When someone asks, “How are you doing?” more often than not, you’re not really answering the question honestly. In most situations, we’re eschewing all the baggage of our lives for an answer more along the lines of, “Good,” “I’m fine,” or else reflexively and rhetorically asking the question back.
Sonia Sturino, singer of Maine-based rock band Weakened Friends, says the phenomenon extends to concerts.
“When you’re standing on stage you ask people how they are doing and most people are like, ‘Woooooooo,’ that kind of positive response,” says Sturino on the phone from Portland, Maine. “But the reality is maybe there is someone in that audience not having the easiest time or going through a big transition, or are confused. People are validated to feel the way they feel and that makes you human and that makes you special.”
Validating emotions, and going through the movements of life, and self-awareness are major themes in the band’s second LP, Quitter, released in November 2021. Sturino sings about it in the record, but the feeling of burnout hits you immediately when you see the album cover of a mascot dejectedly walking away without the head.
“The mascot symbolizes putting on a happy face, or putting on a costume that you present to the world,” explains Sturino. “So much of society now with social media and everything else is seeking validation, and sometimes in seeking that validation—whether it’s with your job, social media, friends, family, whatever it is—can be a ruse and sometimes factitious. You kind of put on this one-sided image of yourself, and it’s the mascot version of you. It feels like you’re like, ‘Woohoo, everything is great,’ and you have to make others happy, but meanwhile inside you aren’t sad or hurt, but you have a full spectrum of emotions which is not always this cheery, happy-go-lucky person.’’
Even though a mascot is the cover art for Quitter, the album doesn’t hide Sturino’s emotions and feelings about the way life is going. The songs from Quitter match perfectly with the type of climate that the world is facing right now, and will probably still be in when they come to Atlantic City on June 7 to open up for We Were Promised Jetpacks at Anchor Rock Club in AC.
The song “Spew” off of Quitter explores feeling like you’re screaming into the void, and it’s something that, with recent events, we all feel.
“’Spew’ is this really angry song and I was really agro when I wrote it,” explains Sturino. “I’m kind of fucking fed-up with American society. A lot of it is how capitalism is really just garbage, and even in most recent times, including this week, kids are dying and people are dying. Money is just seemingly the most important thing along with power. I kind of feel hopeless and helpless and don’t want to feel like an angry person on the internet.
“But sometimes I just want to scream, like fuck with everything that is happening, why are people terrible?” Sturino continues. “I think getting to write and play that song is that. I just want to scream, and it’s a hard reality to live in when no one seems to give a shit about being a good person. There’s the opening line of ‘Stick to your guns cause you know what’s right.’ It’s a classic idiom of knowing what is right and stick to your guns, but also the literal meaning of guns are more important than people’s lives at this point and it really irks me. It’s my angry political commentary song that feels really good to play.”
In the song “Bargain Bin,” which is the opening track in Quitter, Sturino explores her struggles with self-worth and how it relates to the music industry.
“’Bargain Bin’ is about self-worth struggles I have, and about getting older,” says Sturino. “I feel like in the entertainment industry, and in the music industry especially as a woman you feel like there is a ticking time clock that feels like you’re only valuable or people will only give a shit until you are a certain age, and then you’re done. That window is small ,especially for women or femme people. The song is about my struggle with that and getting older and still loving to create music, but my fear of being second-best or not being good enough, or not being where I want to be. But fuck it, I’m going to keep doing what I love.’’
The fire that Sturino had for performing live and having a career in music was lit in Toronto by two fellow artists: Emily Haines of Metric and Avril Lavigne.
“When I was 11 I had some money and went to the mall,” remembers Sturino. “I went to HMV, which was the CD chain in Toronto at the time, and picked a CD that looked cool. I thought Avril Lavigne’s Let Go looked really cool when I was 11. I put the CD on and it was mind-altering at the time, and I was like, wow, this is so cool, and exactly what I want to do with my time, and it was this weird moment of I want to play guitar now because of Avril.”
Sturino’s parents were supportive of her playing music, and her dad sold his old amps to get Sturino a starter guitar, and guitar lessons.
“But now in hindsight I wish I had my dad’s ’60s amp,” says Sturino. “But it’s all good.”
When Sturino was a teenager she would take the subway from the suburbs to Toronto, and go to different concerts, and she went to some pretty impressive lengths to go to shows.
“I felt like I had to go to every show, and I had a fake ID,” remembers Sturino. “It wasn’t so I could drink or be debaucherous, but specifically because I wanted to see concerts. More concerts should be all ages, but on that note I had a fake ID and her name was Megan Mills from Stoney Creek, Ontario. I would go to all the concert venues, church basements and house shows. I was trying to absorb everything I could; at that age you aren’t jaded and you’re absorbing things like a sponge and you’re excited just to be there.”
For Sturino (or Mills), one concert that changed her life was seeing Metric in Toronto.
“When I was 15, a concert that lit a spark for me and made me realize I had to be in a band, and changed what being in a band means, was seeing Metric,” says Sturino. “I pushed my way up to the front row, and it was mind-blowing. I loved the way Emily Haines commanded the stage, and I thought it was the coolest fucking shit I’ve ever seen. It didn’t seem overthought or planned, it all seemed very visceral and real. Seeing a badass woman like that own the stage in a gnarly way, to be honest, it made me realize how music and live performance is so cathartic and I was so taken back by it, and all I wanted to do at that point was be on the stage.”
Sturino would go on to play a ton of stages, and with Weakened Friends rounded out by her wife Annie Hoffman (bass), and Adam Hand (drums) she’ll play on a South Jersey stage for the first time. For the New England-based band, Jersey feels like a second home to them.
“Weirdly enough when we started as a band a lot of our friends were based in the Asbury Park area so outside of playing in New England, Jersey was the place we would play the most. Like playing in Asbury Park, or basement shows in New Brunswick. We spent a lot of time in Jersey, and some of our favorite shows have been in New Jersey. We have never played Atlantic City before, but we’re very excited.’’
Weakened Friends will be opening up for We Were Promised Jetpacks at the Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City on June 7. Ticket information can be found here.