Weekend Is Not The Weeknd

The post-punk band talks about their new record, 'Jinx,' how it's difficult to make money as a musician, and, of course, about how underrated Mountain Dew Code Red really is.

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Jul 17 2013, 4:14pm

It's a foggy Wednesday morning, and Shaun Durkan is hungover.

Sporting a black shirt that reads in bold white lettering, simply, "guilty of everything," the vocalist of post-punkers Weekend fumbles with an iced coffee—which, at this point, is more melted ice than actual coffee. Sunlight leaks in through the VICE office's front bay windows and, alongside bandmate and drummer Abe Pedroza, the two musicians tell stories about the previous night. They saw Deafheaven at 285 Kent. There was a lot of noise. There was a lot of beer. They may or may not have seen the sunrise.

But, despite the headaches, both Durkan and Peroza push through and offer insight into what it's like to be a working independent rock band in the year 2013 (spoiler alert: it's hard). Back in September, the group left their Bay Area roots behind and moved east, finding themselves in Brooklyn.

"We were just living in a super fucked up situation in Oakland," Durkan, who's 27 now, recalls. "We were so broke because we were just recording the whole time, so we couldn't work." He explains the five bedroom "converted doctor's office" in which they lived: a shitty place in a shitty neighborhood with a crackhead named Touche living in their backyard—but, a place just cheap enough they could afford to record. The 25-year-old Pedroza, with long black hair that falls down to near his torso, nods in subtle agreement, remembering being so broke they had to steal from the grocery store.

In short, things were pretty fucked.

But Weekend lives in New York now, a city built on the idea of new beginnings. And that's perfect timing for the band, because next week, they releases their sophomore record, Jinx, a more reserved, more focused, shoegaze-y follow-up to 2010's louder-than-hell-especially-if-hell-has-a-lot-of-really-big-speakers Sports. Of the album, both Durkan and Pedroza speak proudly and candidly about the recording process, its difficulties, what it's like to not make any money—and, of course, about how Mountain Dew is super awesome.

Noisey: What did the move to New York do for you creatively and personally?
Sean Durkan: Personally, I was in a rut. Being out with the same people, doing the same bad things all the time. Maybe in a naïve sort of way, I felt like moving to New York would be like starting over, like I could change all these things about myself. And that is partially true—some of those things did change, and I’m really happy about that—but there are certain things about yourself that you can’t get away from, no matter how far away you move from home. Some of those things are still there.

Abe Pedroza: And also you kind of end up realizing that it’s not that different here than there.

S: Yeah, the whole world is pretty fucking much the same.

How much of the record was done before you guys moved to New York?
S: All that record was being recorded while we were living in Oakland in a bleak little doctor’s office.

You recorded it in a doctor’s office?
S: No, we recorded in the same studio that we’ve always recorded in, which is this studio called Function 8, which is in the Mission in San Francisco close to a family friend of mine who runs it. So we recorded everything there, we were commuting from Oakland to the city to record. It was such a weird experience.

What was weird?
A: Our only neighbor lived in our backyard area and he was a crackhead. He just slept back there, and he was our buddy. He lived back there, basically.

S: His name was Touché. He was kind of a guard dog.

A: There was a mutual feeling, like, “Yo, if you guys don't fuck with me, I won't let people fuck with your shit.”

S: As soon as he went missing we got robbed. I know this from talking to his girlfriend, whose name was Suga. He would communicate with her via our phones. He would text her, and when he disappeared, we reached out. She was like, “Yeah, he went to jail. He’s gonna be in for a month or something.” And two weeks later we got robbed—twice within two days. Five grand worth of bicycles stolen. It was super fucked up. But that whole experience was just so weird because we were trying to stay focused on recording, but we were so, so broke. We were stealing from Grocery Outlet, which is like stealing from the discount food store. Going to CoinStar to get enough cash to spend the all night working on some fucked up vocals about some super emotional shit. It was great because none of us had jobs and we had the time to be able to do be so focused. I don’t think we could have done the record here [in New York]. It’s just too hard to make a living here.

What do you think being so fucking broke does creatively?
A: Honestly, it just focuses you. We had that project to work on. We didn’t have jobs. So it’s like, okay, there’s no meaning in my life except for this project.

S: I mean, what are you gonna do? You get home, and you’re not gonna go out drinking or go out to eat with your girlfriend. We’re gonna sit there and think about what we did in the recording studio—maybe play some guitar or something—and go at it the next day. That’s a huge reason why the record came out so focused, concise.

How long was the recording process?
A: Like a year. We weren’t like Metallica, like in every day, but we spent like between 30 or 40 days in the studio. Maybe three days a week for a year. We did two-week stints here and there.

All the press around your first record was something like, "Holy shit, these guys are really loud." And, like, Jinx is not at all that way.
S: It's not as one dimensional, I think. Not that that Sports is one-dimensional, but it’s like people listen to that and their takeaway is like, “Yeah. Loud band.” It was cool, and we did that. We made that record, but we’re very much more a multifaceted band than that. I want their to be more takeaways than the volume of our music.

Was that a priority going into this record?
S: No, I think that that was just a result of maturity. It wasn’t a conscious thing. We’re still interested in being confrontational and aggressive and challenging, but we're maybe picking and choosing the moments a little more carefully—instead of it just being this 45-minute assault.

What do you feel like you are most proud of on the record?
S: The songwriting is a lot more complex than the first one. It’s really hard to put on Sports and sit down and listen to the whole thing. It’s just like K-SHHHH, all-the-time. Jinx is more like a journey. One of the most challenging things about recording the album was the new approach to songwriting I have. I wanted this record to be raw and honest lyrically, and I think that I'm most proud of how to be okay with being vulnerable or being emotional. It got to the point where it’s like, why am I making music if it’s not emotional or dramatic? That's music’s job, to be a little larger than life, a little overly dramatic. People who are less upfront with their vocals, it’s like, okay, then why even record vocals? You want everybody to listen to it, so why not make it this thing that’s upfront? It’s like adding a fake layer of mystique. It’s contrived and it seems manufactured. I wanted to avoid the trappings of a shoegaze revolt thing, because I’ve never thought of our band as a shoegaze band.

How do you avoid that then? Because this record sounds like a shoegaze record.
S: You write songs that use vocals in a more proactive role. You let the vocals tell some of the story and you allow the song to rest on some of those vocal moments. I think that’s how you avoid that. To me, so much of shoegaze is being aloof and saying really vague shit over and over, and hiding behind a bunch of pedals. That didn’t make sense for the content of this record.

A: That’s so contradictory, ‘cause you’re on a fuckin’ stage, and it’s like, you know.

S: Yeah. The content of this record was too important to me to mask.

How do you separate yourself from all the bullshit that comes with the indie rock scene? On top of guitar driven music getting somewhat stale, the characters within that scene are more annoying every day. It's like, "Oh, the kid from DIIV is shooting his mouth off again. Awesome."
S: It's really easy to lump everybody together, and you end up being around a lot of those people in that scene for that reason. Like I said, a lot of that shit is really fucking just everyone trying to mask something in their music, and they're not actually saying anything. It’s like a horoscope. It’s vague bullshit that most people can relate to. And it doesn’t evoke a lot of reaction. And ultimately that’s kind of boring. But that shit’ll fade out, and it’s not gonna stick around.

A: I mean, the last thing anyone needs is another rock band. So how do you make a rock band and actually say something? Especially if all bands are in the same scene, go to the same bars, all fuckin’ play together, and all have the same friends. It’s tough to set yourself a part and do something that’s unconventional.

A couple weeks ago, at about 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, a dude with a laptop was DJing on the Union Square subway platform. I was like, Jesus, even street musicians use computers.
S: That sounds authentic.

A: What happened to the days of the pot and pan drummer?

S: He’s gone the way of the Macbook pro. It’d be so funny to see that dude in the ghetto with his laptop. Touché would steal that shit.

Is there anything about your band or your music that makes you feel misunderstood?
S: Ultimately, I have no interest in making people think a certain way, so once something’s available for an audience, they can think whatever they want, and that’s fine. The one thing that we’re gonna be misunderstood about is that people are gonna assume we moved to New York to become some successful band or something, which is such a fucking joke to me because, like we said, the last thing that anyone needs—or New York specifically—is another rock band. If we wanted to make it big, this is probably the last place we would move. It's important to keep in mind that we’re not here to be a part of any sort of scene. There's a healthy independent rock music scene here, but I don’t necessarily think we feel like a part of that. I don’t think we felt a part of the scene in San Francisco.

A: And I don’t think we have an interest to play a part in the fuckin' like teen sitcom that scenes are.

S: Yeah, exactly. We’ve always stood on our own, and we’re going to continue to do so.

Coming to New York, what are your thoughts on the music scene here, compared to San Francisco?
S: It feels very similar. I mean, it’s musicians hanging out with musicians and I feel like that’s just what’s gonna happen in a major city. And everyone’s on the fuckin’ internet, everyone’s into the same shit, it’s the same shit. It feels very similar.

A: There's more money here.

S: It’s much more corporate here. Every show is aligned to some sort of brand, or it’s presented by someone. You don’t really get that kind of stuff in the Bay Area.

A: No, definitely. That’s the difference. New York is like America’s corporate nutsack.

S: Or just the sperm.

A: And I feel like musicians here expect to make a living off their music, whereas in the Bay, it’s like, “Yeah, you know, we opened for this band at this 150 capacity venue and it sold out and we’re stoked! We put out a 7 inch!” And that’s good enough. Here, musicians are a little bit more spoiled.

S: But there’s a lot more opportunity financially in New York. And sometimes that means aligning yourself with some brand that you don’t necessarily like. It’s not like the days where you could fucking put out a record and sell 20,000 copies and make a living off that. That’s not a reality anymore.

A: Honestly, it’s a necessity these days to take that corporate money because you’re certainly not gonna get it anywhere else.

That’s why I’ve never understood why people get pissed that bands let their songs be used for advertisements. A buddy of mine had a song on Dexter, and got paid. What's the big deal?
S: He really sold out—about to pay his rent for the year. It’s a reason to stay on the outside in terms of that kind of stuff. It kinda comes to either being able to sustain your living as an artist, or keep your bullshit integrity and fucking work at a pizza shop. It’s a pretty easy decision for me. I basically do whatever I can to be able to perpetuate our existence.

A: You know Marc Maron? I was watching that show the other day and he has a really good quote about what we’re talking about. Something like, it’s easy to maintain your integrity when no one is offering to buy it out.

I don’t make a lot of money, and it's a struggle to pay rent. And sometimes you write a thing that you’re not proud of, but you get paid.
A: It allows you to go on and write the next thing.

S: And the attitude in Europe versus the U.S.—well maybe the rest of the world versus the U.S.—is they don’t give a fuck if your music is used in any sort of commercial or anything like that. A lot of people in Europe are like, oh yeah, that’s how I discovered your band. That’s fucking sick.

A: It’s just a more realistic expectation of the role of music.

S: And yeah like I said before, as an artist, you’re not going to get money anywhere else. You’re not going to get it from the government; you’re not going to get it from people buying records. You’re left with no other choice. Yeah, it sucks, but you have to do it.

You gotta keep the lights on.
S: Yeah, I mean, there’s a roof to the sort of things that we would associate ourselves with.

What is something you wouldn’t associate yourself with?
S: Something just absolutely evil, like McDonald’s.

You wouldn’t soundtrack a commercial for the dollar menu?
S: Maybe under a pseudonym.

A: Yeah. Maybe if they put individual tracks on the dollar menu. Then maybe.

S: Download codes.

A: They should sell mp3’s at McDonald’s.

S: You get a double cheeseburger and fries and the new single, the new Real Estate track.

What a world that would be.
S: That’s a great world, I would live there. If only it were that good.

A: It’s not too far off.

S: It would be, like, Maroon 5 instead.

A: Doritos or Mountain Dew.

S: I would totally do a Mountain Dew commercial. As long as it's a Code Red ad. I’m really into Code Red.

A: You know what’s weird? They have proprietary Mountain Dew blends at Taco Bell. Baja Blast, you can’t get that anywhere else.

S: Baja Blast rules!

A: I didn’t believe that. I thought, you gotta be able to get it somewhere else. But that’s such a smart marketing move, you know?

I’m so happy to hear that you guys like Mountain Dew. I always take shit for liking Mountain Dew.
S: It’s extreme, dude.

A: Do the dew.

S: By the way, we receive no money for this.

A: Sheer love for the product.

S: I am not being paid by the Pepsi Company right now. Or Real Estate.

What are you guys doing till the record is out?
A: I’m trying to find a job that I can quit.

S: If anyone’s out there willing to hire a guy that’s gonna quit two weeks later—

A: I’ll do anything.

S: Really? You should talk to the people at Mountain Dew.

You guys should get Baja Blast to sponsor your tour.
S: That’d be so sick.

A: Have a little download code in the cap, in random bottles.

S: It’d be like ICP with Faygo.

A: We gotta get our own flavor too, eventually.

S: Brooklyn Burst, what would be in that?

It’d be kale flavored.
A: Like designer cookware, 100% cane sugar. Served by a guy with a moustache and a little vest.

S: A mixologist.

A: Some ironic thing, like “I’m the Mountain Dude.”

You really should work for Mountain Dew.
S: I know right? Someone’s gotta hire me. I’m basically a snack culture think tank right here. I guess if I wasn’t doing music that’s what I’d do. First music, second snacks.

A: Sometimes it feels like that’s what we’re doing. Modern music culture is basically like engineering junk food sometimes.

S: We’re just doing this just for snacks. Just trying to feed the minds of young mixologists everywhere.

Do you guys ever get confused for the Weeknd? Are you asked this question in every interview?
S: Like once, maybe. We played a show in Phoenix, and some people thought we were him. People who can’t figure that out, man, I have no fucking pity for. You have a phone. You have the internet. Hopefully you know how to spell. I don’t know. Shit sucks, whatever. That’s how I feel about it. I do not really do it at all.

A: Yeah, fuck him, he’s Canadian.

He probably doesn’t even like Mountain Dew.
S: Hell no. They probably have some weird Mountain Dew in Canada, some weird off-brand shit.

There's probably trees in it or something.
S: Yeah. Ginkgo biloba in it. Ginger root.

A: Canadian shit.

S: No food coloring. That’s the whole fun of Mountain Dew. Dying your fucking guts red.

Eric Sundermann does the Dew like three times a week. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy