Shack Chats: A Conversation with Willow from The Sonder Bombs
by: Ashley Paul / @Ashlemur
Have y’all heard everyone's favorite Ukelele shredding, Ohio hailing, Shack homies The Sonder Bombs are playing the first Shackcraft Monthly Live stream on May 8th? Of course you have. Because y’all are the best and keep up with our socials. Well team, do we have even more good news for you! In addition to updates and shitposting, we’ll also be bringing you *new* content such as interviews, roundups, and other stories from Shack staff & friends via our new webbysite.
To start us off right, we have a conversation with Willow from The Sonder Bombs about everything from songwriting, favorite bands, DIY, to the first Shack show the Sondies ever played. Keep reading and make sure to check out their KILLER set on May 8th!
**Interview starts off with me ( Hi, I'm Ashley) trying to figure out how to use Zoom for 15 minutes, feeling like a boomer, asking Willow to wait 3 different times**
Ashley: I’m so thankful that you didn’t hate my questions, I was so nervous you would.
Willow: No, oh my god I loved them!
I think I’m going to start off by asking you about music.
I know this because I’ve been secretly stalking your Twitter for a while, that you don’t love the Paramore comparison, which I totally understand because I think it’s a pretty lazy comparison. Just because I think there’s a lot more going on with your music than that. And also there are so many other amazing female vocalists in alternative emo bands. There’s just so much more. But also lyrically, there’s so much more going on.
So what other influences might people be surprised to learn about you or that had a big influence on your music?
It’s so tricky. That question can be kind of tricky. Because there are the core bands a person grows up listening to, and then there are the random offshoots of bands where you only know a couple songs. But you find them through your favorite bands. So I would say a lot of my songwriting influence, and this doesn’t cover the guys' parts, because the guys write parts that then cover my skeleton. Because they bring their own influences and their own parts to the table. But for me, it’s definitely Pixies. They’re my favorite band ever.
They’re IT for you, huh?
Yeah, that’s it. That is IT. I got my first Pixie CD from my mom. It was hers. At 11, one of those foldable CD holders, with the sleeves? And popped it into my little, pink Minnie mouse Disney TV, with a built-in DVD player, do you know what I’m talking about?
Oh my god, yes I totally do, actually.
It had ears and like a little bow on top. And I would just listen to that in middle school on loop. That and Weezer green album. Which is like, not the most popular Weezer album.
One thing I really like about y’alls music, and that I noticed when I saw you play live is that your music makes me feel homesick, but in the best way possible.
Oh my god really?
Yes! Totally. let me explain. So everyone from Ohio loves to shit on being from Ohio, it’s like our favorite thing until you move away. Then you have nothing but pride from being Ohio or the Midwest in general.
And similarly, I feel in your music there’s a lot of juxtapositions and contrasts. You have a very strong voice, there’s a lot of power to it but then there’s a Ukelele. Really strong sound, really vulnerable lyrics. Maybe this isn’t so much a question, but it’s just something I really connect with and love about your music. Because it has this distinctly Ohio-ness about it because it has this self-deprecating thing about it if that makes sense.
Yeah, thank you! Well, when I was first just writing for myself before I had any real vision of what I wanted things to sound like recorded, I think I took a more sarcastic approach to playing my Ukulele. Because I was listening to things like Pixies, Say Anything, and Weezer. I was listening to punk music. I was listening to progressive music with fucked up lyrics. But I wanted to play the Ukulele.
Photo: Jacob Cornell
I never sat down with my Ukulele and thought ‘damn I wish this was a guitar and I was just better’. No, I wanted to make this music just with a Ukulele. And I think it’s because it is so contrasting.
Sonically at least, Modern Female Rockstar (MFR) is [sarcastic]. And even, ‘I don’t have one anymore’ contrasts as well. I think MFR and ‘I don’t have one anymore’, are both equally sarcastic and kind of fun. That’s definitely what I think I subconsciously wanted, even if I didn’t know how to verbalize that. Yeah, I do like the idea of making something with an instrument that people don’t believe in, ya know? And I don’t know if that’s just a reflection of my own trauma and having people not believe in me for so long.
Okay, so that’s the connection I was actually trying to make with the whole Ohio schpiel. I know that seemed like a totally out there train of thought. But that’s a very Midwestern kind of mentality. And it’s also a very DIY kind of mentality.
Like this “no one believes in me, no one takes this shit seriously, believe in yourself, believe in your own friends when no one else will” kind of scene, right?
So keeping in this direction let’s talk a little bit more about Ohio specifically. It’s not uncommon for there to be generalizations about music scenes OR their sounds. Do you agree? Is this still a thing now that music is all online?
Well, I think you know, living in the digital age, where like you said, everything is online, music is so much more available to people than it ever has been right? Because you can make an entire record - I mean even Billie Eilish and her brother are proof that you can make a record in your bedroom and get to the top of the charts. So I don’t necessarily think when we’re talking in terms of DIY or punk or emo, the scenes that I guess I’m most familiar with, I’ve definitely noticed kind of tonal similarities in bands from the same areas. Like I know a few Philly bands, but then I don’t. Because none of the bands that I can think of really sound alike if you were to listen to their albums back to back. But they have the same kind of vibe to them. And so I think, in terms of scenes being compared to each other or bands within the same scene being comparable to each other, yeah I think there's a Philly kind of vibe and a Philly sound.
Same thing for Ohio. Like, there IS, and I still can’t pinpoint it. But there is such a specific Ohio sound. I don’t know what it is. But if I hear a band, and I don’t know that they’re from Ohio, but they sound like they are, I'm never surprised. Because there is that kind of vibe. I don’t know if it’s maybe from just living in the same place, or if it’s from sharing the same climate. I don’t know. I do think there is something in the air, within different communities and regions within terms of sounds.
I think certain areas will champion certain “hometown heroes”. So say, as a hypothetical example, all my friends are into Say Anything and all start a band. They might sound like Say Anything and that’s where their sound comes from more so than where they're from. Or maybe Philly bands all grew up listening to Modern Baseball, and so they’ll all take inspiration from early Modern Baseball. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but just as an example. I think at some point it’s not even so much the sound of an area. People congregate based on who was their favorite band, as much as who to your friends was “IT” to the people who were close to you, does that make sense?
Right! Definitely. I shouldn’t say you can’t make music with people you don’t have any musical common ground with. Because you can, nothing is impossible. Of course, you can. You could try it, and it’ll probably turn out really cool because you’re not just regurgitating the same shit that you all grew up with. But I think it’s really common, and super helpful, in terms of understanding where somebody that you’re working within music is coming from, from their musical standpoint. From their point of view. And a lot of times, it’s very necessary to have that common ground.
Me and Cappy both LOVE The Menzingers. And me and Jimmy both LOVE The Pixies. And together, we all are obsessed with Hop Along. So it’s like, even if we aren’t perfectly on the same page, we all do cross over at some point. So when we’re talking, and I bring a song to the table, and I’m like “Okay Jimmy, I want a Hop Along guitar tone”, he’s like “I’m on it”, and if I’m like “Cappy give me a Joyce Manor bass line”, he’s like “Yes I got you”. So it’s like we can kind of talk in terms of our favorite bands as though they were adjectives because in a way once it’s out there, they kind of are. Once it’s out there, it’s used as a description now.
CUT TO CUTE BANTER AND GEEKING OUT OVER BANDS WE LOVE & TALKING ABOUT THIS TWEET AND HOW IT’S A SIN THAT CONOR DID NOT LISTEN TO MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, BUT WE STILL LOVE HIM ANYWAY.
Speaking of Conor, let’s talk a little bit more about the Shack. How did y’all first get involved with the Summit Shack? And if you can remember back, what was your first reaction when you first played there?
Okay so, I was actually thinking about this and I honestly could not fucking remember. I read that question when you sent these to me to look over and was just like “wait how long ago did we meet Conor? How did we meet Conor? How did we get in connection with all these people?" And I fucking forgot. But then I realized we played a show at the end of 2016, Dillon was coming through town at the time. But he DM’d us and wanted to take pictures at our show, and after that, we really hit it off. Just like us and all his friends and then we got invited to play a show at the Shack, and that would have been 2017. So I think that would have been our first Fauxchella. And I think that was the second Fauxchella?
Photo: Abbey Recker
This one was very planned out. And we played it with Heart Attack Man, I think. I’m pretty sure it was the one where Heart Attack Man headlined and so it was still in the Shack, it wasn’t at Howard's yet. It hadn’t gotten that big yet. It was big, I mean every room was fucking packed, the house was packed, the lawn was packed. So that was my first time at the Shack, and I just remember walking up to the Shack and I remember getting like a little pass. I think at this point it was just a wrist band or like a paper pass on some string or something. I don’t know, but I remember thinking “oh wow this is so organized!” They put poles in the ground to section off the yard. And it was SO well organized. And we’d been playing in basements for a while at that point. But I just remember how warm and inviting everyone was and how open it felt. Everybody was talking to everybody. I think I made like 10 new friends that night, friends I still talk to today. You know what I mean? Who are still involved with the Shack and involved with music. It was definitely a turning point for me, in terms of feeling accepted in a music scene.
So by the time this interview is live, the lineup for the Shackcraft Monthlies will be out and everyone will know that you’ll be playing on May 8th, which we’re SUPER excited for!
We’re so excited too!
We actually made some skins of you guys that we might have to sneak into this that I think you're going to love.
Hahaha, no way! That's awesome!
Have y’all done any other virtual gigs during your social distancing? Corona- vid situation?
Yeah! We did a couple of live streams because we were going to go on tour, right before shit seriously hit the fan. We had a weekend plan with Elton John Cena in like mid to late March. So that weekend we did a live stream just because I felt SO bad for everyone who bought tickets and it was really exciting because it was one of our first headlining sets of dates, and we were actually selling tickets so it was really exciting.
But yeah, we did a live stream that weekend, and then a week or so later we did another one, via Home Outgrown which is my friend Mel’s booking and production company in Philly. We did an Instagram takeover with them. But other than those two, we haven’t done any. We did a tutorial on how to play a song. I decided that this is going to be a really good live stream.
I also saw y’all did a Built To Spill cover? That was tight!
Oh yeah! Thank you!
So I think we kind of touched on DIY in general, but I wanted to ask you a couple more general questions about the scene. What does DIY mean to you? How much of it is actually “do it yourself” versus community, working together, etc?
In my opinion, I think, and again this is just my opinion, a lot of people can be kind of elitist in their ideas of DIY. Like you shouldn’t be signed. You shouldn’t have a manager or any kind of agent or anything like that. Like you have to completely “do it yourself.” They take it more literally. But I think that it’s kind of unfair because even when you have those resources there is still so much work that you have to do yourself.
We’ve been signed for almost two years now and it’s really cool, it’s such a collaborative effort, at least in our situation. We come up with ideas, we work on things together, and even with our music video that we put out: me, Jimmy, and Cappy, all sat down and made that music video. Cappy edited it. Me and Cappy co-directed it. Then we put it out. I don’t think it’s as black and white as “oh you’re doing it yourself” or “you’re not DIY”.
I think that gets muddied, and I think that excludes people, which bums me out. Because the whole point of being immersed in a music scene and not just making shit on your own and uploading it is that you get to work with other people.
That you get to grow together and lift each other up. So I think there are a lot of people that, when they see some folks getting things that they aren’t getting, they’re just like exed-out. “Okay fine, you’re just not DIY anymore”. But I think it’s a lot bigger than that. I definitely think it’s a lot bigger than that. I think it’s more focused on community and lifting it up. And lifting each other up. Which is awesome.
How has DIY changed since you been involved?
It’s so strange because in some aspects when I look back it’s changed a lot but then in others, I don’t really remember entering it. So I can’t really pinpoint this A the start point to B where I am now. But I have noticed there are fewer men, which is, I mean, I think is a good thing, not in the sense of like “fuck men” but in the sense of like it’s a lot more accepting of ya know, non-men.
There’s so much more to be absorbed in terms of perspective than just whiny white guys complaining about their fucking ex-girlfriends.
It’s not like that in the scene I’m surrounded in, or my friends that are making music, it’s not like that. There are definitely still aspects - but I think in this midwest scene that we have right now that it’s doing pretty well, in terms of inclusivity.
That’s such a great point, and when I wrote that I didn’t have that answer in mind at all, even though that’s something I think about a lot and totally agree with you on. So more generally, how do you think DIY has influenced you as a person?
I’ve made SO many friends. Being within this kind of music scene, and starting out here and having these folks kind of build us up and all of us are just building each other up. It’s really cool, because now when I go on tour it doesn’t matter what fucking region of the country it is: I have friends. I always get to feel comfortable at pretty much every single show that I have somebody familiar there. And I get to see people that I know, and that I care about, and that I love. And even if it’s just once or twice a year, I’m just so grateful for it. Because the only reason we met each other is because of music. I think that’s the coolest thing ever.
Photo: Olivia Keasling
Like shit, I’m from Cleveland. Unless I went to Bowling Green, there’s no reason other than music that I should know any of my BG friends. I would have never gone to BG, even to see a show, just because it’s two hours away. But that’s what music does, it makes you drive long hours to play gigs where you meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have in a crusty ass basement. Like that’s the whole point. Ya know?
Thank you Willow SO much for letting me interview you! Is there anything else you want to say to your friends at the Shack?
Just that I’m SO proud of how far everything has grown! I’m so proud of the Shack for creating this community and bring as many people as they can. Fauxchella last year brought a fucking crazy amount of people. And it was a fucking FREE event. Like, it’s so accessible to everybody. It's a labor of love. And Conor, and Kate, everybody at the Shack who busts their ass for weeks and months to prepare for these festivals and these events that they put on. I mean, Jesus Christ. They deserve everything they want.