Weakened Friends – The BIRN Interview

Coming from Portland, Maine, Weakened Friends is a rock band using music as a low pressure outlet for expressing volatile emotions. Their latest release and full-length debut Common Blah delves into the chaos and confusion that often comes with the arrival of adulthood.

Today, we’re chatting with Weakened Friends members Sonia Sturino, Annie Hoffman, and Adam Hand, to learn more about their songwriting process, the story behind Weakened Friends’ formation, and their album Common Blah. 

Where did you get the inspiration for your band name and what does it mean to you? 

It’s just a weird play-on-words name. It really doesn’t have a big meaning or anything. No one knows how to spell it right, so we find ourselves constantly explaining it to people! Like “we’re Weakened Friends … you know weak like someone hurt you.”

 What is your songwriting process? Do you write together most of the time or does one person write the songs? 

A lot of times I’ll (Sonia) write the basis for the song on my own and have most of the melody, lyrics and structure together before bringing it to a band setting. Eventually, Annie and Adam who are big musical brains will help really shape it and make it “smarter” and will flush out the final arrangement. Although the initial writing happens on my own we do really work together to get the song in it’s final form. I never went to a music school or got formal training/education in music, so I mostly just do what I do by ear or feel. Annie and Adam both went to Berklee and are like super smart with how music works, so it’s always interesting to hear how the ideas I come up with actually make sense. Not to mention Annie and Adam are both engineers and kick ass in a studio setting both with engineering and production. It’s a real treat to get to work with great musicians who just get what you’re trying to accomplish with a song and work with you to help take it there and honestly beyond.

How would you describe your sound? Did you go through different phases before you found your sound or was it naturally there? 

I don’t really love the “tell us about your sound question” if I’m being honest, it makes me feel like I’m talking to my hair dresser or a distant relative. Music is audible and art is subjective. Everyone will have their own take on it and I think that’s all I have to say here is, if you’re reading this just go check it out and listen to it and describe the sound for yourself.

Who are your inspirations and how do they influence your music?

It’s always changing and it can be anything at any time. Most times, I’m really inspired by our peers and bands we actually are friends with who are out there working hard and making great music. They are struggling just like us to get by and get their art out, knowing that there are people out here doing what were doing in this crazy messed up industry makes me feel less alone and also is super inspiring.

(Let’s talk about your 2018 album Common Blah) What inspired you to choose to name your album Common Blah and what was the general message/vibe of the album? 

I thought it was a funny pun at the time. I kinda hate it now. I’m just excited to make a new record at this point. The songs have a lot to do with feeling stuck in a bad spot in life and working hard to get past that place.

What was your process when selecting the songs on the album? 

They were the only ones we had done! We’ve had a line up change since that record came out, so on this next one, I think we’ll actually have a bulk of work to choose from and less of just a taking what we can get.

Where did the idea for the “Blue Again” music video come from? Was it as fun to make as it was to watch? 

We didn’t have much of a budget so we just wanted to make something that looked weird and cool. Our friend Randy actually lives in the space it was filmed in which is this old church he’s converted into a music space/home. Smashing things with a bat was pretty therapeutic!

How has signing to Don Giovanni records impacted your band’s outlook? What kind of things are you able to do now that you couldn’t do yourself?

Joe, who runs the label, is really cool. They are a smaller indie label but they are well connected and have a good relationship with a lot of folks in the industry. Honestly, the age old ” MY BAND GOT SIGNED LOOK AT ME, MOM, WE MADE IT” is total bullshit… we still very much grind for any sort of opportunity. A good DIY or indie label are just partners in that grind. I like that they believe in us and our music and are willing to take the platform they’ve built for themselves and share it with our band.

Recently you worked with Jay Mascis from dinosour jr. What led to that collaboration and how much of an influence were they on your sound? 

At the time, we were on the same management as J, so that kinda got pushed together by our then-manager.  I love Dinosaur Jr. so it was really neat to say, “hey J played on our song.”

What have been your favorite gigs to play and why? Do you prefer more intimate or larger crowds? 

I prefer larger crowds and anyone that tells you otherwise I truly believe is bullshit. I think the goal is to reach as many people as you can, this is coming from someone who still had to stomach playing to empty rooms. Fest in Gainesville, FL this year was so awesome to play, we also got to open for the band PUP at Halifax Pop Explosion this year which was out of this world… the crowd was massive and so into our set. We played a festival in May in Europe called London Calling in Amsterdam and it was one of my favorites of the year as well.  Back in June, though, we had a super special moment: we were supposed to support this band Slothrust at Port City Music Hall up in Portland… but the singer got sick and canceled day-of. So, we told people we were playing a secret set and told them to ask us for the address (we had to stop giving it out because the number of guests started getting scary) and we had a small show in the basement of our home!! We crammed like 60 people into the space and it was magic!

What was the hardest song for you to write on the album? What was the most satisfying song to complete? Can you (each) tell me what your favorite song on the album and why?

I (Sonia) really like the songs Not Doing Good and Early. They’re the most emotional to me. Blue Again I think is a overall favorite. Ever since Adam joined the band back in May I think all the songs really pop and come to life in a really great way, his playing kinda adds the final touches to the tunes, even though he didn’t play on the record.

Annie – When I hear that record, I always play Not Doing Good twice. I think Sonia really captured a very specific and visceral moment that hits people in the after-shock of a significant relationship’s ending. That song really hits me in the guts. Plus, it’s so much fun to play live.

Can you tell us the story of when you all met and formed the band? Name one special thing that each band member brings to the table that you couldn’t live without.

The band started in the summer of 2015. With myself, Annie and our original drummer, Cam. I had been friends with Cam for a while and we played in other bands together, and Annie was in a band that our old band played shows with from time to time. And yeah, I asked Annie and Cam to play on my new project and it was really fun!! Like I mentioned, Adam joined the band recently in May, but it was a really quick fit since Annie and Adam played in bands for years before that and we all like the same kind of music. I actually, outside of playing in the band, manage the band and essentially keep everything organized. Annie engineers and produces all of our recorded music. Adam has now joined in on the engineering AND he knows how to essentially fix or build anything musical equipment related.

(Let’s talk about your new single “What You Like.”) Can you talk about how this song was conceived and what it means to you?

“What You Like” is a song about embracing the feeling of inadequacy or feeling as though you’re constantly the underdog no matter how hard you work or how far you’ve come. When I wrote this song, we had just released a record and there’s a great deal of pressure and anxiety that comes along with that. I remember thinking, “Wow. What if it sucks? What if everyone hates it?” I took that feeling and ran with it. I told myself, “You know what? Screw it. Sure, you’re not always going to please everyone. You may feel like inadequate, but rather than cower, go scream it from the roof tops. ‘I’M NOT PERFECT AND I DON’T CARE!’” I wanted to craft an anthem for all of my fellow self-deprecating and anxiety-ridden folks. We need one.

What are your current goals for the upcoming new year? Any new year’s resolutions? 

The same thing we say every year: Make a new record and take over the world.

What advice would you give Berklee students about pursuing a music career?

There’s no rules, there’s no playbook or textbook (lol I realize you’re literally in school for this stuff, but seriously, its the wild fucking west out there). Just do you, keep inspired and creative, and keep going. There is going to be times you’re broke as hell, you’re hungry, you feel like you can’t keep doing it. Get used to hearing no and always saying yes. Also don’t try to make everything so technical… we get it, you’re good at music … but songs that speak to people can be simple. That’s all.

Thank you, Weakened Friends!

Be sure to check out the Weakened Friends performance on birnCORE live, coming up at 8PM on December 5! The show will also feature Mom Rock and Lady Pills. Tickets are on sale now: https://www.etix.com/ticket/p/8508282

Show Review: Emily Bear at Cafe 939 (11/8)

On Friday night, Emily Bear captivated a loyal audience of friends, family, and fans that filled the room at Café 939. On tour promoting her new Emotions EP, Emily Bear reinvented the atmosphere of Cafe 939 in a way that was uniquely her own. 

From beginning to end, Bear immediately broke down the walls that separate the artist from the audience with her casual demeanor and charming personality, converting strangers into fans. With every song came personal stories with themes ranging from feeling the pain of heartbreak to owning that same pain and repurposing it in a positive way. She moved the audience with these stories, illustrating them with transparency proving her emotional depth.

One of the most interesting elements of Emily’s performance was the way she utilized her classical piano background to compliment her more contemporary pop songs. With the support of her band (Max Gerl, Kyle Thornton, and Nathan Hicks), her swift piano phrases merged effortlessly with her rich voice. As the show progressed, the intimate nature of the performance was heightened by the distinct chemistry Emily had with her band. During every solo, each band member displayed their reverence for one another, flashing faces of approval as if in a jam session. Some of my favorite moments involved her moving from the center stage keyboard to the grand piano that hung back with the band. It was special to witness her pouring all her energy into complex classical arrangements after being astonished by the tremendous piano skills she maintained while singing her original music. 

The room was especially impressed by her rendition of Elvis Presley’s, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and The Beach Boys’, “God Only Knows,” showcasing her voice in a way unlike any of the other songs. Throughout the show, Emily progressively proved her songwriting prowess, with every original sounding different from the last. Her capabilities were even more notable when she sang a new original called “Ghosted” that she had only performed once the night before. With relatable lyrical content that elevated in the pre-chorus atop a bassline driven arrangement, “Ghosted” is a strong representation of Emily Bear’s songwriting chops.

 With an exceedingly high level of talent and character, Emily Bear is down-to-earth and carries herself with grace, possessing the potential to command the world stage. As an experienced musician, songwriter, and vocalist, she brings a heavy arsenal to the table and is able to wear a lot of hats. The capability she has to achieve greatness was apparent at her show on Friday and I hope to see more from her in the future.

BIRN Album Review: Pony by Rex Orange County

After releasing albums Bcos U Will Never B Free (2015) and Apricot Princess (2017), singer-songwriter Alex O’Connor most commonly known as Rex Orange County, has returned with the release of his third full-length album Pony. Writing and recording the entirety of the album with help from producer Ben Baptie, the 21-year-old has outdone himself with an engaging soundscape of bedroom soul that illustrates his feelings from a more juvenile perspective.

Listening to the music of Rex Orange County persuades listeners into believing that they truly know him. As someone who maintains an uncommon sense of creative individuality while also possessing the familiarity to attract listeners, Rex Orange County cannot be held by the confines of genre. His musical personality is precisely described as, “the amalgamation of bedroom pop cosplayers, Odd Future apologists, and old souls.”

From the beginning to the end of Pony, Rex Orange County is transparent with his emotions, utilizing lyrics that make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on his thoughts. In the opening track “10/10,” he candidly admits to having a difficult year and feeling down. Then, with an undertone of hope, he acknowledges how a change of attitude could change his mindset, singing, “I feel like a five, I can’t pretend / but if I get my shit together this year maybe I’ll be a ten.” He continues to acknowledge his journey to a place of stability in the song “Always,” while harnessing a boyish mindset that craves dependency, singing, “But until somebody sits me down / And tells me that I’m different now / I’ll always be the way I always am.” Rex Orange County shamelessly revisits this adolescent outlook throughout the album to communicate the way most 21-year olds feel at this time in their lives.

His focus starts to shift on songs like “Face to Face” and “Stressed Out.” Both songs talk about trust issues but are illustrated in different ways. “Face to Face” uses the theme of a long distance relationship to describe being in a place outside of his comfort zone and not knowing who to trust, longing to be back with her. “Stressed Out” is an extension of this feeling. “They wanna take what’s yours / They wanna go to dinner on your name / I let them take control and take me for a fool / It’s such a shame,” describes the way he lets people use him even though he can’t trust them. Rex Orange County approaches the close of the album with an uplifting tone that exudes positivity. With strong rhythmic drive and layered vocals that soar through orchestral strings, “It Gets Better” is one of the album’s best and most honest love songs about his long-term girlfriend Thea. The final song on the album, “It’s Not The Same Anymore,” revisits the overall theme of Pony but is observed through a different lens. “I’ll keep the pictures saved in a safe place / Wow, I look so weird here / My face has changed now,” acknowledges the reality that he has grown up and his life will never be as simple as it once was. This song is meant to conclude the “boy inside my thoughts” perspective Rex Orange County has maintained throughout the album, closing one chapter and opening a new one.