There’s cover songs, and then there’s the many ways Leah Wellbaum and Will Gorin have flipped their favorite tracks over the past 15 years. Not just with their longtime band Slothrust either. The Sarah Lawrence grads first bonded over the blues, a way to apply the progressive lesson plans of teachers like Mike Longo — a pianist who played with such jazz pioneers as Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Konitz — to fearless riffs and rhythms that feel like total rewrites.
Gorin is quick to credit Longo’s “Three I’s” lesson — imitation, incubation, and innovation — in particular. The main takeaway? That the best music comes from building upon other people’s ideas, rather than simply replicating or revisiting them.
The clearest example of this would be the Slothrust record Show Me How You Want It to Be, a cover song compilation that dropped sand-blasted renditions of The Turtles (“Happy Together”) and Marcy’s Playground (“Sex and Candy”) alongside spare takes on Al Green (“Let’s Stay Together”) and Sam Cooke (“Cupid”).
Heading even further out into left field is the new EP I Promise, a wild ride that includes a raw performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and not one but four different recordings of the slo-mo smash “Pony.” The latter takes its cues from Ginuwine’s cassingle, which split its sides between a vibrant album version, drawn-out director’s cut, Timbaland’s iconic beat, and Ginuwine’s carnal a cappella.
Slothrust takes the track down two distinct paths built around the original’s three powerhouse chords and effervescent low end. One swings like a lithe slice of sludgy rock ‘n’ roll, and the other dives straight off the deep end for 10 extra minutes, playing to the pair’s strengths as well-rounded mind readers.
“It’s always fun to leave space in the music where improvisation is possible,” explains Wellbaum, “and that is part of what is so exciting to us about the extended version of ‘Pony’; it’s entirely improvised, and we only did one performance of it in the studio.”
“One of my all-time favorite quotes is from composer Claude Debussy,” adds Gorin. “I first discovered it in Miles Davis’ biography, when he said ‘music is the space between the notes.’ I approach my playing with that kind of energy, with an emphasis on filling negative space with symmetrical or asymmetrical patterns.”
The same can be said for the two snappy, tightly wound tracks that also landed on I Promise, “Maybe Maybe” and “Magic Glow.” Written by Wellbaum while she was living in Florida last year and ending a “really long and beautifully dramatic relationship,” the songs are both poetic and poppy, working in hummable nods to liminal spaces, ceremonial magic, and eco-sexuality alongside a slick rhythm section (featuring Gorin on drums and bass for the first time) and Welbaum’s manic guitar melodies.
“The two originals on this EP are good examples of songs that wrote themselves,” says Wellbaum. “I decided that I wanted to do guitar-driven, dynamic rock songs and I wrote these two as a pair, which happens to me a lot.”
Another recent example of songs that seemed to finish each other’s sentences — sonically and lyrically — would be “Courtesy” and “Waiting” from Slothrust’s last record, 2021’s Parallel Timeline LP. All of this synchronicity makes perfect sense, of course. After all, Slothrust’s breakthrough album (Of Course You Do) is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary, and the band’s core duo have connected on a kismet level ever since those early days.
“Will and I have been playing different genres of music in different configurations together for almost 15 years now and that is a big part of our lock,” says Wellbaum. “We know how to work with each other in a variety of different settings and how to communicate outside of what we do specifically. That offers us tremendous freedom.”
“I feel like we have developed our own unique sound to the point where we can ask ourselves ‘what would Slothrust do?’” adds` Gorin. “The paradox being that if Slothrust knew what Slothrust would do, Slothrust would do the opposite.”
Portland, Maine indie rock trio Weakened Friends dive into the honest truth of being a working musician on their new LP, Quitter, reflecting on lost friendships and self-worth swallowed up by burnout. Songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Sonia Sturino is supported by Annie Hoffman (bass/vocals) and Adam Hand (drums), filling out a mature and emotive sound.
Central to the record thematically is the empty threat of quitting music and “getting a real job”. Sturino wrestles with her relationship with music on the title track, shouting “I love it, but it never really feels okay” over scorching guitars. Despite the implications of the title, quitting is not an option for the band. Even as friends settle into adulthood, Weakened Friends find themselves trapped in a fortress of their own creation, inseparably attached to the eternal youthfulness of life in music. In this liminal zone, life passes by and friendships are weakened, and Quitter takes plenty of time to mourn these losses.
Chunky, distorted riffs support snarky, cutting vocals on “Everything is Better”, a tongue-in-cheek acceptance of one such broken friendship. Agile shifts between heavy fuzz guitar and softer, more introspective moments follow the vocals through tumult and triumph as Sturino envisions what’s being said about her from the other side of the conflict. Leaning into a perception of her as cold and uncaring, Sturino revels in the role of the villain, taking jabs like “everything is better when you’re not around”.
Though the record acknowledges a perpetual state of arrested development that comes with being a musician, the band is anything but stagnant musically. Opening themselves up to ideas outside the constraints of their slacker rock sound, Weakened Friends puts the full force of their creative ambition into “Quitter”. Inspired by watching peers go above and beyond what is expected of them, the band sought to explore each song’s fullest potential, with their most extensive pre-production and arrangement work to date. Incorporating banjo, pedal steel, horns, extensive synth arrangement and a number of non-instrumental sounds such as ovens and camera flashes, Weakened Friends expand on their universe of sounds on their new LP.
Sturino begins songs as skeletons, allowing the rhythm section to “pull every song apart and investigate every path they could go down”, as Hoffman put it. Focusing on the momentum behind every lyric, the trio squeezes each musical moment for maximum emotional impact. The album’s opener “Bargain Bin’ exemplifies this process, beginning just with Sturino providing a contemplative melody underlaid by wandering guitar picking. A sharp crack of the snare drops the rest of the band in, cueing in a lush swell of bass and guitar.
Quitter bears Sturino’s vulnerabilities and insecurities about her role in the music world loudly and proudly, but in the confident and ambitious sounds that couch those fears, Weakened Friends prove their worth as a vital and exciting rock band.