SXSW 2022: Aeon Station Lets It Fly

A featured act at this year’s South By Southwest Music Conference, Evan Dando arrived in Austin, Texas, to promote the 30th-anniversary reissue of the Lemonheads’ It’s A Shame About Ray, along with his new memoir, Rumors Of My Demise, due out later this year.

As for Aeon Station, they were focused on the here and now. At 52, the band’s Kevin Whelan is just three years Dando’s junior. But the buzz surrounding his group at SXSW 2022 is typically reserved for younger acts. Aeon Station is, after all, no Wet Leg. And while the band’s name may be new, many of its songs have been knocking around in Whelan’s head for at least a decade. Five were part of a Wrens album that was supposed to come out on Sub Pop Records, but its release was aborted by cofounder Charles Bissell.

Sub Pop reps so valued Whelan’s contribution that they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he headed into Hoboken, N.J.’s Nuthouse Recording with engineer Tom Beaujour (Nada Surf) to hash out the music for Observatory, one of MAGNET’s top albums of 2021. Joining him were former Wrens members Greg Whelan (guitar) and Jerry MacDonald (drums). With Beaujour and keyboardist Lysa Opfer in tow, Aeon Station made its much-anticipated live debut at TV Eye in NYC, on March 11. A subsequent two-day, five-show blitz at SXSW was cut short when Kevin Whelan blew out his knee in classic rock ’n’ roll fashion during the fourth performance. The band is expected to resume live shows in late spring.

MAGNET’s Hobart Rowland stole a few minutes with the Whelan brothers and MacDonald prior to their third Austin appearance in 24 hours—this one at a day party hosted by BrooklynVegan.

Compare this SXSW run to the Wrens’ last visit.
Kevin Whelan:
Our first conference was in 1993 or ’94 …
Greg Whelan: We played at a bowling alley outside of town somewhere.
Kevin: The last time we played was 2009, which seemed like the peak. Every street was crowded. Now it feels like the old vibe again. It’s good to be back.

Sixth Street is nowhere near the same. There’s barely any live music there now.
Jerry MacDonald: I was telling my kids about that last night.
Greg: It’s all DJs and cover bands.

Watching you onstage at Elysium last night, it was like the floodgates were released—a catharsis after all these years.
We know how precious it can be, how easily it can disappear and how time can just take over. The fact that we get to do it today is enough. We just go for it.

Given the state of industry, what are your expectations for this album?
We don’t have any expectations, so everything is enjoyable.
MacDonald: I think it’s way more confusing now—at least for me. Everybody can get their music anywhere now, which is great. But you’re going to be in one of two camps: You’re either trying to make it, or you’re just doing it.

You guys have fulfilling careers outside of music. You checked out for a long while. Now you can check in again and go back to your regular lives when it’s done. It sounds like a luxury.
Kevin: It is a luxury, but you still have to find the time. It’s easy to say, “Hey, we were in band a long time ago. Let’s look at the old photos.” It’s another to say, “When are we gonna rehearse?” 
Greg: It’s nice knowing that we don’t have to depend on this.
Kevin: We didn’t depend on it in the past, either.

You could’ve easily just hung it up. What drives you?
Legacy, family … It’s formed so much of what we’ve done over the years. My kids came up onstage yesterday, and I was fighting back tears. My 14-year-old was sobbing. We were playing outside on a tiny deck, but it didn’t matter.
Kevin: Jerry has kids who are the same age as us when we started the band. It’s crazy.

What was your initial reaction when Sub Pop came to you about releasing your own music?
A mix of scared shitless and excited. Half this record was written in less than two months—it’s something I’m really proud of. Jerry recorded all the drums for half the record in just six hours.
MacDonald: Kevin said, “I need get this music out,” and we shared some files. I have an electric kit to practice on at home, and it was like, “Holy shit, this is fun again. Really fun.”
Kevin: That song “Fade”—Jerry brought it to life. I thought of him playing it one way, and he called me one day and said, “No, I got it.” And he got it. I think it’s the best song on the album.

Jerry did a nice job of retrieving his sticks during that song last night.
MacDonald: I lost three sticks that song. [Laughs]
Kevin: Our first gig, he broke two heads in one song.

Will there be another album?
Kevin: We’d love to do it, if someone is interested. Why not?
MacDonald: I’ve heard the demos these two have. If there isn’t another record, it would be silly.