Heartfelt songs from the Age of the Pandemic
The songs on the new Sour Widows EP, Crossing Over, were put together and recorded during the Covid pandemic. Although some of the songs were written before the lockdown, the uncertainty of the past year found its way into the arrangements the band crafted for the recording. The trio—vocalist and guitarist Maia Sinaiko, vocalist and guitarist Susanna Thomson and drummer Max Edelman—used the time away from touring and performing to expand their musical vision and address the uncertain emotional terrain we find ourselves in.
“We wanted to stretch a bit and try new things,” Sinaiko said. “We all listen to a lot of different kinds of music, so it was nice to challenge ourselves by bringing new elements to our sound. Our self-titled debut [released by the band in February 2020] was more rock and roll, louder. This time, we went towards our folky, more personal side.
“We couldn’t go into a studio, but we wanted to release new music and take advantage of all the free time we had. We researched recording, then went to Susanna’s family home in Mendocino and put it together. Susanna and I had some songs written, so we had a week of rehearsing, unmasked, with everyone contributing to the arrangements. We immersed ourselves in the music and played the songs until they were finalized. We’d have breakfast, go on a forest- or beach-walk to hang out and discuss what we wanted to do, then come back to the house and play and work things out together.”
“Two songs were written before the quarantine, two afterwards,” Thomson said. “They weren’t songs we planned to use as part of our catalogue. Live, we’re a pretty loud rock band. We never imagined how we’d arrange the quieter songs we were writing, until this opportunity came about. This shows our softer, progressive, folky side. They became a good representation of transition and change, a moment in limbo. With the quarantine and everything, it made sense to change our sonic landscape with the circumstances.”
Before heading up to Mendocino, Thomson and Sinaiko made demos of the songs and sent them to Edelman. “I played along to the rough mixes,” he said. “I used a click track metronome and came up with my drum parts. It was a nice distraction and good to work on something creative, rather than sitting around, stressed out all the time. I have my own studio, so I miked every individual drum, used some overhead mics and played along to the demos. We used those tracks for the rehearsals, to work out our final approach.”
After the arrangements were finalized, Sinaiko and Thomson returned to Mendocino to record the final tracks. “We turned the upstairs into a makeshift recording studio,” Thomson said. “We set up the computers and interface in one room, with one guitar amp in the corner, facing the wall. We put another amp in the attic crawlspace to isolate them, so we could record without any sound bleed. After the guitar parts were done, we put on headphones and set up a makeshift vocal booth in a bedroom to record our vocals.”
Those tracks were sent to Timmy Stabler, a bass player they’ve worked with in the past. He added his parts in New York and sent the finished tracks back to California. The band had it mixed and mastered professionally, to deliver the mellow sound they were after.
“We call ourselves bedroom rock,” Thomson said. “We write the songs in our bedrooms and, when we started the band as a duo, we practiced in our bedrooms. There’s an intimacy in our writing that we identify with. We’ve also been called slowcore, a genre that appeared in the ’90s, known for slower tempos, richer tones in the guitars and a discreet drum sound.”
Crossing Over has the open, personal sound the band was after. The twin guitars weave a dreamlike atmosphere, as they shift between acoustic and electric sounds. Edelman’s drumming is understated throughout, adding subtle accents to complement the singing. Gentle, ambient electric guitar tones give “Look the Other Way” an aching quality, to compliment Sinaiko’s melancholy vocals. The lyrics explore the end of a relationship with a combination of sadness and confusion. “I wrote that song in a moment of great fear about the future,” Sinaiko said. “Being in your early 20s, trying to figure out who you are and grappling with the anxiety that produces. It also speaks to the moment we’re in now, trying to process things, when you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The title track has a slow, sorrowful groove intensified by the echoing reverb of the electric guitars, Thomson’s reserved singing and the shimmering harmonies of Sinaiko’s backing vocals. “I’m describing a long-distance relationship,” Thomson said. “How you come to terms with the choices you’ve made and the process of realizing you have to deal with things the way they are, even if they’re painful. Loss, grief and the end of relationships is much on our minds, due to the current situation.”
The wide-open musical style displayed on Crossing Over makes the band’s narratives easily relatable, even as they eschew rock’s usual song structures. “We want to break open the rules of songwriting and explore bringing in different dynamics and time signatures and getting creative with them. We all think about making the songs more of a story, not just in the lyrics, but also in the changes and drum parts. There is an overarching narrative in these songs, but it’s not attached to conventional storytelling,” Thompson said.