LAST TIME The Weird Weeds played Portland I got to Berbati's late and had to listen to a bunch of exited fans talk about how amazing and crazy and transcendent the band's performance had been. I also missed them in Austin (where they're based out of) a few months after that, but in the meantime I continued to collect their music, played it obsessively, and became a bigger and stauncher fan. So now they have a new record out called Weird Feelings, and it's such a stunner that I hereby promise you and everyone you know and everyone that knows them that I'll make it to this show. Hell or high water.
Weird Feelings is a beautiful 12-song look at the state of modern psychedelia. You could call it folk, but it also gets big and epic, and ventures into prog-rock waters—clattering loud and vibrant—before dropping off into barely there guitar picking and ambient noise. It has the feel of an orchestrated record, but it's all fragments, changes that come out of nowhere, blossoming moments of pure, easygoing, early morning, stoner pop. On record there's trombone, kalimba, pedal steel, and choral vocals, but live, Sandy Ewen, Nick Hennies, and Aaron Russell handle all this on a tight, smart, guitar/drums/vocals setup.
Weird Feelings is in stores now. The band also has a split 7-inch with Shapes and Sizes coming out on Sufjan Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty label. I talked to Russell and Hennies before they left for a West Coast and Southwest tour.
MERCURY: What does the word "weird" mean to you?
AARON RUSSELL: I had to think about that a little bit. I seem to use it a lot to describe some negative or incomprehensible behavior or thing, like, "Why are you acting so weird today?" or "Sorry I was being weird about that," or "This food tastes weird." I guess I also use it in a more positive way to refer to things that seem especially interesting or striking in an unfamiliar or unexpected way, like, "Look at that amazing, weird-looking bug."
Why did you decide to go with Weird Feelings as the album title? Is it referencing the band's name or some kind of connotation regarding the word "weird"?
NICK HENNIES: Weird Feelings as a title actually predates any of our records. It was almost the title for Hold Me and we ended up using Hold Me instead, which is good, as I think Weird Feelings is a more apt title for the new one. The songs tend to revolve around specific events in time where maybe I (or Sandy) felt weird or something strange happened. It wasn't a conscious decision to write songs about that; it just became clear later that the songs on the record are loosely tied together that way.
What can people expect from the new record in relation to the older releases?
RUSSELL: It's weirder.
HENNIES: Well, Hold Me was the sound of a band that had only been together for about six months, so in general I feel like Weird Feelings is a much more well conceived and executed record. We recorded most of it in an afternoon right after having been on tour and our brilliant friend, Alex Keller, who engineered the album, had the good sense to have us record the guitars and drums completely live, which is totally different from how we worked on the other records. As something I had a part in making, I couldn't be more proud of it.
Do you generally record so fast?
HENNIES: I think we took longer with Hold Me and recording the EP took ages, for some reason. We had intended the recording of Weird Feelings to be a multi-day process, then we sat down to record and a couple hours later the whole thing was done. There were a lot of vocals and overdubs that got done over the next couple weeks and a ridiculously laborious mixing process, but we were as surprised as anyone to be done with the main tracks so quickly.
RUSSELL: Well, it wasn't all that fast. Recording the basic instrumental tracks took an afternoon, but it seemed to take another month or so of recording vocals, other overdubs, doing mixing, editing before the thing was actually done. Our first album was done like that too.
How did the split 7-inch with Shapes and Sizes come about?
HENNIES: Michael from Asthmatic Kitty is an old friend from my San Diego days and he really loves both bands. He introduced us to Shapes and Sizes last year and we played together in Texas and became fast friends. When the label had the idea for a split 7-inch series it was a natural fit. Shapes and Sizes are four of the most awesome people ever.
What other bands are you liking?
HENNIES: Ahh, so many. W-S Burn, Peter and the Wolf, the Shivers, Breezy Days Band, the Curtains, Baby Dee, Bear in Heaven, Souled American, Jandek, Cerberus Shoal, Alex Lukashevsky and his band Deep Dark United, Possessed by Paul James, Fat Worm of Error, the Wandelweiser composers group... Google searches on those should give you enough staggeringly good music to last you a couple decades.
How do you come across most of the bands you're into right now?
HENNIES: It varies. Some of them are friends, friends of friends, and so on. Others I just happen to see play or we play with them; also I have a more or less insatiable appetite for new music so I'm always checking out new stuff and occasionally run across something really incredible, which is how I heard both the Shivers and Alex Lukashevsky, two of my absolute favorite songwriters.
Do you feel like you guys are part of any specific scene?
HENNIES: I certainly don't feel like I'm a part of any kind of "scene," though someone who reviewed our last show in San Francisco said that they thought us, Breezy Days Band, and the Curtains were all part of an as-of-yet-unnamed genre, which is totally fine with me since we love both of those bands. Beyond that I don't feel any particular kinship with any kind of "movement" or scene. We're a total musical oddity in Austin, to say the least.
What's Austin's music scene like right now? The only other band I know well is Peter and the Wolf.
HENNIES: Yeah, Peter and the Wolf is the greatest, and I say that as both a sometimes member and a hopelessly obsessed fan. I love Austin and its music scene just based on the staggering number of people playing just about every kind of music you could think of. This is the only place I've ever lived where I can spend my time playing in the Weird Weeds, a pop band, a chamber ensemble, improvised music, and so on. I've also met more amazing musicians here than anywhere else I've lived and hope to stay as long as possible.
Where did you live before this?
HENNIES: I grew up in Louisville during the heyday of Rodan and Crain. It was terrific to be around such an active music scene then, but it's such a small town that there's not a whole lot of variety. Everybody knows everyone, which can get tiresome. I've also lived in Urbana, IL, and San Diego before I came to Austin, both of which didn't have much to offer outside of the music schools I was going to. I lived in Leeds, UK, for a year too, but was too antisocial to actually make any friends there so I can't really speak to the quality of the music scene.
Have you been anywhere on tour where you're like, "Yeah, I could definitely live here"?
HENNIES: I've been in Austin for about three and a half years now and if you ask me what I think of it I'll say every time, "I freakin' love it" and that hasn't changed. There are a lot of great cities like Portland, ME, Toronto, and San Francisco that I really love and could imagine living there, but none are as good a fit as Austin. If someone could just solve the traffic problem...
What's next for you guys?
HENNIES: We've been working on material for another album that we'll start feverishly working on again as soon as this tour and the holidays are over with. We have a lot of new material that I'm really excited about, but not much of it is finished yet. There's talk of doing something more elaborate with the next album, but it's all in very early stages right now. I'm guessing we'll take it easy on the touring for a while until the next record is done, unless something really great comes up.