Pretty impressive, the three-piece Portland, Maine band Weakened Friends recently was named the Alternative/Indie Artist of the Year at the 2018 Boston Music Awards. It’s an honor well deserved as Sonia Sturino (vocals/guitar), Annie Hoffman (bass) and Cam Jones (drums) put out the amazing album Common Blah on Don Giovanni Records in September and spent the better part of last year slaying fans around the world with a style that, to my ears, pays homage to late the mid ’90s bands that started on indie labels before jumping to majors and having tons of success (Juliana Hatfield, Veruca Salt and Modest Mouse come to mind).
Now, I don’t know what’s in store for Weakened Friends (I got in touch with them to set up this interview not by dealing with a publicist but by sending an email to the band’s Gmail account), but as accolades continue to pile up and faces continue to get rocked, there’s little doubt that more and more people will discover the band – and be instantly wowwed – just as I was a few weeks ago.
I fired off some questions which Sonia answered while somewhere on the road in, I presume, the Buffalo area where Weakened Friends was performing when these answers hit my in-box. On Thursday night, Weakened Friends headline a show at the Big Room Bar with support from Cleveland’s Punch Drunk Tagalongs and Columbus’s own Sega Genocide. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. More info here.
Hitting Ohio heavily this week – Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus. Convenience or part of the game plan?
We’re such a small band I think it’s important for us to be out and on the road as much as we can! We’re also from a smaller town, an industry “c/b market” so we make an effort to never look them over! We’ve met a ton of great bands and people because of it.
I discovered Weakened Friends because I was scrolling through venue listings to see who might be coming through Columbus. So now, in doing some research, I see that you did the Ohio tour at almost the same time last year. With all the touring that you do, any memories of Columbus or was it just another tour stop on the endless highways of America?
The venue [Big Room Bar] is really cool, we really liked playing it. There was a really great little vintage antique shop right next to it that was fun! It wasn’t in this band, but the drummer in my old band was a huge Blue Jackets fan, he tweeted at the team that we’d be in town and they hooked us up with awesome box seats to a game, so that was a pretty rad Columbus memory. I’m not much of a sports fan but there was free beer and snacks !!
Cincinnati to Columbus is about a 2-hour drive. Columbus to Cleveland is about a 2-hour drive. Manageable and not bad at all. What’s the longest stretch that you’ve driven between two tour dates and what did you do to avoid the mindless boredom?
We drove right down to SXSW from Portland, Maine a few years ago without stopping, which was like 34 hours. There were also two gigantic snow storms hitting us during the ride. It was wild. We make a lot of stupid Spotify playlists to pass the time. Right now we’re rocking one we started with our friends in the band Nervous Dater last tour. It’s called “Mommy Carwash” look it up, it rules!
Sorry for being stuck on the touring-type questions but … it does look like you tour a lot and not just regionally (I saw Canada tour dates, UK tour dates!). At this point, you can’t have day jobs, right? How long as the band been your full-time job and what were you doing to pay rent before making this your career?
I have never had a real full time job because of it. But I work at a venue in Portland that is great about letting me leave. Annie actually just left her position of 5 years as a studio supervisor at Berklee Collage of Music so that we can be put touring more in 2019! We actually own a house (Annie and I) and Cam rents from us, it’s really hard to pay the bills doing this at the level we’re doing it, but it’s what we want to make this work so we’re figuring out how to do that and just working really hard at making the band top priority!
If you shared your Spotify playlists with me (maybe they are publicly available?), what do you think I’d be most surprised to see?
Mommy Carwash, of course.
[Note: the playlist is FULL of artists that, well, moms in their minivans would listen to while going through the carwash – Heart, Tori Amos, Paula Cole, Tracy Chapman, Sheryl Crow … you get it]
I’m old. My reference points often date back to the ’90s. I could (and have) told friends that your sound reminds me of bands I wrote about in 1998. I’ve been interviewing bands since 1991 and HATE asking the ol’ “influence” question but do you feel like you’re keeping the spirit of ’90s indie rock alive (as in, are those the bands you love?) or is Weakened Friends a “go forward and forge our own way/sound” type of band?
I’m honestly really influenced by a lot of new and up and coming bands more than anything! A lot of our friends are in dope bands and we get to play with so many awesome bands on tour, I get inspired by that! But if I had a top list. 1) Kate Bush 2) Liz Phair 3) Land of Talk 4) Mommy Carwash the playlist 5) Heart, both 80s and 70s era, both ironically and non ironically.
The internet can help make or break a band. Can you point to anything internet-related that has helped raise the awareness of Weakenend Friends?
We had J Mascis on one of our songs! Haha. Umm good press is always really nice to see, so yeah the NPR, Pitchfork, New York Times writing about our record was pretty bonkers.
During the interview portion of the Audiotree session, you talked about buying a house together. So, between living together and touring together, you’re together – as a band – ALL THE TIME. My team at work has done a few offsite team outings at Escape Rooms and we’ve managed to complete the challenges – with very little time remaining – both times. Do you think, under the pressure of a countdown clock, Weakened Friends could get through an Escape Room as you rely on each others strengths or do you all think alike and therefore would struggle?
We have a couple days off coming up, maybe we’ll try it and let you know!
In that Audiotree session, I heard how J Mascis ended up playing on “Hate Mail”. But as that was from early 2018, wondering if you’ve had a chance to talk to J since then? Here’s my J Mascis story – warning, it’s not a great one but it’s how I’ll always remember him: I was at SXSW, don’t remember the year but probably 2004/2005/2006, and was walking to my hotel on the final night around 2am knowing that I’d probably get about 2 hours of sleep before heading to the airport for a super early flight. I passed J walking down the street by himself, carrying a guitar case and it was one of those, “Holy Shit, it’s J Mascis!” type moments where I didn’t know if I should nod and say, “Hey”, go into complete geeky fan mode and be like, “YOU’RE J MASCIS!” or just walk past him and leave him alone (that’s what I settled for). Fast forward 5 hours and I’m in the airport walking to my gate and I pass a familiar looking person, sleeping on a chair with an open Stephen King on his chest. That’s right, J Mascis. To be honest, had I had a smart phone at the time, I probably would have been a jerk and taken a photo and posted on Instagram.
Unfortunately we still have never been able to meet!
Like the influence question, I HATE asking about band names. I’ll admit, the word “weakened” to me seems so strange to spell out, the “-ed” at the end throws me for a loop. The first time I emailed you, I sent it to “firstname.lastname@example.org” because I was going off the spelling of weekend (it bounced back as undeliverable). Was it always going to be Weakened and is it a play on Weekend or was there a reason behind Weakened?
OMG, it’s my biggest regret about this band!!! No one can spell it, it’s crazy! Actually the only time people spelled and pronounced it right was in England.
To wrap it up, would like to hear some suggestions to the following:
Podcast you’re addicted to that everyone should check out
Band(s) that you’re friends with that have a singer that could command an arena stage
Carly Comando of Slingshot Dakota.
Underrated fast-food menu item
Weird documentary that is also fascinating
I really enjoyed the Lady Gaga documentary that came out recently. But one of my all time favorites is “Look at What The Light Did Now” which follows the recording and eventual fame of the record The Reminder by Feist.
Song by another artist with lyrics that you most relate to
Everything the band The Beths is putting out right now.
Gift card that you’re happy to get from a relative who says, “I didn’t know what to buy you so I got you a gift card”
Favorite band/sports/pop culture/ironic t-shirt in your collection
The Beths are my favorite band putting music out right now, I like soccer a lot and used to play at a fairly competitive level, I have a really awesome Bret The Hit Man Hart t-shirt that kinda rules but I love stupid t-shirts, haha.