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February 2022
Feature

Weakened Friends: "The entire album is based on this idea of burnout"

Life isn’t always easy for DIY bands, but in a world fuelled by a capitalist society which often only serves inequality, Weakened Friends refuse to quit.
Published: 4:03 pm, December 30, 2021Words: Rob Mair. Photos: Adam Parshall.
Weakened Friends: "The entire album is based on this idea of burnout"

'Money makes the world go round' might be an old and established adage, but Weakened Friends' Sonia Sturino has some strong views on what it means for creativity in the 21st century.

After dismantling its meaning on the song 'Spew' – "Money makes the world go 'round, until we all spew," she blasts – she's now mid-point in discussing what it means for a DIY band to exist within such a failed economic model, and more broadly, what it means for wider society.

"It's a social commentary on how capitalism and the capitalist society has fallen on its face," she says when exploring the theme of the song. "In the States, there's so much student debt and credit card debt it's obscene. You're trying to live your life day-to-day, but you have this immense weight of all that debt and this feeling that you will never be comfortable with it.

"Twenty years ago, even if you had a standard blue-collar job, you could own a house and get married and have two cars and go on vacation, and you could do all that pretty comfortably. And I grew up in that middle-class reality of the 90s.

"But there's a line in that song which says, 'All that you own is all that you owe', and I feel that's so true. We don't really have ownership of anything, but the world judges you on the material things you own and tells you that's who you are."

Within this, there's a complicated discussion about art, artistry and how this is allowed to thrive in a capitalist world. Weakened Friends have certainly been bitten by the hand that feeds on more than one occasion.

While van troubles are par for the course for most bands of their stature, Weakened Friends (completed by bassist Annie Hoffman and drummer Adam Hand) have also had to contend with the collapse of the airline Wow Air on the eve of a European tour. With money tied up with administrators, they faced the task of going massively into debt to rebook tickets or face cancelling some high-profile shows on the other side of the Atlantic. At the time, Sonia saw the decision to rebook the tickets as an investment in the band's future – but nevertheless, with 'Spew', it's clear such a bruising encounter has left its marks.

Yet, the pandemic has also served as an opportunity to reset and get things back on an even keel. For example, Sonia took on a 9-to-5, which allowed her to clear her credit card debt and do some long-overdue renovations to the house she shares with her spouse Annie (who herself has seen her profile in music production rocket since the release of 2018's 'Common Blah').

And amidst it all, the trio has had to sit on 'Quitter', an album about the life of a DIY band on the brink, and which works through the thorny issue of whether all the struggles are worth it, or whether it would be better to give it all up for a quiet life and a comfy 9-to-5.

"I'm lucky to have a nice DIY band," says Sonia. "But the song 'Quitter' – and the entire album, really – is based on this idea of burnout. I love being in a band, but I know many of my triggers and anxieties come from that world, too. Like, I love this thing, and it's what I'm compelled to do, and I've invested so much in it, but there's always this feeling that you're on shaky ground.

"And that feeling of instability beneath the surface can transcend to other facets of your life as well, whether it's relationships or your job or your health. That's my personal experience, but when I speak to friends and peers, it seems like a common thread – and I guess it just found its way onto the record."

"All the good things in my life stem from the fact that I picked up a guitar when I was 11"
Sonia Sturino

While Sonia admits that there was a temptation to stick to the 9-to-5 and embrace the security that comes with it, getting back on the road as support for indie-rockers microwave has reinvigorated the group, validating their decision to climb back in the van.

Indeed, the night before this interview, the group played in Boston, Ma – essentially a hometown show for the Portland, Maine group – and it's clear that Sonia enjoyed the experience enormously.

"The show last night, people were coming up to us and saying how much our music means to them and how special it was to see us live. You can't replicate that feeling of being on stage and connecting with people. So yeah, financial stability is great, but I don't know if that would make me happy in my life. I think, for me, it would get redundant and boring," she comments.

And while 'Quitter' is very much preoccupied with the anxieties of DIY band life, there are moments of light that reflect Sturino's current mindset. This clarity of thought comes through brightest on the 'The Last Ten' – a bona fide indie-rock banger for the ages, and a rousing call-to-arms for all those who've poured blood, sweat and tears into their passion project.

"That's definitely the pep talk on the record," laughs Sonia. "I think most of my writing is self-deprecating about how my mind is attacking me, but 'The Last Ten', I wrote on my last day working at this really shitty job in a grocery store. I had a full-on panic attack. I got home, and I was like, 'I am never setting foot in that place again'. Why be somewhere that constantly drains your energy and which doesn't give you a smidge of happiness?

"And it made me realise that I'd spent so long working on the music thing, and writing songs and being in bands, that if you step back and look at it, it's so worth it. And it matters. All the good things in my life, other than my family, stem from the fact that I picked up a guitar when I was 11 and decided to be in a band. So, even if we never play stadiums or live in million-dollar homes or any of that shit, I was able to play music and meet and connect with all these people who matter to me in my life."

Ultimately, the life of a DIY band is about these connections. Stadiums might provide spectacle, but there's no question it becomes harder to replicate the intimacy of a pub or club show. In the wider discussion, Sonia's grounded response is telling; she may never hit the arena tour or sell out stadiums, but to judge that as success merely reinforces the capitalist worldview.

Like many of their DIY peers, Weakened Friends sit aside from that idea of commodified art, building their reputation through personal connections and smartly-constructed collections of songs which speak personally of their experiences. As 'Quitter' ultimately attests, the fact they're still here is an accomplishment in itself, and for that, Weakened Friends should be lauded. 

Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 issue of Upset. Weakened Friends' album 'Quitter' is out now.

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