Baltimore’s guitar-and-drums duo Weekends, like many good two-piece rock bands, seem to work best within their own limitations. If you strip the rock ‘n’ roll sound to its bare essentials — rhythm, melody, and harmony — there’s a special kind of isolated viewpoint to be discovered. While each nuance is all the more out in the open and subject to scrutiny, this can become a blessing or a curse.
Thankfully, in Weekends case, it’s the former rather than the latter. Without fully concentrating on bass or even vocals, the art rock duo have arrived at a dense yet permeable sound uniquely theirs. How is this possible? As suggested in this TMT interview, it has as much to do with the close friendship between guitarist Adam Lepel and drummer Brendan Sullivan as it does with the careful balance between not taking oneself too seriously but still becoming better musicians — naturally, of course.
So, you’re in New York right now — what are you up to?
Brendan Sullivan: I’m actually on my dinner break at work right now.
Adam Lempel: [We got] to New York on Thursday — finishing up recording our next album.
Are you recording this in Baltimore, too?
AL: No, we’re just recording in New York with a producer named Jeremy Scott. He did Frankie Rose and the Outs — their record, the first Vivian Girls record, and our friends Total Slacker — a single that they did. And some other stuff.
Oh, very cool. That’s great. How do you like the experience compared to the last album you recorded?
AL: It was like night-and-day easier.
AL: It was a lot easier. The last album that we had — Strange Cultures — was actually something we recorded ourselves with friends who could help us out. Pretty early on, almost two years ago. We just recorded it at local colleges, using their AV equipment — a school called MICA, etc. But we had our friends help us out with recording it and we didn’t really have a good idea what we were doing with the equipment but we just made do. And then when Friends [Records] were releasing it, they got Rob Girardi — who’s a good producer, mixer and engineer — to remix it. So, it sounded way better than what we had before!
AL: A lot more of a trial and error on the last one. This has been a lot more like working with a professional who knows what he’s doing. It was less stressful, I think.
That’s cool. Do you have a title for it yet?
AL: There’s a song on it called “Trust” and we were thinking of calling the whole album Trust, but we’re not sure yet.
I like that. As a two-piece rock ‘n’ roll band, what have you noticed as far as the pros and cons of being a two-piece group?
BS: Only in the past year, being too quickly referenced to other two-piece bands.
AL: But what about at the end of the show? How many times has someone come up to us at the end of a show and been like, “You guys are awesome! But do you guys need someone to play bass for you?” [Laughs]
AL: “Do you guys need a bassist?” [Laughs] That’s the other thing — it’s pretty easy to organize practices and to tour and travel. We can travel in a little Sedan. That’s been really practical. We haven’t had to get everybody there for practices, shows, and clearing all their schedules. It’s just two people, which is easy.
BS: Things kind of are 50-50.
AL: Yeah. That often makes it hard in some sense. Maybe if we had three people there’d always be a majority, for making decisions. This is kind of a weird relationship.
BS: I speak for the band a little more. We each have an equal vote, so…
AL: We had a couple standpoints.
You haven’t had any Planes, Trains and Automobiles moments on tour, have you?
BS: Not yet.
BS: We’re going to Europe in a few weeks, so, we’ll see. It’s just going to be the two of us, we’re not bringing anyone else along. Maybe over there, y’know? Like a Eurotrip adventure.
AL: It’s kind of fun. The only thing I would say is it’s kind of fun because you get to ride in the car and hang out. Brendan doesn’t want to quit at the end of the night. So, he’s always up to keep partying, even when he’s fallen asleep. I’m sorry! [Laughs]
AL: I’m always like, “We gotta go to bed! We gotta go to sleep! It’s 4 a.m. and we’re driving around.”
BS: I just never want the night to end.
AL: He’s just like, “Let me call these dudes and see what they’re doing.” It’s like 5 in the morning. “Let’s find a place to sleep.” It’s tricky, sometimes, finding places to sleep. It’s tricky.
Yeah. Whenever I see bands play or when I’ve toured before, you just announce it at the end of your set and hopefully someone comes up to you and offers the space.
AL: Especially if you’re not sure you wanna sleep at that guy’s space.
AL: Call me neurotic. [Laughs] No, we haven’t had any real […] We’ve never had to sleep in the car, let’s put it that way.
BS: We’ve had nothing but good experiences.
AL: ‘Lotta floors.
The floor is a good place to be. You guys are going to Europe, have you been there before?
BS: No, I’ve never left the country, really. Adam has traveled a little more than I have. We’ve never really toured that far. We still hit the West Coast, so, it’s kind of a big jump.
A lot of critics describe your sound as really “dirty,” “sloppy,” or “muddy.” What do you make of those comparisons? The reason I ask is when I listen to certain songs like “Rain Girls,” it seems like a lot of technical aptitude is being displayed and not just thrown together.
AL: I think it’s a delicate balance between a messy sound and something that’s really pretty. I’m always trying to balance that out. I have a real respect for a band like Pavement because a lot of times it feels the music is falling apart but then it makes its own sense.
“I think it’s a delicate balance between a messy sound and something that’s really pretty. I’m always trying to balance that out. I have a real respect for a band like Pavement because a lot of times it feels the music is falling apart but then it makes its own sense.”
AL: Some of the earlier stuff. Things that would be by accident and then it stays in and gets incorporated into the song. We’re both just really guitar players. Learning to play drums, we both kind of had to figure it out, especially in the beginning we weren’t very good. [Laughs]
BS: Some of the older songs I can’t even play anymore. I wrote the drum parts when I was still learning to play drums. So, now, it just makes no sense… But I was also going to say that I think a lot of it — maybe the reason I don’t pay too much mind — maybe being compared to something sloppy or lo-fi or whatever, in a lot of ways I think it’s something that is being written about a lot more in recent years. It’s easy to kind of hang those labels on bands because it’s easy to lump something under shit-gaze or lo-fi or whatever you wanna call it. But I don’t really […] care.
AL: [Laughs] Brendan has been doing solo recordings for a long time that were just kind of lo-fi basement recordings of yourself playing guitar?
BS: Except this was in Florida so there was no basement. [Laughs]
AL: Okay. I think we’d always been into this washy, distortion kind of sound — where the distortion overtakes everything. The other thing I was going to say — [sound of glass breaking] oh, shit, sorry — because its only two of us, we don’t use loops or any prerecorded stuff. Everything — the low notes and the high notes and the melodies and everything backing — has to be played on one guitar. Also, because we’re kind of aggressive and running around and jumping around at shows, probably contributes to the slop in some ways. We’re playing two parts at once a lot of times.
AL: If you mess up, it’s pretty [obvious] because there’s no bass or other guitar or any instruments to cover it.
It’s pretty out in the open. It’s interesting you mention Pavement. When I think about their stuff, they’re not afraid to be playful. I can hear some of the stuff in your music — even though it’s kind of heavy at times, it’s also all about having fun. I like the balance of those two worlds.
BS: Like what Adam was saying about having a balance, there’s nothing worse than being a band that’s taking themselves way too seriously.
AL: Also, because it’s so heavy, there’s sort of this feeling of being locked into this heavy/hard rock thing.
For the writing process for you guys, does it start with one person’s idea? Do you jam on it? Or does it take place in the same room from scratch?
AL: To do our songs?
Yeah, the songs. Does one person come in with an idea and you work on it? Or does it start with the two of you?
BS: Like Adam was saying, we’re both primarily guitar players, so, usually someone will present an idea on guitar and then we’ll kind of work from there.
AL: Some of the best stuff comes out by accident. We were just in a practice and we just played. Y’know, you play and it’s like a little off and you tweak it and tie it down a little bit and that’s it. Some of the best stuff is like that because it’s different when you have distortion and all the effects and everything and it’s coming out of an amp really loud. You kind of feel what it’s going to be like. You kind of play a little differently. Some of the best stuff comes out when you’re in the middle — or someone plays just out of intuition. You aren’t in control of that person, you just play. Then you’re like, “Oh, that sounds great.” Then you can kind of tweak it, as opposed to thinking about how you want it to sound beforehand about how you want it to sound.
BS: Yeah, we don’t usually have a whole song structured already and presented to each other. A lot of it, too, came from tape-recording practices and just jamming and recording something. Then you listen back and structure the song around something that you liked that you did kind of intuitively… That’s also why most of the times there aren’t really pre-written lyrics because it involves being in the moment. Most of the time, it’s just made up on the spot and then you just remember what you did and that becomes the part.
“When we first started, we were going to a lot of Ponytail shows.”
That’s actually one of the questions I wanted to ask. It definitely seems like the drums and guitars are pushed pretty far in the front and the vocals don’t seem to me like the main thing necessarily. Did you guys know early on that you wanted vocals in the group or is this something that kind out of experimenting?
BS: It’s been kind of different over the time since we first started. The first interview that we did actually, it’s funny to look back on, because we talked about how the vocals were supposed to be very secondary and pretty far in the background as another instrument. On our whole first album, which was recorded kind of very loosely, we didn’t think too hard about the vocals. It was almost more of an instrumental album and the vocals just added a layer. Over time, we’ve definitely become more vocal-centered.
On the new album — the stuff that hasn’t come out yet — there’s a lot more actually prevalent vocal parts. It’s kind of been changing over time as becoming a more crucial part of the songwriting.
AL: Even then, it’s still secondary or equal to the guitars that drive a lot of the songs. There’s a lot of pop music where the vocals [are] so up front and it’s about the lyrics in the song. The way that I listen to music is not listening to the lyrics as much and just melodies and vocal parts. I used to love Radiohead, growing up. And a lot of times, I had no idea what he [Thom Yorke] was saying. Also, it’s freeing in the sense that with the lyrics, I don’t feel so self-conscious about it because they’re a little bit more behind.
BS: We’re not really presenting a story through the lyrics, it’s about finding the right tone and feeling that matches the song. It comes on its own a lot of times. It’s something we sort of feel pretty freely about something that matches along with the guitar part or whatever.
AL: When we first started, we were going to a lot of Ponytail shows. [laughs]
One of you two does a lot of DJ stuff, is that true? What’s the experience of spinning records compared to playing live with Weekends?
AL: I don’t DJ at all — I work at a record store. I listen to a lot of records but no DJing at all. I was in this band called Winks. Brendan used to DJ in college. That was before we started this band, over three years ago.
Was that still in Baltimore?
AL: Yeah. Just like college parties and shows and stuff. Actually, I’m going to be DJing next month. This kid asked me to DJ something — a Dustin Wong show, actually.
AL: I have no idea what I’m going to do.
I really love that album he put out, Infinite Love. Just amazing stuff.
AL: Yeah, when I first saw him do his solo stuff it was in a room with 15 people. He was pulling a guitar string off his guitar and making some weird sound with it. It sounded like the guitar died. [Laughs] It was really incredible.
You probably get this question a lot, but what’s your take on living in Baltimore? The music scene still seems to be growing a lot and receiving a lot of attention. How long have you been in Baltimore?
BS: Well, we each came here to go to respective colleges. We both graduated and stuck around. Almost six years.
AL: I was actually in New York for a year and came back. It’s been like six years on and off. Baltimore’s beautiful. It’s really cheap to live. There’s a ton of music. I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but it feels like the social life of so many kids just revolves around shows. Every weekend is two or three shows going on where you know everyone’s gonna be there and you go there to see every band.
BS: The best part it’s not only music shows but there’s a lot of theater stuff — DIY plays, a lot of art openings and smaller gallery stuff. I stuck around, part of the reason, was because some of my friends started up a gallery after college called Open Space. Which seems like the whole culture is centered around the arts. I’ll go to openings and shows and everything.
AL: There aren’t too many bars. People aren’t hanging out in bars — I’m sure some people are. Our community of maybe 500 people aren’t hanging around [there].
BS: I actually have to go back to work now. [Laughs]. I’m on my dinner break and I’m a little late. But thanks so much, man!
Yeah, good to talk to you!
AL: I’ll keep talking!
Cool. There’s that video you guys have for the song “Totem.” I thought it was really rad. Who did that — since you mentioned some of the art stuff that’s going on in. Is that someone from Baltimore, too?
AL: That’s actually Alice Cone who I met at a show in New York. She did a video for Ducktails that I saw and also there’s this band in New York called Coasting that we played a couple shows with. I was really psyched about the way that she uses color.
[Photo: Ra Rah]