Twenty years into his music career, Celebration Guns’ lead singer Justin Weir feels as invigorated about DIY music as he has in his life. Celebration Guns has had a funny past couple years leading to the release of their excellent last two EP’s ..on aging gracelessly released last year and The Visiting Years. I guess it all goes back to 1998, when Justin first asked his buddy Ryan if he wanted to play in a band together when they were sophomores in high school. Justin and Ryan both became lifers of the Phoenix indie scene, among their earliest efforts being their pop punk band A Familiar Blue, with Justin attesting to having played in over twenty bands since getting going in 1998. The two stayed in touch throughout the years, leading to recording under the name Celebration Guns in the early 2010’s. The young band decided to put out their first EP, Quitter, as a means of recruiting new members after their drummer quit the band. Their recruiting efforts worked, getting Tim O’Brien on drums and later Chris Blanco on guitar. The group really started to find their footing with their the me that used to be EP in 2016, which even had a few tracks land their way on shows like Teen Mom and Shameless. Then right as the group seemed to be hitting their stride, Celebration Guns once again found themselves drummerless. Tim and Justin had a big public fight after a gig leading to Tim’s departure from Celebration Guns. The group took this as a lesson to lean on the skills of the remaining members, with Chris’ tap heavy mathy riffs starting to take center stage. Their new drummer Peter Coleman was even able to connect the group to local recording legend Alan Leggett, who on weekends and at nights would record the group’s next album (probably) worth it. The name was even more penchant than Justin and his cohort could have known, as an album put out at what they saw as a crossroads for the group lead Celebration Guns to sign with online DIY stalwarts Chillwavve Records. Justin said that Chillwavve’s presence in his life has made him as excited to be recording as he’s ever felt. It has him connected with a thriving underground of artists all across the nation making genre breaking music that’s inspired the band to continue growing from record to record.
..on aging gracelessly and The Visiting Years were recorded in the same sessions in late 2018, and the band sees the two EP’s as companion pieces. Gracelessly is the more sonically brooding of the two, as the group confronted the realization that they’re still looking for answers to questions they’d been asking their whole lives. The Visiting Years, while still lyrically downtrodden, is significantly more upbeat sonically by comparison. It is like Celebration Guns realized that even if they’re still plagued by life’s big and small mysteries, at least they’re doing it together. On The Visitng Years Celebration Guns leaned into Chris’ mathy strumming, with “Obnoxious. Loud. Undoubtedly Fulfilled.” being maybe the twinkliest song in their discography. The group also leaned into their pop impulses like the never have before, with “The Visiting Years” sounding like a pop hit from whenever Snow Patrol was dominating the airwaves. Twenty years into their music careers they are still growing, still exploring, still getting better.
These two EP’s were recorded in 2018, and while Justin talked at length about how appreciative he is to hear these songs finally get their shine, it’s the new album that Celebration Guns just finished recording that he’s most excited about. That is due in great part to the fact that after the recording of their last two EP’s Celebration Guns found itself in a familiar state, drumerless. Peter Coleman left the band, and the group decided to approach their old drummer, Tim O’Brien, both to make amends and to ask him back into the band. Justin commented that right now, over twenty years and twenty bands later, that he feels like he’s in the band he’s supposed to be in his whole life, with friends that he couldn’t be more excited to be working with. While they find the massive age/technology gap between them and their Chillwavve peers intimidating at times, what they’ve learned is if they just make the tunes they wanna make and engage everyone with sincerity and love, good will come back their way.
I had the pleasure of talking with Celebration Gun’s lead singer Justin Weir about their history, these two phenomenal companion EP’s out now on vinyl, and what is next for their band.
GSC: So, first question that we start off every interview with what is your name? How do you identify?
Justin Weir: I am Justin Weir. Like Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, like Peter Weir who directed The Truman Show, and Johnny Weir the ice skater, and he/him. I gotta know all the Weirs.
GSC: I know all the Higgins’ so I feel you. There’s a newscaster in Dallas with my name who is eating up my SEO. And what is your role in the band?
Justin Weir: I sing and I play guitar, and kind of like I’d say the base songwriter. That very first EP from 2013 was basically just me and like drum loops on GarageBand, and that’s kind of what I used to like, get other people interested in playing with me was showing that off. So for a long time, I was kind of the main songwriter, composer putting everything together. And then eventually, our guitarist started throwing these crazy tapping thing mathy things and started putting that in.
GSC: Celebration Guns started in 2013 with the Quitter EP. It was more lo-fi than your present recordings but the seeds are there. What kind of music were you trying to make at that time?
Justin Weir: I was really into Diiv and Craft Spells and Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing. Very shoegazey, over the top with pedals. I was jamming with our current drummer and another guy in a practice space for a year basically doing nothing but drinking whiskey and not really ever finishing a song, you know, kind of one of those. Yeah, and while that was happening, I was writing my own stuff at home like “I don’t know if there’s ever gonna happen”. I actually have a solo thing called Bird Watching which has the same like kind of GarageBand drum loops that don’t quite sound real, but they work. So I was really into that just like putting songs together. I love just building a song and GarageBand is great for that, where I got a guitar loop. Okay, great. Let me add bass, or let me add another thing. Let’s move on to the next part. Then taking all the various parts I put together and making it into a song. Going into the Quitter EP one of the guys quit of the two guys, the other guy’s a drummer. And so I’m like, “Well, I got the songs, man. I mean, I know we kind of never went anywhere with this one year project, but like let’s play the songs.” So we did that. And then I asked my friend from high school who I met in 1998 when we were sophomores to play with us. Oh, yeah, we’re older. Like I’m 39.
GSC: Hell yea.
Justin Weir: Then we found our guitarist, the tappy guy, on Craigslist. Quitter was kind of our introduction into in the world of local scene. There was this label run by the guy who’s now in a band called Playboy Manbaby, but back then he had his label and I was like, please put out our tape. So that’s kind of how we got our foot in the door.
GSC: You are Phoenix based correct?
Justin Weir: I say we’re from Sunny Slope, which is just a tiny little suburb of Phoenix, where we practice and where I live, or I’ve done most of our stuff as a band.
GSC: And you’ve been in Phoenix your whole life?
Justin Weir: Ryan and I are both born here. Then Chris, I don’t really know he’s been here a while. Tim moved here from Chicago back in like 2010 I think two years before I met him. He’s our drummer.
GSC:How do you guys enjoy Phoenix? Do you like the local scene?
Justin Weir: I’d say if you say indie then then yes we like it, as indie can be so broad. We have a lot of friends here because we’ve been doing it for a while, it’s just hard to say that we really fit with any one or two bands really closely. Troubled Minds, A Blackbird En Route I feel like they are kind of in our wheelhouse, but I’d love to network more with the bands in our scene from Chillwave, there are just so many on the East Coast. I have a label too where I only put out Arizona releases called Lumberjerk Records, we put out a 55 artist comp tape right before COVID.
GSC: I feel like you guys as a band kind of came into the sound that you now have it started on the me that used to be EP, but I really feel like you kind of found it with (probably) worth it in 2018. How does it feel having been three years out from it?
Justin Weir: It’s definitely interesting. the me that used to be was our first real recording with this guy named Bob Hoag. We’re like, this is it. This is the thing we’re going to do with the guy everyone goes to, and we released it, you know, in like 2016, and our drummer, quit like a month or two later. I think we didn’t really know what to do next, we’ve kind of started talking about maybe using some more tappy riffs, Chris has this crazy way of doing like guitar tapping mathy stuff. Fortunately, we had a good friend who jumped in right away on drums, and that’s kind of what started (probably) worth it on a different note. We had a drummer who was willing to make it work. But so much even changed between the me that used to be and (probably) worth it. This was the first time someone else in the band was like, “Hey, I have all my pre-written parts, you arrange them in a song with the other stuff.”
GSC: What song was that?
Justin Weir: The first time we did that with was with the song “(probably) worth it”. That was the first one we learned from the record too. After (probably) worth it we also started working with the producer engineer who also did ..on aging gracelessly and The Visiting Years. We ended a spending the next four years with this dude after once our drummer quit working on a total of 19-20 songs. I don’t know if the sound feels like it holds over to these new EP, but it’s the same guy. We tried to be like, hey, let’s make it a little bit more produced and perfected. I don’t think we really accomplished that but we did add a little more gang vocals on a few of the songs to bring a little more excitement into is that the sound. We wanted to try to match our live performance which everyone always says is better, so we tried to match that live energy. Another thing that’s interesting about these two EP’s is we actually finished tracking them in 2018.
GSC: Oh wow, so are you sitting on a stockpile?
Justin Weir: With The Visiting Years we are just about done with the stockpile, that’s going to be finished. But basically what happened was the producer we had he was a teacher at a Conservatory of Recording Arts, which is a recording school here in Arizona, and we had a connection with him through our new drummer who joined back in 2016. He was really busy and could only meet like once a week on the weekend. So that first album, we were lucky to even get it out within two years. This next time around when we went back things were even worse, there’s even less time that he can work on it. So once we saw like the writing’s on the wall, we were like, but maybe we don’t need to do another album right away. Let’s just put the first half of the songs that were done out as ..on aging gracelessly which honestly, I feel like it was like a much moodier, darker EP. Compared to The Visiting Years was a lot more bright, besides obviously, the lyric content. So it’s weird how that happened. But that’s the reason why they got released separately. It was just, maybe let’s just draw things out with ease.
GSC: So going back to ..on aging gracelessly, the name and cover are just perfect tone setters. Could you could you explain the story behind the cover? And when that was and why that felt right.
Justin Weir: It’s a picture I’ve had in the stockpile. That was probably 2006 or something. I always liked that one in particular. I just thought it really encapsulated the title, it always makes me laugh looking at it. But yeah, that one was that represented that and then the lyrics, like getting older and not knowing what to do with it. Being dissatisfied and disgruntled with the world and questioning things.
GSC: So you’ve talked about this a little bit already, but just so you’d mentioned that ..on aging gracelessly and The Visitng Years were recorded and conceptually realized around the same time. Releasing them together on one vinyl you think that you will think of them as companion pieces or one larger project going forward? [Editors Note: the vinyl has not yet been announced, this is our lil secret, ok? keep this off twitter, only for the diehards.]
Justin Weir: The music seems brighter and happier with The Visiting Years, and it’s a lot of hard darker stuff on ..on aging gracelessly, sonically anyways. I mean, when we were putting together this idea for putting out both EPs on the same vinyl, I was trying to name The Visiting Years something else so that it would be like a complete sentence because I’m a dork. But we already had ..on aging graciously so fitting something to that, nothing made sense. I mean, thought, you know, obviously recorded by the same guy, that helps a lot. So I like the idea of them being together and I love vinyl. I mean, we basically self-funded all our vinyls throughout the years. We actually had a couple of songs get on TV shows crazily. A few years back in 2016, like on Shameless and Teen Mom, we had a couple of our me that used to be songs on those. So we made some money there and just blew all it was worth on vinyl and stuff and funded ourselves to be nerds and just do what we want to do and find a way to get vinyl even if you’ve got to pay for it.
GSC: Who were some of your either peers in the DIY space or just musicians in general whose work you enjoy?
Justin Weir: I almost want to just go through my iTunes library. In the DIY spirit, Chillwavve is a pretty obvious answer. When we first joined Chillwave it was right when the pandemic started, and I live alone. We used to get on like group calls all the time and stuff and they would always be like, “We’re going to put up this band, what do you think?” Like when we got on the label, I looked back at their Discord, like “What did they say about us??” Being a part of that evaluation process, and especially having my own label, it’s a lot of fun. And I think just the way they’ve done things, finding bands that they’re really passionate about and hyping them up also finding like some bands like Heccra, or Lobster Fight, like bands that are getting a lot of hype and putting them out and sort of balancing that, its been so much fun being part of the process and so inspiring. Cliffdiver I got really into their music right before I started working to Chillwavve, I would absolutely love to figure out a way to do a tour with them, they seem like kickass people and musicians. I’m always trying to connect with like super mathy bands too, and those are a little harder to find. There’s a band called Vatican City Fight Club. They just put out this album that’s like insane. I like seeing bands that are just trying something different. We want to be as ridiculous as possible so bands like that are very inspiring. Also you ever heard of Golden Python? I think it’s a member of Gulfer, who I also love, but they put out an album called “Spitting God” that was so awesome. And that kind of stuff kind of informs our next album which we just finished recording like a week ago.
GSC: You just finished recording a new record last week?
Justin Weir: Like we’re starting to go through the mixes and stuff. It’s a lot mathier. These two EP’s that we put out, they have a little more math but it’s still a little bit more like straightforward. Like “obnoxious. loud. undoubtedly fulfilled” is one of our most straightforward almost pop punky sounding songs. We’ve always rubberbanded between that so were going to lean into the mathy shouty chaos on the next one.
GSC: Oh, shouting too, because you I feel like you’ve have generally a little bit more subdued vocal.
Justin Weir: Absolutely. I never really do shouting stuff. I do it live and people always say they like it. I’ve always been unsure how it’s gonna come across recorded. Well, we’ll find out how, cuz I did quite a bit on the next one. I have a pretty decent, like, hot water music type of like, you know, melodic scream growl thing. So we’ll see how that goes. This next album, I’m obviously excited about because it’s much more current than the songs I wrote three years ago. But it has been really nice to see the life the songs that feel so old to me get coming out now and like being current, and people commenting on “The Visiting Years” video saying they relate to the lyrics, that’s been great. These songs make a lot more sense to me now than, like, six months to a year ago when I’m like, “I guess we’re gonna put that EP out next.”
GSC: The title track from “The Visiting Years” is my favorite, what made that feel right as the lead single and title of the EP?
Justin Weir: Well, Robert at Chillwavve thought it was the song people are gonna like. I was like I don’t know, are people just gonna think it’s like way too depressing and not want to listen? But he was definitely right in the end, though I’m determined. Besides Quitter we’ve only put out albums that are named after one of the songs. So this next album has to be named after something besides one of the song titles. It’s very inside baseball, but I don’t want another album named after a song.
GSC: That is something I’ve definitely am conscious of when I listen to music. The meme is like when you hear a movie title in a movie, but I do that with albums too. What’s kept you sane the past year? Movies, podcasts, going on walks with your dog, anything.
Justin Weir: Going on walks with dogs I should do, that’s like a healthy thing, I have some great weiner dogs. But I think it’s more so like definitely podcasts. I listen to like TV show rewatch podcasts. Saved by the Bell was the first one years ago that I listened to. And then there was one called Gilmore Guys or two guys talked about the Gilmore Girls. They had a small role in getting their popularity where they had a cameo in the revival. I also like Fake Doctors, Real Friends which is podcast from Zach Braff and Donald Faison from Scrubs.