Sour Widows Talk About Their Web of Struggles

If you want to keep at least a bit of your sanity, Sour Widows says to play music with your friends.

The Bay Area-based group creates intimate indie rock that’s soothing and optimistic. Don’t be fooled by their glimmering mournful guitar and melancholic vocals—Sour Widows works hard to be true to themselves with everything they do. Especially with their music.

Sour Widows’ recent single “Open Wide” was inspired by a poem Maia Sinaiko (vocals) wrote in college during the midst of an identity struggle. Sinaiko wrote as the first line of their poem (now also the first line of “Open Wide”) “my body wants to be soft,” because they were afraid to be vulnerable and accept themself as a non-binary trans person.

Listen to “Open Wide” below and read the entire interview with all the members of Sour Widows.

BTRtoday (BTR): Hey guys, let’s get the usual questions out of the way first—why the name Sour Widows? What does it mean?

Susanna Thomson (ST): Believe it or not we got the name from a strain of weed. It started as a bit tongue in cheek because the name “Sour Widows” has this abrasive tone, but our music is actually pretty tender. For some reason, a lot of people read Widows and see Windows, which is a bummer because the name Sour Windows is pretty bad.

Max Edelman (ME): There’s also the spider imagery—our songs are textured like spider webs, with parts weaving through and around each other. I’ve always thought about our music that way. It has a heavy, complex edge to it.

Maia Sinaiko (MS): We’ve definitely grown into the name.

BTR: How did you guys meet?

MS: Susanna and I met at summer camp when we were around 13. Max and I grew up in the same town so we’ve known each other since we were kids. Sam, our bassist, is Max’s older brother. We all hung out in high school a bunch, but Susanna and I didn’t live in the same place until 2017. So when I graduated college and moved home and she was living in the Bay, it was kind of like, “well, we need to do something, let’s start a band.” So we were a duo until Max saw us play on our first tour. At the beginning of 2018 we all started playing together. It was me, Susanna and Max as a trio, up until last summer when we added a bass player for our West Coast tour—Sam joined as our permanent bass player a bit after that. So, we’ve been in this formation since around September 2019.

Let’s talk about your vibe. Your currently-released music seems very emotional and intimate. Do you feel like the lyrics expose who you are or are telling another’s story?

ST: Our lyrics are definitely very personal and relate to specific experiences and moments in our lives. I think something we all reflect on a lot is relationships—relationships with others and also with ourselves. I feel like I use lyrics to sort of figure myself out, to externalize a feeling in order to be able to step back and look at it.

MS: When I write lyrics I’m trying to be honest about how I’m feeling. I think my best lyrics happen when I’ve already processed a bit, they can act as a way of finally vocalizing something I’ve already been thinking. But I have a hard time writing lyrics in the heat of an emotional moment. It always takes me a little more time and space to find the most intentional way of saying something.

In your latest single “Open Wide,” what do you mean by the line that kicks the song off, “my body wants to be soft?”

MS: The first line of this song was originally the opening line of a poem I wrote for an interdisciplinary arts ensemble I was part of at my alma mater, Beloit College. I think the prompt was something like, write to describe yourself, etc. I was in a very intense period where I was finally coming to understand myself as a nonbinary trans person.

I was in this confusing point in my life where I faced intense gender dysphoria on a daily basis, felt totally afraid to be seen in public, uncomfortable in clothes no matter what I was wearing and I felt this complete detachment from my physical self. The dissonance between what I was thinking and what I was feeling, what I was seeing in myself and what others would see, became this intense paranoia and stress that was always in my periphery. I was self-aware to the point of self-censorship and self-hatred. I felt like I could never just let myself be “soft”—“soft” meaning prone, relaxed, free, beyond surveillance, open to criticism or harm.

The poem turned into a piece in our final performance where I laid on the floor in the middle of the chapel stage while my classmate picked a repeating phrase on the guitar. The poem was half-song half-recitation, kind of like a mantra. I didn’t look at the audience and I had my eyes closed most of the time. It was a moment where I allowed myself to take up space. I had an audience, but with the privacy of my own making. They could passively witness, but my eyes were closed to create a protective boundary between me and them. The audience fulfilled this act of silent validation, but as the subject, I was ultimately controlling the space and therefore safe to share what was a very intimate piece. A lot of the content of that piece didn’t end up in this song, but what I was really feeling then, which is captured in these lyrics, is a desire to connect with myself on a fundamental level—to strengthen my attachment to my body, to be gentle to my body in difficult moments, to let my body be as it is and to respect my body, therefore respecting my Self.

This song is directly connected to that very hard and transformative period of my life where I was forced to be soft, pliant and vulnerable in order to get through it and I did get through it. I’m still going through it.

BTR: What are some struggles you each personally deal with when it comes to being musicians and artists?

ST: I think like most up and coming musicians, we are all working on striking a balance with paid work, music, and our personal lives. Music is certainly our shared main priority, but we all work in cafes most of the week and have additional side jobs in order to live in the Bay Area and support the band. Working towards our dreams has been rewarding every step of the way, but at the end of the day we all have very little free time and that can be tough.

As far as musicianship, each of us has a different way we relate to music, practice, writing, etc and how we reach the goals we set for ourselves. I think every artist puts a stake of their self worth in their art/self-expression; I definitely work to try to be gentle with myself when I make mistakes, or when I find myself over editing something I’m writing to make it “good” instead of just trusting what comes out.

Sam Edelman: Yeah, I have to remind myself not to be too negative or self-critical.

ME: Balancing life and work with touring is always delicate, definitely. As far as writing, I think the most important thing is to just enjoy the process and let whatever happens happen.

MS: My biggest challenge is maintaining a healthy relationship with my mind and body while continuing the practice of constant upkeep, which being in an active band requires. I’m a sensitive person and touring can take a real toll, especially when you’re juggling [a lot]. With 30 hours a week tacked on to rehearsal time/ shows/ emailing/ booking etc, it can feel like I have no space for myself. I’m figuring out how to put the work away when I can, to set better boundaries with myself each day, and to prioritize simple things like eating, sleeping, taking quiet time to write or read, and see friends and family.

BTR: If Sour Widows had a life motto, what would it be?

ME: Play music with your friends!

BTR: What should we keep an eye out for in the future of Sour Widows?

ST: We’re going to begin working on a full length this year. We also love to tour, so you can count on seeing those announcements throughout the year. In more immediate news, we’re very excited to release our debut EP on the 28th of this month, and dive into a West Coast tour with our friends in Cryo Geyser from L.A. Then from there we’ll be heading straight to SXSW to participate as official acceptances, so we’re very excited about that.

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