In addition to raw talent, chemistry and captivating songs, it takes determination to make it in today’s music industry. City Of The Weak has it in spades! Over the better part of a decade, Stef w/ an F (Vocals), Brent Lindblad (Guitars) and Cody Hoffman (Bass), built their reputation on intensely passionate performances and unrelenting drive. With more than 400 shows, being featured on EMG TV, spending 13 weeks on the Loudwire countdown, and receiving more than 1.3 million views on their first six music videos, City of the Weak is one of the hardest working bands in America. Armed with catchy pop melodies, gripping lyrical content, aggressive guitar riffs and moving bass lines, the band forged a genre of their own. In the summer of 2018, they’ve begun penning the next exciting chapter in their story with the release of the powerhouse album, “Pulling Teeth.” Produced by Craig Owens and engineered, mixed and mastered by Jordan Disorbo, the album is a testament to the blood, sweat and tears the band was put in over the course of their career. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with City of the Weak’s Stef w/ an F to discuss her journey as an artist, the challenges the band faced along the way, the making of “Pulling Teeth” and what the future holds for this band on the rise.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved with the arts early on in life?
I’ve always been into art. I remember drawing and writing stories when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was very, very young but I had my own little table in my kindergarten classroom. The teacher actually let me sit out of assignments because my mom had always worked with me when I was young, and I already knew a lot of the kindergarten stuff. The teacher let me sit at my own personal table, where I would write my own books. I would have a cover and back cover and use a 3-hole punch and run yarn through it. These were little 20-page books. Obviously, these weren’t like “Harry Potter” or anything but I could write and illustrate whatever was going on. So, even when I was a young child, art always got me going. When it comes to music, I remember hearing Shania Twain on the radio. I’m from Montana, so my only exposure to music was a country radio station we had locally. Shania Twain had just had her “UP” record come out, so she had a few singles spinning. For some reason, I really connected with it and said, “I want to sing! This is what I want to do.” From there, my stories turned into poetry, which turned into lyrics and the rest is history! [laughs]
You have a passion for music. However, your career, a professional musician, is not an easy path to take. Did you have reservations about taking that plunge?
I feel like most people don’t follow their true passion. Doing something like being in a band is a very entrepreneurial endeavor. You have to build your own business. That can be scary because to start your own business you need a ton of money and drive. You also have to be able to work for free or very little for years and years. The world is always going to fill your head with doubt and people will tell you that a music career isn’t stable. Well, in my opinion, it’s a lot more stable to build your own future. I could go to college for six years, get a job and then get fired. Then what? There are so many specialized fields and factors that could lead to you getting laid off due to changes in technology or oversaturation in a particular field. Then these people are on unemployment and have no direction because they have worked for someone else all their lives. With something like what I do, yeah, it’s a huge struggle for us. It’s tough to be creative and think of how to make a lucrative business. It’s tough but now that we’ve created something that is really starting to bring in an income for us, it’s not something that will go away overnight. Nobody can just fire me! Our connection to our fans is undeniable and, when it comes to us touring, it would take a huge crisis for us to start going under. I feel that’s a lot more stable than somebody saying, “You’re done … “or “you’re laid off.”
That’s a valid point. Jumping back for a moment, for those unfamiliar with the band, tell us how City of The Weak got started.
I started going to a music training school when I was about 17 or 18 years old. I moved from Montana to Minneapolis. Basically, I said, “Who wants to do a music career with me and play in my rock band?” When you’re going to the training school, most people aren’t into rock ‘n’ roll. They aren’t saying, “Yeah, I came to this really expensive training school to play rock music!” [laughs] Most of these people are very well-trained musicians who might be going to do jazz, orchestra or accompaniment. So, they’re like, “You came here to get educated to play in a rock band? You could have done that in your garage.” I feel like you can never undermine education and it only makes you better. There are so many great artists who are huge in rock ‘n’ roll and extremely talented. I wanted to be in a rock band, so I started looking for the right people. It starts with jamming with people and touring to see who you get along with and to see who is serious with you. Ultimately, it came down to me, Cody and Brent and we’ve been doing our thing ever since.
What went into finding your creative voice and direction as a band?
It was really about jamming when we were really young. It was never like, “We’re going to sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Linkin Park,” or whatever it might be. Everybody who has been in this band – we’ve gone through a few lineup changes when we were starting out – has always had their own set of influences but has also had their own unique creative juices. I feel like we defined our sound very early on with our first EP. Obviously, it’s not as perfected and polished as this new album but even the new album sounds like the older stuff. It sounds like City of The Weak and it sounds polished, more mature. That sound has always been there which is really, really cool! I feel like a lot of bands go through so many stages when it comes to what they sound like. I’m sure we will as well as we mature and we’re definitely not going to put out the same record six times like some bands do. As we get older, we will evolve but I think that those indescribable qualities that make you an individual will never go away. We will keep utilizing those and building on them in whatever way they might evolve.
What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?
Rock ‘n’ roll means being able to do whatever the fuck you want to do. It’s not about what you wear or what you do, it’s a lifestyle and it’s an attitude. It means living life to the fullest!
You’re known for your live performances and your charisma as a frontwoman. When did you come into that role?
It definitely doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been performing since I was 5 years old when I was singing in church choirs. Then I went to middle school band and middle school choir. I started jamming with my friends at open mics when I was in high school. I’ve always been on stage and been out there performing, even when I was so nervous that I could barely do it! I just forced myself to do it! I feel that our fears hold us back so many times, especially when we are younger, and we let our fears get the best of us. I knew early on that if I went and completely bombed a show as a 16-year-old kid in Montana that, literally, no one would know. If I didn’t get into practice and didn’t build a history, that I might be 30 years old in an arena bombing and people are gonna know! [laughs] I think I got a lot of that out of the way really early on, which is why we started touring a couple months after being a band. We knew we would be playing to five people in a bar and, as much as that sucks, there is no replacement for being out there and playing show after show after show. Whether it’s five people or 5,000, you just do it! You can learn so much through the process and it’s those really shitty shows where you are playing to nobody that you try new things and become more confident. There are moments where you try something like a crazy move that you would never have tried in front of people and say, “That was really awesome, and it feels like me” or “I tried this, and it did not work! Really embarrassing! Never gonna do that again!” We’ve played almost 400 shows as a band, which is a lot of shows! I feel like a lot of bands don’t do that early on. They are in the rehearsal space and are like, “We don’t want to play a show unless we know it’s going to be a good show.” Well, then you get there and we’ve played 100 shitty shows before our good show. One hundred shows gives you a lot more experience than playing just a handful of shows. I feel like our stage
What goes into keeping a band like City of The Weak thriving in the current climate of the music industry? What are the challenges?
Everything?! [laughs] We are completely DIY. We have our publicist, obviously, that we hire per project, but we are our own manager, label, distribution and merch store. We design all of our merch and write our own music. We literally do everything and have a hand in everything from start to finish! Honestly, the biggest challenge is working with other people who are really incompetent! [laughs] In this day and age, anyone can literally go online, start a website and say, “I’m a manager” or this or that. It’s this big shit show of people who think they know what they are doing. We were like that too! I’m sure people still view us like that, like we are some little band from Minneapolis. Online, you can make yourself look big and reach out. Everybody’s trying to be working in this industry, so one of the biggest challenges is sorting through the weeds and trying to determine if this person can really help you. There will be time to hire somebody and they completely fuck it up. Then you have to redo everything, try new things or throw money at the wall and have it not work. One of the biggest challenges you can have is trying things for the first time or relying on people for the first time. It’s always scary and you never know what you’re going to get. It takes a while to really build a solid team. Working with New Ocean, our publicists, has been amazing and they are really, really great to us. With that said, it does take a while to find the people who are really going to work with and for you and do a good job. It’s definitely a challenge!
Let’s dive into City of The Weak’s new album, “Pulling Teeth.” You worked toward this for a while. Tell us about the headspace you were in going into the creative process.
I feel like we were really pissed off and really frustrated. “Pulling Teeth” is named after our experience in the music industry and our experience writing the record. It took us so long to find the direction of the album. We had all of these B-sides and demos that just sounded like shit. We were trying really hard, trying to impress all of these people in the music industry and writing for this person or that person because we know a lot of people. There were a lot of people that we worked with and we sent a lot of demos off. Nothing was ever good enough for all of these various reasons and we really felt like we were coming up short. “Pulling Teeth” was so liberating because one day we just said, “Fuck you!” We just cut off everybody and decided to write the record that we wanted to write. We are a rock band and not Britney Spears, so we don’t have to make anybody happy. It doesn’t make us illegitimate by doing our own thing and it doesn’t invalidate us as artists. We are artists, not pop stars, so we decided to be artists and create art as opposed to worrying about what would sell or not. We just wrote! We expressed the frustrations with people that we saw, and we said what we wanted to say! From there, we went into the studio with producer Craig Owens and engineer Jordan Disorbo. Craig is a huge influence on all of us and one of my biggest idols. He is all about art and making the decision about going with someone who is an artist. He’s done everything With Chiodos, it’s like they pioneered their own genre. I guess the closest thing you could call them would be metalcore. Then there is badXchannels, which is kinda like The Weeknd meets a smooth R&B project. He also has a grindcore album under another moniker, in addition to doing acoustic stuff! Everything he does is so great and it’s so him; he defines his art and he lives that art. It’s not about business, selling or keeping a certain perfect image. He’s managed to make a career off of that, so going with him was the best decision we could have made for our career. So many producers that we worked with were saying, “You’re a female front band, so we are going to paint you as the next Joan Jett or Gwen Stefani.” It was always about being the next somebody. Craig never once did that. It was cool to go in there and be the first City of The Weak and Stef with an F! It was an awesome experience and I hope we can work with him again because I personally don’t want to go with anybody else!
What are the biggest lessons you took away from “Pulling Teeth” that will impact you moving forward?
Honestly, the biggest takeaway was, “Fuck everybody else!” Honestly! [laughs] I mean, who fucking cares. We want to make music for us and that’s all you can really do. When we were trying to make music to please other people, it just sounds like shit. It’s garbage because you’re not coming from the heart. I feel like a lot of labels and band managers see the success that so many of these megastars have had with a particular radio hit and they want to mimic that. Those greats are greats because they were the first of their kind. They did what they wanted, and they did it on their own terms. You never want to mimic someone else’s success because you always come up short. You’ll always be second in line and that’s not where we want to be. Even if we don’t get that big and are playing bars the rest of our career, I don’t really care because we’re the first of our kind and we are doing our own thing. There aren’t that many people out there doing that. Take Insane Clown Posse for example! No matter what people think of them, they have literally build an entire worldwide community by doing their own thing! That’s so cool and they built this from the ground up. They are not playing arenas or anything like that but who cares! That’s so boss and rock ’n’ roll! Do your own thing! Don’t be a pussy with your own music and don’t ever let anyone dictate what music you’re going to make!
How has the songwriting process for City of The Weak changed through the years?
We’ve changed a lot from our first two records. We didn’t have the skills to demo or track anything, so it was just us jamming in our rehearsal space. Our bass player Cody is extremely skilled and has a laptop with all the gadgets that record stuff! Clearly, I’m not the one recording the demos! [laughs] For the new record, he was able to set everything up and we were able to demo everything as we were writing. That’s really great because you can listen back. In the past, I’ve always been like let’s be in a room together and rock ‘n’ roll! However, it’s really, really great to get to the studio and know what things are going to sound like. That allows you to fix things before you get there! Whereas, with the first two records, we were tracking stuff and there were moments where you say, “Oh, I’ve never heard that before.” As you track it one layer at a time, and everyone is hearing all the parts for the first time layered, you might say, “Oh, maybe this didn’t go together as well as we thought it did in the room.” It’s great to be able to put the headphones on and listen back to what you’ve created as well as listening as the listener. I’m a lyricist so I’m always asking, “What does this music make me feel?” When I’m listening I ask myself about the feeling I get out of a particular riff because I definitely want to evoke emotion in our listener. If I want to push skip, then maybe it’s not a track that should make the cut.
There will be people discovering City of The Weak and “Pulling Teeth” through this interview. What songs should they check out?
I would check out “Not This Time,” which is our new single and we did a music video for it. Believe it or not, we’ve had no negative reaction toward it, which is insane because we’ve experienced both positive and negative with everything we’ve ever put out. All the haters got real quiet, real fast! [laughs] I think it’s a song that anyone can relate to. It’s about not letting people squash your dreams. The video illustrates a father trying to put his son down. The sun is playing with paper airplanes and this electric plane and the father doesn’t want him playing with planes but instead doing his homework and focusing on school. Then it shows the boy grown up and he’s flying his own airplane. I think people relate a lot more to that and I honestly thought they would. The older I get, the more I realize that it’s often people’s parents, siblings or someone really close to them who hold them back. We had a lot of people saying that they relate to it so much! We’ve had people say, “Wow! I’m that little boy in the video” or even a parent saying, “That’s me. I do that to my child.” It’s so relevant and touching. Like I said, we didn’t realize it would be as relevant as it is. We were just telling our own story, which brings me back to what I said earlier — Tell your own story and be honest. If you do, you will find there are people out there who will relate to it.
Let’s touch on the dynamic you have as a band. You worked together for some time now and the results are undeniable. What do you bring out in each other creatively?
Wow, that’s an interesting question. I think we bring out the best in each other. I think it’s important to work with different people who focus on different things. For example, I’m very into melody. To me, it’s all about the hook and melody. It’s all about what gets caught in your head! If I’m listening to music and there’s a melody that hooks me, I know I’m going to listen to that song again. When we are making our music, I know we need that hook! I don’t want people to listen to us and not hear that catchy melody and deeper lyrics. I don’t like listening to shallow music, personally. I like having my heart ripped out of my chest! [laughs] I like being able to relate and to be able to say what it is I want to say. I like ballsy, forward-thinking material. When it comes to the guys, they are more on the music side and are very technical nerds! They like music that’s all over the place. Cody is really into stuff like Circa Survive, Eternity Forever and the very busy, instrumental focus of things like Coheed and Cambria. Brent really likes Alice In Chains and Pantera. Working together is really cool because they are always focused on what we can play and create and I’m more focused on trimming things down into a more listener friendly format. It’s a really great dynamic and it serves us well when it comes to creating our own thing.
How have you evolved as an artist through the years?
I’ve worked really hard to hone my craft. I feel like I am a better singer and I practice all the time. There are days where I don’t feel like I’ve improved at all and I feel like I do the same shit over and over. Then, a video will pop up on YouTube of us from 2012, 2013 or even last year and I’m like, “Oh wow! We’ve come a long way!” It might be our onstage banter or my vocal from the high notes to the low notes. In general, we haven’t spent much time looking back and we’ve worked really hard to get to where we are today.
With that said, where are you headed in the future?
We will be touring the rest of the year supporting this album. We have so many ideas when it comes to supplementing the album. We are thinking of really cool ways to put out new content! It might be a live in-studio with the album or a commentary on “Pulling Teeth” describing the lyrics or what we were thinking. There is also acoustic stuff and re-arranging and getting string arrangements. We also have music videos and some other crazy stuff. I don’t know how we’re going to pull it off, but we’ve managed to rent out not one but two airports for the last video. We also managed to rent out an entire strip club and prison, so I’m sure we’ll figure it out! [laughs] We’ll get there and that’s kind of the plan!
What is the best way for fans to support you and keep this project growing?
Come out to shows! If we’re in your city, come out! We tour all the time. Right now, we only have a handful of shows in August, basically because there is so much going on during the summer with festivals and other competition. Actually, we just finished a tour, so July and August are a little bit lighter for us. We will be back on the road full-time come mid-August, so come out to a show! We love meeting everybody! Touring is the big thing and we love connecting with people. Another great way to support us is the by the record store website, www.cityoftheweakofficial.com. That’s always really, really helpful because we get 100% of it. We also have merch in our store and iTunes is great as well. We definitely want fans to keep following us and keep in touch!
I think you touched on this a bit with your earlier answers, but I always feel it’s important to ask — What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey as an artist?
Work really hard and don’t ever let anyone tell you no. If they do, you work harder and find a way to make it happen!
I love it! Thanks so much for your time today, Stef! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you and the boys in the band. I wish you continued success!
Thank you so much, Jason! Talk to you soon!
Follow the continuing adventures of Stef w/ an F and City of the Weak! Connect with them on social media via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube! Visit the band’s official website at www.cityoftheweakofficial.com.