"We've had a lot of setbacks," Brendan Sullivan-guitarist, drummer, and vocalist for fuzz-rock duo Weekends-says at the bustling Station North Arts Café. ("It's like Cheers," quips Adam Lempel, the other half of the duo, as it seems that everyone who walks in the door immediately greets someone already in the cafe.)
"I had been traveling around some," says Sullivan. "I had most of my personal musical equipment in the trunk. I loaded it all back in to the practice space [at Open Space], including a four-track I had just borrowed from Adam that day, and I put it all in the practice space, and then an hour, an hour and a half later, was when the fire started. The timing of it was pretty insane."
Open Space, a Remington artists' collective and multi-use space above an auto-body shop, was the former home to Lempel and Sullivan. "I lived there for the four years that Open Space was around and so I always used that as a practice space, recording space, and my studio. We just kind of did everything there. [The fire] was kind of a bit of a blow," Sullivan says in slow, deliberate drawl that contrasts with Lempel's rapid-fire chatter interrupted by the occasional giggle.
The two-alarm fire hit Open Space on May 1 and not only destroyed musical equipment but it also damaged most of the freshly screen-printed record jackets. Lempel pulls out his cellphone and shows pictures taken after the fire. "There's a melted keyboard," he captions.
"Our friend donated a drum set to us afterwards because," Lempel starts.
"Our drums were pretty waterlogged and smoke-damaged. I guess we should give an official shoutout," Sullivan continues.
"Yeah, Micah [E.] Wood," Lempel adds.
"He gave us his drum set he got for his bar mitzvah. His mom drove it down here. She came for his graduation from MICA. She brought them down, quite sweet," Sullivan says as Lempel giggles.
"We actually got really lucky because the records-we were waiting for the records to come, then after the fire we found out the records were in the building, but they were in the mailroom. They were fine. They were on the counter, sitting in these shipping boxes. The room was filled with water on the floor. It's a good thing we're slackers," Lempel says.
"Most of the [record jackets] got messed up," Lempel explains. "The whole room was all fucked up. I went in there to salvage music gear and I grabbed a couple of boxes of jackets and then kinda let them dry out to see which ones were still feasible, and we ended up releasing 50 of the burnt jackets. A lot them went to the Kickstarter people."
The band just released their third full-length, New Humans, out on vinyl on their record label Reoccurring Dreams. The album is also out on cassette on Friends Records, who donated record jackets for the vinyl release after the Open Space fire.
New Humans doesn't mess much with Weekends' aesthetic. Dirty, pitch-shifted guitars rumble over manic drumming and echoing vocals, creating a sound so full and energetic that it's hard to believe it was made by only two people. The record does, however, clean up the band's sound a bit with a higher-fidelity recording. The duo also splits the vocal duties more evenly, with the band's previous two records only featuring one Lempel vocal apiece.
"We worked on [New Humans] incrementally over a few years because we were raising money to pay for the recording sessions. So we went and did three songs and came back six months later and did 10 more, so it got stretched out over some years. The recording was all done, it wasn't mastered yet, but we were just kinda sending it around and talking to labels," Sullivan says.
While the band initially sought assistance from a label to put the record out on vinyl, they are happy with the choice to do it themselves.
"I wanted to know how to [release a record]," Lempel says. "I think that was one of the main reasons we did the Kickstarter and did it ourselves. If I farm out this responsibility to someone else, then I'll never learn how to do it."
"Self-releasing New Humans felt like a nice return to form because that's how we started the whole thing: just making CD-Rs and printing the packaging and gluing it all together," Sullivan says.
The Kickstarter campaign successfully met its goal of raising $3,500 for mastering and the physical production of the records.
While the fire was an obvious setback to the band, it also led to new opportunities.
"[After the fire] I was contacting people for studio space, and Mike Young, who runs Club K, told me that the same guy who [owns] Club K was looking to open a new spot and maybe if I work there I could practice there," Sullivan says. Thus, the Crown was born, with Lempel tending bar and Sullivan managing the kitchen, bar, and booking.
"I'll go on record and say it is a little funny because we have this mutual relationship in a band for a while, and it's been four years or whatever, and Brendan's now kinda like my boss a little bit. Maybe [at work] I don't disagree as vocally as I would all the time in the band," Lempel says with a grin.
"I don't think of myself as mister boss too much," Sullivan deadpans.
But it is clear that the duo works well together, their differences complementing each other.
"There's no third person to break a tie, so you just have to convince the other person or make compromises," Lempel says of the songwriting process.
"It's a lot of compromise, it's like a marriage," Sullivan says. "A musical marriage, that's the headline."