Momma Wanted To Be A Household Name. They Looked To Nirvana And Liz Phair

Momma Wanted To Be A Household Name. They Looked To Nirvana And Liz Phair

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By Mia Hughes

The five best choruses you’ll hear this year are probably all on Momma’s Household Name, the third album by the Los Angeles-born, New York-based alt-rock band comprising 23-year-old Etta Friedman and 24-year-old Allegra Weingarten, as well as 23-year-old Aron Kobayashi Ritch. Armed with a real studio for the first time, they took the opportunity to lean all the way into their major-label ’90s influences — artists like Nirvana, Liz Phair, and The Smashing Pumpkins — resulting in a polished and unrestrained singalong sound.

Yet more than any specific band, Household Name is a tribute to the mythology of the rock star, with all of its cockiness, allure, and mystery. The indelibly catchy tracks “Speeding 72” and “Medicine” have swagger and scale not often found in indie anymore, while “Rip Off” and “Rockstar” fantasize about making it to the big leagues.

Meanwhile, the second half of the record also sees Momma dip into more personal songwriting for the first time (their last record, 2020’s Two of Me, was a concept record about “morality, youth and punishment”). Friedman’s lovestruck “Lucky” and Weingarten’s broken-hearted “Brave” are highlights, intertwining sensitivity with the album’s hi-fi sheen. Perhaps it speaks to a change in the genre’s culture; that a rock star façade is no longer impenetrable, that vulnerability too can be celebrated and encouraged.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZWxWsEiGBQ

MTV News: How did you guys meet and start Momma?

Allegra Weingarten: We met in high school, this college prep school in Calabasas. It was really preppy and sporty and not very arts-based. We were kinda the only people who had similar taste in music and didn’t play team sports, so we naturally gravitated towards each other. We just started hanging out and eventually became inseparable at school.

Etta was playing with someone else under the name Momma, and also putting stuff on Soundcloud by themself. Then that person couldn’t make a show so Etta asked me to do it, and we basically wrote a whole new set. Ever since then, we’ve been writing together.

MTV News: Have your intentions with Momma changed since then?

Etta Friedman: I don’t know what we thought it was gonna be. I think it was just a way for us to chill and kinda be outside of whatever else we were consumed with. Then I think we were playing a bunch of shows in L.A. and just kind of [realized] this is something we could probably do.

Actually, there’s this phone note that we found recently of our goals, and we’re still ticking everything off. It’s been cool to see things that were so crazy, like ‘oh, this will never happen,’ actually happen.

MTV News: What are some of the goals on the list?

Friedman: The one that definitely seemed super “there’s no way this is gonna happen but it would be cool” is a billboard, and that happened.

Weingarten: The earlier stuff is like, play a full band set, release a physical copy of an album, get 1,000 Instagram followers. And then as it goes down, it’s like, play Audiotree — that’s something we still really wanna do. “Jack Black knows anything about us.” Episode of Song Exploder was the most recent one on there. And album reviewed by Pitchfork, which is kind of a scary one.

MTV News: Tell me about the writing and recording process of Household Name.

Weingarten: We started in summer 2020. Then in the fall of 2020, I moved to New York, so we were writing and demoing with Aron [Kobayashi Ritch], who plays bass and also produces and co-writes with us, basically three days a week for eight months. It was a really intensive process. We ended up with like 17 songs, and songs were getting rewritten and scrapped, and we planned everything out to the exact BPM before we ever even stepped in the studio.

MTV News: The album has all this influence from these big, major-label bands of the ’90s, and you emulated that glossy sound. What kind of production or songwriting choices went into that?

Weingarten: We definitely were just pushing a lot of really big guitar tones, because we had never really done that before. We really wanted it to be like Nirvana’s Nevermind, loud but really clean and polished. There’s also a lot of really cool production details that Aron put in there that are very subtle but make all the difference. We had never really used octaves in our songs before, and that was a big one. The second you put octaves on a song, it makes it sound so ’90s.

Sophie Hur

MTV News: You often write from the perspective of this rock star personality, but on this album, there is more vulnerable lyricism. What made you want to write from a personal perspective?

Friedman: Sadly, I think it was a product of having to be in lockdown and separated from each other. I think there were a lot of personal things that we were each dealing with that maybe weren’t mutually shared. “Lucky” was something that I wrote because I was separated from my partner, for I didn’t know how long. But at the same time — like, I could have written “Lucky” [alone], but it wouldn’t have been as great as it was if I didn’t get the opportunity to also bring it to Allegra. We really understand each other and are harmonious together.

MTV News: I know you guys are big fans of Liz Phair. I was reading an article recently about how, back in the ’90s, people were really, really cruel about her and her songwriting because she was a woman who was writing about her personal life. How much does that side of her songwriting influence you? 

Friedman: She’s so inspirational to us. Something that I respect about her songwriting and her lyrics is how unafraid she is to say the shit that everyone’s thinking. She can talk about sex in a really intimate way and put that all out in a song, and if it makes people uncomfortable, fuck it. She’s expressing herself [in a way] that we can grow up alongside and be like, yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from, and I can imagine myself there. I always look back to her lyrics and think about some of the most intense things she says, because they’re what sticks with me.

Weingarten: One thing I’ve always loved about her lyrics is that she’s writing as a female in this boys’ club. When she was coming up in Chicago, there were a lot of male-dominated bands. And I think a lot of women stray away from writing about men, because they think it’s not feminist of them or whatever. But she writes about men, she writes about being with men, and she writes about being surrounded by men. And that’s something that I related to in college, especially, when I was the only girl making music in an all-guy friend group. It was cool to have this songwriter to look up to where she was in the same boat.

MTV News: Compared to the ’90s when Liz Phair was breaking out, it feels like there’s a lot more space for young women in pop and rock music to sing about their feelings. Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, even the way the mainstream is reevaluating Taylor Swift — it seems like artists like Liz Phair paved the way for that. Do you think music is in a better place for that now?

Weingarten: Yeah, in terms of the indie scene, Phoebe Bridgers is obviously one of the biggest musicians out there. And Mitski, and Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail. There are so many female-fronted guitar bands who are super vulnerable in their songwriting, which is really sick.

But sometimes, it kind of gets a little dicey, ’cause people like to tokenize femme-fronted bands, and a lot of the time it’s like, do you even listen to this fucking band? Even with us, people are always like, “They sound exactly like the Breeders.” Like, no we don’t. We don’t sound anything like them. So there’s a lot of that, which is really, really frustrating and discouraging.

Friedman: I will say the one thing that I got reminded of when you said Billie Eilish — I have a step-niece who’s obsessed with her. I think it’s really easy for media to spin a sexualization on a young, up-and-coming female star, and I know that [Eilish] is taking this stance of like, ‘I don’t need to sexualize myself, the music’s good, and I wear what I’m comfortable in.’ I remember hearing that and being like, it’s cool that my step-niece is listening to that. Because, shoot me, I don’t really care for her music that much, but it is cool to see [young] people get influenced potentially in the right direction.

Sophie Hur

MTV News: Another difference between now and the 90s is how touring has become super expensive and unsustainable, especially during the pandemic. Does that make it harder to aim high or dream of getting big like bands did back then?

Friedman: Yeah. We’re worried about going into debt every time we tour, and that’s shitty. We had this talk with one of our managers that was like, well, you kind of have to bet on yourself. Where it’s like, this tour could maybe get you all of these fans, and then the next tour that you go on, you’ll be making money. But how do we know that’s gonna happen? Are we gonna consistently plummet? On top of that, it’s worrying about rent and shit.

Weingarten: Yeah. People underestimate what level you really have to be at to actually make money from touring. Like, it’s not enough to sell out a 600-cap room. You could do that for a full tour, but you are still paying out management, booking agents, business managers, your band, van, hotels.

MTV News: What do you think the phrase “rock star” means in 2022?

Weingarten: I mean, I don’t think that real rock stars even exist [anymore].

Friedman: I agree. ’Cause I think to me, a rock star is a way of carrying yourself, like an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ thing. Nowadays, you really have to be careful and give a fuck to make it to rock star level, so it’s a totally different vibe. That’s why Kurt Cobain or the Gallaghers were cool. They’re just like, fuck off, I don’t really care about any of this. But we can’t necessarily say shit like that without completely risking a lot of things we’ve worked hard for.

Weingarten: Yeah, there is a set of manners that are really important to follow. You can’t roll up to soundcheck and get wasted and fuck around. You say hi to the sound guy and you introduce yourself to whoever’s doing the production. You have to be kind and respectful or else you won’t get gigs and you won’t get invited back to places.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-KRZP2FxEQ

MTV News: So what about you guys? What are your wildest ambitions?

Friedman: I just wanna be able to sustain a career with this. I love spending time with my best friends and traveling and creating together. I was shocked when we went to the U.K., ’cause it was just like, how the fuck do you guys know our music? Like, that’s so trippy.

But on a more hopeful or materialistic side, I think it would be really sick if we went to Japan, or we score a movie and then we win an Oscar. Imagine that!