Mother Mother is beginning to see the light
Toward the end of a sit-down chat with the Georgia Straight, Mother Mother singer-guitarist Ryan Guldemond and drummer Ali Siadat reveal one of the keys to the Vancouver band’s success to date. Mother Mother, they say, is as much a family as it is a musical act. For Guldemond, this is partially literal—his sister Molly handles synthesizer and shares vocal duties—but his relationships with Siadat and fellow bandmates Jasmin Parkin (keyboards, vocals) and Jeremy Page (bass, horns) are just as crucial when it comes to keeping the whole enterprise rolling.
Interviewed at JJ Bean on Commercial Drive on the inevitable rainy afternoon after a rare Vancouver snowfall, Siadat says that one of the things he likes best about being in a band with Guldemond is “a mutual desire for betterment of one’s craft”.
“That sounds like a euphemism,” his deadpan comrade interjects.
“It wasn’t,” Siadat insists. “I don’t even know what a euphemism is, so it couldn’t have been one.”
He’s only feigning ignorance, surely. After all, the drummer has just given this reporter a crash course on third-century-BC Greek mathematician and physicist Archimedes, who provided part of the inspiration for the title of Mother Mother’s third album, Eureka, set to be released by Last Gang Records on Tuesday (March 15). According to an account by the Roman writer Vitruvius, Archimedes was asked to determine whether an unscrupulous goldsmith had substituted some silver for the gold he had been supplied with in order to make a votive crown for a temple. Archimedes’ light-bulb moment (anachronistically speaking) occurred while he was taking a bath.
Siadat concludes the tale: “He gets into the bathtub and realizes that water gets displaced when you get into it. That led to a series of thoughts in his head that helped him figure out how he would determine whether this crown was totally made of gold. He jumps out of the bathtub and runs down the street naked, screaming ”˜Eureka! Eureka!’ Or so the story goes.”
Intersecting lines on the album’s cover—which was designed by Molly Guldemond—are a visual reference to the Ostomachion, a geometric puzzle designed by Archimedes based on a mathematical formula that is too complex to even start explaining in this article. All very heady stuff for an indie-pop record, but not to worry: you don’t need a background in math or Greek history to enjoy the songs. In fact, it might help to forget everything you’ve just read about Archimedes and consider the album’s title on its own terms.
“There’s also the connotation with that word that I feel resonates with the personality of the music on this record,” Guldemond says. “It’s confident. It’s less morose than previous efforts. And eureka kind of suggests inspiration, and I guess that moment of discovery—pouncing on a naked truth and taking it for yourself.”
The overall sound of Eureka is indeed bolder and more aggressive than that of its predecessor, 2008’s O My Heart, but no less carefully crafted. Numbers like the burly rocker “Baby Don’t Dance”, the quirk-funk stomper “Problems”, and even the slow-burning meditation “Born in a Flash” bear hooks that waste little time burrowing themselves into the listener’s brain. More importantly, they don’t sound like anything other than Mother Mother, which means the band shouldn’t have much trouble shaking off the endless Pixies comparisons it garnered with past efforts such as “O My Heart” and “Body of Years”.
“Very often when we were in the formative stages of the album sonically, and in terms of working out the arrangements for the songs and deciding on how we were going to make it sound, we talked about the theme of immediacy, of songs presenting their identity as quickly as possible, as immediately as possible—sonically, lyrically, and otherwise,” notes Siadat.
Guldemond explains that this meant trying not to belabour the songwriting process, but to instead let inspiration guide it. “I think there’s some thought that goes into it, but mostly there’s freedom of thought, or a sense of being free from thought or premeditation, and just allowing the songs to unfold as they wish to, as a separate kind of moving force that you’re just kind of there to oversee or guide,” says the frontman, who is also Mother Mother’s main songwriter.
“Hopefully, you get better at writing the more you do it,” he adds. “I guess some people get worse. There’s something beautiful about the ignorance you possess when you first get into something. You don’t scrutinize it based on your education. You just express it, and it can come out in really perfectly imperfect ways. And then the more you refine it, the more it loses its freshness.”
Don’t think for a second, though, that Mother Mother went into the process of recording with only the foggiest notion of what the end product should sound like.
“This record was pretty sculpted before going into the studio, so there was a sense of confidence going in, and not too much worry or fear about us not finding our way with the shape and the personality of the record,” says Guldemond, who gets his first solo production credit in Eureka’s liner notes. “But once you get in there, things inevitably change and you do reach lots of points where you’re on the wrong track or you’ve totally botched it, but you dig yourself out of those holes and just retrack the guitar or whatever it is that you have to do to reinspire the momentum.”
The leadoff single from Eureka is “The Stand”, a slightly oddball number whose verses follow a question-and-answer format. In the song’s video, Parkin and Molly Guldemond cross-examine Ryan in a stark white shrink’s office straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Tell me your fears,” they demand, to which he responds: “Okay, it’s everyone here.” “You mean just all of the people?” his interlocutors ask. “Yeah,” he confirms, “and all of their peers.”
“I can hardly stand the sight of it all,” the song’s soaring chorus begins, and Guldemond closes things by announcing “Everybody’s fucked and they don’t even know.” If those sound like the words of someone who is not exactly a people person and who would be at his least comfortable doing something as public as, say, fronting a fast-rising rock band, Guldemond cautions against reading too much into the lyrics.
“I definitely find peace in introversion, but I can dabble in extroversion as well. But the song itself is not autobiographical. I like vodka on ice,” he notes, acknowledging one of the “weaknesses” confessed by the protagonist of “The Stand”, “but as for the rest, as for the real disdainful quality of it, I’m not that bleak in my outlook. But I can definitely relate to it in a big way. It’s easy to be a cynic in this world.”
“We all have a little bit of that in us, really,” Siadat offers. “I think that’s why people identify with that song, even if you don’t look at the world in that way completely all the time. It’s not so black-and-white anyway. Sometimes you’ll see it in a very positive way. Very often, I think people will disdainfully look upon the rest of the people in the world as a confused, almost psychotic bunch.”
If the members of Mother Mother have a rosier point of view than that, it should serve them well in the weeks and months to come. Guldemond says the quintet plans to spend as much time on the road in support of Eureka as it can. The band is slated for a pair of homecoming performances in early May, both shows being part of the Straight Series. Before that, though, Mother Mother’s itinerary takes it across Canada—well, as far east as glamorous Hamilton, Ontario, at any rate—and down to Austin, Texas, to showcase at the South by Southwest festival.
Touring as much as is humanly possible is a notion Guldemond and his bandmates can easily entertain, given that they no longer rely on day jobs to cover the rent. “Today that is the case,” he says. “But it’s a day-by-day thing. It’s still no luxury ride.” In other words, music does pay the bills, but the key to that, Guldemond says, is “just keeping the bills modest”.
As for Siadat, he has no plans to put down his drumsticks and start reading the Employment Paper cover to cover, even in the highly unlikely event that Mother Mother should implode. “Why would I do anything outside of music?” he says. “When your expertise leads you to a certain place, it kind of feels like, ”˜Okay, if this band didn’t work out, and this wasn’t here as a source of income, then create something new.’ ”
That shouldn’t be necessary, so long as Mother Mother’s family dynamic stays intact. Which brings us back to the matter of the bandmates’ mutual admiration. “I like Ali because he’s wise and he’s a nice guy,” Guldemond states. “He’s a great drummer and he’s a best friend. And he’s not selfish. I can’t be in a band with selfish people.”
Mother Mother has no room for solipsists—not when the band is kicking off its latest tour by hauling itself and all of its gear to Buffalo, New York. That’s a lot of time in a van with the same four people for company. Not that Guldemond is bitching about logistics. “We can’t complain,” the singer says. “It’s truly a privileged existence that we live.”
Really? But surely it doesn’t feel that way on day four of a five-day drive, your belly full of greasy truck-stop hash browns and gas-station coffee. “Sometimes it feels like it more than ever, all cozy and tucked away in the bench seat of a van, deep in a good book,” Guldemond insists. “It’s pretty all right.”