I’m Not Okay: LA’s Weathers Discuss Mental Health and Writing Music During COVID

An interview with the soundtrackers of millennial burnout

Weathers (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Los Angeles alternative band Weathers broke into indie rock airwaves with 2016’s hit single “Happy Pills” and continues to champion mental health awareness in their sophomore album, Pillows & Therapy, a synth-pop effort brimming with millennial burnout.

Austin Chronicle sat down with frontman Cameron Boyers, guitarist Cameron Olsen, drummer Cole Carson, and bassist Brennen Bates Thursday night before their show at Empire to talk about their musical inspirations, being creative during COVID-19, and their band coming of age like a John Hughes movie.

Austin Chronicle: How did you all come to meet?

Cameron Boyers: I actually met Brennen first. I had put out a Facebook audition page. He responded and he came to practice and auditioned and it worked out. Then I met Olsen next at the battle of the bands. We were both in separate bands competing. I met Cole last.

Our dads actually played in a band together in high school. I was looking for a drummer, and my dad was like, I think I know someone. Cole was living in Illinois at the time and then he moved out to California. We just clicked really well.

AC: What was the inspiration for the name of the band?

CB: To be completely honest, there's not really any real inspiration, there was a list of about 200 names and it was just the one that resonated with us for some reason. I don't know why. Sometimes we like to tell people that it has to do with the fact that we all grew up together and saw each other change like the weather changes, but that's not really the truth. It was totally random.

AC: Your new album, Pillows & Therapy, is very different from your previous work production-wise, but the themes stay the same – a lot of dark irony and mental health. What are some of the biggest musical inspirations behind the new album?

“What we try to bring to the table every time is a lot of energy, but there’s melancholy underlying it.” – Cole Carson

CB: Yeah, this album was interesting, because we didn't really have a lot of like set inspirations going into it, like we did with our first album. We kind of just went into it trying to write some cool music. Because of the pandemic, we had to go into our library of unreleased demos that we actually really liked still and we decided to pull older works out of the bag and work on those. We have “American Dream,” which is a song from like five years ago. In terms of production inspiration. I wouldn't say we had any real specific inspiration, it was more so we just started working with a couple different producers rather than just one producer.

Their styles and our styles kind of blended and meshed into what it became. Some songs sound a little bit more like classic Weathers like “Talking is Hard” and “Hello,” some songs sound totally new and unfamiliar like “American Dream” and “C’est la vie” and stuff, but theme-wise, millennial burnout is a good way to put it. We wanted to continue the conversation on mental health and talk about therapy and wanting to get better and stuff like that. There is also, I guess, a feeling of kind of getting just really tired.

AC: That kind of segues into my next question, which is how COVID has affected your creative process because it's so isolating?

Cameron Olsen: I feel like it was definitely hard to get our stride for a bit because it was like you had nothing to do and you couldn't really see a lot of people. We like to collaborate a lot, especially with other people – so that was hard. Everyone wanted to do Zoom sessions which are, in my opinion, the most uninspiring thing ever. I can't stare at a screen for like more than an hour at a time anyways. We were able to do a few of those, but then towards the end of it, we started catching our stride and being like okay, we got to live with and utilize this time in the most positive way we can with the few people we're able to work with. We’d all [gotten] COVID tested and kind of like, you know, [did a] only-see-each-other type of deal. Then it started getting inspiring. In the beginning, I remember we just got off tour when COVID started, we thought it would be nice to relax for a bit, but then that got old real quick.

AC: What’s your creative process as a band?

CB: We believe that it's important to be flexible and try different things, you know, but usually, we try to start with a track – like instrumentals: guitar, bass, drums sort of thing. Then we start humming melodies over that and then we start thinking about what we want to say. What does the song feel like? What is this track bringing out of us conceptually? And then we start putting lyrics to that.

From time to time, we write alone or in twos and sometimes we write together, but when we record, it's usually a collaborative process, for sure.

Cole Carson: Usually we get the demo ready and then we take the demo to the producer, if they didn't produce a song or whatever. And that's when all of us really put our own stamp on it and it turns into something else. Like, the melodies are still the same, but that's when the track really turns into a Weathers song. Well, one thing that we always like to say is that our music makes you want to jump up and down and cry at the same time. I feel like what we try to bring to the table every time is a lot of energy, but there’s melancholy underlying it.

I feel like we try to make it feel really, really fun because we want people to have a good time at our show, but our lyrics have a lot of sadness.

CO: It’s easy to get cheesy if you write a happy song. Now we try to stay away from love songs, because it's like been-there-done-that. Yeah, we don't really have any real love songs.

Weathers (Photo by Jana Birchum)

AC: You don’t have many love songs, but your song “Rehab,” off the new album is about relationships. Where does the inspiration for that come from?

CB: “Rehab” is about toxic relationships and what it feels like almost to relapse and go back into those toxic relationships, because something about them feels almost like a drug, which is where the name comes from. Sometimes toxic relationships do feel like drugs, because they can be really amazing in short spurts, but then they can be really toxic at times – and then it gets really bad.

And it's really easy to relapse, because sometimes, when you start getting in your own space, all you can think about is the good times, you know? When you reminisce a little bit, it's easy to forget about the bad stuff, because you probably want to forget about it anyway.

AC: A lot of your songs deal with things like mental health. Why is mental health such a recurrent theme in all of your music?

CB: We never really went into it thinking, ‘We want to write about mental health, we want to be a mental health band.’ It wasn't until after we released the Kids in the Night record when it really started to become apparent to us what was going on, which was that the fans were taking the music and making it something bigger than just us. And we really liked that. We all have our own experiences with mental health. It started feeling really important and definitely felt like something that we wanted to continue doing. I know for me, I guess my mom has struggled with bipolar and schizophrenia, like her whole life. It’s been super tough. I've been diagnosed with depression as of, like, early 2020 and spent some time in a hospital. I go to therapy and see a psychiatrist and take meds and all that fun stuff. So it's a whole thing.

CC: Yeah, it's been in my family for a really long time. It's been kind of a tough year – a lot of losses in the family and I’ve been experiencing a lot of slight panic attacks. I don't really know what's going on with it. I haven't really got it quite figured out, but yeah, there's been a lot of people that are very close to me who have really struggled with it. Like Cameron said, we didn't really choose to write about it, it just kind of naturally came out.

“I feel like our music also kind of reminds people to kind of check on themselves because your typical unhappy guy may not always look unhappy. They could be the funniest, loudest guy in the room, but you don’t know how they feel inside.” – Cameron Olsen

CO: I mean, they're all giving great answers. I feel like our music also kind of reminds people to kind of check on themselves because your typical unhappy guy may not always look unhappy. They could be the funniest, loudest guy in the room, but you don't know how they feel inside. Like Robin Williams was super depressed, but you wouldn't ever think that. It's like the idea of the tears of a clown, you know?

Brennen Bates: I've never gone to therapy or to a psychiatrist or been diagnosed with anything, because – I know, it sounds kind of bad – but I've never really taken that time to take care of myself. I think that’s what we’re trying to do; to help people take that next step of accepting that you’re struggling so you can get better. It takes time, it takes work, it takes effort. When you already are in a state of depression, or are tired all the time, it makes it hard to do the work to get to the point where you feel okay, so sometimes you kind of have this acceptance of not being okay.

CB: Yeah, we definitely try to help people by speaking from our own experiences. Obviously, we're not registered therapists and psychiatrists, so we don't have all the answers. We're still figuring it out ourselves. Like Cole said, I experience really bad social anxiety sometimes at parties. For some reason, in the past few years, it's been getting worse and I don't know why.

AC: Your music kind of reminds me of a more evolved version of Green Day. Green Day is like “I do drugs to cover up my mental health issues,” and you’re just like “I have mental health issues and it’s okay.” What’s your fanbase like? Is it millennials who grew up with Y2K-era music or are they more on the younger side?

CB: I would say more so on the young side. These days everyone is more open with having these conversations, which is a good thing, because I feel like that's where we should be going. We get our fans hitting us up in DMs or coming up to us at the merch table talking to us about their own personal experiences and saying how, like our music has helped them, or they're coming and asking for help, or they just want to talk. That happens all the time.

AC: What are some musical inspirations in general for Weathers? What is the Weathers sound?

CB: We just kind of started being really into like dark alt things with synth here and there and some electronic twists to it, which was like “Happy Pills.” We decided that we wanted to let loose a little bit and have a lot of fun and so we kind of looked towards the Eighties and Nineties era where we feel like a lot of bands just started experimenting and just having fun. So we started taking inspiration from the Cure, the Police, Depeche Mode, some modern stuff like the Killers, Sly – stuff like that. With this new album there aren’t any super crazy inspirations, but we’re just pushing our own boundaries and seeing where we can go.

AC: How would you describe your musical evolution from when you started five years ago to now?

CB: We're just growing up in our music. It's just growing up with us. I like to say that sometimes our music or our band's story feels like it's a John Hughes movie – a coming-of-age story. I guess I don't know if I feel like that's the best way to describe the progression.

AC: This is your second time touring here in Austin. What are some of your favorite parts about the city?

CO: Salt Lick, P. Terry’s, Sixth Street – all the classics. Our first time here was South by Southwest and we stayed at this dope Airbnb in Barton Springs.

CC: We also went paddleboarding!

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Weathers, Cameron Boyers, Cameron Olsen, Cole Carson, Brennen Bates, Empire, Mental health

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