Photo: Sumner Howell

Interview: The Sonder Bombs – “I found myself growing with the record as I was writing it”

Making a name for themselves as part of the fertile Cleveland scene, The Sonder Bombs have undergone a natural evolution over the past few years, having initially put themselves on the map with debut album MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR in 2018. Its follow-up is Clothbound, a daring and diverse 10-song set that’s also their first to see release outside of North America. The intensely personal lyrical approach of band leader Willow Hawks remains an ideal fit for an ambitious musical palette, and on the new record they use it to cover an impressive amount of ground in just over half an hour.

It’s a wild ride of an album, and ahead of seeing it unleashed this Friday, I talked to Willow about their experience recording during quarantine, the personal accomplishment that comes from working with one of your favourites, musical influences, fantasy tours, and ,of course, Clothbound itself.

How has the band dynamic changed since you released MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR?

With MFR, everybody kinda came together with what they had and as quickly as we had come up with the idea of doing an album, it was finished. There wasn’t much planning. But with Clothbound, everything was a lot more collaborative and everyone was more involved. We really took our time talking about what each of us wanted from the record and where we wanted to go with it. So not only am I proud of the sonic quality, but I’m also just crazy proud to be so locked in with my bandmates. We each made big sacrifices to make this record happen.

How have things changed for you personally since then?

Personally, I feel a lot more validated as a songwriter. I feel more comfortable expressing not only myself but also being able to express the things that inspire me. It’s been a huge step with my confidence as a musician. It obviously helps to be surrounded by my incredibly loving and supportive partners in crime Jimmy (guitar), Cappy (bass) and Jer (drums).

What would you say is the biggest difference between your two records?

MFR was and forever will be my baby. I think one of the main differences with Clothbound is that I found myself growing with the record as I was writing it, which is pretty exhilarating.

What sort of influences went into making Clothbound?

Nature, childhood trauma, crazy things that happened while we were on the road, mental health struggles. A lot of hard things but also a lot of beautiful things like working on letting go and supporting friends.

Aside from making the album, what else did you get up to last year?

I got pretty focused on my mental health in a way that I wasn’t able to explore before, so I’m very grateful for that. Animal Crossing, reality TV, decorating the apartment, yoga, trying to not die.

What was it like working with Joe Reinhart of Hop Along?

It was magical! Each of us loves Hop Along for our own special reasons, so to be able to work with Joe was a great privilege. It’s funny actually because at least once a week someone in the band is like, “holy shit, I can’t believe we actually got to do that!!” and it’s like, YEA IT’S CRAZY. To not only be able to work on music but then work on music with someone you admire during the worst year of our lives is thrilling and terrifying. Again, we couldn’t be more grateful. Joe is a fuckin’ angel.

You put it together in Philadelphia during quarantine, which must have been a surreal experience.

Oh yes. Absolutely wild. Thankfully, Headroom [Studios] really took safety seriously and made us feel cozy. We were locked in the studio 24 hours a day for 14 days, and, while at times it was stressful and left us feeling uncertain, I can certainly say we wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I don’t want to be cooped up with anyone besides these goofballs.

Tell us about the album’s eclectic sound – it’s all over the place but it really works.

Haha, well, that happened accidentally. We had studio time already booked and while we had been writing/demoing songs since fall 2019, we hadn’t actually looked at all the songs we had together as a whole. I remember stepping back just before recording and thinking, “what the fuck are we doing??” It’s very scary to try new things, especially when you don’t realize that you’re trying something different and it’s just coming from the heart. We only had about a week before entering the studio to rehearse for the first time as a full band. I like to think we killed it for how much time we had. Also, again, shout out to Joe for being a wizard and helping us make it a cohesive work.

Which song on Clothbound is your favourite and why?

My favorite song off Clothbound, and also in general, is the opening track, “Papillon”. I think as time goes on that’s the direction I want to take my songwriting so right now it excites me the most. But that could change!

You signed with Big Scary Monsters for the UK/EU release of the album – how did that happen?

It happened pretty fast actually!!! Joe from Take This To Heart sent them the record and I believe it took them like 30 mins before they responded saying they wanted to work together! It’s such a blessing to work with folks who bust their asses daily because they really love and care about what they’re doing. The passion they radiate inspires me and I’m sure countless other musicians on the roster.

Who were your favourite artists growing up?

Pixies, Queen, Weezer – Doolittle changed my life; Greatest Hits Vol. 2 taught me how to sing, the Blue Album showed me how to fall for fuckboys.

Let’s say The Sonder Bombs had the opportunity to tour with three artists – who would they be and why?

Lady Gaga, Bartees Strange, and Stevie Nicks are the first three that come to mind! I think touring and spending time with these icons would be a dream. I love to imagine all the things I’d be able to learn from each of them.

What’s your favourite thing about where you’re from?

I’m torn between Swenson’s burgers and Mahall’s (which also has an amazing burger). Maybe it’s just the burgers?

Is there anything the band – or you specifically – are trying to prove on the new album?

I don’t feel like we’re necessarily trying to prove anything this time around. I think we proved it with our first record. I’m past the point of trying to impress anyone else but myself – I think it’s why we made a record however the fuck we wanted.

You put out a split with Snarls last year – they’re from the same scene, on the same label, it must have been the obvious choice, right?

For sure! Snarls are an incredible group of talented musicians and even cooler people. We’re very stoked to collab with any of our labelmates!!

Is there anyone else you could see yourselves doing something similar with in future?

Mannequin Pussy! That’d be the dream.

Aside from the obvious whenever live shows return, what sort of plans do you have for the record?

All I want is to do is make music and travel the world. Anything else is a huge bonus. I’ve found it’s kinda hard to make plans in general let alone in a pandemic. I am excited to see where it takes us regardless!

How would you feel about a potential Sonder Bombs livestream show?

We’re definitely keen on the idea and hope to do something fun like that in the very near future.

What were your favourite albums of 2020?

Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
Bartees Strange – Live Forever
Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor
Beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
Frances Quinlan – Likewise

What’s the one thing you hope people take away from hearing Clothbound?

One of my hopes for this record is that it continues to show people that it doesn’t matter what instrument you play, or what musical background you come from; just make what you love and follow what inspires you.

The Sonder Bombs’ new album Clothbound is released on Friday via Take This to Heart Records (US), Big Scary Monsters (UK/EU) and Dew Process (AU/NZ).

You can find the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.