Artist Spotlight: Momma

    Momma is the Brooklyn-based band led by vocalists and guitarists Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten, who met during high school in Los Angeles and have been making music since their teenage years. The pair started developing their ridiculously catchy, exhilarating style of indie rock on their 2018 debut Interloper before expanding their vision on 2020’s breakthrough Two of Me, a concept album that earned them considerable recognition. This Friday, Momma are returning with Household Name, their most ambitious and confident statement yet, one that deftly balances addictive, grunge-inflected hooks with intensely heartfelt songwriting and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.

    Although they wrote several songs separately to reflect their individual experiences, the duo worked closely together throughout the entire process of making the album, their first to be recorded in a proper studio. With producer Aron Kobayashi Ritch helping to elevate and polish up their sound, Household Name feels at once bigger and more intimate, maintaining an earnest self-awareness whether cheekily obsessing over rock stardom or grappling with heartbreak, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Momma promise a uniquely thrilling ride – and no matter how deep your knowledge of ‘90s alt-rock runs, or how much you can relate to the album’s deeply personal themes, it’s an invitation that’s hard to resist.

    We caught up with Momma for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the making of Household Name, rock culture, band feuds, and more.

    Etta, I read that after making Two of Me, you said that the next record couldn’t help but be more personal. Where do you think that need came from, and in what ways do you think that intimacy ended up manifesting on the record – even though it’s also quite conceptual?

    Etta Friedman: Well, the last record was a full concept record. There’s moments where you can get personal with it and project your own personal stuff into these characters and stories that we were playing around with, but I think as we’ve grown as individuals and as songwriters, our full outlet of expression, in terms of our emotional our inner emotional states, really comes out through writing music, individually and together – going through things together as well. I just think we didn’t want to write something that was so concept-based. There’s fun things to play around with that definitely show off our personalities, like ‘Rockstar’, for example, but I think it was really easy to get more emotional.

    Your personalities definitely come through on the record, and you’ve also said that you wanted Household Name to serve as a true introduction to Momma. I was wondering if that’s partly because you feel like you’re more aware of what makes the band unique, and more aware of yourselves and your relationship.

    Allegra Weingarten: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. We’ve been a band for like seven years at this point, which a lot of people don’t know. We’ve kind of been doing it for a while, so we definitely have honed in how we write together and how we play guitar together, but also as individuals. I think we definitely know what makes us special, and we’ve tried a lot of things and some of them haven’t worked. [laughs] So now, this is kind of like, “OK, here’s what we feel is going to work. Let’s just do that.”

    Did you feel that confidence immediately when you started working on the record, or is it more now that you look back that you realize it’s reflective of who you are?

    EF: I think the process was so different for this record that it made us way more confident. We just had so much time – we just didn’t have time to do a lot before in terms of recording. We’re recording in between school breaks and things like that, the only times that we can really get together. And now we all live in the same city and we had all the time on our hands to mess around and listen to things and we demoed at Aron’s house, and he has his own studio. So it was the first time that we were able to lay something down and then listen back to it, and then sit with it for three days until the next time we demo and come back with ideas. We rehearsed every song before we went into recording. That’s something different for us. [laughs] So it was just a really easy process, in terms of being able to feel that type of confidence. We had so much time and practice and we were all together, so it was easy to be as dedicated as we’ve always wanted to be.

    A lot of the album revolves around rock culture, which obviously is one of the things that brought you together when you met in high school. What else do you remember bonding over, and what are your memories of that time in general?

    AW: There’s a lot. The first time Etta and I ever hang out, we watched Cops for like 24 hours straight. Not that we love cops or anything, just the show. [laughs] But we definitely bonded over true crime, reality TV and stuff like that. Alex G was a huge one for us. Speedy Ortiz was a band that we both loved. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    ET: One of my first memories being at your place, too, is we were chilling and listening to Rocky Horror. [laughs]

    AW: Whoa, yeah.

    ET: I just remember being like, “This is cool.” Because I had been a huge fan for so long and didn’t really know that many people who liked it. So, that, and then I just think generally going to high school together, the characters that were perusing the halls with us were pretty crazy, so we were able to just observe [laughs] and talk about a lot.

    You mentioned some artists that you were getting into at the time. How much do you think your ideas of rock culture or the music industry in general that are reflected on Household Name formed at that age and have stayed with you?

    ET: I had no concept of what the music industry was when we were starting to make music. It wasn’t even until two years ago that we had to think about getting a manager, realistically, if we wanted to try to get on a label. Things like that where you’re like, “We can’t just do it ourselves.” We grew up in this very DIY mentality and grew up in a really DIY scene, so my idea of all that has changed so much. But I feel very savvy now, so that’s good. Very business-y, like, can read a contract – not really, but you know, things like that.

    AW: As a kid, my perception of a rock star had nothing to do with how those people function in the industry, and how crazy it is that people could be so outspoken and do whatever they wanted and still get record deals and contracts and crazy offers. Because I feel like now being in the industry, which we barely are, it just makes you realize how polite you have to be to everyone and how carefully you have to be who you are. You have to be a good person to work with in order to get other opportunities. And you can’t just be the rock star diva that I thought everyone was allowed to be. [laughs]

    I have a question about Smashing Pumpkins, so maybe we’ll get back to that… But in terms of how your understanding of the music world has changed based on your involvement in it, did you see that directly influencing the record in any way?

    ET: I don’t know if there was a huge influence on our experience of growing as a band. ‘Rockstar’, obviously, is about being a rock star and paying your rent and going on tour, but that’s not reflective of our experience – it was literally based off watching Tenacious D.

    AW: ‘Rip Off’ is about us being denied by labels. ‘No Stage’, for me, I was going through a really hard breakup and it was basically just me talking to myself about how I didn’t need anyone else. I was just making this record, and all I needed to do was just write. It’s also semi-fictional, but ‘No Stage’, definitely. I mean, if it’s not in the lyrics, it’s in the music itself, because the record took us a year to even write. We were writing for a year before we started recording it. So as all these things were happening, we were getting offers, then getting denied, and then we signed. There’s a lot at once, and we definitely kept on stepping up our game with the recording style and the production and changing things around. We definitely learned a lot in that year about the industry and how it works.

    I read that one of the bands that you were obsessing over was Nirvana, partly as a way of getting over that breakup. I also obsessed over them during a very specific time in my life, and I’m fascinated by this idea of obsession as a form of healing. It’s not clear to me how much of it is about the thing that you’re obsessing over and whether it’s related to your experience, and how much of it is just the obsession itself. I don’t know if that makes sense.

    AW: That makes a lot of sense. I’m also a highly obsessive person. I mean, I don’t think that Nirvana or Kurt Cobain really had anything to do with my breakup because they don’t even really have that many breakup songs. But yeah, it was just the obsession itself. For me, it was just having something to go home to every day that was getting me through the day, knowing that I could go home and watch a bunch of Nirvana videos and feel like a detective looking through YouTube and the internet.

    Household Name includes references to both the Pavement song ‘Gold Soundz’ and ‘Hummer’ by Smashing Pumpkins. I was recently reading about the feud between those two bands, and the different values they came to represent, in Steven Hyden’s book Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me. I was wondering how much you think that kind of cultural context even matters for people in our generation who are discovering these bands now.

    ET: I think this is going back to what we were talking about – the idea of being a classic rock star was so functional back then, not as much nowadays. And I think that the interesting thing with these feuds is just the media back then also making it a big deal or making it a point of conversation. I think that’s more so interesting rather than something that’s necessary to know nowadays. If you’re someone who nerds out about music history in the way that we do, it gives context to the records when you listen to them. There’s a Pavement song [‘Range Life’] that directly references the Smashing Pumpkins and how they don’t like them. That’s really just funny. [laughs] I just think that’s ballsy and cool.

    AW: I actually didn’t even realize that we did that, to be completely honest.

    ET: I didn’t either, that was not intentional.

    AW: We were simply shouting out songs that we liked and that also happened to rhyme. I don’t know, a lot of people always say, like, “Momma sounds like they’re from the ‘90s” and “What is it about the ’90s that you love?” It’s just a time where good music was made and I think there’s nothing really that deep about it. I would be lying if I sat here and was like, “The ethics and the mindset of the ‘90s…” [Etta laughs] I just don’t feel that way, you know. You could have never heard these bands and still enjoy our music, you could have known these bands and seen these bands live and still enjoy our music. And if you think all we’ve ever written is a ripoff, then you were never going to enjoy our music anyway.

    What interests me about the Smashing Pumpkins-Pavement feud is less what Stephen Malkmus’ intentions were when writing ‘Range Life’ than what it came to signify for Billy Corgan, and the type of people that are more likely to identify with each side. Maybe being removed from the ‘90s, in a way, makes us obsess more about the music and the history rather than trying to fit ourselves into all that.

    ET: It’s interesting because feuds like that and bands getting pinned against each other, and then the social repercussions of that in terms of, like, “Are you a Cure fan or are you a Smiths fan? Are you Stones are you Beatles?” It says a lot about the type of person, and it’s interesting because I was thinking that there’s not even that today – I can’t think of, right now at least, two bands that are defining youth culture. You’re either this or this, then you’re either a jock or you’re a bad boy, whatever it is. It’s just a fascinating part of music history.

    In your experience, do you feel like the industry, or at least the community among artists, has created a more inclusive and supportive environment and that there’s less of a tendency to pin bands against one another?

    AW: Yeah, definitely. I don’t think that the media really has pinned two bands together in a really long time. I wouldn’t even be able to think of an example. And I think that bands are really supportive of each other, too. I will say that a lot of music journalists get pretty lazy when comparing femme bands with each other, just because we’ve gotten compared to a lot of other bands that have femme frontpeople that I don’t think we sound anything alike. And it’s not to say that one of us is better than the other, it’s just simply different. And it’s confusing and misleading, because, I don’t know, you wouldn’t say that Fontaines D.C. sounds like Alex G – it’s random, it doesn’t happen. But all the time you get “Momma sounds like this” or “Clairo sounds like this” and “Snail Mail sounds like this.” We’re all different. We’re all really individual and unique artists. That’s my one problem with contemporary indie music media.

    ET: I also do feel like as a society, we’ve maybe moved past having to be like, “this femme-fronted band.” We’re just a band. It’s not how we identify. I don’t know why that’s a situation. We’re just playing music, and we like to do it. And I like to think we’re good at it, so there’s no point in putting some type of weird moniker to that.

    Having introduced a distinct sound and approach on Household Name, do you feel like there’s a need for you to explore different ideas and diversify even more going forwards, or is it more about continuing to hone that style?

    AW: I think we definitely want to try a lot of other things. I think we have a distinct way of writing guitar parts and melodies, but what makes this record so unique is that there’s a lot of conventional guitar sounds layered with unconventional stuff, like there’s a lot of breakbeat drum sample stuff that Aaron did. The beginning of ‘Rip Off’ has some weird percussion made from card shuffling – all of those different textures folded in is what we’re making a statement as being us, being more Momma. And also, I think we figured out that we can write a pretty catchy chorus. So we’ll try to write even catchier choruses.

    Can you share one thing that inspires you about each other?

    ET: Oh, that’s such a good question.

    AW: Well, outside of being a musician, Etta inspires me in a lot of ways. I see the way that Etta interacts with people and how people interact with Etta, and they’re just a really magnetic, kind, approachable person. And I really enjoy that and I aspire to have that kind of energy all the time.

    ET: That’s super sweet, thank you. Allegra inspires me in her confidence. I feel like you know exactly what you want and will say it, and that’s awesome. And you know how indecisive and hard it is for me to, like, say shit sometimes, especially when it comes to songwriting. Allegra inspires me in terms of music as well because the way that she writes leads is so different, and I feel like it’s so cool to watch because you can hear what you’re about to play and then you’re just trying to do it. And then you finally figure it out and it’s like, “Yeah!” We’re all like, “Yes, this is it.” Allegra writes guitar differently than I do, but the way that it meshes together works really nicely.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Momma’s Household Name is out July 1 via Lucky Number.

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