In Conversation: The Weeks

Getting familiar with the Nashville rockers…

The Weeks’ new album, ‘Dear Bo Jackson’, is out now on Serpents And Snakes/Columbia. Scan Clash’s back issues (check them out) and you’ll find a particularly positive review of it in issue 85. To mark the record’s release, we’ve dived into the archives – albeit not particularly deeply – to dredge up an interview with the band from earlier in 2013, when we spent time together at SXSW.

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Clash’s adventures thus far with hirsute Nashville swamp-rockers The Weeks have been thrilling. Having watched them progress from tiny bar shows to supporting their label bosses Kings Of Leon on their recent European stadium tour, we’re now proud to see them drop their latest, and most cohesively strong, album to date.

‘Dear Bo Jackson’ is their third album (after debut ‘Comeback Cadillac’ in 2008, and ‘Gutter Gaunt Gangster’ in 2010), and the second released on KOL’s Serpents And Snakes imprint. It’s an album of southern soul rock, where a taut rhythm section anchors stinging guitars, pedal steels glide around Stax-like horns, and singer Cyle Barnes’ raw throat action is likely to bleed whiskey. His lyrics burst with southern pride, and a streak of defiance runs through their rhythms as mighty as the Mississippi.

The quintet’s completed by Samuel Williams on guitar, Damien Bone on bass, Cain Barnes (Cyle’s twin brother) on drums, and Alex ‘Admiral’ Collier on keyboards. Clash caught up with them on the porch of their rented home at this year’s SXSW festival to get the lowdown on a band that makes us endlessly yearn for Tennessee.

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‘Brother In The Night’, from ‘Dear Bo Jackson’

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You guys have been together now for seven years. How have your relationships changed or strengthened in that time through playing and living together?

Sam: Sometimes it’s like a social experiment, like hanging out with the same four dudes all the time. Especially like when we first moved to Nashville; sets in Mississippi are like an hour long, or however the f*ck long you want them to be, and then when we moved to Nashville you can’t just start playing hour-long sets, they have to be like 20 minutes. So we spent the first eight months just writing for the ‘Gutter Gaunt’ record and honing a 20-minute set that’s perfect. And we didn’t leave the f*ckin’ house!

We didn’t know anybody in Nashville. Even now, when we finally have time to go out and meet people, they say, ‘So you guys are in Nashville?’ We’ve been here for like two-and-half years! We just didn’t go anywhere for the first year. So yeah, it’s definitely a weird thing to like know these people that well. I can imagine to get in a car with us is not that fun, because there’s not a lot of verbal communication at this point – it’s a lot of glares. Even just a regular look that you understand, like: ‘He needs to stop and pee pretty soon!’

Cain: As for musically, I feel like it just gets better and better the longer we play together.

Sam: Yeah, the same thing goes for the music too – I don’t have to look at Damien and scream over the music, ‘We’re going to go from the A to the D and then to the B minor for two beats’. I just sort of nod at him or make gestures at him and it’s sort of understood. The chemistry at this point when we play together, it’s beyond chemistry – it’s like weird, to the next level. It’s strange.

If it was all happening in Jackson, why did you move to Nashville on a whim?

Sam: Totally on a whim. We had a member quit…

Cyle: We were actually living in the Delta at that time, where the blues is from in Mississippi.

Sam: Our second guitar player quit to go do ceramics, and we were just like… He’s great at ceramics, but at the same time it‘s like, ‘You’re going to pick ceramics over this?’

Cyle: One of our really good friends passed away, which kinda threw our core group of friends into a big frenzy. We all dropped out of college, and we decided we could either sit in Mississippi and keep playing the same shows and doing the same thing that we’ve been doing, or we could just move somewhere else and actually try and make it happen. We didn’t even pick Nashville!

Sam: Before we moved there, I was in Arkansas, Damien was in Jackson, the twins were in Cleveland, and we had some friends who were scattered around Mississippi. And when our friend died, within two weeks everyone had dropped out of school and were all living in the same tiny little town. We’d just seen so many Mississippi bands that were just incredible – still some of my favourite bands – and they would either get signed, move away and then break up, or just break up. I really didn’t want to be that band. I didn’t want us to be another Jackson band that was good for a few years and then dissipated completely and nobody knows what happened to them.

Cyle: We have so many demo CDs from bands that could have been one of the best bands you ever heard, but that’s all there is: a five-song EP.

Sam: In Mississippi, or even in Cleveland where there’s nothing really to do, if you’ve got all your friends around it’s really easy to be distracted and be like: ‘Yeah well, we’re gonna write tomorrow at some point, but I’m hanging out with this dude and then I’m gonna go out later that night, so there’s like a two-hour frame where we can all get together.’

So we decided to move to Nashville where we don’t know f*ckin’ anybody and hang out in our basement and play for like six months straight. And on the first day we got Sunday, our manager, it was completely out of the blue. He was like, ‘I’m not sure in which vicinity I wanna work with you, but I’d like to meet you and start working with you in some form.’ He was like, ‘When are you going to be in Nashville again?’ I was like, ‘We’re actually moving there in like three days, so why don’t I swing by?’ And so we walked in – he works with an attorney, Jeff Colvin – and within six hours of being in Nashville we had a manager and an attorney.

Damien: It was a good first day.

Cyle: We didn’t know what that necessarily meant at the time, but we knew it was good.

Sam: It was the start to this really awesome team that’s come together in the last two years of being in Nashville.

As established and close as you were before you hit Nashville, did the city itself affect your music?

Sam: We ended up writing… I guess, even up to ‘Dear Bo Jackson’, everything we’d ever written had been in Mississippi. We wrote probably one or two songs in Nashville. Nashville is so super saturated with bands – there’s just no excuse to not go and see a band like two or three times a week, and more often than not I’ll come home like: ‘Holy shit, I wanna do that. We gotta play right now because this band just got me so jacked up.’

That happens with so much more regularity in Nashville than in Mississippi. Like, I remember we drove three-and-a-half hours for what I guess ended up being the last White Stripes show. That’s the kind of drive you would have to make [from Mississippi] to go and see a band. There was nothing spur of the moment like, ‘I’ve never heard of this band before but I’m gonna go see ‘em’ – you plan for months about some huge concert. And that’s just not the case at all in Nashville. Everybody’s into each other’s shit.

What led you guys to sign with Serpents And Snakes?

Sam: Seth Riddle, the general manager for the label, I guess he’d known Sunday in some form over the years…

Alex: He came to the Meat Puppets show.

Sam: Yeah, we toured with the Meat Puppets for a while and we played in Nashville and he came out there, and I guess that sorta started the ball rolling. And then we hung out with the Kings a couple of times and it was pretty obvious that we vibed well together. We get along, we have the same ideas, and it just sorta happened. Everything fell into place.

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'The House We Grew Up In', from 'Gutter Gaunt Gangster'

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Considering that people have compared your music to the early Kings Of Leon sound, did you have reservations about signing with their label?

Sam: I won’t say we didn’t think about it.

Cain: Yeah, it was definitely a thought, but it was never a thought big enough to where we were like, ‘Oh, it’s going to decide if we do or don’t sign’. Just because it was one of those things like… I feel like growing up, yeah, our stuff did have some similarities to it…

Sam: But we were f*ckin’ 14. They were our favourite band. Kings Of Leon in 2003: how are you not in love with that as a 14-year-old.

Cyle: People are gonna compare your band to something regardless of if you actually sound like that or not. But if we’re gonna get compared to a band, Kings Of Leon are a good band to get compared to. We’re not mad about that by any means, but I feel like our stuff has definitely evolved over the past few years to where there could be connections made, but we’re all from the South.

Sam: Yeah, we’re southern boys playing rock ‘n’ roll. Every once in a while there’s gonna be something similar, whether it’s like a guitar part or a drum part or a lyric or a melody – it’s just how Cyle sings. It’s gonna happen every now and again.

Am I right that the songs for this album were written in a haunted house?

Cyle: It’s kinda like a haunted house.

Sam: It’s pretty f*ckin’ scary. It’s like an old, burned-down cafeteria…

Cain: It’s the old cafeteria to a school building. It had a path leading from the school. The school burned down – you can still see the back of it in that field.

Sam: This was like 100 years ago.

So there were no spooky experiences while there?

Sam: Just being f*cked up in a studio that late at night. All the windows there are blacked out. We did, like, the second half of our first record and two other EPs there.

You start the first day at 11 o’clock and you work until 11 o’clock at night, and then you get a good night’s sleep and you wake up the next day at noon and you work to noon, and within three days you wake up at 4pm, you’re recording until five in the morning, and your days are f*ckin’ gone. It’s just like shifts of sleep and shifts of recording.

And so there’d be some night where you’d laying there, and it would be seven o’clock, and you’d look at your phone and you know it’s seven o’clock in the morning. But it’s pitch black and you’re going to sleep.

Cyle: It’s in such a small town. It’s behind this church. Whenever I knew it was a really small town was on Sunday, when everyone went to the church, all the dogs that live all around that area – everyone’s pets – followed them and they all slept on the front porch of the church. I was like, ‘That’s the most small-town shit I’ve ever seen in my life’. But you have to walk across the street and down the block a little bit to get cell phone service, and the only place to eat is a gas station a mile down the road.

But that’s where we’ve written most of our stuff, and we like to get somewhere and separate ourselves to where it’s like, ‘Okay, for the next two weeks we are focusing 100 percent on music’. I mean, we party a good bit while we’re there, but it’s only to stay sane to be able to be like, ‘Okay, it’s seven o’clock, and we’re going to bed…’

Sam: ‘But I’m pretty hammered, so that’s gonna be a little easier.’

Lyrically, the new stuff contains a lot of world-weariness. How can that be so from ones so young?

Sam: We’ve lived hard.

Cyle: We’ve lived crazy. The South is a crazy place to live. We’ve gone through a lot of weird things, just with our lives and everything, but being in the Delta and everywhere else you see how people live and you see the differences. I just love to write, but I wanna write about something that I see or something that we experience. I’m not gonna tell it word for word, but to give a general idea of what is actually going on.

Sam: I feel like, from the outside of your weird f*cked-up brain of coming up with that shit, I feel like there’s this awareness. It sounds more world-weary, but it’s almost like we’re singing about our gratitude. Life is shitty sometimes, and we get to do whatever we want and I feel like it would be almost unfair to not acknowledge that shit gets way worse.

Cyle: We play music because we enjoy it, but we also play music because we feel like we have to. I write the lyrics because I have to write them down. I write because I feel like writing, just like we play music because we feel like playing music. I feel like we draw everything from whatever we do, and we just happen to do a lot of weird shit!

Can you explain to all of us naïve, non-sporting Brits who Bo Jackson is, and why you dedicated your record to him?

Sam: He’s just the best athlete of all time. We’ve always seen ourselves as band where we can play rock music, we can play soul music – we are really humble guys, but if you put us in the right corner, we will tell you that we are the best band on the planet. If you say, ‘Well, I bet you probably couldn’t do that good of a funk record…’

Cyle: …We will make a f*ckin’ funk record!

Sam: Bo Jackson, he’s from like 10 miles from where I’m from in Alabama, and he played at Auburn where my mother’s side of the family all played football. He played baseball and football there; he got drafted for the Yankees when he was in high school, like first pick, but didn’t go. Then he played three years at Auburn and was drafted number one by the Royals and number one by Tampa Bay, and he picked the Royals.

He played two years of professional baseball and then got an offer from the Raiders that was like, ‘You can play your full season of baseball, since you’ve clearly picked that over football, and then when the baseball season ends…’ I guess he probably missed the first four games. I think he played like 11 or 12 games a year in the NFL.

Usually for an NFL athlete to start a season there’s a lot of training camp involved and stringent conditioning. You can’t just finish a baseball season after 10 months and then the next weekend play professional football – but that’s what he did.

Cyle: He can also shoot bow and arrow with his feet.

Sam: He just does whatever he wants. And does it so much better than anybody.

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‘Dear Bo Jackson’ is out now. Find The Weeks online here

Words: Simon Harper

Photography: Austin Hargrave 

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