Jessica Thornsby spoke to Ali, drummer from Mother Mother.
For the uninitiated, can you give us a run-through of the Mother Mother story so far?
Circa 2004, Ryan began writing pop songs with a heavy lyrical emphasis while attending music school, and formed the band Mother with his sister Molly along with some fellow music students. After a couple of years they signed with Last Gang Records, and changed the name to Mother Mother to avoid any issues that would come up due to the fact that Mother is a pretty popular band name. Last Gang released the debut album 'Touch Up.' I joined about a year later.
Also for the uninitiated, how would you sum up the Mother Mother sound?
The Beatles and The Pixies give birth to a child who is raised by Tim Burton.
You originally released 'O My Heart' in 2008, but we're only just seeing a UK release. Why the long wait?
A combination of being busy touring closer markets where we'd already gained momentum, and our label getting their European division together so we could properly promote the record and push a single over here. It's also ghastly expensive to tour overseas, so the timing's got be right if you're going to take that plunge.
On your 'O My Heart' album, you often sing about darker subjects, in an upbeat way. Is this a deliberate move? Or do the music and the lyrics evolve independently of one another?
Independently. I think the timbre of voices naturally invoke sunniness, and because the music is played fast there is an inherent sense of elevated spirit. The lyrics definitely come from a naturally sardonic place and are most often written after the music, so the irony is really just happenstance.
You're currently working on your third album. How does it compare to your previous work? And can you share any song titles with us?
Our first album, 'Touch Up,' was a very organic approach in production to some very playful songs. Subsequently, 'O My Heart' explored the realms of more adventurous production with songs that were generally more serious in nature. Sonically, the third album is continuing the trend set by 'O My Heart' - the instrumentation is more intricate and the production more involved. In terms of the personality of the songs, lyrically and melodically this album is proving to be more of a balance between the opposite characters of its predecessors, as our more playful instincts reassert themselves.
You recently completed your first ever tour of the UK. How did that go? And does it feel strange, touring with an album that was initially released almost two years ago?
Regardless of the fact that it came out in North America a year and a half ago, it's technically still our current album, so no, it didn't feel all that strange. Also, even though 'O My Heart' is only just being released in the UK, a lot of the people attending the shows knew the material quite well already. Thanks to the internet, just because your album hasn't been released in a particular territory, or you haven't toured in a particular territory, it doesn't necessarily mean that you've been suffering from a lack of exposure there. So we were made to feel right at home in most of those shows.
With a third album in the works, can we expect another UK tour anytime soon?
Absolutely. The first tour was an icebreaker.
Your vocal harmonies are very complex. How do you even begin to work out who's singing what, and where?
As the primary songwriter, Ryan will come up with the main vocal melody that is the starting point. After that, it enters the pre-production phase - Ryan will have some ideas of harmonies, the girls will have some of their own ideas too, things will get tried out and demos get recorded. The final decisions are made while recording the album. At that point everything comes under the microscope - what is appropriate, where the harmonies should be, who does which ones, which lead parts should be doubled, whose voice works best in which range, new ideas arise and get incorporated, etc... It's all very much case by case, song by song. The process is very involved and each song plays out its own development uniquely, and it's very much dependent on the nature of the song itself.
Is there any significance behind the rooster's talon-scratches, which appear on the 'O My Heart' and 'Touch Up' album covers?
The scratches are an 'M.'
Another recurring motif in Mother Mother land, is the fish that appears on the 'O My Heart' album cover and in the videos to 'Body Of Years' and 'O My Heart.' Is there any specific meaning behind that?
The fish is a symbolic reference to the lyrics of 'O My Heart' that liken the heart to a"fish out of water," referring to the alienation one feels when not feeling connected to the drives of those around them.
The music videos to 'O My Heart' and 'Hay Loft' both seem to focus on the trippy, visual effect, do you think Mother Mother's music lends itself to this sort of visual representation? And are you actively involved in the music video process?
In our music, the lyrics often inspire some sort of visual representation in the mind of the listener, both in the songs that are based in a narrative and also in those that are based on more abstract themes. As a band, we tend to prefer a music video that doesn't simply restate the narrative of the song, as the lyrical content already fulfills a large part of that objective. Instead, to have a more abstract visual component that complements the song rhythmically and emotionally adds a whole other dimension to the experience of the song, especially when it is independent of the lyrics. The music video can then be a device to enhance more visceral aspects of the experience of the song.
Our involvement and creative input in the video process depends a lot on the song, the director, the nature of the video - it's another one of those things that is unique from one case to the next. There have been some that we've had a lot of involvement in, like the video for 'Hay Loft,' and some that we haven't, like the video for 'Body Of Years.'
And, finally, what can we expect from Mother Mother over the next twelve months?
More non-systematic, case-by-case, intricate playful menace.