When I called Nashville garage rockers The Weeks, they were buying a new van for their upcoming East Coast tour.
“It’s a Mercedes-Dodge Sprinter,” guitarist Sam Williams told me over the phone. “I’ve never been able to figure out how two companies can co-make a car.” Big enough for him to stand up in—which perhaps says more about Williams’ size than the vehicle’s—it was the same model and year as their good friend Jonny Corndawg’s (“Isn’t he Jonny Fritz now?” I asked; Williams said he was still Corndawg in his phone), so now the two artists can caravan together, an especially real possibility now that Fritz made a cameo appearance on the Weeks’ forthcoming LP, Dear Bo Jackson, due April 30th on Serpents and Snakes. “Corndawg came in [to the studio] and he was so jazzed up, he was like, ‘Fuck it! I’ll just sing over the whole damn thing.’ I had to figure out how to tell him we were only going to keep, like, two percent of it,” Williams says.
Typically, when the Weeks make a record, “We’re like, okay, we have six songs. Let’s put out an EP. Ten songs, make a record. We won’t have shit for a rarities collection.” For their second album for Kings of Leon’s label, however, they did things a little differently. They wrote the whole thing at Black Wings Studio, owned by their friend Winn McElroy, located in a supposedly haunted schoolhouse in Water Valley, Mississippi. It was also the first album they recorded in Nashville, bringing guests like Fritz into the Smoakstack studio with Grammy-nominated engineer Paul Moak (Martha Wainwright, Blind Boys of Alabama), who also hails from Weeks’ hometown of Jackson. As Williams tells it, “As soon as we walked in, there was this big metal sculpture with a heart where Jackson is. So we were like, this is it.” In so many new yet familiar environments, the Weeks branched out from their signature fire-and-brimstone pop—and vocalist Cyle Barnes’ uncanny resemblance to Caleb Followill—with “horns and shit, pedal steel.”
It was a natural evolution for the band, who have over seven years of playing together have developed such intrinsic ties that “it’s beyond chemistry. It’s just weird now.” They live in adjacent apartments in a “glorified dorm”, answer each other without even listening to the question first, and rarely practice (by Williams’ count, they practiced less than 10 times last year). They all moved together from Jackson, where they formed the Weeks before they were in middle school. Williams started going to shows in 2006 at around 11 or 12 years old with one of the Weeks’ original members, Chaz Lindsay, who left a few years ago to be a chef in New York. For a while, Lindsay had his eye on Barnes and his twin brother, Cain—“tall, broad-shouldered motherfuckers that looked exactly the same. Their hair is to their ass. They dress really weird,” Williams says by way of description—and asked if they wanted to play music with him and Williams. Their first show was the next week. “We hit the ground running, I guess. We didn’t know how to start a band except to just start writing songs.”
Fueled by Williams’ country-styled songwriting and Cyle’s lyrics, which took inspiration from understated hardships like his parents’ drug use, the Weeks started coming out with song after song of preternatural world-weariness. Their first album, Comeback Cadillac, burns with an unfiltered emotional rawness on tracks like “Buttons”, (“Pull your knife away from my throat/ I’ll smoke your cigarette and hope you choke/ She kissed my lips and quickly ran away”); and “Goodbye Winston Churchill” off their sophomore album, Gutter Gaunt Gangster, running on less than a minute of hand-clapping, foot-stomping whiskey gospel. And “The House We Grew Up In”, off the same record, swings with the laissez-faire double-time of more practiced musicians too grizzled and jaded to enjoy themselves nearly as much as the Weeks. Except for a few unofficial demos I had the privilege to hear back in August, the Weeks have kept a tight lid on material off Dear Bo Jackson except to say that it’s more “soulful” and the non-statement “there are definitely some loud tracks on this record, but there’s some other ones that aren’t.” Even though the band is lucky enough to have some decidedly less intense tribulations these days—rough life, living in an old person’s home—their music still kicks with the same hard-bitten affirmations that made them better than weekends in the first place.