You’ve got to give Ryan Guldemond points for brutal honesty. Or, at the very least, for serious self-deprecation. “I’m not very smart,” the Mother Mother frontman says at one point during a telephone interview with the Georgia Straight. In the next breath, however, Guldemond notes that the writings of 19th-century transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson helped inspire Mother Mother’s latest album, The Sticks, an assertion that undercuts his claim of weak-mindedness.
Where Guldemond earns credit for his candour is in his willingness to admit that there was no grand design behind The Sticks. Apart from agreeing that it didn’t want to create a carbon copy of last year’s Eureka, the Vancouver band entered Mushroom Studios with very little idea about how it wanted its new record to sound.
“We didn’t mess around too much with forecast or premeditation,” says Guldemond, reached on the road in Edmonton. “It was just, ‘Let’s go hole up in Mushroom for five weeks and make a really dynamic record. If there was something focal going in, it was the idea of dynamics and how much we appreciate dynamics—in music, in life, in everything.
“We wanted it to be big and ambitious but also have those really quiet, nuanced moments, which I think it does,” the singer and guitarist continues. “The last record was more of a juggernaut of one energy, and one intention, and even one sonic texture. And with The Sticks, we really wanted to kind of bounce around and dip and peak.”
That’s a pretty accurate description of how the album unfolds, from the neon-flashbang pop-rock single “Let’s Fall in Love” to the beach-fire acoustic sing-along “Dread in My Heart” to the wide-open-spaces closer “To the Wild”. Guldemond and his bandmates—singer-keyboardist Molly Guldemond, keyboardist-vocalist Jasmin Parkin, drummer Ali Siadat, and bassist Jeremy Page—take the listener on an eclectic ride.
“It just felt like the correct approach for us at this chapter of our lives—just to pick songs for their individual merits, and not for their supposed cohesion with other songs,” Guldemond explains. “The whole idea of cohesion wasn’t overly appealing this time around. It didn’t make sense. What made sense was to pick the best songs even if they weren’t so akin to other songs on the record—sonically speaking, that is. Lyrically, it’s definitely the most thematic thus far out of all our records. So maybe that cohesion makes up for the sonic diversity.”
The theme, as laid out in songs such as “The Sticks” and “Bit by Bit”, is a little bit Walden and a little bit Into the Wild, with Guldemond plotting his escape from the city and building a cabin in the woods, far away from traffic jams and smartphones. But don’t expect the singer to pull up stakes and fritter away the rest of his days in a shack on Quadra Island, where he grew up. He’s also not likely to leave a trail of ashes in his wake, as suggested in “To the Wild”: “Gonna take that old apartment/Set that place on fire/Gonna leave the world at large and/Run back to the wild.” Still, Guldemond says his lyrics reflect concerns that are very close to his heart.
“I could definitely root up some weighty opinions about the state of the modern time and urban societies’ dependencies on their man-made things,” he says, “so it was less fictitious, and less detached. Because that’s usually how I feel with much of the sentiment behind Mother Mother’s music. But with this, there was a bit more of a personal touch on the whole thing.”
Detached might be too strong a word; Guldemond’s tendency to take the outside observer’s point of view serves him well on “Let’s Fall in Love”, which winks knowingly in the direction of Cole Porter while offering the sage (and impossible-to-follow) advice that romantic entanglements are best avoided.
It’s one of the band’s catchiest songs, and it seems destined to become a fan favourite at future Mother Mother shows. At the moment, though, Guldemond reports that crowd response is strongest for selections from 2008’s O My Heart, which was Mother Mother’s second LP and its ticket to a wider audience.
“Those old songs from O My Heart never fail to incite much enthusiasm—like ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘Hayloft’, especially,” Guldemond notes. “ ‘Hayloft’ is fun because we always disguise the intro, or the drop of the beat, and inch towards it, and people are like, ‘What is going on?’ And then it surfaces and, every time, everyone goes wild. It’s almost comical at this point, because it’s such an easy little trick with our own fans. I mean, it’s a wholesome trick. It’s very sweet and funny.”
Mother Mother plays a homecoming show at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday (December 19).