“This is exactly what I was after!” exclaimed an excited friend; both of us having just had our brains scrambled by the sheer power of Leeds quartet Weirds. On a balmy Saturday afternoon in Leicester, Weirds could be found at the O2 Academy 2, their set sandwiched between Southern quartet Crows and the phenomenal Kagoule. Saturday afternoon at Handmade Festival was certainly one for the noise lovers.
The excitement and brain-scrambling feeling that came with their set was one I’d experienced before – the first time I caught Weirds, back in Manchester, on a superb line-up that saw them supporting Menace Beach at The Deaf Institute. Much like Menace Beach, Weirds are yet another exciting band to come out of Leeds; the ‘Capital of the North’ having a great track record for that sort of thing.
“I think it’s got a wealth of great venues, which help to nurture a culture of new bands starting and going to watch gigs.” Comments Weirds frontman Aidan Razzall, as we grab a quick ten minutes before they’re due to go on. “I just think in general there’s been some great bands to come out of the city throughout history, Sisters of Mercy to name one. They were amazing and they did their own thing completely. There’s some new great bands as well, I’m really enjoying the new Eagulls stuff; that’s great. Hookworms, Pulled Apart By Horses, Menace Beach. Cattle are a great Leeds band. I just think it’s a great city. People are always up for going to watch gigs and support local bands, which is a good thing.”
Commenting on venues like the Brudenell Social Club, Wharf Chambers, Headrow House and Belgrave Music Hall, Aidan shares a viewpoint and an appreciation for Leeds that I’ve encountered countless times in conversation with people living in the city. It’s certainly a far cry from Nantwich. A small market town in Cheshire with a population just shy of 20,000, Nantwich is where the four lads met and decided to start making music together, having grown up with each other and attended the same school. “Nantwich is a kind of small, one horse market town which doesn’t really foster any kind of musical scene, or anything that kind of strays from the mainstream.” Confides Aidan. “There’s one club that plays chart shit – people getting boozy and violent and taking their anger out on people every night. It’s a slightly different scene to Leeds. But I guess without growing up in Nantwich and going to school together, doing our first practices in the school practice rooms, we wouldn’t be in Leeds now. You have to give it credit for that.”
Having grown up in a small-ish town similar to Aidan, I share not only his pain but his migratory habits as well. Attending University allowed him to leave behind Nantwich and make the move to Leeds; living with the other three members of the band. But education and escaping small-town living weren’t the only selling points for relocating to Leeds. “There were a lot of bands in Leeds that we were listening to at the time and we thought – we wanna be a part of that.” Says Aidan. “We just wanted to be in a place which was able to foster a better creative and cultural scene. That sort of went hand in hand with me going to University there, meeting people in bands and meeting artists. People we felt we could relate with more than back in Nantwich. It wasn’t like a great thing where we were like ‘Let’s leave Nantwich, it’s horrible’, it was just naturally what we wanted to do.”
Living together in Leeds allows Weirds ample opportunity to hone their style and work on new material. It became clear from speaking with Aidan that he retains a similar level of focus and intensity off stage to that which he exhibits on stage (though obviously toned down considerably), so one can imagine it’s not the typical house of 20-something lads out of University. “We have a basement that we’ve converted into a little writing space/demo studio-thing, so we’ve got a little recording console down there that we track demos on and that sort of stuff. Really, the writing process is quite natural.” He explains. “It starts with me and Zachary, who plays guitar. Me and him will usually come up with a riff or a vocal idea or something and then bring it down into that communal space in the basement, where Nash and Matt add the muscle and the fleshing out of songs. That’s not the case with all things. Some songs we’ve written all together in that room, but I think more recently because we’ve been writing a lot more, it’s been a slower, more considered process.”
Their last release came in the form of the groove-tastic sludge-drenched ‘Blood Test’, back in December 2015. Production duties were down to Matt Peel, a Leeds based producer and engineer who has previously worked with the cream of the crop up North. As well as an EP in the works for release sometime this year on an exclusive 12” (with a little help from PRS Funding), Weirds have again enlisted the expertise of Matt Peel for work on their debut album. “We spent from June last year, when we moved into the house in Leeds, until February of this year writing the record.” Explains Aidan, continuing. “It was basically our natural writing process, then we took it into the studio and did a little bit of pre-production with Matt Peel. He sort of had his say, shaped the songs a little bit more. All the songs were definitely pre-written before we went into the studio. Some structural elements have definitely changed on some of the songs, but the core of them is there.”
That familiarity with Matt Peel and appreciation of his way around the desk was ultimately what lead Weirds to work with him for their upcoming releases, as Aidan summed up. “I think the reason we chose to do the album with Matt Peel was because we wanted a slightly more expansive sound. We’ve seen what he’d done on previous records before. We recorded Blood Test with him and Heavy Rain, so we’d had previous experience with him and got on with him really well”
On the topic of production duties for the new record, conversation turned to their earlier studio output and working with MJ of Hookworms, who put out their initial releases. In a sad turn of events, the Christmas period proved tragic for some across the North of England. Major floods plagued the North, with countless businesses having their livelihoods subject to a severe kick up the arse. A number of studios across Leeds were unfortunately affected, with MJ’s being one of them. “It’s obviously a massive tragedy with the floods over the Boxing Day period last year that his studio was completely ruined. It’s been great to see so many people come out and support him, donate money and time to rebuilding and helping him get back on his feet in terms of his studio. I believe the other day I saw him post on the internet – I think he’s starting to rebuild it, a couple of days ago – which is great to see. It was a huge thing. It wasn’t just his studio in Leeds, Blueberry Hills Studios as well, which is sort of on the same industrial estate complex in Kirkstall. Their studio got ruined as well, but there was some great fund-raising gigs for that.”
At the time of writing, Weirds have just finished up a run of dates with the notoriously loud God Damn. This comes not long after a show with Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, as well as an appearance at the fourth Fluffer Pit Parties event down South. The next few months will see Weirds appearing at a number of festivals, including their debut at the mammoth 5-day rock and metal haven that is Download Festival. “It’s gonna be great playing that.” Laughs Aidan, sporting a huge grin as he continues. “I also think it’s about the heaviest festival we can get away with. I don’t think you’re gonna see us on any kind of metal line-ups… But it’s gonna be great; we’ve talked about it and we’re just gonna have fun.”
Their inclusion on the Download line-up comes as no surprise. Weirds have been working tirelessly the past year, putting a real shift in and picking up pace as a band. Shows with the likes of Frank Carter, Menace Beach and God Damn are evidence of this. “We’re definitely getting there.” Nods Aidan. ”Our live show, I don’t think it’s something we worry about – We’re so used to that. We’ve been playing so long, the live thing feels like muscle memory. I think especially now we’ve got an album, talking about release plans for that, I definitely think we can get to where we wanna be. At the same time, we’re still enjoying it and that’s the main reason really.”
With 2016 looking to be their potential breakout year, I queried Aidan on their current stance and how the four-piece are getting to grips with their growing popularity. “You do have those moments where you think – I’m really lucky, you know.” He contemplates. “Playing with Frank Carter and it was a packed out room, it was great. It was in Brighton – the first time we’ve ever played in Brighton – and there were loads of people there. After that it felt like – yeah, we’re getting somewhere. It’s also good as well to take stock of where you are but also be aware of not getting ahead of yourself and taking things as they come. Making sure you have a kind of workman attitude to recording and playing, not allowing an ego or a sense of arrogance to creep into what you’re doing just because you’re playing bigger shows or doing more releases.”