“This whole album is about two or three people,” Will Anderson professes, after a bit of healthy prodding. Anderson, a tall Wisconsin-to-Canada transplant, and the chief force behind Vancouver, British Columbia noise pop mavens Weed, can’t hide anything. At shows, he looms over most people in the crowd, taking refuge only behind a pair of glasses affixed to his face. Over the phone from his Vancouver, British Columbia home, he lets his feelings hang bare, describing in great detail the emotional duress that surrounded the sessions for his band’s newest long player, Running Back, released April 7.
In early 2014, Weed was in disarray. Though they were headed to record the followup to 2013’s Deserve, a head-turning slab of lush noise rock, the pistons that drove the band were slowing down. Longtime drummer Bobby Siadat was leaving the band. Guitarist Kevin Doherty was returning to school soon. Will and bassist Hugo Noriega were starting to grind each other’s nerves. On top of all this, Will had been through a wrenching friendship breakup that left him stranded in a new city with a pile of unusable records. Put bluntly, Will felt like his friends had turned their backs on him.
Seeing Weed slow down as 2013 came to a close, Will had a burning impulse to tour. He pegged that desire onto the Seattle punk band FF, whose record he was to release on his label, Cruising USA, and who he was to join as a second guitarist. After meeting FF at a show, Will fast became “soulmates” with the band, calling them every day, planning wide touring support for record.
A week away from moving to Seattle, negotiations fell apart. “It’s going to sound so stupid,” Will prefaces, detailing how the split began over the printing process for the album packaging. “I had been planning it for a year, and I had put all of this money into it, and to put it bluntly, they pulled the rug out from under me at the last second.” His backup plan for Weed’s impending stasis crumbled within a matter of days.
The split shattered Will. After putting so much stock in his new Seattle future, Will was dead on arrival. “I was exasperated. I was devastated,” Will admits. “I was like, fuck this, I’m running back to Vancouver,” he says.
Running Back, a forceful collection of songs, sharpens Weed’s emotional awareness into a finely-honed sickle. The album reads like a rash on a dog that licked its wounds too much, picking through multiple meanings of “running back” over the course of its ten songs. As with Deserve and the early singles, Will’s vocals lie buried underneath the cacophony, but Running Back’s moments of pain and exuberance shine through with equal fervor.
After the recording sessions for Running Back, Will stayed in Seattle for a short two months. He needed Weed, and over the course of 2014, realized how much he needed the close friends that make up the core of the band. “I moved back to Vancouver and Weed started picking up steam again.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Weed had a big 2014. The band toured the United States on the back of its first 12” record, signed with Fat Possum subsidiary Lefse Records, and played a string of shows with Canadian punk legends-in-the-making Fucked Up. They managed to do so while keeping their own DIY politics in check, too. Much to Weed’s surprise, Fucked Up agreed to work with Weed’s requirement to only play all-ages shows. “Everyone should have the same chance to see music,” Will says. “We try to make it a place where everyone has the same shot. We try to play places that keep it in the $5-7 range. And we have a pretty strict ‘no guest list’ policy, whether you’re our friend or you work for our label.”
Self-consciously prickly, Will refuses to rubberneck at his band’s own accomplishments in the past year. “There were no big moments,” he remarks. “Everything is gradual.”
Fucked Up’s notoriously tense interpersonal drama deflated the Weed camp’s aspirations for their future. Will and Hugo accepted the tour as an honor, but it also gave them concern for how success and professionalism could alter band dynamic. Will recalls thinking, “Oh, if we get successful, is this what we have to look forward to?”
Will and Hugo felt their grip on Weed’s meaning slip on the tour with Fucked Up. The two core members took two of their usual “touring guns,” Andrew and Gilbert, to fill in the place of Kevin’s guitar work and their constantly-revolving drummer, and had an additional friend on hand to help with the logistical stresses of the shows. “It just felt like we were losing our identity for a minute there,” Will laments.
Everyone should have the same chance to see music. We try to play places that keep it in the $5-7 range. And we have a pretty strict ‘no guest list’ policy, whether you’re our friend or you work for our label.”
Though Will speaks in a dry monotone that, at times, offers about as many contextual clues as a text conversation, he develops thoughts and feelings deliberately, rarely second-guessing himself. “Some of the things I’ve said in interviews have a bit of an edge to them,” he acknowledges, “but I think it’s good to be open about your feelings.” Hugo, whose drawl contrasts with Will’s as he drags out syllables to think, lets fewer words carry more frantic, excitable feelings.
Over the phone, the two of them carry the symbiotic, broken-in patter of siblings. When one veers into more heady territory, the other translates their thoughts. At one point, I ask a question and am greeted with a long pause. “Hugo face looks like he saw a ghost right now,” Will chimes, breaking the silence. “He doesn’t know how to answer that question.”
The storm and stress of living together, working together and touring together began to divide Will and Hugo. “We lived in the same room together,” Will recounts. “Not the same apartment but the same room.” With a chuckle, he adds, “my girlfriend at the time was also in the same room.” Will and Hugo spent time together to work on Weed, and not much else. “We had lost sight of our friendship,” Will admits, his voice wilting.
Hugo’s departure put Weed’s identity in flux. Will admits his shrinking core group was “losing track of the band itself.” With Kevin Doherty missing the two most recent tours, Bobby choosing to focus on his own music, and Hugo departed, the Weed of late 2014 felt like a drastically different entity than the band that Will, Kevin and Hugo had built from the ground up.
In October, Will gathered up the crew for Hugo’s final tour, a four day jaunt into Alberta with close friends and sonic comrades Naomi Punk. The band wanted to have a fun send-off, and to “not stress too much about it,” as Will puts it.
Sometime over the four days, stuffed into a tiny car and borrowing amps at every show, Will, Hugo and Kevin clicked again. “It sounds silly,” Will professes, “but [it was] kind of familiar, four boneheads in a car.” Speaking from Will’s Vancouver home, Hugo drew quiet as his bandmate intimated their relationships to each other and the band. “Weed without Hugo doesn’t make sense.”
The time spent away from Weed gave Hugo a saddening view at life without his crew of dedicated friends. ”I can’t imagine being in any other band, I don’t want to make music with [anyone else],” Hugo admits from Will’s Vancouver home. Before long, “Will asked me to rejoin the band.”
The band took the shot of energy from touring “like the old days,” and immediately set their sights on the future. Will, Hugo and Kevin drove back to Vancouver, and planned out their course for Running Back. First off, the album needed more work. “We all agreed that the record wasn’t sounding heavy enough,” so the Weed crew shacked up with Deserve producer Dylan Wall and gave the guitars the treatment they thought the album needed.
Even more pressing was the fact that Running Back still needed a home. Uninterested in ownership the Captured Tracks-owned Couple Skate would retain over the album, Weed decided to look at other options. While the band had always worked autonomously or with friends when releasing albums, they had an offer from a much larger unfamiliar entity. Fat Possum subsidiary Lefse Records had sent out an offer for a two-album deal, offering them the comforts of a larger label without the complicated relationships that accompany working with friends. “We didn’t want to be dicks to Ian and Andrew [from Couple Skate], who were our friends. We can be dicks to the people in Lefse,” Will professes, before adding “they’ve been really cool…but they’re not our homies.”
In Running Back to Vancouver, to each other, Weed united in a personal kinship stronger than ever before. The album, finally due April 7 on Lefse, presents a unified progression from Deserve, showcasing more of the harmonically-rich riffing while refining the band’s emotive edge. Near the end of our second interview, Will and Hugo both begin talking over each other about the present, energized state of Weed. “The three of us, Kevin, Hugo and I are feeling tighter than ever,” Will proclaims, “We drifted and then kind of came back,” Hugo goes on to detail. As we begin to switch subjects, Will interjects. “When I say ‘tighter’ … we’re not well-practiced.” One gets the feeling that as long as the three core players in Weed have each other, practice can come later.