It Took Mother Mother 15 Years to Achieve Overnight Success
In 2008, "Hayloft" was almost "too quirky" to include on an album. Now, it's a huge hit thanks to TikTok — and its success has transformed the band's career.
Published Jul 05, 2021After a decade and a half in the music biz, Mother Mother had hit their cruising altitude: successful enough to have a sustainable career as a major-label rock band, but hardly famous by most industry standards. They were stable, but their star wasn't on the rise.
"After so many years of thriving in the middle ground, you get really good at remembering why you do it," reflects frontman Ryan Guldemond. "Because you like doing it. You like the process of making music, releasing music, and sharing it with however many people."
That all changed very quickly in 2020 with the band's Cinderella-like rise to viral stardom, when their first two albums, 2007's Touch Up and 2008's O My Heart, suddenly went stratospheric on TikTok. The hip-hop/rock barnburner "Hayloft" logged hundreds of millions of streams, while the trans community embraced gender-twisting songs like "Touch Up" and "Verbatim" (the latter of which features lyrics like, "I wear women's underwear / And then I go to strike a pose in my full-length mirror"). A glowing feature in Rolling Stone and an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden followed, and Hot Topic began stocking the band's T-shirts.
"My younger self felt pretty uncomfortable in his skin, and I think those songs came from a yearning to find one's place in a world that doesn't offer a wide variety of landing points for self-identity," Guldemond tells Exclaim! "I think it's fair to say that those songs appeal to the outlier or the outcast, or someone that doesn't fit tidily into society. Gen Z is a quirky bunch. It's a very curious generation. And one that doesn't suffer archaic definitions lightly. So, I don't know, it kind of makes sense that they're digging this music."
"Hayloft" is a particularly remarkable success story. Mother Mother always considered it one of their best songs — they've played it at every single live show for the past 15 years — but the music industry didn't agree at first. "We couldn't service it to radio," he remembers of the song's 2008 release. "It was too quirky. It didn't have a chorus. I think at one point it was mentioned that it shouldn't even be on the record."
As this old material began picking up steam on TikTok, Mother Mother were working on a new album without any idea of the way they were being embraced by a new generation.
Guldemond says, "I think we were fortunate to be ignorant to the impact O My Heart was making while we were writing this record, because otherwise I think there would have been some pressure to recreate the magic of that time and cash in on this new fanship for that music. So, for that reason, this record feels really authentic, unto itself, and pertinent to these turbulent times."
Coincidentally, these latest sessions were produced by Howard Redekopp — the same producer who worked on O My Heart and Touch Up all those years ago. But despite having the same person behind the boards, the results don't sound anything like the albums of old. Inside, which came out on June 25, tones back the freaky, frantic genre-mashing of old, instead highlighting menacing new wave grooves and haunting acoustic ballads.
The reverb is as heavy as the mood, with drummer Ali Siadat and bassist Mike Young holding down thundering rhythms while the singers run the full gamut of emotions: Ryan Guldemond snarls and seethes on bangers like "I Got Love" and "Sick of the Silence," while his sister Molly Guldemond coos with spiritual reverence on "Pure Love," and Jasmin Parkin quavers tenderly on "Girl Alone."
These songs were directly inspired by pandemic lockdowns. "I thrive in solitude. I'm an innate introvert, and being sequestered isn't at all uncomfortable for me. In fact, it's more of my happy place," says Ryan. "It made sense to take the metaphor of stay-at-home orders and transfer that to an inward journey of self-reflection, self-discovery and healing. It's pretty basic. It's not an intellectual proposition. This album is just trying to get down to some universal truths surrounding self-betterment and love."
The 14-track album is bookended by the sounds of cheering for healthcare workers, which Guldemond recorded while out for a walk early in the pandemic. At the time, he wasn't aware of the healthcare salute, and says that hearing them for the first time felt like stepping into The Twilight Zone. "[I was] recording a lot of sounds from the environment and the atmosphere. Birds, the drone of the city, creaking swing sets. Making loops out of them, injecting it into the music. There was something about including the breath of the world — that musical breath of daily life — into the record that made a lot of sense," he says. "I can see how it might be triggering to hear that applause. Or it might just sound dated, because it does belong to such a unique capsule of time: 2020."
Thanks to the band's recent success, they're releasing their pandemic-inspired songs to a much larger audience than they had when they first start writing them. They've announced a massive international tour that includes five back-to-back hometown shows at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom. The schedule stretches through at least May 2022, and many of the dates are already sold out.
For a band who have spent many years as road warriors, it will serve as a long-awaited victory lap.
"I'm so grateful that something like this never happened in our early days. I think it would have been disastrous," Guldemond admits. "I think it's so good to be humbled — as a person, as a musician, as an artist — and the grind is really humbling. And again, it brings you back into your deepest, purest intention as to why you're there in the first place. And sometimes, after examining that, one might realize: 'You know what, success is important to me.' And there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with thirsting for success. I think there's only something wrong would be confused as to why you're in something."