Q&A: Weekend Frontman Shaun Durkan Talks About The Turmoil That Ultimately Inspired Sophomore Album Jinx
Weekend — the fuzzed-out noisemakers responsible for 2010’s excellent Sports — will return this July with Jinx (a ballsy name for a sophomore album if there ever was one). The record reflects a series of big changes for the band. In addition to relocating from San Francisco to Brooklyn just after the recording of the album, the record also finds the former trio adding a fourth member (bassist Nick Ray) to the mix. Those worried that that these changes might temper the band’s sound need not fret. The songs on Jinx — as evidenced by the first single, “Mirror” — are more focused than on the band’s debut, but certainly no less dark. Spurred on by a brief mental breakdown and the loss of a family member, frontman Shaun Durkan explains that the more straightforward post-punk leanings of Jinx spring from what was a very difficult — albeit ultimately very productive — change in his life. “I started going to therapy and it was during the following six month period that I started writing much of what would be come the raw materials for songs on Jinx,” he says, “I think the clarity of sobriety and the reflection from therapy largely contributed to the sharper focus of the songs lyrically and musically.”
STEREOGUM: What was the impetus to make the leap from San Francisco to NYC? Was it band related or was it life related?
DURKAN: It was really just a life thing. Kevin and I had lived in the Bay Area for our whole lives, and Abe has been there since he was eighteen, and I think we all just felt like we needed a bit more of a challenge — socially and artistically. I came to the band and told them, “You know I’m going to move to New York for three or four months and you guys are welcome to come with me, but you don’t have to.” I think it must have been the right moment, because they all wanted to go too. So yeah, we moved out here in November.
STEREOGUM: How did you do it? Did everybody get a place together?
DURKAN: No, we were living in Oakland for a year and a half, and I think everybody thought it was a little stressful. Because we’d go out on tour for a month, spending 24 hours a day together, and come back and we’d still be all living together. I think we all agreed that we needed a bit of space, so we all got separate places when we moved out here.
STEREOGUM: That’s healthy. I moved here from across the country and even under the best circumstances, it’s not an easy move to make. Logistically, financially, emotionally, it’s hard. So to do that with the band and all be in the same place together is no small feat.
DURKAN: I’ve never lived anywhere but California, so I’ve never made a large trip like this. But I think we were excited to leave Oakland. Our situation there was kind of bleak. We were living in this five-bedroom apartment that was a converted space. It used to be a doctor’s office and it was definitely not zoned for living. It had a weird makeshift shower and stuff. We were recording the new record at the time, so nobody could hold down a job, and we were completely broke and stealing food from discount stores. I think we saw New York as this change in the routine, and we were all excited to leave.
STEREOGUM: New York seems a lot more fitting. I was thinking you guys might be the most un-California sounding band I’ve ever heard.
DURKAN: We get that a lot. People always say in reviews that we’re a band from California that sound like we’re from dreary England. There is a sadness that seems to be lacking in a lot of the California bands.
STEREOGUM: It seems like the energy of New York might be much better suited to the kind of music that you make. But I know you put out an EP in 2011 — the Red EP — which seemed like a slightly more cleaned-up version of Sports. Going into make Jinx, did you have a pretty clear idea from the get-go of like “this is how the record is going to sound?” Was there a plan of attack or did you just want to let it happen?
DURKAN: It’s definitely a different approach than we took on Red. I started writing when we got off this really long touring schedule. I think we were in New York for CMJ and we were set to leave the next morning, and we stayed out all night I had this weird meltdown where I turned my phone off and missed my flight. My manager and I both realized that I needed to take some time off, take a break, so I took the next six months off for writing for the record and rehearsing, and also just taking a break in general for my mental health. That was when a lot of these demos were coming from for Jinx — this sort of reflective period — and the process for the record was a lot different because not only did we have these home demos to start working with, but we had three or four rounds in the recording studio. So we’d do live demos and then we’d think about those for a couple of weeks. Then we’d take that and start tracking stuff, and then take a couple of weeks off, and then think about that. So we went through a lot of filters, a lot of time went into analyzing the structures and re-working things. So it’s a lot more focused than Sports was. I think of Sports as this really cathartic blast. And it sort of needed to happen. But we were a lot more methodical about it this time around.
STEREOGUM: Does Jinx feel like a radical move in a different direction?
DURKAN: I think it felt like that at first. It was sort of like … not that it made us nervous, because I think we all made the record we wanted to hear. That’s been our sort of philosophy from the beginning. We want to make the music we want to hear, because if anyone’s making anything other than that you’re sort of lying to yourself. So at first I stepped back and was like “this is kind of different — not only sonically, but structurally.” The attitude is a lot different too. But the more I listen to it, the more I listen back to older stuff, I’ve found similarities. I think it’s a really big step forward, but I think we did it without alienating people that like the older, noisier, more-chaotic stuff. I think there’s something in this record that those people will like as well.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting what you said about the attitude being different. Where do you think that comes from?
DURKAN: I guess I’m speaking more from a lyrics-standpoint. That’s probably one of the major difference is that I spent a lot more time on the lyrics this time around, and I think that’s because I wanted to expand the performance into that fourth dimension. I’m the type of listener where I listen to songs and I’m mainly listening to the instrumental, and the vocals are just sort of this melody. And I think our stuff beforehand was sort of missing out on not the narrative, but the depth that words can have. And I think that’s the big step forward is that there is this expressed lyrical attitude.
STEREOGUM: Now that you have a little bit of distance from them, do these songs spring out of a time of — maybe not chaos, exactly — but of wanting to get out of where you were living?
DURKAN: Yeah. There are a lot of references on the record to leaving or wanting to disappear or kind of wanting something new, other than your current situation. I don’t think it’s something I necessarily knew that I was writing about, but maybe it turned into more of an omen. Because like I said, the songs were written and recorded before we even decided to move, so in a way our lives sort of followed the art.
STEREOGUM: That’s interesting. It definitely speaks of struggle. I know what it’s like when you can’t really have a day job and this is sort of a day job, but not really. It sounds a lot more glamorous to people who’ve never done it than it actually is. Being on tour with no money, or living with a bunch of dudes with no money, but still being in a rock band. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds when you’re mired with the process of doing it.
DURKAN: I think for a lot of people, tour is stability. You get your fifteen dollars a day, and where you sleep is kinda paid for, and you have something to do every day, you have attention. It’s when you go home that it feels unstable, which can be a great disorienting feeling. It’s sort of like when you go home to a totally fucked up slum and you have no money for groceries.
STEREOGUM: I hear that version of the story a lot. More than people realize, I think that’s the part of being in a band that really fucks people up. It’s not being on tour; it’s that time being home when people start to lose their shit. Speaking of touring, will you guys be playing a lot of shows in the coming months?
DURKAN: We’re the type of band that likes to really take seriously the shows we play. And maybe this is naive at this point, but we like to pay special attention to the show, really make sure it’s done right. So I don’t think we’ll ever be the band that writes itself on any bill. But we’re playing a handful of shows before the record comes out. We’re really eager to get on the road. We haven’t been since we went to Japan last summer.
STEREOGUM: How was Japan?
DURKAN: It was great — like the most amazing performance experience that any of us has ever had. Everyone’s so respectful and courteous and they set up all your gear for you — like literally all our pedals and stuff were set up every night exactly as they should be. They get upset when you try to change your own strings. We were treated extremely well there.
STEREOGUM: That’s so wild.
DURKAN: You go play London and it’s the opposite. London is like the worst place I’ve ever played.
STEREOGUM: So much of what has been written about you guys in the past always references the same things — noise, shoegaze, The Jesus and Mary Chain. Does that get your nerves?
DURKAN: I don’t really give a shit who people compare us to. It’s hard to be offended when it’s like My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, and Jesus and Mary Chain. I don’t know anyone who’d be offended at being compared to those bands. But I think it’s kind of a shallow set of references. I think it’s really obvious, especially when people can’t separate the songwriting from the production. A lot of people hear Jesus and Mary Chain because of how grating the sound quality is, but when you think about Jesus and Mary Chain’s songs themselves….I mean, we have no 60’s girl group influence whatsoever, I think we’re a lot more modern than that. So in that sense, it can be frustrating, but I think a lot of music journalism is frustrating in general. I tend not to really think about it too much.
STEREOGUM: I do it for a living and I also think it’s frustrating. (laughs). And I think not paying too much attention to those kinds of comparisons is probably the best thing.
DURKAN: I hear things in our music—the influence of other bands — that probably no one else in the world would hear. Because I’m so close to it. Everyone has their own interpretation of what we do and that’s great. I don’t mind.
Jinx is out July 23rd on Slumberland Records.