was at my wedding in April which is the most I’ve seen of him in a year. We talk a lot on the phone however. I’m trying to recruit him into our Nashville brood. Time will tell!

You guys call it “rock”… but I call it “classic rock”. Is it cool if I add the word “classic”?

Of course! We don’t look side to side. We look back, and we look forward. To us, the best records are not being made right now. There are good ones, and some great ones, but nothing that has floored any of us. We aren’t pretentious or absurd with our tastes; don’t get me wrong. We love most of it. But, when was the last time you were FLOORED by a current record? I don’t mean “this is good” but “THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD”. We include ourselves in this discussion; we know we are good enough to exist, but, if we thought we were GREAT we probably wouldn’t work with such intensity.

There’s something to be said for annoying classic rock radio; no one needs to hear Radar Love or Gimme Three Steps ever again. But, the records sounded better, the songs were written better and the vibe was much more alive in that “classic” era. Some of the sounds and songs from that time period are just undeniable. Even semi-annoying stuff like Steve Miller Band or whatever… I am not pretentious enough to admit that the way I double track my vocals is not a direct influence from hearing Steve Miller Band songs constantly on Q95 growing up.

So yes, by all means, if we sound classic, that makes sense. We all listen to a lot more classic records than modern ones, and those influences are a huge part of the band. I can guarantee “Damn the Torpedos” is in Blair’s record player at this very second.

Remember though; we were all born in the 80’s. To us, Oasis and Stone Temple Pilots are classic rock.

What is the best guitar on the market? Is there really a difference from one guitar to the next?

You know, I’ve never been a gear nerd. I’ve always played whatever I had, be it borrowed, begged or stolen. But, since starting this band, the gear nerd thing has started to happen. I just bought an old Epiphone Sheraton on eBay that has become my long lost best friend. It is the guitar I’ve been searching for, and I am glad to have it. But as for the best? You are asking the wrong guy. I have cut records and played gigs with some priceless guitars and some absolute pieces of crap and can’t say I’ve had better luck with either. It just is a vehicle to me because song is king. I’m actually actively searching for cheap guitars currently; Tiesco, Silvertone, Kay. I want some pieces that really sound dated and are limited tonally. Through limitations comes creativity!

I know it is almost July… but what does the rest of 2012 look like for you guys? Is there a tour in the works?

Fitting with the theme of our name completely un-ironically, we are going to continue to book weekend runs and enjoy that for now. None of us are interested in being stranded in southern Georgia on a Tuesday night being heckled by locals and playing to a half dozen drunks. It’s just not that smart of an investment anymore, and I think bands will catch on to that. Music used to be regional; you conquered your region and then you branched out. Somewhere along the line it became this big LOOK AT ME thing to book absurd tours on the West Coast or through the south and make posters with a bunch of TBA’s on them and make everyone think you were going on some illustrious run of great gigs. I hate seeing bands do that; they over saturate their hometown with gig after poorly attended gig, and when they do travel, they do it with no sort of foresight or plan. Bands I know did this all of the time. They would come back pissed off, broke, in debt, hating each other, with van repair bills, no merchandise, horror stories about the headcounts at the gigs and evil preying promoters and would end up broken up working at Subway. We are all too old and too wise to do that to such a promising project. For us, going out for weekends in an 8 hour radius and then spending the weeks in our rehearsal room working on new material isn’t lame; it’s smart.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

We really want people to come along for this ride with us. We are mature adults who are done breaking up bands over girls or money or drugs or whatever it is that breaks up most promising acts. We work really hard to try and write and record really good songs, and that’s the entire plan for the band. We want to write the next American rock and roll classic. Will we? Who knows. But that is our entire plan. Not to conquer the world or be larger than life, but to sit alongside the Wilcos and the Tom Pettys of the world as a great band of great guys and great players who wrote consistently strong songs, played entertaining live shows and worked hard at their craft. We all care so much about the art of songwriting and record making, and the heritage of rock and roll to treat it lightly. We were raised in it, we all feel it is our calling in life and we want to share it all with people who want to come along for the ride. We know the world will always need good rock and roll bands and music, and that’s really all we want to deliver.

The Weakenders

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