Mother Mother takes heart
Ryan Guldemond is a dropout, and he doesn’t care who knows it. The Mother Mother singer-guitarist abandoned his study of jazz and composition at Vancouver Community College when he figured he’d taken from it all he needed.
“I dropped out just before I was supposed to complete my diploma,” says Guldemond, interviewed at the Georgia Straight office. “This band started to become too consuming. And it seemed like my whole motivation to go to music school was, of course, to get better at the craft, but also to meet people and become affiliated with some sort of music scene in Vancouver, because before that I didn’t really know how one was supposed to do that—apart from answering ads in the Georgia Straight. Which I did.”
If you’ve guessed by now that Guldemond isn’t a born-and-bred Vancouverite, you’re right. The 25-year-old grew up on Quadra Island but moved to the mainland at 19 in pursuit of a girl who wound up breaking his heart. He stuck around and, in 2005, he started a band, recruiting his sister Molly and friend Debra-Jean Creelman as covocalists. The three initially played in town as an acoustic trio called Mother. Eventually they would add more members and double the act’s name—today Mother Mother also includes bassist Jeremy Page and drummer Ali Siadat.
Two years ago, Mother Mother got a significant break when the brass from Toronto’s Last Gang Records (Metric, Crystal Castles) caught the band’s set at a high-profile festival and decided on the spot to offer a four-album contract.
“They saw us at Pop Montreal 2006 and struck up a deal,” Guldemond recalls. “It seemed pretty hasty on their part. I mean, it was nice. There was very little reservation. And it was kind of the only thing going on, so we jumped on it, too. And so far, so good.”
The first fruits of Mother Mother’s Last Gang contract are a re-release of the group’s 2005 indie debut, Mother (since retitled Touch Up), and the new album O My Heart, which came out in September. Produced by Guldemond and Howard Redekopp, the disc showcases a polished alt-pop sound bristling with ingeniously quirky arrangements, metaphor-laden lyrics, and the quintet’s secret weapon: lush, multipart male-female harmonies. Those harmonies, along with Guldemond’s idiosyncratic vocal phrasing, have led more than one critic to invoke the name of the Pixies. It’s a fair comparison, if not always an accurate one. Sure, the broken-face intensity of “O My Heart” (see the video below) and the pumping bass line of “Body of Years” would have fit on Doolittle like missing puzzle pieces. Mother Mother rarely sticks to the loud-soft-loud template that Black Francis and company laid out more than 20 years ago, though, often fleshing things out with strings and keyboards.
To his credit, Guldemond isn’t disingenuous enough to deny that he spent much of his youth studying the Boston band’s catalogue as if it held the key to the very meaning of life. He is wary, however, of hewing too close to anyone else’s formula.
“Definitely a direct influence in the formative days,” he says of the Pixies. “Grew up with them. Definitely still love them. To me, that’s a good band to be likened to. Could be a lot worse, and, in my eyes, it couldn’t get any better.
“I mean, I have a pretty realistic perception of who we are and what we sound like,” Guldemond continues, “and I know when things are becoming dishonest in the writing process, whether it’s purposeful or inadvertent, like ”˜Hey, wait a minute—this is starting to sound like something, very indiscreetly, so let’s think about this.’ But I just look at this band and the sound that defines it; from an outside, objective point of view, I feel it’s something unto itself. So all the comparisons that can and do and have yet to be made”¦ it’s fine. That can happen, and it doesn’t really affect anything.”
Comparisons aside, Mother Mother certainly has all the tools it needs to carve out its own unique niche in the musical landscape. Judging by O My Heart, the still-young act is on its way to becoming one of the most interesting bands in the city, if not the country.
As for Guldemond, he intends to keep learning his craft in whatever fashion he can. “Music is like a never-ending study,” he says. “It’s vast. It’s really one of those fields where the expression ”˜The more you know, the less you know’ really applies. It just goes on and on and on. There’s new corridors and angles and crazy things that relate to things you know but branch off in infinite spirals of craziness. It goes on, so it’s something that I always want to feel like I’m furthering my education of, but I probably would rather not do that through school. School is a bunch of bullshit.”
Spoken like a true, unrepentant dropout.
Mother Mother plays a sold-out CD-release show for O My Heart at Richard’s on Richards on Friday (November 28).