For those who've been waiting for a hybrid of the Pixies and Crosby, Stills & Nash, look no further than Mother Mother. On its eponymous debut, recently reissued as Touch Up in a tweaked version, the five-piece finds the sweet spot where '70s folk-rock harmonies meet damaged alt-rock adventurousness. The bold, brash, and completely left-field outing has helped put the group's name on the lips of local scenesters waiting for the next Black Mountain–sized breakout act.
Debra-Jean Creelman and siblings Molly and Ryan Guldemond began singing together two years ago. With Ryan playing acoustic guitar and writing tunes, the trio took the name Mother and began gigging around town. The band released the early version of its debut, and then, about a year ago, filled out its ranks with drummer Kenton Loewen and bass, clarinet, and sax player Jeremy Page. Loewen—who'd played with various jazz outfits, as well as punk rockers Submission Hold and folk-soul act Po' Girl—was immediately struck by the tunes.
“They're quirky as hell,” he says over coffee with Creelman and Ryan Guldemond at a coffee shop on Commercial Drive. “They're not straight-ahead at all. There are lots of different aspects to them. From a drumming perspective it's enjoyable. Besides, I just love the music. It's strange and beautiful.”
The songs on Touch Up jump from genre to genre, with the offbeat arrangements and three-part harmonies of the Guldemonds keeping everything identifiably Mother Mother. (The band changed its name to avoid confusion with other music-playing Mothers). “Dirty Town” opens the album with cowbell and chirpy three-part harmonies before the song veers into a cartoonish country-hoedown break that fans of Ween would appreciate. Like Dean and Gene, as well as Brooklyn-based sonic experimentalists Fiery Furnaces, the quintet strikes a fine balance between earnestness and irony as it cops hip-hop mannerisms on “Verbatim”, rootsy sincerity on “Train of Thought”, and cabaret-style melodrama on “Love and Truth”.
Creelman sings lead on the latter, and brings to the track her musical-theatre background. “I can't seem to get away from it,” she says. “Growing up in Vernon, there were basically only punk bands, and no one wanted a chick singer. I would've done anything to get on-stage, and that [musical theatre] was the only thing really open to me.”
Ryan's lyrics are another unifying factor in the Mother Mother sound, as his tales of awkward humanity are buoyed by the songs' unhinged vocals and frisky melodies. In the band bio, Guldemond says he writes about “the beautiful and beastly behaviour of a socially inept world”. This is borne out by the quietly creepy “Neighbour”, which finds the singer adopting a voyeur's point of view, as well as the narrator in the deceptively cheerful “Ball Cap” who admits, “I like the people standing in the streets/Cuz they are dumb-faced, dumb-faced just like me.”
“They're kind of cheeky,” explains Guldemond of his lyrics, “in the sense that they talk about some of the idiosyncratic behaviour of people, and their interactions. It's just basically contemporary, human condition type of stuff.”
Touch Up—which updates the original disc with two new tracks and two old ones redone with Loewen and Page—better reflects the band's current incarnation. But Guldemond expects the group's second album of all-new material to be a more confident affair. “I think we're in a state of metamorphosis right now,” he says. “The next record will be fairly defined as a style and a sound. The first was just an experiment, basically.”
We won't see a new disc for a while, however. For the release of Touch Up, Mother Mother is going on the road, first to Toronto and then to Texas, to play Austin's South by Southwest music festival. Considering the reaction to the group's live show, both here at home and at last year's Montreal International Jazz Festival, expect heaps of positive ink to be spilled on the Vancouver band.
“It was magical, it was the greatest show,” says Guldemond of Mother Mother's Montreal jazz-fest gig. “There were thousands of people.”
“Everyone was coming away from a Neville Brothers concert nearby,” says Creelman. “And we got all that runoff, and people just stuck around. Montrealers are awesome that way.”
And that's just the beginning. Loewen, for one, can barely contain his excitement over recent additions to the group's growing number of songs. “The new stuff is great,” he says. “In the process of writing songs, if you're really working on it, you hone your skill. The new stuff is taking a different shape and seems stronger and more focused. It's striking me more and more. You see the power and intensity and beauty in it.”
Mother Mother plays a CD release party at the Plaza tonight (February 22).