Artist Interview: Momma

Posted: by The Editor

I got what they want / I’m a real rockstar,” goes the chorus of “Rockstar,” the second single from Momma’s third LP Household Name. Like the record’s title, it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, but there’s some truth to it: Momma’s got it. The hooks are plentiful, the riffs massive–it’s a record that feels tailor-made for speeding down highways with the windows down on a summer day with friends. The band isn’t shy about their influences: they name-drop songs by Pavement and Smashing Pumpkins in their lyrics, they point to Nirvana and Liz Phair in interviews. And it’s true that much of the record feels highly indebted to ’90s alt rock–the soaring lead that opens “Lucky” wouldn’t be out of place on Siamese Dream, “Rockstar” perfects dynamic, melodic grunge, and “Brave” could have slotted comfortably between “Good” and “You Oughta Know” on a ’90s nostalgia playlist and one one would think twice. But Household Name is far more than the sum of its influences. The album exudes a self-assuredness that it takes most bands full careers to tap into, a swagger and a buoyancy that are absolutely infectious. Momma are real rockstars. We caught up with guitarists/co-vocalists Allegra Weingarten and Etta Friedman to discuss the more hook-heavy approach of Household Name, shifting away from concept records, and the band’s recent run with Wet Leg.

How did Momma end up on Polyvinyl? That’s a huge jump. 

Friedman: We knew we wanted to make this record and shop it around. We were lucky that the record we were on before is really supportive of up-and-coming artists, so there wasn’t any bad blood or anything. They knew we wanted to have access to a bit more. We wrote this record and got a manager and they helped us shop around, and Poly was really great about everything. They’re really freeing and really want you to do what you want to do.

Weingarten: I’m pretty sure they cold emailed us before we had anything, like, “Hey we’re Polyvinyl.” We were like, “Whoa.” We got a manager and made a couple demos.

Friedman: Oh yeah! I remember we had a call with them and they were like, “You might need to get a manager.”

Weingarten: They seemed like the ones who were the most down, the most supportive.

Correct me if I’m wrong–you wrote and recorded this whole record in college in different states, right?

Weingarten: No, actually. That was a lot of the writing process for Two of Me. I had just graduated college, so I was in New York, but Etta was still in school. We wrote it all in New York and recorded it all in New York. But that was the case for the last record.

Compared to Two of Me, I know a lot people called it a grunge record, a really dark, guitar-heavy sort of album, Household Name seemed a lot brighter, a lot more emphasis on melody. I think, Allegra, you’ve called it a “summer record” in interviews before. 

Weingarten: Totally.

Was there a conscious shift in the way you approached this one?

Weingarten: I don’t know if it was conscious. I just think we had a lot of regrets about Two of Me, because it didn’t sound as polished as we wanted, and it didn’t have as much catchy shit. We were definitely trying to write catchy songs in our style. I think it’s also just like Two of Me was really rushed, and if we had more time it wouldn’t be as gloomy.

Friedman: I agree with everything.

The other big difference is that lyrically that one’s a pure concept record about characters in a semi-fictional location, whereas this one’s a bit more grounded in your actual lives. There’s still, I think, those songs like “Rockstar,” “No Stage,” a little more tongue-in-cheek and fictionalized.

Weingarten: Yeah, I think when Etta and I write together we lean toward some sort of storyline or character play because I feel like that’s an easy way to write with another person. It’s an easy way to go in one direction. But this record Etta and I ended up writing a handful of songs individually. When you’re writing by yourself it’ll obviously be more personal, introspective. I feel like we got the concept stuff out of our system with the last record. [laughs] We thought we were being really clever with that. I think now we just write what makes sense, what comes easy, not just trippy shit.

Friedman: Yeah, I think the concept record was just an easy way to feel tethered to the project while we weren’t living in the same area. Now we can sit and write together–or separately–and make something a little more tangible, I think.

That makes sense. I think you’ve said the song “Rip Off” is about a label that you talked to, so I’m curious how the rockstar arc of the record fits with more personal stuff on here. 

Friedman: Going back to what Allegra was saying about this being a summer record, I feel like we’ve been saying this is a record you’d listen to on the road. It’s a driving record. It’s a lot about exploring, as an umbrella term, so not necessarily places. But you can relate it to touring or traveling, being separated from somebody, someone moving away, having a fleeting love interest. The idea of being a rockstar, it’s a very fleeting thing. I guess the more personal stuff on the record relates in that way.

That’s a very fascinating perspective. 

Friedman: Touring is very strange. [laughs]

Speaking of touring, you just finished a tour with Wet Leg. What was that like?

Friedman: It was cool. Those were the biggest rooms we’ve ever played and basically all of them were sold out. It was funny, us rolling up with our little guitars, playing for 1,200 people. It’s weird for any band, especially for an audience who doesn’t know who you are. It was honestly like a bootcamp in a way. We only did five or six days with them, but in that time, we got really tight as a band and really good at what to do at a venue if you’re not familiar with the amp or if the sound guy isn’t nice. It was a good learning experience. You have to adapt.

Weingarten: Yeah, our music is a lot different from them. I think we were received pretty well, but it’s not like every night people were going crazy for us. We’re harder to digest, I feel like.

Friedman: This definitely was a good learning experience, and they’re overall really lovely people.

You call the record Household Name. Is that an explicit goal with this record? Or is it a little more tongue-in-cheek?

Weingarten: I don’t think we’re that delusional. [laughs] I think we know there’s a ceiling for any indie rock band, especially with loud, fuzzy guitars. I don’t think we think we’ll be that big. It’s kind of satire. We want to be as successful as we can be. We all want, one, to be able to live off our music and, two, to have some sort of recognition, and I think every band does. If they say they don’t then they’re lying! [laughs]

That’s interesting to me because I feel like this is the best time in a long time to make fuzzy guitar rock. I’m wondering, too, because there’s two of you here, if you have favorite moments on the record.

Weingarten: I think the thing that excited me the most about recording this was working with Aron [Kobayashi Ritch] who produced it and is also our bass player. He just has so many awesome ideas in terms of production things that I personally am not educated on. The drum breakbeats in “Tall Home” or the vocal effects in that song, they transform the song entirely. Moments where there’s crazy production that Aron poured his heart into and we can’t fuck with on our own, that’s all exciting. And the loud, booming guitars–that’s how we’ve always wanted to sound.

Friedman: I would say the very beginning of the record, the intro of “Rip Off,” with the fade-in percussion and card shuffling. That was a spontaneous idea and he turned it into a whole-ass beat. Putting that at the start of the record was something I really fuck with.

Weingarten: The other thing that was really fun was a moment at the end of “No Stage.” We all sat in Aron’s mom’s room and started clapping and making noises into the mic and that was a lot of fun. Really cool moment. [laughs]

I wanted to ask about “Rip Off” because I’d heard the singles, and coming off of those and the last record, it opens Household Name on a totally different note than I expected. Was that part of the intention leading off with that one?

Weingarten: Yeah. I don’t know if it was intentional to throw people off guard. That song developed in a really interesting way, because it started with just Etta and I writing and then we worked with Aron to get that bridge and that really loud outro and then added that beginning. We worked backwards with that song. I feel like when we put it at the beginning we were like, “Damn, this doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done.” It was a crazy vibe to drop the needle and have that be the first song on the record.

Friedman: I think that we always knew that would be the first when we had our collection of songs. It has a perfect easing-you-in vibe, and the end is so booming that it’s like, “Oh shit, I’m ready.” I feel like it’s a perfect way to subtly bring them in and then smack them in the face and then it leads into “Speeding.”

There’s a lot of ’90s references throughout the record, and then whenever you talk about bands who inspire you, it’s these big riffy ’90s bands. I’m curious, knowing that we’re all around the same age, where you two got into a lot of that stuff. It’s not necessarily what you’d expect.

Friedman: My brother showed me some music, but it wasn’t really doing all that stuff until a bit later. I really found all my music through being a nerd–a nerd on the internet–and when I was younger going on, shit like that. I think meeting a bunch of people in LA, and people in the skate scene at like 14–I hate to say it–all that music was around, but I was also digging on Tumblr, shit like that.

Weingarten: I feel like it was always the cool thing. If you were 15 or 16 and didn’t listen to Top 40 and were a rebellious teenager, you were probably listening to it. At least in my mind. [laughs] My friend group were all into it. My parents, too, loved it, but I feel like for our age group–I don’t want to say they’re the Beatles–but Pavement is the iconic band.

Obviously you’re touring pretty much the entire rest of the year, and with some pretty cool bands. What’s your dream Momma tour?

Friedman: Do they have to be alive?

Nah. And they don’t have to make sense either.

Friedman: For me, an obvious one is the Breeders. That’d be amazing. Liz Phair, Pavement–imagine if we toured with Nirvana or Hole’s original lineup!

Weingarten: All mine are cliche. In terms of bands within our reach, practically, Beabadoobee would be an amazing tour, and we’re huge fans and they’re cool people. I think too the fanbase would be into us. I’d never get sick of seeing Alex G however many nights in a row. How about this? What if That Dog did a reunion tour? Amazing.

Household Name is out 7/1 on Polyvinyl.

Zac Djamoos / @gr8whitebison

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