There are a lot of aphorisms about second albums: “It takes 20 years to make your first album and nine months to make the second;” “the first album is about life’s big issues; the second is about how it sucks to be in a band.”
Those, and many more, are cheeky ways to define what is commonly described as “the sophomore slump.”
Weekend guitarist/vocalist Shaun Durkan has certainly gotten plenty of feedback concerning Jinx, the band’s second release. And while no one has exactly accused Durkan of slumping on Jinx, there’s certainly been a fair amount of grumbling about the differences between the new album and its louder and more visceral predecessor, 2010’s Sports.
“I think we made more of an effort to communicate the larger idea,” Durkan says of Jinx by phone after a Christmas Eve shopping excursion at a California Target. “It’s not a concept album, but we focused on how a listener might absorb the record, whether it’s the production or the lyrics or the artwork. In general, we just put more thought into it.”
The acclaim that greeted Sports was based largely on Weekend’s sonic proximity to Psych-drenched Shoegaze proponents like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, played at a volume as palpable as a dense fog. For a variety of reasons, Jinx has turned out to be a subtler and more diverse affair, in songwriting as well as execution.
“The first record was kind of a cathartic, guttural reaction to what we were doing live and the way we thought about music then,” Durkan says. “This one is really much more premeditated and carefully crafted. … The way the first record sounded and the whole attitude behind it was more of a quick read. You’re like, ‘Oh, it’s loud, abrasive, moody and dark.’ There are less facets to Sports than to Jinx. It hasn’t been as easy for people to grasp onto it and sum it up in a handful of words.”
In the three years between Sports and Jinx, there have been a number of changes in Weekend’s world, which has long been defined by the interplay between Durkan and guitarist Kevin Johnson, friends since they were both bassists in their middle-school band.
Original drummer Taylor Valentino opted out of the group and was replaced by Abe Pedroza, Durkan’s roommate at the San Francisco Art Institute; bassist Nick Ray joined early last year.
Around that same time, the band decided to pull up stakes and move from its native Bay Area base in California to the more competitive but scene-friendly atmosphere in Brooklyn, N.Y. It’s tempting to imagine that all the upheaval in Weekend’s situation had at least some impact on the outcome of Jinx. But Durkan says only Pedroza’s presence in the drum chair had any discernible effect on the new album’s identity.
“Adding Abe was a huge change, just stylistically he’s a lot different than Taylor,” Durkan says. “We were able to bring the drums up higher in the mix and make the tracks a little more groove based. That changed a lot of things. Adding Nick Ray happened after we finished recording the record — we wrote and recorded it as a three piece — and we recorded before we moved to Brooklyn, too.”
Although Jinx doesn’t bear the marks of Weekend’s New York move, Durkan makes it clear that they have definitely evolved into a better band as a result of their cross-country relocation.
“When we were living in Oakland … we were all at a point in our lives where we felt like we could just take a chance or test ourselves a little bit,” Durkan says. “Living in Brooklyn has been good for the band. It makes us all work a little harder. We haven’t started writing anything new quite yet — it will be interesting what happens when we do.”
A good deal of the emotional tone on Jinx — with lots of songs about the desire to distance oneself from circumstances or places — was inspired by Weekend’s economic struggle in Oakland. Another external factor that may have had at least a partial impact on Jinx is Durkan’s therapy sessions, which took place before and during the recording process. Durkan has spent nearly a decade coming to grips with the suicide of his father (who was the vocalist for Post Punk group Half Church), and therapy helped him to unload some of that emotional baggage. In some ways, Jinx served as an extension of Durkan’s treatment.
“I had kind of a personal, emotional breakdown or freak-out, whatever you want to call it, in New York after a tour and I started going to therapy for it,” Durkan says solemnly. “It was one of the first times I’d actually tried to work through some of the issues my dad’s suicide was responsible for, or feelings I had never confronted before. I spent six months doing that and that was when we were writing this record. To me, this record is about me being honest with myself, the person I am and the relationships I have and my own personal history and recognizing the fault in all of that and also the positives. It’s really an introspective record for me, whereas the first record was more about trying to live through fantasy and making up characters and situations that ultimately did resonate with me. But Jinx is more bluntly about self-analysis. The record wouldn’t have happened unless I was in that emotional space.”
Durkan feels as though Weekend accomplished what they all set out to do with Jinx and is content to allow the album to find its own audience, both within the band’s fan base and in the wider listening world.
“I think we gained a lot of new fans who really appreciate this new record and I know a lot of people who loved Sports love this record,” Durkan says. “Of course, there are people who wanted us to make Sports 2, but we’re musicians and there’s no point in doing this unless we push ourselves and move forward. As long as people that are coming to the shows love the record, that’s all that matters.”
WEEKEND performs a free show Wednesday, Feb. 15 at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine with guests Nothing. Click here for details.