Artist Interview: Kevin Whelan of Aeon Station

Posted: by The Editor

It’s been a long time since Kevin Whelan last put out any music. His band, The Wrens, has achieved a sort of cult status in the time since their last record, 2003’s excellent The Meadowlands. They’ve been working on a follow-up more or less consistently since and, after a decade a waiting, Whelan decided to to release the songs he’d written on his own. Enter Aeon Station, a new project with backing from Wrens bandmates Greg Whelan and Jerry MacDonald. Observatory dropped in December last year, and Kevin Whelan was kind enough to catch up with me to discuss the making of the record, the timing of the record, and continuity between his projects. Read that below.

After so long, why did you decide now was the time to release Observatory?

Yeah, it was a long time. [laughs] I would say that I think time building up over so many years – last time I was involved in releasing an official record was 2003. That’s a long, long time ago. There was hopes and dreams and prep ever since 2006 and ’07 so it was a long time coming for sure. I think also for sure COVID spurred it on. I think for a lot of people, they had to re-evaluate things and ask, “What can I do to make life more enjoyable?”

Would you say, then, if we didn’t end up locking down, do you think Observatory would still exist? Or at least exist in the form it does now?

I think it was kinda amplified. COVID set up a focused path and gave me some time. I don’t know – it’s a good question. It’s kinda tricky because I’d waited so long and I think I got to a point in my life where I was tired of hoping for the future. I said, “This is what it is now.” You don’t get time back no matter how much you wanna rationalize it in your head. I think, too, having my kids and my life and just wanting to enjoy music. Music’s always been such a big part of my life.

In the leadup to the record you said that despite how much time had passed since The Meadowlands you felt like this was a record you were making just for you. Do you feel like you went into this without thinking of fan expectations? Or did that sorta affect how you conceived of Observatory?

I think it’s a bit of a mix. I’m the biggest Wrens fan going, you know? I started when I was 16 – they’re my favorite band, my whole life. It wasn’t a conscious thing, like “This is what you’re gonna get.” It was the opposite – “I know you love The Meadowlands, so I hope you can see this as maybe complementary.” You know, I wasn’t gonna release an LCD Soundsystem record. But there was that hope that if you like The Meadowlands you can find something to like in this, some joy to get from this. But I didn’t pressure myself to outdo The Meadowlands. There’s social moments, and you can’t take those away from a band or an artist. I talk about this with my wife, with the band. There’s a moment, and it’s big or it’s small, but it means something socially, and you kinda can’t duplicate it. It was like lightning in a bottle given the factors against us.

I know the story of The Meadowlands was a frustrating one, but the way people talk about it – what’s that feeling like for you? Is it strange?

It literally gives me chills! It was such a huge moment for us and so important. It’s not weird, but it gives me chills, joy, happiness. It’s something I can never thank people enough for. If people knew even more intimate stories of how it came about, I think they’d like it even more. [laughs] It was very down-and-about, nobody-helping-us kinda world. It was very humbling.

It seems like a lot of this record, like especially “Everything at Once,” which name-drops a few songs on The Meadowlands, exists almost in response to that album.

Definitely, and, I mean, I love The Meadowlands as much as anyone. I took it, and we all took it, very seriously. And that relationship, it’s heartfelt. You know, though, funny, you’re the first person to bring that up to me.

All that said, I know the album’s been out for about a month, so have you kept up with how it’s been received at all?

It seems weird, but I’ve always been a guy’s who’s never really read anything. I would get too nervous reading it whether it’s good or bad. I do have some favorite Wrens reviews, though. With Aeon Station, I’ve seen a number of things and my wife will call them out, or even Jerry, who plays drums – I don’t know how I can express it. If even three people like it, and it can play at a local restaurant, I’ll be happy. I will say I knew they were good songs. They’re not songs that’ll change Spotify’s algorithm, but they’re good songs. And I really enjoy people who take the record onto themselves. It’s the greatest thing ever, in all sincerity.

Was it hard for you to go from having your life, your family, then to jump back almost out of nowhere into being a musician, recording, promoting your music?

In my world, in my family life, I never left music. We had the last Wrens show in 2009, and I always believed and hoped – and still do – that the Wrens could get back and be, but this is really nice. I guess, you’re right, the supporting. It’s kinda nice, because for years I just didn’t talk to anyone.

If I understand correctly, you only wrote five new songs for this record. 

So the way it worked is I did six, and one just wasn’t cutting it. I had these demos over many years. I started this kinda big – I started in 2006, 2007, when I was trying to compete with The Meadowlands. Not compete. But I knew I had to do well. And to write good songs, it takes a long time. For some people it comes very quickly, but for us, we go through a lot of garbage. I made it to five that’d be on the next Wrens record. I had scraps here and there of songs, so when I did Observatory, it wasn’t gonna be a record. I just wanted to record – I was still hoping for the next Wrens record. I did them all kinda quickly. The six I wrote after all those years came out really fast – like a couple weeks. That was weird. The songs came in probably four, five weekends. Some I’m super happy with, “Fade,” which sorta sounds like something The Wrens would do. I didn’t write them for a record at all. I just knew that if I was gonna do a record I needed to have songs. It wasn’t even gonna happen til April or May of 2021.

Observatory feels like such a cohesive piece, musically and lyrically, that it’s really surprising to find out it was sort of just a grab bag of songs from the past decade or two.

It was a really lucky strike. It was weird, like taking two photos of yourself – one when you’re 20, one when you’re 40, putting them side by side. Usually you’d be in horror, but I kinda lucked out. I knew I had to make it fit if that was gonna be the case. Jerry recorded all six songs in four, maybe five hours. Some of the drums he did – it was insane. “Everything at Once,” just insane.

Should we expect another Aeon Station record ever?

Lemme ask you – what would you do? I think I’ll do what I do, I’ll write songs, but what would you say?

Oh jeez. I guess whatever’s most fun?

It’s like that. I’d love to do a Wrens record, I’d just love to do songs. If Aeon Station offers anyone anything, I hope it’s that if you love something, it’ll come through. It might not be the way you thought or you dreamed – your expectations have to be in concert with reality – but it will. If they’re a bunch of crappy songs, though…. [laughs] Maybe I’ll do an LCD Soundsystem type record, but nobody will like it. [laughs]

If you went back to the Kevin who was working on The Meadowlands, and you played him Observatory, what do you think he’d say about it?

That’s a nice question. I would probably say, “Sounds like I’m singing better!” That’s a good thing. I would be happy with where it’d going but I think I’d wanna hear more. I think I’d be happy that I didn’t sell out. I don’t know what that means anymore. When we did The Meadowlands, we had nothing. Ryan Schreiber at Pitchfork liked it, so that was one of those social moments. I’d be glad about that. It doesn’t sound like those cheesy bands I grew up with in the ’90s, like the Goo Goo Dolls. [laughs]

Observatory is out now via Sub Pop.

Zac Djamoos / @gr8whitebison

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