After making so many appearances in Sioux City throughout the years, the Minneapolis-based band City of the Weak might as well claim the Northwest Iowa region as its home away from home.
In addition to the group’s frequent appearances at The Chesterfield, City of the Weak earned a semi-finalist spot in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City’s Road to Vegas 2 battle of the bands competition in 2017. Recently, the band headlined the Court Street Stage at Awesome Biker Nights and even secured a spot on The Abe Stage at the 28th annual Saturday in the Park music festival.
The touring rock group is fronted by vocalist Stef w/ an F. Is that really what she is really referred to? Why yes! Of course! A few weeks ago, The Weekender spoke with Stef about the band’s involvement in Sioux City, its latest project and the trials and tribulations that come from being a female-fronted rock band.
Can you give me a brief rundown on how the band got started? Did it start in Minneapolis.
Stef: Yeah! I’m from Montana and moved to Minneapolis when I was 17. I went to a music school so I tried putting together members to jam with me. We started touring and now here we are.
When the band first started out, was there always a focus on image and how you all decided to market yourselves?
Stef: Well, I went to school for music business, so I’ve always been kind of business minded. Some people have different skills for different things and I’ve always been business minded. We really didn’t hone it until the last couple years. We really got our (expletive) together. We had Cody, our bass player, come on in 2014 and he started doing all the graphic design. All of our branding is just us. We don’t hire out for anybody to do our videos or our videos or merch. We do it ourselves. Now we have the skills to really do it ourselves.
With how the band presents itself, it’s hard for me to imagine it starting at a “local” level. But I imagine you did at some point, right?
Stef: I mean, I always considered us local. We did start touring really early before we even had a record out. We really didn’t know what we were doing. I was fresh out of high school. When you’re fresh out of high school, I don’t know about anybody else, but I was really dumb and was like, “I want to play music and work and do it now!” We started going to conferences down south with music industry professionals and playing for them and just learning and goin to panels where they’ll bring in professionals where they speak and you just listen and learn stuff. I would say, regionally, we got off the ground in 2015 maybe. But it’s kind of hard to tell because we’ve always been touring. We really don’t play Minneapolis all that often. We’re not really super part of the local scene, but we’re definitely not a national name.
I always see City of the Weak’s name popping up in the Sioux City scene. What’s the band’s relationship like with this town?
Stef: Yeah! Our first show here was at The Chesterfield in 2014. The first show we did here was (expletive) so awesome. I just remember it being packed out and everybody loved us and we sold a bunch of mercy and made a lot of really good friends. It’s when Left Astray was still a band and they really welcomed us and kept bringing us back, so we just kept playing The Chesterfield because they were so good to us. We’d always go and hang out at other people’s houses afterward. We just became part of the scene here. When The Chesterfield closed, we saw the Hard Rock battle and thought that would be a good way to get in the scene with other locals. We just played Awesome Biker Nights and are about to play Saturday in the Park. So hopefully we can just keep coming back.
Wasn’t City of the Weak supposed to play Hard Rock’s Band6k Battle of the Bands this year?
Stef: Yeah but we had already booked a whole national tour. We didn’t really want to do it if we couldn’t do all the dates. I feel like with our luck we would commit to it and actually make it to the quarterfinals or semifinals or whatever. But we figured it wouldn’t be fair because if we did make it that far we would have to drop out and it just wouldn’t be cool. We were playing at Philadelphia for one of the dates. There was just no way to make it work.
I noticed that City of the Weak is going to be releasing a new album, “Pulling Teeth.” By the time this article is published, it will have already been released. When was the last album City of the Weak produced?
Stef: Well we’ve never done a full-length so this is our first full-length album. It’s exciting! We have two EPs out and put out a single in 2016 and another single in 2017 and then a couple singles out this year promoting the album. It’s been a long time coming. This record was supposed to come out a year or two ago. But it just kept getting pushed back. Finally this year I said, “We’re putting this out because this record is awesome and the world needs to hear it.”
What was it like to tackle a full-length project?
Stef: It was an entirely new project. It was recorded back in 2016. The making of the record shaped the record. It’s called “Pulling Teeth” because making the record and being in the music industry was like pulling teeth for us. We’re always getting criticized. We’re always getting shut down, especially being a female-fronted band. You’re always being put in a mold. You’re always being compared. We worked with a lot of people out in L.A. or New York and in the building of the record I just felt like it was always a dead end and it was never our vision. We ended up backing away from working with anybody and just decided to independently work hard. Then we got Craig Owens onboard to produce, which was a dream because he was the best producer that we could have asked for. He’s all about the art. That’s exactly what we wanted.
You mentioned the difficulty in being a female-fronted band. What sort of challenges do you come across?
Stef: There are pros and cons just like anything else. Anybody that’s different is going to have people that really love them and other people that really hate them. I think the biggest challenge is people want to put women in a box. They will see us onstage and they’ll be like, “Oh my god you’re just like Paramore! Oh my god you’re just like Halestorm, you’re just like Evanescence, you’re just like Flyleaf.” Or they’ll bring up bands that aren’t even in the same genre. I sound nothing like Amy Lee from Evanescence — not even a little bit. It’s like, why are you even bringing them up? Fans can say what they want. Fans are going to have their own mindset, which is totally fine. As long as they like us, I don’t really care what they compare us to. But when you’re working and have a producer to sit down and do a record with or you have a manager, (it’s different). We worked with a record label in the past and they say you’re going to be the next Lizzy Hale or you’re going to be the next Joan Jett. Why can’t I be the first? They’re so great and they’re pioneers, but I’m never going to a carbon copy of somebody else. I have to be me to be the best that I can be and get to that level.
Do you think that comparison of singers happens more often with female singers?
Stef: They’re always pitted against each other! It’s always this band versus this band. It’s always women against other women. Guys never ever, ever get compared to each other in a negative way. Ever. I never see it happen. It’s just super weird that they always do it with women.
Is this only something you’ve seen in the early years of the band? Has the problem diluted?
Stef: I think it’s more of an industry thing with musicians working with labels or managers or publicist. It takes a while to really find a team that actually supports you and sees your vision.