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Don’t Ask Weed Why They Chose Their Band Name

Photo by Sara Wylie

Life can’t be easy when you’re a band called Weed, especially when you don’t partake in the obvious vices. Will Anderson has heard all of the jokes, read the pun-filled headlines, and answered all of the questions about his band’s name. He even recently instituted a new policy of kicking interviewers in the throat for asking him about it. And he has a good reason to, as oftentimes his music gets lost in the leafy imagery and assumptions that follows his band around like a bad stink. Which is a shame, because there is so much more to Vancouver’s Weed than their name.

After releasing a string of various recordings, including a cassette for flourishing NYC imprint Orchid Tapes, Weed released their debut album, Deserve via Couple Skate Records in 2013 to a whole lot of raised eyebrows. The album’s mix of shoegaze-y reverb, droning fuzzbox riffs and moody punk jams gave new fans a raw catharsis that extended into their insistence of playing gigs that anyone of any age could attend. (To all the new, up-and-coming bands out there: if you play all-ages shows, they will come.) Now, Weed are back with a second album, Running Back, which actually should have been with us sooner. Its release hit a few snags last year when Couple Skate was acquired by Brooklyn’s indie powerhouse Captured Tracks. A September 2014 release date was scrapped, and months later the band broke free of their contract and signed with Lefse, the label that helped launch acts like Neon Indian, How To Dress Well and Youth Lagoon. But now everything is back on track for Weed, with a new album and a North American tour beginning in April. Noisey called up Will Anderson and risked a kick to the throat by asking about the band’s name, album release drama, and why the sight of seeing Bon Iver scratch his balls at summer camp will forever haunt him.

Noisey: So, how did you end up in Vancouver?
Will Anderson: I’m from Wisconsin, so everyone either goes to Minneapolis or Madison from my town. I wanted to try something different so I applied to Concordia University in Montreal and University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I ended up getting into both so I just decided that Vancouver seemed cool. I dropped out after my first year, then moved to North Carolina, then New York City, and then back to Vancouver to study at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. So, I’m here on a post-grad work visa right now that expires next year in May and trying to get permanent residence. It’s a little complicated but I think I have a good chance of getting in.

I hope you don’t mind me asking and you’re likely tired of it but –
What’s up the name Weed? No, no, it’s okay. Like many things in this band it’s joke that went way too far. I don’t smoke weed. I’ve actually never tried it before. I wouldn’t use the term straight edge but that’s the easiest way of describing myself. As Damian from Fucked Up said to me, “I’m womb to tomb. Never had a drop.” So the band was my solo project at first when I was in New York City, and I thought it’d be funny to call it Weed. So I started using it and—I feel like I’ve said this line so many times but—when people think of the word “weed” they think of the one association. I like words and phrases that can be read in a lot of different ways. But really the way we use it is like when you weed somebody out of your life, you get rid of a negative influence.

So, I was sent your new album last summer and it was originally supposed to come out on Couple Skate, which released your first album, Deserve. What happened with that plan?
Without dragging anyone’s name through the mud, we recorded the album with Jordan Koop and we were always going to stay with our hometown label Couple Skate. They’re in Seattle and like our best friends. When we were doing our big Deserve tour it was announced that Couple Skate was getting absorbed by Captured Tracks and we were like, “Sweet! This is awesome! Everything is going to level up bit.” Basically, we figured we’d still be able to work with our guys and keep it indie. And then [Captured Tracks] sent us this contract, which, without getting into too much into the nitty gritty, sucked. They wanted our entire back discography, our future discography and own them forever. It was all coming from Captured Tracks, not our friends. Couple Skate would have done whatever we wanted but they didn’t have saying power so we were really stressed. So we hired a lawyer and he confirmed our fears, saying it wasn’t a good thing to do. Eventually, we sent the record to Fat Possum and started talking to them. Long story short, we decided that if we were going to level up we wanted to do it with a fair deal and they felt like a better fit. And Lefse is under contract through Fat Possum.

Did the record change at all between labels?
Yes, that was the other part of it. While all of the negotiating was happening we decided we weren’t happy with the way the record sounded. The original version’s guitars weren’t crunchy and fuzzy enough, so we went back with the guy who did Deserve and re-recorded all of the guitars and remixed it.

What are the biggest differences between Deserve and Running Back?
I do wish it sounded a bit more like Deserve, honestly. I’ve listened to it so much now and I’m sick of it, after going through all of the changes and remixing it and stuff. Everything we’ve done before this was three days and we’re done, move on to the next thing. This one just took us so long. That’s the only thing I can think of. We didn’t approach it any differently coming into it. We just try to move quickly and see how it turns out.

I know you’re a big Green Bay Packers fan, so is the title a reference to their running back Eddie Lacy?
Like Weed, it’s a double entendre. We recorded that album during the Super Bowl of last year [XLVIII], and I just love the term “running back.” And the titles of the songs are repeated phrases from the lyrics. So while it is a tribute to Eddie Lacy it more so has to do with running back to Vancouver after I left.

You mentioned Damian and Fucked Up earlier. How was your experience touring with them last year?
It was cool. We had never done anything like that before. We are all big fans of the band so tt was very, very cool that we got asked to do it. Again I hope I’m not saying too much, but they seemed a bit bummed out. They’re a band that I’ve always looked up to because they kind of got really big but maintained their integrity. But they definitely have some interpersonal issues. So that was hard seeing for us. Not that we have dreams of becoming that big some day, but we wondered if that is what we had to look forward to. It was a little disheartening in a way.

So Weed began as your solo project, and then you brought in Kevin [Doherty]. What did Bobby [Siadat] and Hugo [Noriega] bring to the band?
Well, Bobby is easily the most talented musician that has ever played in the band. So he brought musical talent. Kevin and I are the songwriters, so we write and bring that aspect to the band. Hugo is my rock because when the band tours it always ends up with me and him performing without the other guys. Something always happens where Kevin has to fly home for a few days and Bobby has moved on to do his own projects. Luckily, he is doing this next tour on the east coast and we have a list of drummers to call whenever we need them.

Is it true that Hugo was invited to join the band because he brought you donuts?
There was this lunchtime series on CITR that Hugo invited to play, and there was an intermission where people in the band had to eat donuts in a contest to see who was fastest. So that is where the donut legend started. He gave us a bunch of donuts… and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Lefse calls your music “sentimental dream-grunge” and I think that is such an accurate description. How do you feel about people trying to describe the music of Weed?
I think I might have actually written that. I believe that bio is something Chris [Robbins] from Lefse just said, “Write something quick” and that’s what I came up with. There are so many lazy music writers – no offense – like so much copy and paste, and I’m guilty of it too. But the amount of bands that can be lumped into “garage” is just ridiculous. I think it’s pretty easy to define us: we’re shoegaze, grunge and punk. I don’t know. That’s fine with me. My favourite bands are shoegaze and punk, maybe not grunge. But there’s no sense in denying the history.

Where does your all-ages-only policy come from?
When I was 16 I was playing in bands with guys much older than me and I remember the first time I saw a basement show it just blew my mind that there were bands that would only play all-ages shows. And so I thought, “That’s what I want to do. I want to cater to people like me who can’t get into shows at bars.” And it just stuck with me. Performing is always more fun if it’s at a weird all-ages space. Maybe there’s not as much money, but for us I don’t know what our goal is as far as making money. We’re not gonna make money either way.

What can you tell me about the newspaper you publish called Dunk? And why doesn’t it have any web presence?
I think people feel the internet is the most accessible thing in the world, but I don’t know if it is. I think print still has a voice in this world that is in a weird way more accessible than the internet. It’s a free, monthly newspaper I run that we drop off all across Vancouver, in the hip places that music and non-music people go. It’s basically centred around the alternative comics scene here because on the side I’m also a manager of a comic book store. And that’s how it started, in the store.

I read that you did some tour-managing last year for the Courtneys?
That’s how I kinda got the touring bug, by managing tours. I did a lot more of that when I was younger, like 18 or 19. I dropped out of UBC because I wanted to go out on tour with this band, Pattern Is Movement. So that was my first tour experience and loved doing it. I briefly tour-managed the Rosebuds; a South By Southwest run and a lot of random stuff on the east coast. I did a couple of dates with the Bowerbirds too. It’s weird. I am kinda intertwined through that North Carolina scene in a different life. Like, Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was my camp counsellor when I was growing up.

No way! I guess that makes sense because he’s also from Wisconsin. So what was he like?
Oh yeah. He was great. We all loved him. He was also the camp video guy. He would show a video at the end of camp each week. I have this permanent memory etched in my brain of him holding the camera and scratching his balls, in his shorts and stuff. He was also really into basketball too, so we played basketball at camp a lot too. But he hasn’t been involved in my musical life since I was a teenager. His bandmates were also my next-door neighbours and my babysitters so I still keep in touch with them.

Anyway, once I got into the Weed stuff I got addicted to touring. And I just became friends with the Courtneys, just playing shows in Vancouver. Jen, who sings in the Courtneys, was sitting around with Hugo saying, “We really need to get someone to come on tour with us. Who should we get?” And he said, “Will! Will is the guy.” It was kind of a no-brainer, and I was free, so I did the tour with Tegan & Sara.

Was that a smooth tour to be on?
Very smooth. Unlike anything I’ve ever been on before. Tegan & Sara have two tour buses and a semi. I had no idea how big they were until that tour. I think there were a lot of things leading up to their success, being Canadian pop heroes and basically the gay pop stars. Every city there would be a huge line-up of teenage queer kids. I love their new record. When I found out that’s what they sounded like now I thought, “This is fucking awesome!” But last year burned me out. I don’t think I want to do the tour manager stuff anymore. Other than Weed.

Cam Lindsay is a writer living in Toronto – @yasdnilmac

Vancouver band Weed talk about hating their band name and having Bon Iver's Justin Vernon as a camp counsellor.