ABOVE: WEATHERBOX’S BRIAN WARREN
The story of Weatherbox begins in high school, when a young Brian Warren, obsessed with Bright Eyes and the rest of the Saddle Creek Records crew, created a “theoretical acoustic project” named after a Mission of Burma song. Warren says not much came of it at the time, but after stints in a DIY hardcore band called Mister Valentine, and another band that Warren would rather be left unnamed, the then-18-year-old decided to marry pop music to hardcore aesthetics. He finally had a home for the Weatherbox name.
Over the ensuing nine years, the band’s seen its share of upheaval. Its first lineup change came in 2005, just months after foursome started, and the turnover has been constant since then—not to mention the own personal turmoil that Warren has faced over the same timespan. In advance of his forthcoming third LP, Flies In All Directions, we caught up with Warren to discuss that record, the band’s consistent inconsistency, and the series of paranoid delusions that inspired the last two Weatherbox records.
COLIN JOYCE: What are you up to today?
BRIAN WARREN: Just hanging out at my parents’ house in San Diego. It’s lovely outside. I’m not up to much. It’s ridiculous to live here. It’s like a resort. I like the change of seasons.
JOYCE: You’ve been out in San Diego for a long time right?
WARREN: I grew up here. The band’s been together for like eight years. Nine years, shit.
JOYCE: Take me back to the beginning of the band. I know that you came up with the name while you were still in high school, but the band started later. What was the impetus for actually putting the band together?
WARREN: I always was into singer-songwriters like Bright Eyes. When I was in high school I wanted to do a project that was like that. Weatherbox is the name of a song by Mission of Burma so I just had a theoretical acoustic project while I was in high school that didn’t actually exist. At that time I was in a band called Mister Valentine that played a bunch of punk shows in San Diego, like at Che Cafe. I was basically 18 when I got offered to join this band and go on tour and leave high school. I was pretty stoked on that, but the band wasn’t really my style so after like six months of playing with them I decided to play with the aesthetic of a DIY hardcore band playing pop music. That was the original idea. I left that band in December of 2004 and Weatherbox started in January 2005. That was an early incarnation that was only together for probably six months before there was a member switch. That’s been constant since then.
JOYCE: Yeah, you’ve had a lot of turnover in the band’s lifetime, is that by design?
WARREN: It’s not by design, but it’s built into the functioning of the band because it’s not a lucrative business. When my friends who were college age took a year off of school, they’d play in Weatherbox, or between high school and college. People always joined on a short-term basis and I did things one day at a time, I guess. There was never a big plan when someone was joining. They were never joining on a full-time membership basis. Since then, we just deal with it. I’d like to have a band that’s a total constant, but it’s probably not realistic at some point.
JOYCE: Does that affect the way you work on the songs? I know at times the lineup has been stripped down to just you and a drummer.
WARREN: The drummer that played [on 2009’s The Cosmic Drama] wasn’t actually the drummer of the band at the time. It was even more haphazard, the way we wrote and recorded the record. Those songs were all worked on for a while before writing and recording even started. It definitely does affect me. I’ve been really lucky as far as the caliber of musicians I’ve been able to work with each time. The average drummer would not be able to play most of the parts. Not to toot my own horn. When the band started in 2005, it was just me and the drummer Mark working on things, and this record was similar. The new record is actually the same members as my band in high school. It was a “getting the band back together” sort of thing.
JOYCE: Was that the same lineup you were touring last year?
WARREN: Yeah… that was a 100 percent different band. [laughs] So this is something different.
JOYCE: If you’ve had band turnover as recently as that, when did you actually make this record, and who were you working with?
WARREN: There are some lyrics for the record that I wrote in 2006, and there are some lyrics that I wrote in 2013. Parts of songs have existed for a long time. Basically, I had all the ideas and the structures mapped out, and then we were able to crack it. We spent two months writing and recording, putting things together. That was in early 2012. We tracked bass and drums first and then guitars way later and vocals even later. There were some pretty big gaps in between. We were mixing for a while and not making any progress so we had to totally reboot. We didn’t start that process until summer of 2013. We were sitting and stressing, and by “we,” I mean “I.”
JOYCE: And now it’s done. It strikes me as pretty different from anything you’ve done before.
WARREN: Somewhere along this process I started taking classes for Pro Tools. I don’t have a very comprehensive grasp of audio terms. It was difficult for me to explain what I wanted from something. As I learned, it made everything way easier. It was the record I wanted to make and never had the means to. Cosmic Drama was more of an experiment about lyrics. I was going through a dark period, so it was a cathartic emotional record.
JOYCE: Sometimes beautiful things can come out of not really knowing what you’re doing.
WARREN: It’s in the moment. When we started with the tracking for this record, I didn’t really know what I was doing, still, so the songwriting is still pure in that sense. The fact that I’ve been able to talk about mixing has really changed what the end product is. The intent is still the same.
JOYCE: You said that The Cosmic Drama came from a dark time, and it’s pretty obvious that this record is less dark generally. Were there any life circumstances that made you want to make this one less dark?
WARREN: Basically, after American Art, I had a very intense nervous breakdown. A couple of them. The Cosmic Drama was all of that put into a record. I basically lost my mind and started thinking all of these scary delusional things while I was making The Cosmic Drama. This record is taking all of those delusions and making a storyline that’s positive. I thought my parents were cops and aliens. I thought there was a huge conspiracy out to get me. It made everything really confusing for a long time, and this record is putting it all into this one storyline. The last time I went delusional was probably 2009. I was on tour with a band called Lanterns and in Santa Barbara there was this party and there was a girl there that I knew from school. I started generating these false memories about her. I started thinking that I’d been brainwashed. I was at this party standing there, it probably didn’t look like much, but in my head all the years of delusions sort of coalesced into this one story. It felt good. It felt like I wanted it to be real, almost. I took that sort of storyline.
JOYCE: So the record is the narrative of that moment?
WARREN: Yeah, it’s weird because I’d have to explain psychosis, which is a really hard thing to do. All these delusions are created and then the psychotic mind can easily shove them into this one category. Wait, that’s even more confusing.
JOYCE: But it makes sense. You get that from your lyrics, there’s this abstract approach to what you do that seemed to me psychedelic in its nature.
WARREN: That’s exactly right. On The Cosmic Drama, the lyrics were all about the catharsis of it and sometimes it took over the actual quality of the sound. I feel like I’ve missed something though, and now I’m trying to backpedal to help you understand, but it’s not really an explainable thing. I always have trouble getting it out. I guess I’m just trying to say that The Cosmic Drama was more about the subtext whereas this is about a narrative. American Art wasn’t really either of those things.
JOYCE: This record came from recapitulating the narrative from those delusions, but it still comes across as a more triumphant record. It seems like you’ve overcome some of the darkness.
WARREN: Absolutely. I’ve been able to step away from the darkness and look at it rather than being inside of it. That leads to a more controlled sound. I feel like this record is definitely triumphant in a way and it has a lot to do with how I was feeling back then.
FLIES IN ALL DIRECTIONS IS AVAILABLE NOW. FOR MORE ON WEATHERBOX, PLEASE VISIT THE ARTIST’S FACEBOOK PAGE.