Weekend Guitarist Kevin Johnson on New Album ‘Jinx,’ Moving to Brooklyn + the Trouble With Rock Criticism
It's been said before, but it bears repeating: Rock critics aren't much good. Reviewing an album like Weekend's excellent new sophomore effort, 'Jinx,' they'll rely on tired adjectives to describe the washed-out guitars and pained vocals and try to sum up the songs with a neat tagline: San Francisco shoegazers turn down the distortion and embrace melody on their most accessible collection yet.
When the back-story involves a mental breakdown, such as the one singer and main songwriter Shaun Durkan suffered in 2011, journalists get especially excited. Given the chance to interview Weekend guitarist Kevin Johnson, they might even overstep their bounds and ask how you go about helping a friend and bandmate through something so traumatic.
"Now you're pushing my comfort level," Johnson tells Diffuser.fm, sounding more protective -- and rightfully so -- than annoyed or defensive. "I've known Sean since I was 11. We've been through a lot of ups and downs together. I've learned to sort of bend with the curve and just kind of let him know I'm there for him. I think when we were younger; I tried to take more of a parental role: 'You need to treat yourself better,' try to really encourage him that way. But, I think I've learned that it's better to let someone know you're there for them and not try to force them out of whatever patterns they might be stuck in."
It's easy enough to hear echoes of those patterns in 'Jinx,' especially on songs like 'Mirror,' the slick and gloomy post-punk stunner that kicks off the disc in Cure-like fashion. "I feel sick, sick, sick in my heart," Durkan sings, delivering one of those lines sure to be quoted in every review, for better or worse.
As Johnson says, 'Mirror' was one of the first songs he, Durkan and drummer Abe Pedroza wrote for the record. The trio knew the follow-up to their acclaimed 2010 debut, 'Sports,' was going to be a departure, but it wasn't until they started recording -- a lengthy process that followed Durkan's six-month post-breakdown break -- that they realized 'Jinx' would be something special.
"I try to describe this to people: Making a record is this mysterious, scary endeavor," Johnson says. "Maybe some people have this perfect idea of what exactly the record is going to sound like, and they accomplish that, and that's their workflow. I think for most people, it's more of an experimental process, looking at this blank canvas and it's this huge thing and it starts to rear its head and take shape."
"Slowly it becomes this thing, way bigger," he adds. "It has all the things you've imagined, but also all these other things as well. That's the scariest aspect, but also one of the real rewards in record making. Being able to impart on this journey and having it eventually come together in a way you never imagined."
Rather than rush this journey, as critics and industry folks might have wanted, Weekend pondered each song, ruminating on initial takes for weeks before reworking and revising. Durkan has called 'Jinx' a "more focused" record, and that might account for the more reigned-in, melodic feel. It might also have something to do with the sacrifices they made during the sessions, as they holed up in an Oakland doctor's office and lived the life of rock 'n' roll peasants, scrounging up spare change to buy food.
"When we wrote our first record, we were all sort of dabbling in our former lives, if you will, writing the record when we had the time," Johnson says. "But then by the time writing a second LP came around, we were in it, fully in it. Full-time musicians. That isn't a very easy thing to be in this day in age."
Weekend solidified their commitment to music after wrapping up 'Jinx,' when they decided to pack their bags and make a long-talked-about move from San Francisco to Brooklyn, where they now reside. As Johnson says, relocating made sense, since their manager lives in New York City, and everyone agreed it was time for a change of scenery. Once Durkan set the date, everyone was on board.
"It was pretty amazing that there were no conflicts and all of us were just ready to move our lives," Johnson says. "We didn't have any qualms about it. We grew up in the Bay Area and had spent so much time there it was becoming a bit stagnant. So, being here has been great."
They've already staked out their favorite Greenpoint dive bars -- catch them at Irene's, perhaps doing Jell-o shots -- and while Johnson says they might return to California to work with longtime producer Monte Vallier on their next album, it's too soon to tell. In the meantime, critics might start formulating their narratives: San Francisco shoegazers embrace the grittiness of NYC and craft their meanest album yet. Or something.
"Music journalism in general is hard," Johnson says, reflecting to the backhanded "surprisingly tuneful"-type plaudits being thrown at 'Jinx.' "I feel like people really like stereotypes and pigeonholed bands. Any creative endeavor, they want to distill as much as possible. As an artist, it's sort of your obligation to kind of show the depth of your practice and show all the different facets of what you do as a musician or an artist."