Boston rock is a legend in itself, but nothing comes close to the iconic Massachusetts sound and style of J Mascis. The frontman of Dinosaur Jr. is known for his stacked tower of amps, that blissfully fuzzy guitar tone, and his howling solos that have been jutting emotional notes into the scene ever since the band formed in Amherst in 1984. His long white hair and deadpan conversations make him an easy person to imitate, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say there are several J Mascis outfits wandering the streets of Allston come Halloween.
So for most musicians, the dream is to work alongside Mascis. He’s got that iconic sound that still sounds fresh after all these years—Dinosaur Jr. is still recording new material that entertains generations young and old, and it’s scheduled to play a two-night residency at the Sinclair in October—and he’s a songwriter who’s honed his tone in an admirable way. But how do you pull that off? It’s a dream that dies for nearly every band, but if you’re Weakened Friends, it can become reality.
The Boston-via-Maine alt-rock act writes satisfying hooks that bleed into the fringes of garage, punk, and pop ever since it formed in 2013. That earned the band’s most recent record, Crushed, a spot on our “Best Local Albums of 2016” list. Now, they’re back with new single “Hate Mail” that sees them in their best form yet—and with J Mascis at their side. It’s a song of snappy drums, elastic guitar, and bright yappy vocals that hits right in the sweet spot, and Mascis’ scissor-sharp guitar glides along throughout the track. If WFNX was still around, guitarist-singer Sonia Sturino, bassist Annie Hoffman, and drummer Cam Jones would absolutely hear the song blaring on the radio.
So how does a band pull that off? Though Mascis is a native of Massachusetts and still lives here decades after the band formed, he’s notoriously reclusive, quiet, and blunt. Weakened Friends are talented—that much isn’t up for debate, and anyone who wants to argue otherwise just needs to listen to their music—but they aren’t at the level of fame where they could tap any artists to guest on their work. As it turns out, Weakened Friends work with the same management as Mascis, so in the early stages of working with them the company had the band mail a record to Mascis. He dug the album. They dug him. Next thing they knew, he was playing on their track.
“Those parts were all him. Giving someone like J directions would feel like trying to tame a wild beast, so we let him do his thing, and we’re happy about where it ended up,” says Sturino. “It was really awesome to see where he took the song. It wasn’t what I was expecting as a musician, but as a fan I was super stoked.”
Sturino’s surprise makes sense. When Mascis sent his contributions, it wasn’t just a guitar solo to be placed halfway through “Hate Mail.” It wasn’t a couple fuzzed-out riffs to tack onto the end. It was a full-blown contribution, one that sees him shredding over the course of the whole song and complementing Sturino’s melodies. It’s a selfless addition that genuinely benefits the song at large.
“When we first got his takes back, his parts were mixed super duper high—naturally loud—and we were all laughing really hard in the van,” says Sturino. “It’s like up to 11 on stun.”
It’s a big payoff for reasons bigger than the collaboration. Sturino started writing “Hate Mail” over Christmas of last year. She flew to Toronto to visit her parents and found herself digging through her old computer. On it, she found an early acoustic demo where her mother can be heard yelling at her from another room (“Because I’m 27 going on 14,” she jokes). Now, “Hate Mail” was one of the last songs she wrote for their new record, and it sounds significantly different from the demo, in part because she was listening to a lot of Pinegrove at the time and was smitten with their chord progressions.
A few years ago, she was in an emotionally abusive relationship, worked a job she hated, and lived in a town where she felt like a misfit. Eventually, she realized she was being gaslighted, enduring various toxic relationships for the sake of keeping things calm—and she wanted to use “Hate Mail” to remind listeners that they don’t need to fall victim to that. “Everything that should have been fun felt like a total drag,” she says. “The bridge vocals are where it kinda connects that message: ‘I thought it was the best thing / until I found it’s letting me down.’ I think a song like this from a band I liked could have helped me out then and made it feel less lonely. I could only hope that this song is a small bit of advice to anyone in that place that there is a way out.”
Luckily for listeners, this song is just one of many Weakened Friends has to offer. “Hate Mail” comes off the band’s upcoming LP, Common Blah, due out later this year. It’s a taste of hometown pride, from the Mascis feature to its recording roots at Zippah Recording Studio in Brighton, and one worth sharing with anyone looking for an addictive new flavor in music. “I think we’ve really come together as a unit on this new record,” says Sturino. “This song is a taste of that… which probably tastes a lot like Taco Bell fire sauce.”
WEAKENED FRIENDS, THE COLOR AND SOUND, HEAVY POCKETS. FRI 9.8. O’BRIEN’S PUB, 3 HARVARD AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/21+/$10. OBRIENSPUBBOSTON.COM