Baltimore Duo Weekends' New Take on Basement Fuzz Rock
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"I shouldn't be here right now," Brendan Sullivan laughs from a cold stoop next door to Charm City Art Space, a tiny, collectively run punk venue in the Station North Arts District. "But, you know, why not?"
Sullivan, 22, is blowing off studying for MICA finals to play a show with his two-piece group, Weekends. He listens intently as his lanky, fast-talking bandmate Adam Lempel, 22, describes just what their music isn't. Namely, Weekends isn't "blog rock," a term Lempel defines as "like MSTRKRFT or Justice. It's dance, but it's more in-your-face obnoxious, almost like rock music." Though Lempel, who also moonlights as a party DJ, admits to liking some so-called blog rock, he's looking to do something totally different with Weekends.
While neither obnoxious or electronic, Weekends does bear similarities to another underground music trend that has stirred up plenty of online (and otherwise) attention--the blown-out basement rock of bands such as No Age, Times New Viking, and the Vivian Girls. Like those groups, Weekends churns up a fuzzy nimbus of super loud guitar, rudimentary yet compelling drums, and vocals submerged so low in the mix you have to make up your own words. Unlike such pop-leaning ilk, Weekends blasts skrunky, spaced-out riffs, getting audiences riled to the point of crowd surfing, much to Lempel and Sullivan's incredulous amusement.
Though forming less than year ago, the duo plays out frequently at smaller venues and in November put out its self-titled debut CD. Housed in a colorful homemade collage sleeve, the album has an amateurish look, but the music inside is startling cohesive: 11 tracks of hyperactive tempo changes and intricately subtle guitar work piercing a pretty stoner haze. Unexpectedly, it's a relatively unscripted effort, culled from a practice in a friend's basement with many of the songs recorded in one take. The two are working on a follow-up, slated for release this spring.
Considering how quickly Weekends has made a name for itself locally, it's surprising to learn that Lempel and Sullivan barely knew one another when they first started the group. Sullivan, who grew up in Florida, played in several punk and indie rock bands as a teenager. These days, he maintains a lo-fi, experimental-yet-rootsy solo project under his own name. In conversation, he has a quiet, humble air, often pausing mid-sentence while searching for the words to finish a thought. The extroverted Lempel is all emphatic gestures, big ideas, and disarming friendliness. A recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University, he grew up on Long Island before moving to Baltimore to study philosophy.
In fact, the band was born from one of Lempel's characteristically outgoing acts. Late in 2007, Sullivan's previous group, All Niter, was playing at Load of Fun. Lempel, who was in attendance, was immediately captivated by Sullivan. "I saw Brendan playing [and] I was just like, 'I want to be in a band with that dude,'" Lempel says while doing a vigorous impersonation of Sullivan on guitar. "[He was] rocking out so hard. He was just into it in a good way."
Convinced Sullivan was the bandmate he had unsuccessfully spent months looking for, Lempel approached him after the show and got his phone number. Still, Lempel, who had run through numerous other musicians in trying to form a group, was nervous at his first practice with Sullivan. His fears quickly vanished as they began playing, riffing off each other on the guitar. "There was always a response between the two of us." Lempel says. "It felt right, like this is the real deal."
The group's initial incarnation featured both Sullivan and Lempel on guitar, playing music they describe as "droney" and "long jams." Neither had any experience with drums until they found a kit, left by another musician, in their old practice space in the Copycat building. "We were just fucking around," Sullivan says. "And, it kind of stuck after awhile." In fact, drums turned out to be the driving sound the two craved as neither wished to make vocals the focus of their music.
"[Vocals] aren't too important." Sullivan says, "It's just the general feeling and tone that's created by having that other layer."
Lempel goes further, as de-emphasizing vocals is an integral part of what he's trying to do with the band. "It's like inverting the standard pop song where vocals are the center," he says. "Here, vocals are a back-up instrument. It creates this intense way of thinking. The person is less important. The listener can't focus in the same way. They have to focus on the guitars and drums as the main elements of the music. Everything else is pushed behind and obscured."
If Sullivan and Lempel have a mission, it is to strip everything down to basic elements: two guys rocking hard on a falling-apart, secondhand drum kit, a guitar, and a few effects pedals. Rather than setting up on a stage, they prefer playing on the floor at the same level as the audience. Both are quick to point out there are no pre-recorded elements in their live shows. All of which fosters an immediacy the band thrives on. "It's all about making music that's not retro," Lempel says. "It's about making music for now."
Sullivan offers a slightly different take. "[Our music] is current in the sense we've never sat down and declared the kind of sounds we were going for, or not going for," he says. "We're not closed off to too many things, but we both know if we are making something that sounds like we didn't want it to sound."
"It still feels like anything is possible right now," Lempel adds. "We can do anything we want. Every time it is completely new."