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Sour Widows Discuss the Poetic and Powerful Resilience Unleashed on Debut LP ‘Revival of a Friend’

Photo Credit: Bandcamp
Words by: Cat Woods 


California trio Sour Widows have built the sort of fanbase that might make you think they’re several albums into their seven-year career. But the fact that Revival of a Friend is their debut full-length album only further proves their popularity extends beyond recordings, showcasing their bristling, brilliant live act along with their self-titled EP and 2021’s Crossing Over

The “revival” in the title could be interpreted in various ways, reflecting the tragedy, resilience and awakening experienced by founding members Maia Sinaiko (who goes by they/them) and Susanna Thomson (she/her) over the last seven years. Sinaiko’s beloved partner died from an accidental overdose just before the band formed when they were 21. And in the early years of Sour Widows, Thomson’s mother succumbed to a rare cancer in 2021. By the time the duo arrived at Oakland’s Tiny Telephone studio last year, they had mined their personal stories and emotional trauma into an album’s worth of songs. 

Life continued to challenge Sinaiko and Thomson. Sinaiko endured a heartbreaking breakup, and Thomson’s father was diagnosed with cancer. It was as if  the universe asked, “how much can you take? Can you carry on despite the pain? Can you find a language to make any sense of this chaos?”

On Revival of a Friend, slated to drop June 28, the response is resolute, poetic, and powerful: “Hell, yes. You don’t know our courage.” Sinaiko, Thomson and drummer Max Edelman united to translate their maelstrom of feelings—some softened by time, some immediate and raw— into 20 songs that hum, weep, wail, snarl and storm with cathartic grace. Songs like “Initiation” serve as sacred mantras, compelling you to rewind and repeat them until you can fully exhale. “Stardust in the cup of my hand/ We are a circle in the sand/ Sweet rest in the bed of the creek/ Quartz vein, angels in the peaks” sings Sinaiko, followed by the plea, “Show me how to follow through/ Feel the peace inside the truth/ I need to see myself in you/ The blood, your love still moves.”

Post-pandemic, we are perhaps more accustomed than ever to discussing mental health without the stigma that once surrounded it. On “Cherish”, Sinaiko drives to the heart, addressing a deeply human fear: Am I too much? Is my past and the lingering trauma too much for you? Can you love me with all of this attached to me, or despite it?  “There is no fix, I’m just tender like this/ I watch you take me in/ Will you love me through this?/ Cuz I wanna be cherished by you/ I wanna be cherished by you/ Not feared by you,” Sinaiko sings.

The vulnerability and candor that are signature of Sour Widows are also evident in Sinaiko and Thomson’s generous, thoughtful demeanors when discussing their lives and work. It’s a cool evening in San Francisco when they join CONE Mag via Zoom. We began by reflecting on seven years and how much can change in that timeframe.

“In a way, it feels like it’s been less than seven years because there were two and a half years where we weren’t really active as a band. We weren’t playing shows due to lockdown, and soon after lockdown, Susanna’s mom passed away, so we were on hiatus then as well. But, in another way, the amount of touring we’ve done definitely feels like seven years,” Sinaiko begins.

Reflecting on their own personal journey, Sinaiko emphasizes the stark contrast of life seven years ago, “I was in a really different place in my life seven years ago, having just graduated from college,”they add. I was 21 and I’d been in bands mostly with friends but I hadn’t seriously pursued music. Susanna and I were friends for a long time, but this was the first project we began together and we were quite young, figuring out how we wanted our lives to be.” Sinaiko also notes that they “always wanted to be a performer, ever since I was little,” but as their burgeoning talent for performing in bands and booking shows took off in high school, their attention switched from theater and acting towards music. Sinaiko’s dilemma was clear: how on earth do you turn this into career?

The same question plagued Thomson, who says, “It feels like, holy crap, how has it already been seven years that we’ve been doing this? The year we started a band was such a hard time for us with Maia losing their partner, and I lost my mom.” She adds, “That four-year period between high school and starting the band was so full of existential anxiety because I knew I wanted to be in music, but I didn’t know how, so I spent that time working, traveling and getting up to various hijinks. I was writing music a lot during that time, but I’d never been in a band. I didn’t have the confidence at that age, but I knew what I wanted.”

It was the band that “immediately gave us both a lot of purpose and direction,” Thompson says. “We took it seriously from the beginning. I remember vividly how I felt. Even though my mom has passed, and it’s been a journey living without her in the wake of loss, I’m so much firmer in my identity as a person than I was when I was younger. We’re still young, but it’s so hard to be 21, 22. I like getting older,”she continues.

As they’ve grown  older, the band has had the time to develop plenty of material and to find the language to express it on their debut album. Taking that time, when this fast-paced industry can pressure young bands to put out albums quickly, was vital, Thomson explains. “It’s easy to feel that nothing ever happens fast enough while pursuing a career in music. But in retrospect, every time we’ve had to be patient, it’s hard to imagine how it could unfold any other way,” she realizes. “We pivoted to making the Crossing Over EP when Covid happened and our plans of making an album were on hiatus. When my mom passed, I couldn’t imagine doing anything during that time, let alone playing music. I feel like Maia and I, our technical mastery of our instruments and skills as songwriters, has matured a lot over the course of being a band. There are songs on this record that couldn’t have been written earlier because it just would have been too hard, especially in terms of the technical skill required for the guitar parts. The fact it took us this long to put out this first album, feels right to me. It definitely won’t be seven years before the next album comes out.”

There certainly won’t be a lack of mutual encouragement, nor the tyranny of distance. Thomson continues, “Maia and I live together so we do a lot of working out our ideas in progress at home. Maia and I will usually show some bare bones, or seeds of an idea, to one another. And we’ve also worked closely in fleshing out structure and progressions, but the agreement is that whoever originates the song gets the final say. It’s really fun to work that way.”

As a group, Thomson notes, “we try to be as open-minded as possible.” “We believe a bad idea will fail on its own, so there’s no harm in trying things,” she adds. When it comes to writing songs, the group will sometimes come together to collaboratively arrange elements of the song. However, most often, they write independently. “There are also songs that we’ve formed in full band jam sessions, where everyone is an equal contributor in the moment, like ‘Gold Thread’, which came out of playing ‘Initiation’ and then we were jamming on it in the studio. ‘Gold Thread’ is the only song on the record that’s a single live take.  Everything else is multi-tracked to get really precise,” Thompson continues. 

The lyrics are also precise in their poetic and literal acuity. Sinaiko says that lyrics are “so important” to the group. “It’s something we think about a lot, the relationship between us and the listener through our lyrics and music,” they explain. “Some artists don’t like explaining lyrics, leaving it up to interpretation or not wanting to give an answer to people’s questions of what a song is about. In all of our songs, or most, the content is pretty clear of what we’re talking about. They’re poetic, for sure, but we are also explaining who we are as people and what we’ve gone through. It’s memorializing a time in our lives. Art is always snapshots of a time, but this is specifically about loss, and this particular time in our lives. ” 

Videos and visuals play a fundamental role in the band’s expression as well. The album cover, in particular, was selected intentionally. What appears to be a fairytale-style forest from afar becomes more haunting and doom-laden upon closer inspection, with creatures lurking behind trees and night setting in. “The painting on the album cover is by a Massachusetts artist named Ben Styer, a really gifted artist. The title of the painting we chose for the album cover was Revival of a Friend and it rang true to the material. Susanna, Max and I agreed that would be an amazing cover, and Ben Styer was so generous in licensing it to us,” Sinaiko tells CONE.

Through it all, friendship, and its power to rescue us in the unchartered territory of loss, is a theme that resonates deeply with both Sinaiko and Thomson.“I think we’ve become a lot closer as friends since the band started,” says Sinaiko. “We were already BFFs, since we met at sleep away camp when we were 13. We’ve known each other for more than half of our lives. We literally make every decision together. We have lived through our formative experiences… and it feels like we’ve grown as people in parallel. It wouldn’t be half as fun doing it with anyone else. I’d be a lot more…”

Sinaiko pauses.

“Sour?” I suggest.

“Yes!” They exclaim. “A lot more sour if I wasn’t in a band with Susanna and if I didn’t have her as a friend. We’re really good at helping each other, personally and artistically. It hasn’t been easy, especially when we were younger. Trying to express myself in a way that was respectful and trying to be the person I want to be, that takes a lifelong process of figuring it out. You need good friends to hold you up. Susanna is my best friend and my favorite songwriter ever.”

Thomson chimes in, echoing Sinaiko’s sentiment. “It’s the same for me. I’ve never heard a single thing that Maia’s created and not thought, ‘that’s sick! Let’s work on that!’ We have similar tastes, and we’re really interested in expanding what that is. We never want to be set in one thing. We’re each other’s hype men.”


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