“Nirvana. Radiohead. Weezer. A lot of jazz.” Members of Sour Widows are listing some of their biggest influences. Bouncing ideas off each other. There’s a calm and friendly dynamic at the table. When they tell me they’ve been friends for years I’m not surprised. They keep going and I point to each person, starting with drummer Max Edelman.
Max Edelman: Nirvana. Jazz. Radiohead. Weezer.
Susanna Thomson: Weezer, definitely. Joni Mitchell, Feist, Angel Olsen.
Maia Sinaiko: Patti Smith, Led Zeppelin, Joan Jett, Blondie.
A good representation of these well-rounded inspirations is the track “Whole Lotta Nothing” (nice little Zeppelin nod in there). The song has some Weezer-ish guitar progressions, some Joan Jett passion and a touch of the Angel Olsen. It also bangs out a transportive David Lynchian lost-and-putting-my-lights-out moment toward the end that transitions into the next track in a seamless blur of distortion.
Everyone in the band grew up surrounded with music and art: Max’s father is a professional jazz musician, and Max started learning the drums when he was three; Maia’s father is an actor, and Maia started learning guitar at age nine; Susanna’s mother is a guitarist and taught Susanna guitar when she was twelve. The members met when they were young, too.
“I met Maia at summer camp when we were kids,” Susanna says. “It was called Camp Winnarainbow, which is this circus performing camp in the Bay Area.” They both smile at the memory and say they learned a lot about performing. It was where they created a bond that would eventually create their songwriting duo.
Sour Widows — a name inspired by a weed strain, though for the record, the band says they’re not huge stoners — started in 2017 as a quieter version of the band they are today. It began as a duo of Maia and Susanna. They both played guitar, both wrote lyrics and sang, and after their first live show (at 924 Gilman, an arts and performance space in Berkeley), they joined forces with drummer Max Edelman (who is also in a shoegaze band called Stranger, as well as an experimental progressive metal band called Mountain Dweller).
When Max joined the band in 2018 the sound of Sour Widows morphed from one of quiet bedroom rock to the more complex, alternative-infused version it is today. Maia explains that they always played amped but used to play much quieter; their sound has grown richer, louder.
The Bay Bridged: So how would you describe your sound? On Bandcamp it’s tagged “bedroom rock.” What does that mean to you, ‘bedroom rock?’
ME: I really think that heavy alternative rock with intimate moments is a good way to describe it. I think ‘bedroom rock’ is a nice image of, you know, being in your bedroom, by yourself or with your friends and just listening to delicate but heavy rock music. Feels like a nice way to think about it.
ST: I think the ‘bedroom’ part denotes the intimacy that we feel is pretty essential.
MS: Me and Susanna have always written together in a very casual and personal setting, so I think, too that ‘bedroom rock’ kind of speaks to the creation of the music…though I think people seeing us live wouldn’t make that association because we make really loud music. Which I think we’ve kind of grown into more.
TBB: How does your songwriting dynamic work? How’d you compile this EP?
MS: Susanna and I each brought three songs to the EP, meaning: a guitar part and a vocal part. Then we got together, arranged them for a second guitar; wrote in the drum parts; the bass.
TBB: Is there a song that stands out as, OK, this is totally a Susanna song, or totally a Maia?
MS: I think “I Wanna Be Like Jonny” is a very Susanna song, and “Open Wide” is me. They’re the strongest counterpoints.
TBB: How did the addition of a bass player change your dynamic?
ST: We’re used to having to do some of the work that a bassline might do (with our guitars) so having a bassist has really opened up so much room for us to play differently and do less of the work that the bass does. And Timmy Stabler is so amazing at finding these pockets and spots to carry the songs and help weave everything together cohesively.
MS: He’s actually living in New York so we need a new bass player.
ST: Yeah, so if you know of any really good bass players…
TBB: We’ll put the feelers out! So, labels. You’re not signed yet and are shopping around. Who is your dream label?
ME: We’re really interested in Father/Daughter Records. We love a lot of the bands on their roster.
MS: I feel like we really connect with them. I saw a showcase they did at SXSW and I thought they represent a lot of what we value and those are the types of people we want to work with.
TBB: What do you value?
MS: We’re a queer-fronted band and I’m a nonbinary person; I find representation extremely important. I think that informs everything about our band…I think how people see us when we’re on stage versus how we want to be seen–a lot of the time that can be two different things. So I think it’s really important to have people representing us as how we want to be seen.
TBB: How do you, as a band, want to be seen? What other values do you hold true and how do your values come out in your music?
MS: We just want to be seen playing the music. But we’ve gotten some really weird comments.
TBB: Like what?
MS: Like a weird fetish type of thing. People commenting like, ‘Wow, you can really play guitar.’
TBB: What’s that mean? Like, for chicks, you can play guitar?
MS: There’s this whole, ‘Wow, girls can shred’ thing that I think a lot of men in the audience attach themselves to. Which is a way of understanding us that they think is complimentary. Which to me, that’s not complimentary or what I want to be seen as at all. On a more holistic level, I think we just want to put good, positive, loving, caring, just, and respectful energy into the scene.
ST: We care a lot about who we’re building community with. I feel like the whole point of music is connecting with the people that we can see some of ourselves. I mean, we make the music for ourselves but also for people like that: who can see themselves in the songs, too, and who can relate to what we’re about. A label like Father/Daughter, for example, has really positive messages and images; it’s why we use our manager, too. Those are (the people) we want to be working with.
ME: I think we’re also just trying to be a supportive and positive band that can create a safe space anywhere, for everyone. We want to make that a normal thing, for women, for the LGBTQ community…there’s a level of respect that can be lost playing live. Especially for random audiences. So for me it’s super important for everyone to be respected and heard.
TBB: Do you feel like you want to be known as a queer band — how do you want to be seen?
ME: I just want the performance and good music to be flat out equal: If you’re good, you’re good.
MS: I don’t want to be a girl in rock and I don’t want to be a girl that shreds, because that’s not how I identify. That’s really important to me. I do feel pretty strongly about being up front about being a queer front person for this band. I wouldn’t describe myself as a femme person either; I’m also a non-white person. And I think all of those elements, for me, are important to represent.
ST: And as far as content, our music is not specifically political. Of course you can extrapolate the really political things out of the songs if that’s what you’re listening for….