Bay Area-born, Brooklyn-residing band Weekend opens its sophomore album, Jinx, with nearly 30 seconds of beauty at its most musically archetypal. It’s the ambient “ahhhhhhhh” sound that you imagine when you see an object of deep desire, or the sound of heaven when depicted in the movies. This is not what Weekend sounds like, and this peace is not a recurring element on the album. Even at its most melodic and mellow, there is a duality to any prettiness that imbues the moment with dread or doom or fatal, existential reality. If that opening sound is heaven, then what follows is the dragging back to reality, or possibly hell.
Considering the place frontman Shaun Durkan was in his life when writing Jinx, and the change that has occurred by leaving his lifetime-long residence of California, both the duality and darkness make sense.
“We were on tour for Red, our EP,” Durkan recalls, after indicating that the story ahead would be a little confessional. “It was just a super self-destructive phase and I couldn’t get out of it for a long time; touring and not happy with my personal life and using whatever substances I could find. We were in town for CMJ and supposed to leave the next morning, and I ended up staying up all night and I went missing the next day. I turned my phone off and ended up having this fucked-up breakdown and missing my flight. It was a sign to me that I needed to chill out and take some time off.
“I started going to therapy as soon as I got back to Oakland,” he continues. “I’d never been before, even after my dad died. Those sessions ended up helping me confront a lot of things from my past and these songs came out of it. A lot of the songs are about my father.”
Durkan’s father, a London-born post-punk contributor through ‘80s under-the-radar, California-based group Half-Church, passed away in 2004, and his nickname, “Jinks,” is the source from which the album’s title comes. Or, at least partially, as the sophomore slump scoffing implied by the title is not an accident. But Tom Durkan was clearly influential on his son’s gravitation toward post-punk and shoegaze influences.
“It was really great,” Durkan says in seriousness, his surprising upbeat comment about his therapy more unexpected when considering the gloom of his music. “We were living in Oakland and I had lost my job so I was able to totally immerse myself in the whole process. And then with making the record, it turned out to be a great outlet to work through that stuff.”
Also present on the album was an unhappiness from Durkan and his bandmates—guitarist Kevin Johnson and drummer Abe Pedroza—with their old home region, a dissatisfaction that led to their moving across country.
“It wasn’t that I was prepared to leave the band,” Durkan clarifies on the decision to relocate. “I always planned on it to be a temporary thing. I felt like I had hit a wall in the Bay Area. I had always wanted to move to New York, when I was in high school and middle school I wanted to go to school out here. I decided I was going to try it and told them I was going to go in four months and I guess we would have just put the band on hold. But it was good timing that everyone wanted to come.
For drummer Pedroza, the decision wasn’t difficult; he wanted to move anyway.
“At that point I didn’t really think that there was anything keeping me in the Bay Area,” Pedroza recalls. “It’s changing there. There are certain neighborhoods that I don’t even recognize now. I felt like it was the beginning of a weird new era in the Bay Area, and I wasn’t feeling it.”
Still, despite nearly a year of living in New York, not much of their new environment is present on Jinx.
“It’s still pretty much a Bay Area record,” Durkan says. “I think it’s reflective of where we were at the time: frustrated and wanting to leave and trying new things. There are a lot of the lyrics that express that, even though I wasn’t trying to express that at the time, consciously at least.”
Having the record recorded before setting up shop in Brooklyn has its obvious benefits. “We had something to present already,” he continues. “It’s not like we came here trying to create something, working and recording… like, we wouldn’t have been able to make that record here because it is just so hard to pay rent here. It was possible in Oakland with cheap rent, but it still wasn’t easy.”
Since the move, the band seems happy and comfortable. The move to New York, like Durkan’s tour breakdown, is a rock and roll cliche for bands trying to make it. And while Weekend are in a competitive field as professional musicians, the small-fish-in-a-big-pond scenario does not worry them.
“There are a lot of bands here,” Pedroza notes, “but most of them are really bad.”
“It’s all still very exciting and new to us, and challenging,” Durkan adds, “and I think that was what we were looking for. In the Bay Area, when you tour and do what we were doing, you just sort of get by and become kind of complacent. That’s sort of impossible in New York. It requires a lot of effort to make it.”
Non-complacence is evident on Jinx. Weekend did not simply tinker with their sound presented on debut Sports and did not try to recreate the more accessible direction of the Red EP’s standout, “Hazel.” Jinx sort of splits the difference while still expanding into new territory, with some ‘80s dark wave influence detectable on “Rosaries” and “Celebration, FL.”
“Sports was just a different record,” Durkan explains. “We wanted it to be a real ‘fuck you’ to everyone. We were pretty unimpressed with the music we were hearing at the time. There weren’t a lot of bands mixing melody with aggression and noise like we did. So, the first record was more of a statement sound-wise. We were trying to be confrontational and aggressive unlike other bands were being at the time.”
“Now that we’ve sort of established that,” he continues, “I wanted to build upon it on this record. Part of that is me being more comfortable with vocals and singing and songwriting, but I think it was just the logical next step, to add a more vocal and lyrical narrative to what the music had already established. It’s more dynamic.”
“Looking back,” Durkan says, “it was kind of bold to come out with that sound. Everyone was in the same spot, writing about the beach and smoking weed, and we are totally not interested in that. It was difficult record. And there just aren’t a lot of people who put forth effort into listening. It’s just not in the culture. People want something more casual, an accessory. Sports asked for a lot of attention, and I think a lot of people aren’t up for that. Not that this new record is a breeze or anything, but I think we consciously made things a little more direct, a little more impactful. Something that could draw people in right off the bat.”
“To put it in perspective,” Perdroza chimes in, “my mom didn’t get Sports, but she gets this record.”
But Durkan is quick to remind that the slight softening of Weekend’s sound isn’t meant to be a compromise, and he is right in that , though more accessible than their previous LP, isn’t accessible in any traditional pop sense.
“I just read a review of the new Jay Z record that goes song-by-song,” he says, “and it says ‘he dumbed this track down and will probably quadruple his money because of it.’”
His ideas about making music in that manner are audible in Durkan’s delivery, similar to the tone Pedroza dons when comparing music that fishes for larger appeal to fast food: “It’s readily available, and it’s just fucking garbage that you stick down your throat,” he concludes.
“I expect there to be a reaction against that stuff,” Durkan says, referring to the music, and possibly the food. “There is going to be a generation of people that will be totally cognizant that they are being force-fed that shit. That active listening can totally enrich life, rather that your disposable record of the week that you listen to and then it’s off your iPod or whatever. A lot of people I think are aware of that, and I think when you find a record like ours or like Deafheaven’s that you can listen to 100 times, people appreciate that.”
It wasn’t on the first listen that the album’s opening sounds struck my interest, nor the second. So when Durkan mentions the importance of the “atmospheric noise” on Weekend’s albums, saying they “consider noise and texture even while we are writing,” the expectation is that the audience will consider the subtleties while listening. With a challenging album like Jinx, Weekend have fulfilled their duty by creating art intended to stimulate; all they can do is hope that audiences care about the rewards music can offer and realize that quick and fulfilling are rarely concepts that are tied together. And if the reaction to disposable pop is coming like Durkan expects, well, the sooner the better.