Published Oct 26, 2007You never know what youre going to get with Mother Mother. Frazzled country? Infectious indie pop? Straight up rock? The frenetic fusion this five-piece from Vancouver put into every song makes their debut, Touch Up, eminently repeatable and catchy-as-hell. The beautiful harmonies of siblings Ryan and Molly Guldemond and Debra-Jean Creelman easily melt your heart, and bassist Jeremy Page and drummer Kenton Loewe make sure it all has a muscular structure. Here, Ryan Guldemond tells of this bands particular "touch up, feeling the audience and the difficulties of maintaining the bands unique sound.
Im interested in how the band started. Was it you and Molly at the start, or did she join later?
It was me and Molly and Deb from the beginning. I was living with Molly, or I was forced into living with her, in a good way, because I had nowhere to live and a room came up in the house she was living at in Vancouver. I took it and started hanging out and we sort of became a little closer. Deb was in the picture because I went to music school with her and we just all kind of started hanging out and it was a real sort of casual beginning. We just started casually playing music together and started writing and singing songs and did the coffee shop open mic type stuff and then it just escalated pretty quickly from there since we started getting CBC gigs and doing literary festivals and more high profile stuff right away. So it kind of propelled the band into something that felt serious.
Did you and Molly ever play music together when you were younger?
Mainly it was something that happened later. Wed fuck around on camping trips when we were kids since we had an acoustic guitar and sang as well, but it was never like [affects motherly voice] "Oh, Ryan and Molly theyre gonna be doing something together one day for sure. Actually, it was a shock to our family when we said, "Yeah, were in a band since they were like "What!? You two? Molly really wasnt perusing music on any serious level. She was more into art painting and graphic design so it was more out of her element at the beginning but shes definitely come into her own as a singer.
What was the reason for the name change and the re-release of the album?
When we signed to Last Gang Records we changed the name because they did a thorough search on the original band name [Mother] and there were a few other bands out there. As for the album, it was pretty much the same album we put out with Last Gang except that we took off a few tracks that made the album probably seem more schizophrenic than it already seems. Its funny because a lot of the reviews are too flippant, but had they only heard the first one they probably would have thought it was fucking way more schizophrenic.
Does "Touch Up come from that idea that youre re-releasing it?
Yeah, well it was like a happy coincidence. "Touch Up was one of the new songs that we put on the re-release and we were like, "Yeah, were totally like touching this album up so, isnt that appropriate?
How do the songs come together? Do you lead the songwriting or is it really collaborative?
Yeah, I write the songs, or like the core song and the bare bones structure, like melody and lyrics and chord progression and that sort of thing, and then the band will sort of bring it to life with harmony. But I sort of come up with the initial vision.
Do you allow them to sing over it and have them figure it out or are you a little more controlling about the harmonies and whos singing what?
It used to be more controlling, I think, when we first started. But now were really getting to know each other as a band as well as vocally. When I might bring a new song to the table, and theres just one principal melody line the girls are really quick to hear other parts and usually what they do instinctually is what is kept because its so good right away. Maybe theres a little guidance in how things come in and come out and orchestration and stuff like that but yeah, its becoming more collaborative.
What I love about the album and the music is that there are so many intricate parts to every song. How much it is composed and how much of it is spontaneous? Is it recorded live off the floor or is it more studio-based?
Well, that seems like two different questions, like how it was recorded and how it was composed. I mean, its all very composed, like theres no improvisation in the studio or anything like that and when we play live we play the songs because theyre very orchestrated and exact. Thats how theyre written so thats how we play them. But, in a studio, we did some of it more traditionally from the bottom up with drums and bass and then layered the vocals but a lot of the stuff we did very organically or live off the floor, like singing around one mic. Once we got a really great take then we added drums and bass and other instrumentation so it was kind of a backwards way of recording the album, which made for a charming recording I think.
Do you road test songs before you go into the studio?
Yeah, all of the songs were road-tested before we made Touch Up because we just started doing it and performing right away and then you can sort of get a sense of which ones should definitely go on judging by the reaction. Its a very different thing now because we get to road test the new songs literally on the road while were touring, while fans already have a general idea of what they like about the band and what they come to expect from the band. Its interesting to play new songs because you can sort of sense or feel the essence of their reaction, whether theyre surprised with whats coming from us or whether theyre excited or whether they think its redundant. You can get a sense of that from people who know your music when they hear new stuff.
Live, you really captured the intricate nature of the songs and Im thinking how much practice goes into these songs since theyre so tight?
Sometimes if youre tight when youre a band you get resented or put down. It seems like in todays indie rock spectrum theres a certain worship for loose, "unrehearsedness but, I mean, its fucking cool to be sloppy, but I also think its cool to be tight. For us, to be sloppy, it would sound like we didnt practice enough but we dont practice a lot, like we kind of practice enough to get our shit together to play as a band and then just playing live is really the best kind of rehearsing that you can do because youre forced to plug through that song. You cant stop and say, "Okay, what just happened there? You gotta really be focused and aim to nail your parts when you play live.
What about the weird mix of genres, like country and indie pop, on Touch Up? Are you conscious of trying to mix genres or are you just playing the music you love?
Definitely the latter. When this band was formed it was sort of the product of a prolific little period that I had of just writing songs in which anything went because there was no pressure or no expectations from anybody else except myself and when we started the band we just picked and chose what songs we wanted to do, regardless of their stylistic nature or the genre. So, yeah, it was a pretty natural conception, stylistically and now its probably being honed a bit more and its more cohesive. I mean, its hard to say whether or not the band is just growing and maturing and developing their own sound or you kind of feel pressure to develop and become cohesive because a lot of the reactions that we get from people and from the press and from so-called industry professionals is "Its too all over the place and there are too many genres. One can only feel like they have to fix that because a lot of people who dont know what theyre talking about are telling you this, but then you think about when you first started and it seemed like a lot of the reasons why so many people were into us and there was such a strong reaction was because there were so many genres and we were pushing some kind of envelope. So, its pretty confusing and we dont really know what to do. I feel like you just gotta be your fucking self and do what comes naturally regardless of what anyone says and if it sinks it sinks and if it floats it floats.
Do you have any specific idea of where youre going next?
Were definitely going to try and follow the style of Touch Up, but the next albums pretty much written since theres been a lot of time since the first one. So, yeah, theres another album, and then some, to pick from and I think just looking at it and the material, there definitely is more cohesion and I dont know if thats something we went for or something I went for but probably something that just happened naturally. I just really hope the band continues to be more experimental and to try new and different things and never cater to stylistic parameters because I think music is something that people should really experiment with. Its this intangible thing out there that you can do whatever you want with it and you dont have to put it inside a box.
There have been so many brother bands that have imploded like Oasis and the Kinks, do you think it works better when theres a brother and a sister in a band?
Yes! Yes. Its got to. Thats what I tell myself.
Do you hope you one day wont get asked what its like to have a sister in the band?
Man, no, I dont hope that. Im just happy that people ask me about this band. I just hope that continues to happen and then they can continue to ask me whatever it is they want to ask me as long as theyre asking because that means were still doing something that people are interested in.