An Investigation of The Weather Underground

By: Forrest Reda


The Weather Underground by Sonia Onate
I first became aware of The Weather Underground through a friend in San Francisco whose musical opinion I trust implicitly. He sent me a link to the band's MySpace page and the first track I listened to, "Nickel and Dime," immediately lodged itself into my psyche. The song's melancholy guitar opening, accompanied by a couple "ooohs" lead to these lyrics:

You are not so nice
Public execution in the newspapers
My schooling interfering with my education
They say they told the story in the Sunday Sun
But I know what you do
Yeah, I know what you do
When the joke is over
Well, you just get older
And say
You are not so nice

The lyrical interplay between "public executions" and "education" and the singer's performance, from the tremolo in his voice to the passion in the delivery, struck a chord within my soul. Then I heard "Neal Cassady" for the first time. My gooseflesh rose, my jaw dropped and I actually shouted with the joy of discovery. Even streaming on the Internet, the energy in this music is palpable.

I listened to "Neal Cassady" two more times, and dug into the literature presented on their MySpace page. Most young bands list their favorite groups in their Top Friends, or bands that they want to open for. The Weather Underground lists all manner of cultural figures from the last century who mean something to them, from Bob Dylan to Albert Camus. Their influences could be the curriculum for a college literature course.

The first time I saw The Weather Underground play was at a benefit show early on a Sunday night in Hollywood, out of their element in a half-empty room with shitty acoustics. Despite all this, the way that the band played together, locked into a communal beat, with lead singer Harley Prechtel-Cortez roaming the stage like he was channeling ghosts, even leaving the stage to balance on a table at one point, all this told me they were performing for themselves as much as the audience, high on the interaction with each other.

The Weather Underground :: 02.20.08 :: Silverlake Lounge
Los Angeles, CA :: By Josh Nelson
The next show I saw was at the Silverlake Lounge during the band's residency. The place was absolutely packed with a mix of suits and scruffy Silverlake hipsters all searching for salvation, and TWU was delivering it. When "Neal Cassady" started there was an audible gasp and the crowd sang "oooooooohhhhhh," pogo-ing up-and-down, offering rapturous applause that the band soaked in and reflected back ten-fold.

Prechtel-Cortez sings with his shoes off and rises like a snake coiled to strike. The interplay between him and the other musicians is like a ballet accompanied by sweet noise – he leans on bassist Ryan Kirkpatrick, grabs guitarist and keyboard player Shoichi "Sho" Bagley while he's trying to play and walks back to drummer Diego Guerrero to bang his head to the beat.

Likewise, the band can't help but grin at their singer. Kirkpatrick sings along without a mic, and Guerrero smiles and hammers away while Sho contemplates his older cousin (Prechtel-Cortez), who I would later find out persuaded the young Sho to drop out of school and join him in this magical mystery tour.

Prechtel-Cortez suggested that we meet at a park for this interview, talk and then play a little soccer. The day of the interview was hot, so I brought a bottle of tequila from my freezer to quench our thirst and spark conversation. I met the band and we wandered down a path looking for a spot to talk. An older Jewish man, completely unsolicited, approached us and directed us to a depression in the center of the park surrounded by trees. He told us that the combination of the location and the trees made it the best air to breathe in Los Angeles.

We situated ourselves in a circle with my tape recorder in the middle, passed the bottle and got to know each other. Whether it was the fresh oxygen, the tequila or a combination of both, our interview became a wide-ranging conversation about the band's history, inspirations and aspirations.

The Weather Underground by Sarah Elise
A week later I would meet with the band again at a Mexican restaurant in Silverlake that is famous for its bowl of tequila soaked pineapple.

What follows are excerpts from both interviews, in the band's own words whenever possible.

Prechtel-Cortez was born and raised in Inglewood, living with his mom in a small apartment above a mini-market. "They basically gave us almost free rent," he says. "We were really poor, and then my mother remarried and we moved to New York." He went to high school in Queens near Flushing, "where the Ramones are from," but would find himself traveling back West after his stepfather passed away, with the intention of attending college. But, it didn't quite work out the way he planned.

Prechtel-Cortez: It was a rough time. I was trying to find out a lot of things about myself. Things don't always turn out the way you expect them to. I tried to go to college. I like academia – I'm almost the intelligentsia to a degree, but institutions are really hard for me. I'm sure they are for a lot of people. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but just for me, I don't like just getting a grade, I like exploring things and going into them deeper, really immersing myself. When I get caught up in something, I really get caught up in it.

JamBase: From listening to your lyrics, reading your influences and meeting you, I get the sense that you are more educated than most college graduates, if not in the traditional way.

Prechtel-Cortez: For me, literature has always been the way in which we learn. Like religion or anything, it's a doctrine in which you have realizations. The only way you learn anything is through experience – no matter what. You can read something that is really cool, but it's only a doctrine through which you realize something. So, when you can read something and say, "Ah, I just experienced that," you feel that you immerse yourself.

JamBase: I find that people read Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson and they want to go have the same adventures, but they don't have the background – they haven't read what they read, like Walt Whitman, for example. It's the same thing with bands. They don't go back to the influences of the bands they like.

Prechtel-Cortez: Exactly. Walt Whitman was the outlaw, the great American rebel like Mark Twain, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, the America that I love, that we love, the "Song of the Open Road." A lot of people try to live the life of Dean Moriarty, but you have to live your life and these things are just kind of footnotes that you read alongside the journey.

Kirkpatrick: There was such earnestness to their plight. Now, you would feel like your doing an American Apparel commercial trying to pull some of that shit off. No one had precipitated that to inform them that that was a cool way to behave or a cool way to approach their art. They just did it. That's the beauty of it. That was it. You can't do it again.

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