Weekend at Coney

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They’re mostly dressed in black, the four of them, standing outside Nathan’s on the corner of Stillwell and Surf. It’s a Saturday in late June, sunny and warm hovering around 80. The dog days are all still a month away, but it’s never pleasant to sweat so close to Coney Island’s flagship grease barn. Weekend’s people set a loose itinerary of carnival kicks and beach eats to allow Impose to spend some time with the boys before diving into talks about their upcoming release Jinx and, like, therapy and shit. “We don’t really have any money,” throws out Weekend frontman Shaun Durkan; the only dude around the boardwalk sporting black leather dress shoes. So, before we blow our pockets on the midway, Coors Light, and fried Oreo baskets, we’ll have to wait for Weekend’s PR team in the hopes that they can float the foursome through sundown at Coney’s Luna Park and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.

“We would’ve moved [to New York] even if we weren’t a band,” says drummer Abe Pedroza later that day.

It’s been almost a year since the former Oaklandites recorded Jinx, their sophomore Slumberland LP, and migrated to Brooklyn–almost three since their heralded debut Sports. And, like their previous releases, Weekend recorded their latest as a three-piece with Shaun Durkan, 28, tracking vocals, guitar, and bass; Kevin Johnson, 27, wielding the lead guit; and Abe Pedroza, 25, manning the skins. Only, there’s a familiar face in the mix: man about town Nic Ray, 26. Ray, a former roommate of the trio back in Oakland, was recruited to play bass for their upcoming tour, and, according to Durkan, is a necessary addition because “the new song’s are so much more complex that we sort of need a fourth member on stage…it helps to free me up to focus more on the vocals. It helps us get a little bit closer to the recorded version of the songs.” Ray’s presence also has the potential to assist in the whole getting-to-know-you process over the next few hours.

Food seems like a decent idea–it’s a little after noon and I’m certain we all woke up just in time for the damn thing–so we head over to Grimaldi’s across the street. But they don’t serve beer, so we get outta there in favor of finding some armpit dive around the corner. There’s no such joint, so we settle on Ruby’s for dogs, stories, and a couple plastic pints. Ruby’s, after all, is one of Travel Channel’s sexiest beach bars. Johnson tells us a story about at one amusement park he attended some guy got beheaded trying to retrieve his lost hat under one of those coasters where your legs are suspended. It’s one of those horrific tales everyone’s got about a roller coaster way back when. Ruby’s isn’t ideal, but we’re real people and enjoy the variety just as much as anyone else and continue to talk until their main manager arrives. Asif Ahmed, who will be with us the rest of the day, joins the banquet table next to one of their other managers. “They’re like teenagers,” Ahmed tells me later as we watch the gang bash into each other in bumper cars. “I can’t let them out of my sight, or they’ll just wander off.” Being a band like Weekend, I don’t blame ‘em for being disinterested in the whole camaraderie vibe everywhere they go…they don’t exactly play that kind of music, and Ahmed was being cute. We’re all trying to play the humanizing game.

Luna Park has a lot to offer the avid, bootleg thrill-seeker 70 miles outside of Six Flags Great Adventure. Nothing anyone hasn’t seen before, but when you’re pampered into capitulation by the stretches of the MTA and twentysomething adulthood, you tend to limit the possibilities of adolescent adventure. There are plenty of hydraulic arms; rudimentary, 20th century prize games; and sketchy high things to show your fiver an alright time. There’s also a 5-D cinema that looks like it’s housing a Tijuana Donkey Show, if you’re, like, really into dumping dollars into deceptive Third World jollies. We all start off on Spook-A-Rama because it has an elaborate animatronic dragon over the marquee. It’s the first of two haunted rides we’ll fuck with; and while Ghost Hole has the better name, it’s S-A-R that’ll incite the most joy.

“Working in a haunted house would be the funnest job–scaring people. I’d do that for $7/hr.,” Durkan tells me.
“Oh yeah.”

Ah, temporal fantasy, you really bring out the sweetness in us all.

Durkan and I squeeze into the Spook-A-Rama car designed for two kids a third of our age. Pedroza and Johnson stuff themselves into the next car, and, to Ray’s dismay, he’s left to experience the Halloween jaunt in comfort. “I have to go alone!?”

Throughout the lunging bodies, loud pops, screeches, howls, and general mutilated fare, Durkan and I talk his connection with producer Monte Vallier of Ruminator Audio, who has recorded all Weekend’s material to date; the meaning of the artwork and the essence of a few tracks on Jinx. “Monte was in a band in the ‘80s with my dad (Tom Durkan) , Half Church. My dad passed away when I was 19, but I kept in touch with Monte…holy shit–a skeleton draped in tattered cloth leaps toward the cab–I told him I was starting a band, and he was really interested in it, and, basically, offered to record our first record for free. At that time we had no money.”

The clean, black sheen of the crocodile on the cover of Jinx fits the progression of your sound. What prompted the design?

Durkan: I do all the design for the band, except for the first record. I wanted something really stark and modern and chameleon. It felt really modern and kind of futuristic in a way, but also brings up ideas from the past; it almost looks like a dinosaur skull, or something like that. My idea was to be clean and stark and minimal, but bold. There’s actually three different covers for the record. The crocodile head is the digital version, there’s a bouquet of flowers for the CD, and then the LP is a crucifix that I bought in Germany. I put [the crucifix] in my pedal case to fly back, and when I opened my pedal case it was missing a head. It was this painted black crucifix with no head. There’s more of a story that I’m trying to tell visually then has been shown so far. There’s a lot of artwork that hasn’t been revealed yet. All the releases have different covers. Even the posters have their own images. There’s like 12 or 13 different objects that we painted for the artwork for the new record.

It seems like one could speculate as to the connection of the crocodile on the cover with Florida because you have a song called “Celebration, FL” on Jinx. Any relation?

Yeah, that was kind of an unconscious thing, but it definitely makes a lot of sense. I’ve never been there. We drove through it once and I thought it was a super unsettling place, I guess. It’s owned by Disney and it was sort of created to be this 'Pleasantville' location. I became really intrigued with it. It’s hard to be a working artist, but there are a lot of easier ways to make a living, and live a life. And I think that song is about fantasizing about giving it all up and just living a normal lifestyle. Celebration is obviously not normal, but it is in the sort of designed and intentional way so as to seem normal, so it’s maybe the strangest place to live.

I don’t want to assume what you’re talking about with the lines “I’m feeling sick, sick, sick in my heart” on the opening track “Mirror”, but that’s a pretty heavy statement to open up with. What exactly are you uneasy about with that refrain?

I had this dream that I ran into my father on this lake, and he hadn’t actually died–he was just actually playing a trick on everyone. The more we hung out I realized I was more like him in this weird, dark, and tragic way. Not that he was only a bad guy, but he was troubled. It’s about looking at myself in a mirror, and analyzing that and coming to grips with that. It wasn’t until when we lived in Oakland–we went on tour for awhile and I had this kind of mental breakdown in New York and went missing for a day. I missed my flight home. I stayed an extra couple of days with my manager Asif [Ahmed], and he was like you need to go to therapy and you need to stop drinking and all this stuff. It wasn’t until I got back to Oakland and started going to therapy that I actually gave any of this any thought, and that’s right when we started working on the new record. And this record is very much about that, like facing the really hard truths about yourself and trying to change them and ultimately not being able to change certain things about yourself you’d like to.

Without therapy would you have been able to create this album?

I don’t know because I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my father. And ultimately it was about that. That was the only thing I was thinking about that day. And I think the whole experience ends up bubbling up at weird times; at really emotional, pivotal times. It was a combination of being tired from touring–probably from drinking too much, and doing drugs. But also there was this beautiful aspect of being in New York that I really loved, and I didn’t believe that…and I had just met someone that I really liked. The new record is definitely the product of the six months after that, trying to put myself back together.

We’re long off the ride and have been standing outside Spook-A-Rama for a good ten minutes, talking. Continuing. For good reason. The title Jinx is a far cry from an ironic joke about the “sophomore slump”; it was Shaun’s father’s nickname for him. The ultimate goal of the day is to ride the Cyclone, but we’ve just started, so we’re in no hurry to peak the afternoon quite yet. We’ll play a couple of water gun games and all that before attempting the historic coaster. Pedroza’s a deadeye, winning a couple plush animals that he’s reluctant to carry around. Johnson and Ray throw darts at balloons. Ray comes close to matching half of Pedroza’s haul with two of three hits; not enough to claim the prize. “That loss is going to haunt me,” Ray quips with yet another clever aside.

I get the chance to chat a little with Ahmed while the boys crash into children and each other in bumper cars under an air-brushed effigy of Eli Manning. He tells me that the trio approached him around the time of Sports to manage them, but he was apprehensive about taking on a band that sounded like “Jesus and Mary Chain bullshit.” “They’re from California and the culture of ‘meh’ and Pitchfork. I’m trying to build rockstars,” he asserts, sweating, while holding Pedroza’s stuffed animals. “They sent me some of the early demos [of Jinx]. I said, ‘I’m not putting this out.’ It took them a year to finish the record.”

For Jinx, Weekend have found a balance between the saddo, scraping punk of Sports and the stark bounce of the Red EP (2011). Now, Durkan’s vocals are more striking and intelligible while Kevin Johnson’s abrasive guitar work is more tempered, patient, and subtle; a conscious restriction from his unhealthy penchant for aural masochism on Sports. It’s all an evolutionary process, and it seems quite natural, considering the bubbly, Madchester-friendly dynamics of Jinx highlight “Celebration, FL”, for Johnson to reflect, “If I saw us [live] when I was younger, I would’ve said we sounded soft.”

“We've always been the kind of band that really likes stripping things down and taking a new approach to the live aspect of playing songs,” says Johnson. “Studio is meant to be really transcendent and surreal, you know? You're supposed to be able to use whatever fucking sounds you want, just like pull in some samples, pull in, like, 12 guitar tracks. Just make it sound magical. And playing live is something totally different where you're just trying to tap into the energy of the song, first and foremost.”

There’s a bit of a wait for the Cyclone. This gives me a chance to talk to Johnson about the progression of his guitar work with Weekend. The clatter of the launch track and the screeches of the Cyclones’ wheels tussle about in the background of our conversation. “Since the beginning of the band I’ve always tried to do interesting things with the guitar. Not to try to really make it sound like a guitar…so I was experimenting a lot like that on Sports–running tons of pedals, doing lots of noise and feedback and mixing that, which is more of a traditional tone. I think I felt sort of burnt out on that, and started doing these synthesized sounds with the guitar that I liked for the same reasons.”

So what pedals, or what series of pedals enabled the synthesized sound you’re talking about?

Johnson :I got this guitar with a MIDI pickup in it, and so I’ve been able to run through this Roland pedal…you can get kind of a base layer of tone and run that through whatever kind of delay, fuzz, reverb pedals you got going on. It’s really cool in terms of dynamic. You can sort of hold notes, slide notes, cut things off. You can do a lot of different things you can’t do traditionally with guitar. I’ve been playing guitar a long time, but I’m not a super traditional shredder. I’ve never had music lessons, I grew up just playing punk stuff and I don’t have any real interest in the technical nature of guitar playing. I'm more interested in using it as this kind of expressive thing.

Johnson and I pile into the back car. It’s a similar situation to what Durkan and I experienced before. Everything at Luna Park is meant for a smaller variety of human. Johnson and I are over 6’ a piece so, it’s not too adequate for our stature, but we deal and find slight comfort in throwing our arms up at every drop. I learn quickly that Weekend’s down with coasters. We finish off the day around dusk with a convo at a bar and grill on Surf Ave. next to a wasted couple that keeps trying to butt in during the interview. “Whaaaddddurrrrr you guyzz talkin' about?” Guns N’ Roses version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” plays over the speakers. Anywhere, USA, ladies and gentlemen.

“[Jinx] is a much more complex record and it just took a lot longer to finish. With our first record we had a really simple sort of objective: to create something really powerful and confrontational and angry and dark. I think we did that well,” says a calm Durkan hunched over on a small stool. “I think our goals for this record were to maintain that tone, but also be a little more immediate, a little more accessible. Provide a little bit more clarity, and to deliver a little bit more of a narrative.”

Jinx is available now via Slumberland. Catch the release show Friday, July 26, at The Independent in San Francisco.