Kickstand Productions Presents!
Weakened Friends, Nervous Dater, The Flips, lettering
100 or so miles north of Boston, you’ll find Portland, Maine.
Among its many awesomely quirky attractions (beyond dope AF lobster rolls, of course), the mini-metropolis boasts the International Cryptozoology Museum and even served as the site of the nation’s first chewing gum factory. Suffice it to say, the town possesses all kinds of character and charm. It also makes perfect sense as HQ for Weakened Friends.
Three alternative rock wiseasses and snack food connoisseurs, the trio—Sonia Sturino [vocals, guitar], Annie Hoffman [bass], and Cam Jones [drums]—first congregated in their adopted hometown during 2014. Sonia had recently relocated from Toronto and holed up in a house with Cam and a bunch of other dudes before witnessing Annie play live and asking her to join the band. As they released two independent EPs, Gloomy Tunes and Crushed, they stirred up a palpable buzz (between consuming sour spaghetti and causing trouble). Gigs followed with everyone from CHVRCHES and Silversun Pickups to Beach Slang and Juliana Hatfield as they made their 2017 debut at SXSW and earned praise from Vanyaland, CBS, If It’s Too Loud, and many more. A wiry, whimsical, and wild fusion of disarmingly pop hooks and fuzzed-out riffery that wouldn’t be out of place on the Reality Bites soundtrack or in a modern Brooklyn bar fueled this quiet rise.
“If something is ear catching and interesting, I’m drawn to it,” says Sturino. “I love pop hooks, but I have this truly weird and shaky voice. I started to embrace that, and I think people connect to the sound.”
For the uninitiated, they’ll definitely connect to the group’s 2017 single “Hate Mail” featuring J Mascis. On the track, a buzz of feedback slips into melodic guitar and an unshakable rhythm as the frontwoman captivates with the confessionally catchy refrain, “I hate everything you’re saying, get away from me. I hate everything we’re doing, it’s a waste of me.” It’s the perfect backdrop for an epic Mascis cameo.
“It’s about when I was miserable in this other band,” recalls Sturino. “This is the most important thing to me. I don’t live comfortably. I don’t have a lot of money. I don’t have a lot of free time, because I’m putting all of my effort, passion, and self into music. So, it has to be the right situation. At the time, I just wasn’t working with the right team. The song is about those corrosive relationships with emotionally abusive assholes. J is a guitar god for indie rock. He’s an obvious inspiration, and he killed it.”
“Hate Mail” hints at a lot more to come from Weakened Friends. For Sturino, the band brings everything full circle. In tow with her best friend Cam and wife Annie, she encodes a powerful message in the lyrics.
“A lot of times, you hear expressions like, ‘Find your happy’,” she leaves off. “I think you should find yourself. Our music is about self-awareness and finding that. Sometimes, you’re having a shitty day. It can be hard, and that’s beautiful in its own way. In the North American mentality, if you’re depressed or sad, you have to just get rid of it. This is less about getting rid of that feeling and finding those things causing the feeling and dealing with them. It’s self-awareness, believing in yourself, finding yourself, and defining how you feel. That’s what this band is to me.”
At the top of “Down in Waves,” The Flips’ Nick Sintos asks: “Where’d you get your darkness from?” That sentiment is central to The Flips’ sophomore album, Better Days, and it’s one they examine carefully over the course of ten searing tracks.
Better Days, the Chicago quintet’s impressive step up from their debut album A Harm Deep But Shining, comes with some unhappy subtext. “Half the album was written while I was learning about my mental illness, and half was written after my suicide attempt,” Sintos explains. As he recovered from that attempt, the main theme ofBetter Days crystallized: “It’s mostly about mental illness, and trying to live with it. Dealing with it, staying optimistic about the future, trying to get better.”
To that end, he’s assembled a deep bench of talent to back him. Bassist Maccabee Kelem is the band’s most recent recruit, who nonetheless shines like he’s always belonged. Guitarist Dustin Martin fills the album with counterpoints to Sintos’ meditations, while keyboardist Annette Nowacki provides backing vocals that perfectly shadow his own. And drummer Mike Carlson, in addition to being a founding Flips member and impromptu beard champion, positions himself as the immoveable object against which his bandmates’ irresistible force can rage.
And rage they do. The Flips have opted for a direct approach toBetter Days, stripping away every obstacle between you and their exposed nerves. The title track, which leads the album off, serves as a heavy, crescendoing thesis for the other nine to expound upon. “No Hope For Me” is propulsive and raw, but never more so than when the instruments fall away, leaving only bare voices to intone its haunting title. But the hardest-hitting is “Ideations,” a perfect microcosm of Better Days as a whole: honest, direct, and overflowing with ideas, questions, and desires.
While the album is deeply personal in nature, every member of The Flips related to the subject matter. “Everyone has their own demons,” says Kelem, “so everyone found something to connect with.”
“We decided this time we wanted to write a happier album,” Nowacki deadpans, to laughter from the other four.
But it’s Sintos who sums things up best: “All we’ve ever tried to do is make the biggest and most earnest rock n’ roll that we could,” he says. “And that’s what we did.”