UK trio Weak13 is a band we have had a rich taste for over quite a few years now, and increasingly so as new songs and their gripping latest album emerged. A chance to get to the heart of the band arose recently, so in a long overdue chat we talked with band founder Nick J Townsend about the origins and subsequent years of the band, the imposingly refreshing drive of the band and its members, their latest release and much more…
Hey Nick, thanks for taking time out to talk with us.
Cheers yeah I’m currently running a music festival in Wolverhampton at the moment but yeah cool fire away.
Can you first introduce the band and give us some background to how it all started and what brought you all together?
Well I’m Nick J Townsend; the band’s founder, I sing and play guitar; WEAK13 began in my hometown in Kidderminster in 1999; went under multiple line-up changes which was very distracting when it came to trying to do songwriting or trying to make any solid plans; eventually I moved to the Black Country around about 2008; I think that was the year; and then I revamped the band and recruited bassist Wesley Smith and drummer Neel Parmar. Since 2010 the band has remained the same and it’s ensured stability; we’ve been able to produce a professional debut studio album now titled They Live with engineer John Stewart and I know we couldn’t have tried doing anything like that with people coming in and out of a band;
Have you been in other bands before? If so has that had any impact on what you are doing now, in maybe inspiring a change of style or direction?
Speaking personally WEAK13 is my creation and the main band I’ve worked in; I was for a short period in a high school band called Incision which pretty much seemed to just play Metallica songs but I made some nice friends from it; a couple of years later I joined a college band called Bamboo Puncturing; it was an experimental three piece thrash metal band, very heavy, the drummer Chris was also the singer, Stuart Smith was the bassist who behaved very metal although he would take the piss out of anyone else calling themselves metal. I just played guitar for them. The band only lasted about 9 months but for our final show we supported Strapping Young Lad during the ‘City’ album tour and it was the first time I’d played with a signed artist. Although it wasn’t a long conversation I kind of liked chatting to Devin Townsend and I think after watching his set I decided then that I wanted to do something on my own terms musically. WEAK13 began a few years later. Neel Parmar and Wesley Smith have both been in lots of bands before joining WEAK13; they’re very experienced musicians.
What inspired the band name?
I get sick of answering this one but it’s my own fault because I give multiple long answers but the main inspiration was the dangerous surgical operation on my head that I experienced when I was 13; I was born with a defect on my head, bullied constantly throughout my childhood because of the way I looked. Doctors told me at 8 years old that I could have an operation but I had to wait 5 years until I was old enough to operate on. When you are 8 years old and told that you have to wait 5 years…that’s like your entire life again! I didn’t know how I was going to last 5 days at school let alone wait 5 years. I was made to feel weak for years and the age of 13 was all I could look forward to. I was a very depressed child but I didn’t know what depression was at the time, had suicidal thoughts at the age of 8.
I was in hospital for a few months, my skin was stretched and my eye lids could not shut so I would pass out with my eyes wide open; it was a traumatic time for me. After the operation, over 100 metal staples and more stitches had to be ripped out whilst I was awake, no anaesthetic. I returned to school at 13 and I was a normal looking boy again; everyone then wanted to know me; the same people who bullied me….I thought “I haven’t changed….you have”. I had no social skills, didn’t know how to interact with others very well, didn’t understand the world; years later in 1999 my aim was that I wanted to feel the same way as I did before the operation so I shaved half of my hair off and then I named my band WEAK13. That may not fully answer your question but that’s pretty close.
Was there any specific idea behind the forming of the band and also in what you wanted it and your sound to offer?
I originally wanted to have a band on my own terms that I could shape; ‘Project Mayhem’ from the film Fight Club was a great inspiration. I always wanted WEAK13 to be a three-piece like Nirvana, Cream, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience; but it took a while to get to that stage. Three musicians working together seems to make sense, it’s a bigger thing sharing ideas together. I find bands with too many musicians in them become distant from the songwriting, we sound tight because there’s a tightness in how the song is forged; it’s not just a riff, there’s a story behind it; subject matter; a feeling. I’d hate to be in a band with five people or more in it; your songs are your child and creation and it’d be like trying to raise a child with a biological father plus multiple step dads in the same house, too many voices in authority.
Do the same things still drive the band when it was fresh-faced or have they evolved over time?
There’s been a lot of change since I began but the basic original idea for the band is still there and maybe more so now; where in the Fight Club movie Project Mayhem eventually became a cult-like organisation trying to bring down modern society; WEAK13 was originally intended to be anti-consumerist and even anti-music industry because I really find the majority of signed artists bland, lifeless and harmful; they dumb down the public with their empty songs and brainwash musicians in to thinking that they are as good as it gets. The only good things that come from many of the elite bands are the watered down ideas they steal from emerging artists and claim as their own but in a more boring and less inspiring way. There has definitely been some evolution in WEAK13. We’re using our music as a weapon; lyrically and subject matter wise we do things most bands haven’t even woken up to yet. We’re currently writing about things such as crisis actors, poison in our foods, population control and the brainwashing media whilst mainstream artists are singing about whose got the biggest bottom.
Since your early days, how would you say your sound has evolved?
We have a very distinct sound now which is strange because we can play in different styles and it still sounds like WEAK13; learning how to be yourself is the key I believe. On the They Live album we worked with engineer John Stewart; he saw us play live and wanted to capture the rawness of the band’s sound on to a record but still make it well produced and of a high standard; he did just that. When we recorded Ashes In Autumn I think we realised that WEAK13 had evolved into a clear identifiable musical entity. People hear a WEAK13 song played and they know it’s us. A lot of bands can’t do that.
Has it been more of an organic movement of sound or more you deliberately wanting to try new things?
We have to try different things every time; why write the exact same song again? Years ago I used to buy those albums where the first three tracks were the singles and the rest were just bad clones. I remember something Michael Jackson once said which was make every song a hit; now whether or not a song becomes a hit in this current biased and fixed musical climate is beside the point but I think every song should be treated with the same passion, enthusiasm and standards; there are no unimportant WEAK13 songs now. Every song counts. There’s a natural songwriting process, often the lyrics come first or the song subject and then the music is shaped around it. Some bands have no idea what to write about; that has never been a problem for WEAK13.
Presumably across the band there is a wide range of inspirations; are there any in particular which have impacted not only on the band’s music but your personal approach and ideas to creating and playing music?
The three of us come from different backgrounds, have totally opposing influences and we shouldn’t logically fit as well as we do. I think because all three of us do what we want in WEAK13 and how we want, it all comes together nicely. I have never told Neel Parmar how to play the drums, I don’t insist on knowing exactly what the baselines are to WEAK13 songs because I enjoy hearing them played and written by Wesley Smith; if he wants to change something he’s done then I encourage it. We all can be musicians in WEAK13. Yes, I often come up with the initial starting point for a tune but it changes when we all get together. When Neel Parmar laid his incredible drums down to ‘Obey The Slave’ the tune became more epic than I could have possibly imagined.
Is there a process to the songwriting which generally guides the writing of songs?
Normally it’s the song subject that comes first or a lyric, I might then put a few guitar riffs together, I go to Wesley Smiths house and show him; Neel Parmar hears what we both come up with together and then he interprets how he thinks the drums should sound and then we have a song. It’s literally often that basic; the song has to be interesting to us, the catchier the better; I write hypnotic choruses people say; well I never want people to forget them so job done.
Where do you, more often than not, draw the inspirations to the lyrical side of your songs?
Pretty easy, the world around us; there are forces of evil out there so there are plenty of things to write about. Media lies to the public every single day; governments are not for the people as they try to make out. I do a lot of research for any song subject and have to be very careful on sources of information as there is a lot of inaccurate data out there.
Can you give us some more background to your latest release?
WEAK13 began recording the They Live album back in 2012 and it took 3 years before we completed it; we all had jobs, no label, had to work a way to fund it, where and when to record, what tracks to go on it, the availability of the great engineer Mr John Stewart from the band Eight Great Fears. We didn’t want to rush this as we wanted an album that is basically better than current mainstream artists. We’re an underground band with no record label and no mainstream music industry supporting us but we wanted an album that embarrasses mainstream artists out there with a record contract. We have been getting only good reviews and it must be humiliating for some of these recording artists out there that turds like us have a superior album. People can order the album from the bands own site http://weak13official.com/ and we’ve not released it on iTunes or any of these streaming sites as we got sick of hearing how bands were getting ripped off, so we control our album at the moment; if they want it they order it from us. It’s got 11 great rock songs on there and they are professionally written and recorded, pretty much everyone that hears the They Live album is blown away and that’s how we like it. This is more than just an album, it’s a wake-up call to modern music journalists; they have a choice, either they sit back and watch their music industry go down in flames and patronise, undermine or ignore us, or do proper journalism and cover bands like WEAK13 who are growing naturally and are becoming bigger without any major corporate backing.
Give us some specific insight to the themes behind it and its songs.
Each song has its own identity and a role on the album theme; the manipulation of how most people see the world thanks to the mainstream media is a main theme to They Live. The song Sex Pest for example is not about sex but because I’m using certain codes of language the listener assumes it’s all about sexual deviance until there are certain parts of the song where I’m so obviously talking about nonsexual themes that you’d have to be brainwashed or brain dead not to notice, I even admit on the recording what the song isn’t about in the bridge section. The song is using the exact same sensationalism that newspapers do; sex themes to get your attention but there is a hidden agenda, my hidden agenda is a warning to be weary of the media with its semiotics and what it preaches as fact; do your own research. Now that is one song of many on the They Live album; I could talk more about that one song, there’s an orgasm noise at the beginning and at the end of the tune which everyone assumes is a female one; it isn’t; it’s the sound of Neel Parmar making that noise. Do not trust what you see or hear in media. The song is really too clever for its own good.
Are you a band which goes into the studio with songs pretty much in their final state or prefer to develop them as you record?
Structure wise I think the songs stay very close to the original demos we make before entering the studio but we find that some things don’t work as well and we have to make changes here and there; when WEAK13 recorded the song Go Away it was supposed to be for the They Live album; it was the first recording session the band had with engineer John Stewart and it was beautiful and raw as hell; by the time we recorded the rest of the album tracks the nature of the sound on the album had changed dramatically and John Stewart asked us if we could re-record Go Away so that it was more on par with the other tunes on the album. So we recorded it again and it was super, clear as hell, polished and big, but we felt it wouldn’t sound right on the album as it was too good now; the rawness of the original demo was brilliant but when it became better produced we felt it lost a lot of soul so we didn’t include it on the album. It still to this day hasn’t been released to the public because we loved the original demo so much. Our engineer wasn’t happy with the decision but we had to be honest with him which I think he respects more.
Tell us about the live side to the band, presumably the favourite aspect of the band?
It is the best way to hear WEAK13. We play to new fans every year and they get what we are about; it’s more than just a live show, it’s an attitude; we see bands come and go around us because they have nothing to relevant say; musically we’re tight and we’re talking about subjects which are current and important to human survival and we deliver a message with every gig we play. We have some fans thanks to the internet who still haven’t watched us live but those that have seen us understand us a lot better.
It is not easy for any new band to make an impact regionally let alone nationally and further afield. How have you found it? Are there the opportunities to make a mark if the drive is there for new bands?
I think a lot of new bands out there are bone idol and lazy because they have been programmed to believe a rock and roll lie. A young and upcoming metal band for example wants to be a great metal band and so starts trying to behave like it’s piers but stupidly they play to only one type of audience and don’t even consider anyone else or any place outside of their comfort zone. I always hear the speech “We play metal to metal fans and no one understands us but metallers”; so with that in mind they will only promote and take serious the venues which are deemed as fully metal (who often don’t take the band serious as they aren’t big), they normally only aim their music to one type of audience (often an audience that doesn’t exist because they are unknown). They avoid everyone around them who are not of a metal nature or dressed like a bat, ignoring local promoters, potential new fans, snubbing local music festivals and venues, not trying to be a part of their own community, not taking serious the time of local and real recording engineers (preferring to home record on a iPhone), being rude to bar staff and venue owners when it’s in their best interest to promote their own shows and the venue including supporting non-metal bands (networking is a great opportunity). Working together as a band means everyone involved needs to work together not “Speak to Dave as he does all the band stuff…I just play guitar”. Kids try and behave like spoilt musicians with a huge record contract and management who do everything for them and two years later their band splits up and they can’t figure out where it all went wrong. I have never had problems with working hard and I get good results.
How has the internet and social media impacted on the band to date? Do you see it as something destined to become a negative from a positive as the band grows and hopefully gets increasing success or is it more that bands struggling with it are lacking the knowledge and desire to keep it working to their advantage?
We do have a lot of success thanks to people watching our music videos, they buy our album from the website, come to shows, grab merchandise at gigs and if someone just starting out asked me how to be a musician I’d answer “learn to use a photocopier or printer, learn social media, learn about advertising” plus a dozen other things which are often nothing to do with bashing out chords on a guitar. If you want to survive and continue to do music I think you need to learn other skills. I learned a lot about the stage by doing stage management. I watched how bands used the web for their career so I had to learn how to use the web, maybe in the case of large bands someone else was paid to do that job for them but there’s nothing wrong with having a go and trying to learn for yourself. To put it simply; a lot of members of bands have this idea that they can only do one thing in the band and that’s it, play a guitar or beat a drum; half the members of upcoming bands have no idea what their fellow musicians even do when they are not in a rehearsal room. The more skills a musician learns the better; yes I spent thousands of hours on a computer pushing WEAK13 to new places and it works. I invested my time and I got a result, I didn’t say “leave it to Leroy as he knows computers”; I had to learn a lot of boring things but they have helped the band. I fucking hate computers but I use them as a tool; that’s what they are and bands need to stop acting like rock gods who have everything done for them whist they polish their pickups and learn more about how they can help their band on the internet and most of all in the real world. There’s a downside that some bands do stuff only on the internet. WEAK13 has a physical album that you can hold in your hands, fans wear real T-shirts, we go out and play to real people; we exist away from the internet as well as be part of it and we try our best. Yes; we use the internet a lot but when you appear in the real world then people take you seriously more because it’s like a surprise to them; you’re not just a jpeg on their iPad, you can be on a physical poster for an actual show at a real venue filed with genuine critical thinking people.
Once again a big thanks for sharing time with us; anything you would like to add or reveal for the readers?
Watch the Down On Me video on YouTube because it’s funny. I also direct music videos; I had to learn how to do film making, I have a University degree in film and media now and it is boring stuff but it’s for my band so it’s important.
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