Brooklyn-based band Momma are loving their “Rockstar” year
“Mersh.” That’s slang for “commercial,” which is how the father of Momma founding member and guitarist Allegra Weingarten first described the band’s 2022 breakout album Household Name.
The record, a shoo-in for end-of-the-year rock album lists, brought the Los Angeles-bred band a good bit of praise and recognition. And ultimately, her veteran music journalist dad said it was the right move to go commercial and lay the fuzzy guitars on thick across 12 poppy tracks invoking '90s staples like Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, and Pavement.
Weingarten, 24, who formed Momma with 23-year-old guitarist Etta Friedman in 2015, says her dad had a big influence on her early musical taste, which shines through on the group’s latest release. She specifically cited Nirvana as perhaps the biggest influence on the record, but not on the sound, per se.
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“It was not even that we were necessarily pulling ideas or genuinely being influenced by their music,” Weingarten tells Alternative Press. “I think it was just the lore surrounding Nirvana that was really interesting to us.”
The story of a struggling band in the ’90s colors Household Name, which is essentially a concept album that longtime friends Weingarten and Friedman wrote over a year in the early pandemic days, soon after relocating from LA to Brooklyn. With deadpan vocals, the duo sings clever songs of aimless drives, complete infatuation, getting away on a noisy motorbike, and playing a shitty bar with an unstable band lineup in order to make that month’s rent.
“We really treated it as like a job almost — like we were in the studio for probably eight hours, three or four days a week, and that was just to write the record,” Weingarten says of the writing process for the album, which took place at friend, bassist and producer Aron Kobayashi Ritch’s place in Brooklyn. “It was a really creative, collaborative, intense process that was probably formative for all of us involved.”
Among the carefully crafted tunes on Household Name is the one-two punch of “Medicine” and “Rockstar,” the album’s third and fourth tracks. “Medicine,” full of tongue-in-cheek lyrics that liken being in love with being hooked on a drug, came about pretty effortlessly, Friedman says, because it was written at a time when the two were feeling excited in new relationships.
“We were talking about how we had never felt happier in our lives, and that’s a really exciting feeling because when we’ve talked about love or romance or whatever, it’s usually been pretty depressing,” they say. “It’s just easier to harp on the sadder, more emotional things. We were genuinely both feeling happy, so it was a pretty beautiful thing to try to express together.”
“Rockstar” then follows, which has become an unexpected hit for Momma, with the single becoming a fan favorite and getting love on alternative radio. And it’s all because she and Friedman watched Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, a 2006 comedy about a duo who sets out to be the "greatest band in the world," at home in LA with her rock journo dad in August 2020.
Right after the movie ended, the two headed up to Weingarten’s bedroom, where “Rockstar,” which tells the story of an aspiring rocker and what surrounds them in ’90s LA, was born. “I know this club called Tuesdays/I can get us backstage/The barback is our singer/The last one quit the band,” Weingarten sings in the second verse. “A real heavy drinker/He karaokes ‘Rocket Man.’”
Weingarten says she picked up her guitar and immediately played those anthemic opening chords. The rest was written in 10 minutes. At the time, they “thought it was stupid,” but after they showed it to Kobayashi Ritch and later played a demo for friends, it was clear the song struck a bigger chord than anticipated.
“It’s definitely not one that we thought was going to be a single or an important song on the record at all,” Weingarten says. “But then it really became like the blueprint for a lot of the themes of the record.”
Of the handful of music videos the band made for this album, “Rockstar” is a clear favorite. It gives Momma the behind-the-music treatment by following the story of the song, with the band finding an ad for a battle of the bands in the newspaper, flyering around town because they “still need a drummer,” and finding their way backstage at a gritty venue. There’s even encouragement from a poster of Kurt Cobain, whose style Friedman emulates in the video.
There are “loud-quiet” moments and solid riffs found all over Household Name, which Weingarten says is true to the sound the band have always been after. “For years I had never really sat down and been like, 'OK, we need to get these pedals, and we need to get these amps, and we need to really make sure that we have a good tone,’” she says. “Doing this record, we're like, 'OK, let's finally achieve that huge sound that we've been looking for.’”
Over the summer, Momma took that huge sound on the road for a lengthy tour that lasted seven straight weeks across the U.S. “We thought seven weeks is normal, that touring musicians did back-to-back-to-back shows,” Friedman says. “Then we realized people have breaks and four-week-long tours.”
Sandwiching those weeks of tour dates were two shows in Momma’s adopted hometown, New York City, where they held a release show in a small room upstairs at the Bushwick venue The Broadway in July, and ended with a sold-out show at the significantly larger Music Hall of Williamsburg in October.
“At the very beginning of the tour — like when we were announcing the tickets — we really didn't think we're gonna sell it out or anything,” Friedman says. “The energy was pretty similar to The Broadway show in terms of people having fun, which is the best thing to see onstage. We were really feeling like, ‘Wow, we fucking did it.’ It was really a beautiful moment.”
Now, Momma are managing to squeeze in a month of rest before going back out to play again. The band are also starting to demo new songs and hopes to dedicate adequate time to write the follow-up to Household Name, which was a product of pandemic free time. “Without that free time I don't know if we would have been able to write the record in the same way,” Weingarten says. “We're still trying to figure out how we're going to be able to do it, now that we're so busy.”
Meanwhile, Momma will soon be opening for Surf Curse, Foals, Alex G and Death Cab for Cutie, with dates spread out now through early April 2023.
Friedman and Weingarten, who work day jobs at home in Brooklyn when they're not on tour, admitted it’s been challenging to operate in the current financial landscape that’s affecting many artists. Getting over to Europe with Alex G will be much more costly than expected, Friedman explains.“It’s a constant thing I think about: how to support yourself, but also make the work that you want to make and do what you want to be doing,” they say.
Ultimately, the band say it’s been interesting learning how to make money as artists because it means betting on yourself and putting yourself out there. “It means spending money and losing money to then be able to profit in any way,” Friedman says. “It's really a grueling process. But, I mean, the good thing is that we're having a good time along the way.”
Even as Momma waiver between feeling like the band they sing about on "Rockstar" and going "mersh," it's no doubt been thrilling to see the recent ascension of the Brooklyn-based group.