For most of their time together, Momma have been hampered by a trans-American gap. Formed by school friends Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarden, the duo are intensely close, managing to make two fantastic records while rooted on opposite coasts. While Allegra remained in California, Etta formed a new life in New York, with small windows of time emerging during strange hours of the day and night as their calendars coalesced.
New album ‘Household Name’ is different, though. Technically their third – and both previous LPs are worth exploring – it feels like a debut. It’s got that precocious feel, songwriting brimming with ideas and energy; it’s also the first record they’ve made together, in the same time, in the same city. Now firmly ensconced in Brooklyn, there’s a potent intensity, a succinctness to ‘Household Name’ that suggests Momma are finally finding the right gear.
“The people here are pretty different, in my opinion,” reflects Etta. “I feel like it’s a big shift, really. The people are, like, way more open here. And they’re more honest.”
It’s tempting to view ‘Household Name’ as an East Coast record – there’s certainly an element of New York grit in the sound. The more subtle and enduring influence, though, is that it allowed the duo to work together, in the same room. Allegra reflects: “I think the fact that we all got the chance to be a band and living in the same city was the biggest factor… we were basically just in a bedroom for like 12 hours a day.”
The record itself was laid down during a frantic 10 days at a studio in Greenpoint, New York, with bass player Aron Kobayashi Rich taking charge of production. Torn and tattered indie rock, you could throw around names like Pavement and Sebadoh, alongside The Breeders and late, lamented UK group Yuck. It’s all shot through with a vivid sense of emotion, and a lyrical turn of phrase that could only come from two young people finding their way through the world.
“I think individually as songwriters, Etta and I are really open,” says Allegra. “In the past, we haven’t been super transparent in our songwriting – I mean, the last record was a concept album, which is so funny. So weird. A lot of that was character-based and based on these weird little storylines, and narratives that we had made up in our head. But on our own time, we were writing all of these personal heart-on-sleeve songs throughout college.”
She adds: “When we sat down to write this record, I think there was just a lot going on in both of our personal lives and we knew we didn’t want to make a concept record so it was the perfect time for us to combine forces and make more personal songs for this record, I guess.”
At times, their voices blur into each other, giving the record an incredible sense of unity. “It’s like speaking a language together,” says Etta. “There’s this rubric that we follow of like, okay, what do we want to write about? These are the images that I want to bring up. These are some words that I think are cool.”
For her part, Allegra adds: “It’s pretty spontaneous when we write together, and then we just make something that we think is really cool.”
Take the piercing, ultra-contagious ‘Motorbike’ with its dreamy lyrics of passionate urges. Etta reveals it’s about “a crush… that turned into an obsession. It’s like, obsessing over a person, and then it becomes real. When the fantasy becomes real to you, because you’ve thought about it so much.”
Allegra laughs, and adds: “The fantasies are always more alluring anyway!”
Chatting to Clash over Zoom, the split window – the duo still live in different apartments, for now at least – gives a curious contrast. At times, the conversation floods from one window to the other, forever patient as they listen in to the other’s response. It’s this dynamic that makes ‘Household Name’ such an advance on their earlier work. “Sometimes writing guitar parts can be really stressful,” Allegra admits. “But the lyrics come easily. A lot of these lyrics were written in like 15 minutes on Aron’s stoop, smoking a cigarette. We would finish all the guitar parts, and then Aron would be like: alright guys want to do vocals? We’d be like, yeah, give us one sec. And we’d go out and write the verses down straight away. We’ve done it together for so long.”
“I also think we don’t take ourselves too seriously all the time,” adds Etta. “We formed the band to have fun!”
The biting ‘Callin Me’ is certainly fun, and it’s carefree attitude taps into their youth. Etta says: “I literally have videos of us as teenagers playing that song! We found it on an old voicemail, dug it out, and it was done in a day.”
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this record, I think, is don’t write off anything that you’ve ever written… even like a bar of that might be something to look into.”
With the record now out, Momma are hitting the road, completing a flurry of dates with Snail Mail. The shows present an intriguing dilemma for Momma – their music was released during the pandemic, stripping them away from their audience. Releasing that pent-up live energy, they admit, can be overwhelming.
“The bigger steps that we’ve taken as a band really did happen over the pandemic,” Allegra reflects. “It’s pretty crazy that our recent run of shows is to the biggest audiences we’ve ever played. It’s an opportunity I never thought we were going to see, especially during the pandemic.”
As they’ve travelled, Momma have met kindred spirits. Part of a burgeoning scene in Brooklyn, a clutch of new groups are shaking off the memories of the past. Etta doubles in the hardcore-leaning Aspartame, while the duo cite Hotline TNT and Bedridden as peers. Momma might be inseparable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to engaging with kindred spirits. “We’ve met a few people recently who I think are really compatible, and that they have their own worlds as well. So, when the worlds collide, it works!”
Momma’s new album ‘Household Name’ is out now.
Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Sophie Hur