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