Interview: City of the Weak’s Stef with an “F”

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We recently chatted with the effervescent Stef with an “F” of the rock trio, City of the Weak. A rock ‘n’ roll Harley Quinn of sorts, as far as her frenetic energy and unique style, Stef has been at the helm of the highly lauded indie group since 2012. Fiercely independent, City of the Weak have released 2 EPs, a full-length album, and a slew of videos that have amassed a combined two million views. The band is back with a new single and video entitled “United Hate Division,” and they’re ready to tour once again after a long respite from the road.   

Firstly, how does it feel to be playing live shows again?

It’s really exciting to be back doing what we love again! It feels very surreal, considering we haven’t played a show in close to two years.

How was it working with Brandon Friesen (The HU, The Kooks, Billy Ray Cyrus), and how does this effort differ from your debut LP?

Working with Brandon was phenomenal. He works incredibly hard 24/7 and it’s crazy that he makes time for us with his busy schedule. We use his home studio and he’s very laid back in his approach, which takes so much pressure off the whole process and is really helpful. I’ve always found recording to be insanely stressful for me personally, but knowing that we have no limits and feel at home just helps us let loose and try new things.

You recently released a politically charged new song called “United Hate Division.” Was this written about the divide that’s happened within the United States due to the last election and the handling of the pandemic specifically, or is this addressing a much larger problem that goes beyond our current state of affairs?

The United States has been divided for a long time for many reasons, but it’s clear that things have really been coming to a drastic head over the last five years especially, and even more so over the extremely tense 2020 election, the United State’s failed response to the global pandemic, and the widespread riots. Between hot topics like staggering wealth inequality, unaffordable healthcare, racial and gender equality, immigration debates, and a global pandemic, there are a lot of really extreme opinions on both sides that are inflamed by the immense use of social media today, cultivating the overwhelming spread of misinformation. People are starting to realize how broken our government is and are calling for change.

A lot of live music venues have unfortunately gone by the wayside due to the pandemic. Are there any that you’re really going to miss performing at?

Yeah, there’s a lot of great ones we’ve seen close over the pandemic, which really sucks! Hijynx in Fort Atkinson for sure; we always had people packed in there wall to wall and the energy was just insane.

What have you been up to creatively during the past year we’ve all been locked down, and has it all been music-related? I see you’re also a fashion designer of sorts in that you’ve custom-made some of your band merch.

I moved a lot during the pandemic and ended up settling in Arizona, which has been great. There’s a huge music scene that’s growing in Phoenix, so I’m excited to embrace all the new culture and music here once shows really get going. We’ve been writing and recording demos, building Cody’s media and film company C. Evan Media, and launched a custom merch line called HXTEFUL.

You’re a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, piano, and trombone. Which songs can we hear you ripping on? Also, are there tracks(s) in which you play ALL THREE instruments (please say yes)?

No tracks with all three, unfortunately, but you can find me playing on various artists’ albums or accompanying choirs or live shows over the years if you really search around. Years ago, I played trombone in a ska band called Drunk History, which was actually really fun. There’s a clip at the famous Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis from MNSka where you can find me rockin’ the trombone, backup vocals, AND middle fingers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqgDC3ptTMY

Where did you pick up trombone by the way? Were you in the high school band?

School band started in fith grade at my school, and I tried every instrument. I couldn’t make a sound come out of the woodwinds, and I was scared I wouldn’t remember which combo of keys to push on the trumpet. So, in theory, I figured trombone would be the easiest since there are only seven positions and you make most of the sounds with your mouth. Turns out trombone is actually pretty tough because you have to have an insane ear to hear how far to pull out the slide! Thankfully, I had a great ear to begin with, and it really helped my precision in singing as well.

Speaking of high school, which bands/artists were your jam back then, and who really inspired you to become a full-time musician?

I knew I wanted to be a full-time musician since I was about seven or eight, so there wasn’t any doubt in my mind by the time I was a teenager. My friends would leave burned mix CDs in my car, which helped me discover and get into lots of artists like Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Blink-182, Chiodos, Papa Roach, and The Spill Canvas.

Since this is a guitar magazine and all, what are some of your favorite guitars, and which one would you absolutely love to own one day?

I bought my first guitar when I was about 11 or12, and it wasn’t a big brand; it was a cheap $90, no-name brand from our local music store. It ended up sounding really great, and my friends who had more expensive guitars would always ask what brand it was and were shocked it was a cheap no-name since the tone was really warm and vibrant. Eventually, I moved to an Ibanez since my first couple of guitars didn’t have plug-in capabilities. I actually still have the Ibanez acoustic and still love it! The neck fits perfectly with my hands, and it feels easy to play. I always tell my students to make sure their guitar is really comfortable and the right size; otherwise, they will never practice no matter how nice it is. As far as owning my dream guitar, I would love to own a Gibson Tom DeLonge Signature ES-333! My first electric guitar I bought was Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley Telecaster with red X’s that I still have hanging on my wall today,and  I think it’d be cool to have Tom from Blink’s model too.

Learn more about City of the Weak via https://www.cityoftheweakofficial.com/.

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