Photo by Sophie Hur

Momma plays the middle slot, between Hotline TNT and headliner Snail Mail at The Athenaeum Theater on Sunday, September 4.

Momma – featuring Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten – first caught my attention a few years ago due to their seriously rad, mid-90s sound which reminds me of so many of my favorite bands of that era, namely Veruca Salt and The Breeders. The band’s latest, Household Name, which was released on Polyvinyl Records on July 1, is both extremely fresh and current sounding and nostalgic at the same time. Regardless of how old you are, the songs will sound familiar and are filled with hooks for days.

Momma is currently opening for Snail Mail before embarking on a headlining tour immediately following. My initial plan for this interview was to see if my friend, Louise Post from Veruca Salt, would join me as a surprise guest during the interview as I’ve been watching the Instagram love between Louise and Momma for the last year or so. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they already all know each other – Weingarten tells me that her dad is a music journalist who knows Louise and that Louise has been a supporter of Momma for quite some time. And, just weeks before this interview, photos from a meet up in NYC surfaced on Instagram so my plan was foiled! Check out Momma’s perfect cover of The Breeder’s “Divine Hammer” and then read the conversation I had with Etta and Allegra.

How did you discover music when you were younger? Did your parents turn you on to stuff? Did you have older siblings who shared music with you? 

Etta: I have older siblings who are into a really wide range of things. My two older brothers showed me everything from Paul Simon and Neil Young to Weezer and Green Day and blink-182. Some of my earliest memories of music are of watching MTV music videos on Saturday mornings with mom, and watching Gwen Stefani and No Doubt videos or Avril Lavigne or Ashlee Simpson. I’ve always been drawn towards music. Once I had access to the internet, I was definitely going down YouTube rabbit holes and watching a bunch of different artists and people that I was finding on Tumblr.

Allegra: My dad was a music journalist so when I was growing up, he would get sent free CDs all the time. A lot of my discovery was just going into the garage and looking through piles of CDs and then running up to my bedroom to put them into my computer and listen to them. That’s how I discovered bands that I still listen to today.

Did the two of you meet in high school? Is that how your musical partnership began?

Etta: Yeah, it basically started in high school. As soon as we started hanging out, I think music was very quickly integrated into our friendship, not just what we were listening to but playing and jamming together and hanging out at Allegra’s house. I was 16 and Allegra was 17.

Did you have dreams of being where you are today or was playing and listening to music just something you did to pass the time as a hobby?

Allegra: I think it was always more than a hobby. We dreamed of taking it seriously and we wanted to do it full time. It’s taken us a while to get to this point but that was the intention when we started.

From a recording perspective, it gets easier and easier to record and release music. You can record something and upload it to Soundcloud or Bandcamp literally as soon as it’s done. That has led to some artists being signed based on one or two songs. You’ve now released three albums, you didn’t get discovered after uploading one song. While maybe not happening as quickly as you would have liked, does it feel good to know that you put in the work to get to where you are today?

Etta: For sure. I’m just so happy that we have this work ethic. I think it’s made up really strong individuals not only as musicians but in a business sense too. We know who we are as artists and being able to express that to other people but also to each other and ourselves. I think it says a lot when you can work hard and steadily, and build yourself up because you’re going to want to keep growing. If this happened to us on our first record, getting all this press, we probably wouldn’t have known how to handle it. I don’t envy people who blow up immediately and then are consistently busy and don’t have time to creatively ruminate on things.

You’ve got some opening dates with Snail Mail but you’re also doing some headlining stuff. As an opener, your set is probably limited but as a headliner you’ll have the chance to play longer. And, with three albums, you have a lot more flexibility than those bands who are headlining after their first album and don’t have a catalog to pull from for the set list.

Allegra: Well, it’s only our third record. There’s definitely some songs that we don’t like to play from our older stuff but it is nice to have the option to choose.

Have you had the chance to play every song that you’ve recorded on the three albums live at least once?

Allegra: There’s a lot of songs that I don’t think we’ve played live.

You’re so early in your career but there is a trend of older bands going out and playing anniversary shows where they play full albums front to back, often in the order that the songs appeared on the album. Is that something that crosses your mind when recording and sequencing an album? Like, do you think, “We better do it right now because we’ll be playing this album on it’s 20 year anniversary some day”?

Etta: That would be awesome. I’ve thought about it, but not seriously. It doesn’t feel like if we were to have one legacy record, this would be it just because I think we have a lot more in us. As much as I love this record, I can’t wait to start writing the next one and I think there’s going to be a lot more albums down the line that might be that legacy record because if this is the legacy record, that means that’s the best thing we’ll ever do and I like to think there’s more.

How do you decide the song order? Is that something you spend a lot of time thinking about?

Etta: There definitely is thought behind it. As soon as we wrote “Rip Off”, I think we knew that was going to be the opener. It just sounds like one.

We happened to put the majority, if not all, of our singles at the beginning of the record on Side A. I think that was more because we would hope that people would listen – not that this necessarily would happen – but we hope people would listen to the album start-to-finish in full. We are able to encapsulate somebody who is listening for the first time and then once they hit Side B, they are all still bangers in my opinion. There was a lot of thought process that I’m probably skimming over. I think we knew that “No Bite” was going to be the last song after Allegra laid down that nasty riff.

We live in a short attention span period of time. So many music listeners just make playlists, it’s almost like going back to when I was a kid and just bought singles. It makes sense that you’d stack the front of the album with the singles because you never know how deep someone will go.

Allegra: With streaming, I don’t really expect anyone to listen to anything front to back. If anything, our sequencing decisions was on the off chance that someone was listening on CD or vinyl. I think the way we’ve structured it, at least for the beginning, you just can’t skip the first four or five songs. And once you’re five songs in, there’s a shift in the record, and that’s Side B, when you’re flipping the record. But, I don’t expect people to listen to our stuff start to finish on Spotify because I don’t even really listen to records like that. I mean, if a new record comes out and I’ve heard all the singles, I’ll probably hop around and I’ll listen to the stuff that I haven’t heard yet. I think people get too precious about that sometimes. At the end of the day, you can’t control how someone listens to your music. So, you might as well just have a bunch of great songs that can be enjoyed regardless of whether or not it’s listened to in sequence.

This is your third album but it feels like you’re getting way more attention this time around than in the past. Are you putting more effort into promoting the album or do you think people are finally catching up?

Allegra: There’s a lot more behind-the-scenes work that has gone into this record but I think that it has been a long time coming. We do have agents and PR people that are helping this stuff get seen. It’s like it’s been seven years of hard work to get us to this point. And there have been a few comments from people who are like “These are industry plants” which is just a weird comment to make. If a band has been together for five or six years and then finally get a good publicist, it’s just really good progression and growth, it doesn’t mean anything has been planted. I also think that the songs that we wrote for this record are just a lot better and resonate with more people. The fact that there’s a team behind it, I don’t think people would write about it if they didn’t like it.

I was driving home recently and was listening to the local NPR station and I was shocked to hear a live Momma performance. I was so surprised that, at first, I was like, “Is this a local band that I like? It sounds so familiar.”

Etta: That was a live performance we did in Philadelphia for WXPN. It was a five song video performance that was like a free-at-noon situation and was a lot of fun. Dehd also played.

Are there other bands that you consider to be part of your peer group? Bands that are part of your “scene”?

Allegra: There’s definitely bands that we’re friends with but I don’t know which I would consider my peers. Some are more successful than us so I don’t know if that counts. But, we have a good scene of people, other bands that we’re buddies with that we talk and hang out with all the time.

You’re a young touring band so this might be a dumb question but has touring started feeling like a job yet? Or, does it feel like this awesome adventure you get to go on, like a cool vacation?

Allegra: I think touring feels less like a job. The other stuff, like press and radio shows and stuff like that can kind of feel someone has told me I should do it so I’m doing it. I don’t think touring will ever feel like that because it’s so excited. It’s hard to say anything is like a job because we’re not making any money off of anything so nothing is really a job quite yet. We’ve been doing interviews since 10:30 this morning so that’s pretty legit. That’s four-and-a-half hours of doing interviews before I have to go work an 11-hour shift. It’s a lot of work. I think people underestimate how much work musicians are doing behind the scenes that’s not just writing, recording or playing.

It’s hard to make money off music. We really have no other choice than to work side gigs right now. But, hopefully that’ll change in like a year.

Etta: I’m praying it’s only a year. It would be awesome to be able to quit another job.

Have any artists that you admire come to a show and been like, “I’m a big fan” or have you gotten any shout outs in the press that you weren’t expecting from artists you respect?

Etta: Louise Post of Veruca Salt was the big one.

Allegra: I was pretty excited when the people from beabadoobee reached out to us and said they liked us. That was pretty exciting. I just remember the guys from Narrow Head hit us up too. That was kind of cool because I’m a big fan of their music and I didn’t think they would ever like a band like us.

You’ve made five videos for the album. Is that also part of the job or do you enjoy making them?

Etta: We have so much fun. It’s just sick to have a visual component to the music because that’s another thing that gets people attached to your songs. When I’m at a bar and a song plays, I’m like, “Oh my God, the video for this song is so sick too.”

What is it like to be playing a show and look into the crowd and see everyone singing your words back to you?

Allegra: It’s crazy. It sounds so corny but that’s why you do it. It’s just the best feeling ever. We did a surprise album release show at this little bar near both of our houses. I almost started crying when that happened.

Etta: We had this crazy moment during “Medicine” where, during the drop-out chorus, everyone was singing everything back to us and we got to step away from the microphones. That’s never happened to us before and that’s something that we’ve dreamed of. We had a moment where we looked at each other and were like, “What the fuck? This is the craziest thing ever. I can’t believe this is happening.”

I’ll admit that when it was mandatory to wear masks at shows, I wasn’t upset. I will sing along to songs but often make up my own words because I don’t know them all and hiding behind a mask allowed me to do that without the band noticing. Do you ever look out and see people singing the wrong words?

Etta: Oh my God, yes. That’s like the funniest thing. I think that’s one of the most interesting things about going to a concert. Next time you’re at a show with a lot of people and there are people singing along, you will find the one person who is really doing their darndest, which is amazing and very supportive and cool, but like absolutely botching words. It’s the funniest thing in the world to me.

Allegra: I’ll say that I’ve never personally caught that happening at one of our shows.