Maximum Volume’s Damian caught up with singer and guitarist Nick J Townsend from award winning independent British band WEAK13 which is run by himself and co songwriter Wesley Smith. In this exclusive interview Nick reveals some details about the forthcoming WEAK13 double album, provides a controversial take on the future of music venues and suggests what many metal bands get wrong about Tony Iommi.

 

What inspired you to become a musician?

Well I was always listening to music as a child thanks to my father who owned a gigantic vinyl collection; I’d regularly hear stuff like Pink Fairies; Jethro Tull, Queen, The Beatles but it never once occurred to me that I myself could even make music. When I was 14 I visited one of my neighbouring friends Jeremy who had borrowed a Spanish guitar from a girl he knew named Sonia. He’d had it in his bedroom for about a month and barely played it so I asked him if I could take it home for a night and he said yes.

If I hadn’t have done that then I’d probably never have gotten into music; after a year of playing guitar my uncle Alam Qurashi came over to visit and his eyes lit up when he noticed I’d bought a very cheap electric guitar, he picked it up then immediately started  playing blues licks and I was in complete awe; that was a huge inspiration. I had a basic audio double tape deck back then and I recorded him sitting on the corner of my bed playing guitar; I think that became my most played tape cassette.

If you hadn’t gone into making music, what do you think you would have done with your life?

Realistically I’d probably have become a civil servant because my mother was one; she attempted getting me a job interview at a place called Crown House but at the time I was more interested in drawing macabre cartoons or playing 16-bit computer games. I remember at high school I had some career officer type teacher called Miss Ferguson who once asked me what I’d like to do in life and I told her I could become a professional serial killer. She yelled something at me and I later agreed with her that I’d probably have to make that a hobby and instead get some pointless mundane job to cover my crimes so I suggested I become a careers officer to her and I think that was the end of that particular meeting.

I think if I hadn’t gotten heavily into music then I’d have taken my art and writing more seriously or at least have dedicated way more time doing those things. Before I was a writer for RGG magazine (which was 12 years of my life) I was the editor for my own self published magazines. In actual fact that’s why I was given the position at RGG because I was technically their competition. I had a passion for illustrating up until I went to college; after a month of listening to my Art Teacher I stood up during one lecture and said “Screw this, this is not art; it’s bullshit…I’m leaving” and I walked out the classroom and immediately organised a transfer to a Performing Arts & Music course instead.

Is there an artist or band you would have liked to have played with living or deceased and why

No, not really. Maybe I once used to be inclined to think that way. It would probably spoil my love for Nirvana and Soundgarden if I played with them and discovered that they were massive assholes so I’d rather not know. I’ve got friends who dream of meeting the people who inspired them, I don’t think they’d have much to say to me if I met them other than “while you’re here can you give me a blow job?”. If they took an active interest in me beforehand then sure there’s a two way thing going on; otherwise your hero is stuck in a room with a stranger they know jack shit about. I like meeting new people all the time but when someone knows completely everything about your music career, your hobbies, relationships, even worryingly your address, and then spouts it all at you in an opening conversation hoping to be your bestest friend ever then you’ve got little choice but to stand there with zero clue who the hell they even are; they might be an asshole. it’s bound to make them a little awkward yeah? Not hinting at all that it happens to me a lot.

What is the best venue that you`ve played at and what venue would you love to play at?

There’s a little place called Percy’s in Whitchurch and although it ain’t the biggest place I’ve played at it makes up for it with sheer hospitality and atmosphere. If I could pick any venue I’d love to play at I think it’d have to be The Hollywood Bowl. I’ve been to Los Angeles so many times now and that’s definitely a stage I’d like to play on some day. Mainly because it’s an iconic place; I remember watching a Monty Python live in Concert and a Depeche Mode concert on home video and that location always seemed like a fantastic place. It might be a shithole for all I know. Despite all the time I’ve spent in California there’s never been anything I’ve wanted to see at the Hollywood Bowl whenever I’m there.

What is your all time favourite album?

‘Nevermind” by Nirvana.

Tell us about the new double album that you are currently working on?

It’s the biggest music project I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of and we’ve come a long way. In late 2015 we launched the debut album ‘They Live’ and it was the first time you could really hear a collection of WEAK13 tunes all recorded in a professional studio on one CD; they represented us really well; it soon became clear to reviewers that we were more than just a one song pony. Wesley and I work wonders as a songwriting team and we had the pleasure of musician Neel Parmar providing drums for the entire album. We parted ways with him not long after the album launch; mainly because he wanted to travel abroad and explore the world whilst we wanted to begin writing the next album. It would have to be impressive as we’d already set the bar quite high so we arranged a meeting with engineer John Stewart and proposed to him the idea of engineering a double album for WEAK13.
He’d never recorded a double album before and I think he was a little skeptical at first because that’s a lot of songs and it’s rare for a band in our league attempting to record one but he knew we were more than capable of good songwriting. Not only did we have to write our best tunes but me and Wesley agreed that we had to blow our engineer away with the demos otherwise they weren’t good enough to record in the studio for the album. John was never sent a song demo until we felt it was perfect. Slowly over the months we’d drip feed different songs to him and we decided that drummer Justin James would be ideal to record with although eventually half of the drums on the double album were performed and written by John Stewart and myself. We spent something like two years writing the songs and allocated another two years to record them. It made sense that spacing the recording sessions would make the double album more enjoyable to do; plus throughout the entire songwriting and recording process we were touring and testing songs out live in small clubs; there’s actually one more song left to record and another to polish slightly but the Covid situation has delayed the final recording sessions slightly. I’m excited. This double album is the greatest thing I’ve ever done and I reckon a lot of people will be in shock when they hear the songwriting from me and Wesley. .

What was the first record you bought and where did you buy it ?

I think it was the ‘Holy Smoke’ single by Iron Maiden and I was with my friend Simon Hughes in WH Smith’s in Kidderminster during my lunch hour at High School. About a week later I pretty much bought the entire band back catalogue; I went completely off them after about 3 months. The first time I had a record bought for me was when I was 6 years old and that was thanks to my father as I’d watched an Adam Ant music video on Television and I asked him to buy it for me. He came home one day with the ‘Prince Charming’ album and I loved it. My taste in music changed every year, sometimes I’d listen to only Elton John and Jimi Hendrix, I had a Biohazard, Machine Head and Onyx faze. There was a short point in my life where I mainly listened to metal but I soon wised up. I love metal, it’s my favorite influence and when it’s done well it’s beautiful but unfortunately there are now so many budget-Pantera bands out there that the art of songwriting seems to have been sacrificed by many. Anyone can buy the black pyjama uniforms and scream till they bleed but if they’ve nothing really important lyrically to say or offer anything new musically then they’re a bad clone. Hey, I hope they’re having fun but there’s more to metal than just imitation.

There’s also a small percentage of bands (and fans) who constantly praise themselves for being extremely open minded but openly mock other music forms because they’re not completely metal. That’s pretty much the most closed minded opinion a musician can have and it’s actually an insult to the foundations of metal itself, I bet if you asked Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath what he thinks about rhythm and blues, he wouldn’t just rasp at you and then claim that his metal ears couldn’t possibly ever hear the blues because it’s not metal; although I would find that incredibly funny. It’s like when you go watch a young metal band at a live show making a massive deal about including a song on their set that contains a clean tone guitar for a section; they have to warn all their fans first before playing it and feel the need to assure them that it’s not a ballad and that it’s still metal. I don’t think my fans are thick. I love gigantic guitar riffs in WEAK13 tunes but there’s so many influences other than metal that created them. I also heavily defend metal as a form of music and detest the backward attitude of songwriters that see it as dumb or a row; they’re equally just as closed minded.

Is there an artist, band or an album that has really impressed you recently that you think we should check out?

The one band that has impressed me the most is a French band called BOPS who we played with on tour; they sound like a modern day version of classic 60’s pop bands such as The Animals or The Kinks. I bought their self titled album and I said to our bassist Wesley Smith that we should definitely cover one of their songs. We asked BOPS if we could do a rendition of their tune ‘Mary’ and they said yes. We recorded it, released it as a single and it’s gotten quite popular already. Quite a challenge to cover a song by a band that you rate extremely high. First you write something that you yourself like, then you pray that the band who wrote it are happy and finally you hope your fans love it. This was one of those occasions where we got everything right. Both our fans and the BOPS approved of it and musically we are proud of it just as much as any WEAK13 tune. We didn’t want to just copy it; we did a version that respected the original but took it in a different direction that felt comfortable to us.

What has lockdown been like for you?

To be honest, creatively it’s been fantastic during Lockdown for me and I’ve gotten lots done for WEAK13 plus It’s also given our engineer even more time to spend on mixing the double album that we have in the pipeline. We’re getting noticed a lot more online now and trending in places because we had the foresight to create lots of content in advance. The worst thing was my father passing away recently and losing two very close friends. Nothing to do with Covid-19 at all; but all three died within 6 weeks of each other. It’s hard to explain how I feel right now but every new song that we make there’s a part of them in the music. I’ve laid down vocals in the recording studio whilst thinking of them all, trying to make them proud and doing my best to not break down in tears. It’s been difficult to not get emotional. Mentally this has been a real tough year for me but I believe I’m handling things well, maybe not perfectly well but well enough.

Do you think we will see any live gigs in 2021?
No. I don’t think so; maybe they’ll open venues for a few weeks but you can bet your balls that as soon as they start advertising new events they’ll be forced to close again. I worked out in April 2020 that you’re looking at 2 years of this at least and at the time a lot of so called music experts laughed at me when I stated WEAK13 has created a 2 year plan. Now they look pretty stupid and we’re in a very strong and powerful position.

I saw bands and promoters cancelling and then immediately rescheduling their events all throughout 2020 and it was like watching headless chickens trying to blow bubbles. Some live shows have had dates moved at least 4 or 5 times and they are still trying to sell those tickets. The time they wasted doing all that could have been better spent adapting their business model. Here’s a thought, what happens if you’re told there won’t be live music for 5 years? Are you still going to reschedule shows? You do know that the longevity for 90% of bands is 3-4 years yeah? Good luck. I’m not a pessimist at all but I take my music career and our band very seriously so I’m not going to gamble and sit on my arse hoping all will magically go back to normal at the end of each month; which shockingly is the attitude many venues have adopted.

The most sensible thing venues should have done right from the beginning was use their resources to generate a new income. A year into this and you’ve still got venues posting things like “Hey, we’re thinking of doing a live stream event, anyone know how to use a camera?”; it’s taken almost 10 months to think of that? That was the first thought I had when this started. It’s also exposed just how lazy and unimaginative a lot of bands are who have decided to wait until this situation is over before they do anything musical or artistic again. I know some bands genuinely have distance or communication problems but come on now, do something!

How many venues do you think will close?

No idea, probably a lot. The larger corporate chain venues may get bailed out with funding or sponsorship but if the smaller independent ones don’t seize this current window of opportunity (and this is in some way an opportunity) to build up their platform online then they’ll be out of the game. Face it, everyone is on the internet now and if things do go back to normal then how are they really going to entice people back? How are they going to attract new people? I’ve not even had one single venue send an email to me with an update on what their future plans are and the reason for that is because the majority are shitting themselves, most are not prepared to adapt at all and are sitting this out, probably avoiding their clients in case they get quizzed about pre paid tickets for rescheduled shows.

Just think for a second. There are some businesses (venues) that sold the idea of a product (an event). Invested all their time and money on advertising it etc; then had to reschedule it, spent further money and time only to cancel again and guess a future date to host it; then discover there’s still uncertainty. Imagine spending a year on something with nothing to show for it? I’ll call it now but when venues do open you can see masked crusaders objecting to them being open. Many venues have some form of mailing list; why haven’t they asked everyone to (for example) follow them on Facebook for updates or sign up to their YouTube channel? Why didn’t they make their loyal supporters all patrons from the start of this then offer special treatment and with that provide an option to donate. Why am I, the one who doesn’t own a venue, appear to have more common sense?

What are your thoughts in regards to live streamed events?

I’m still amazed that there are music venues who are only now considering new ways to bring in cash. Live streamed events call for investment and that’s basically like becoming a small TV Studio. There are already studios successfully making money offering these kinds of services to musicians and they began adapting and developing in April 2020. Everyone is in a race for the best streaming setup. What do you think all these zoom podcasters are doing in their homes? Imagine if they had a better location to broadcast from with a stage, a lighting rig and a sound desk? You know? Like a venue. When you think about it, venues as a streamed location actually offer escapism, watching people constantly stream live from their sofa will get boring trust me; People need something better to look at, with smoke machines, laser lights, you know?…..like a professional music venue.

Entertainment venues are businesses so why are many not behaving like one? Their past and future customers are currently tuned in somewhere else; do you think they’ll all pile into your venue the second you open the door? No, if things go back to normal you’ll see some venues panic again hammering their keyboard and typing “Hey, we’re open now, how do I tell everyone? Does anyone know how we create an Instagram or zoom account? Why doesn’t anyone know we exist?”. If you don’t create a product then you do not exist.

What can we fans do to help music venues??

How can fans help? That’s a tough one; when you see people in the music industry sensibly working very hard to entertain you or keep you informed then I’d say support any way they ask you to (within reason). Our band YouTube channel is gaining subscribers because we’ve asked people to subscribe and in return we’re creating brand new content for them. We have a music video for ‘Mary’ which is doing great because we made an effort; we hired a music venue (yes, hired. So self funded it and invested in a business) and filmed a professional music video. We are being rewarded for our hard work; we could have just sat on our arseholes.

How do you feel about returning to live shows after the Covid-19 outbreak?

Well I feel that there’s going to be less music venues and more desperate musicians all squabbling for scraps. It’ll be an epic messy shit show. WEAK13 is entertaining people throughout this alleged outbreak and venues are welcome to book us by all means after Covid….or maybe instead book a band that’s done sod all for the past two years. However, most venues when, or if, they reopen will likely continue to make business mistakes and book the bands that are as inept as them. Hope I haven’t trodden on anyone’s toes saying that but we only play at reputable venues; this is our music career so we aren’t interested in messing about. WEAK13 are respected musically by many; have an ever growing fan base, we’ve a much anticipated double album to release in the near future, we’re solid musicians and we consistently entertain so the last thing I expect in all fairness is for the majority of venues to book us after Covid; many will be still trying to fathom what happened to their MySpace account. We take the music industry seriously when it takes us seriously.

How would you like to be remembered and what would you have engraved on your tombstone?

I’d have “Press to eject” engraved on my tombstone or “Download WEAK13”. Wesley Smith and I write all the songs for WEAK13 and our music will live on after us. We both stand by the songs which convey everything we need to say; so as long as people remember we’re badass musicians that make music on our own terms then that’s enough.

Is there anything you want to add or share?

Yes, you can download or stream the WEAK13 debut album titled ‘They Live’ from all major music platforms including Amazon Music, iTunes, Deezer and even that one that used to be owned by Jay-Z until he squirmed away to Spotify, Oh yes, we’re also on Spotify, that’s the one that Taylor Swift once heroically boycotted until she crawled back to it like a chump. We have a lot of cool music videos too on YouTube; please do give them a watch if you’ve enjoyed or hated this interview. Cheers.