Mother Mother explores humanity’s flaws

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      Ryan Guldemond doesn’t set out to make grand statements, but somehow it keeps happening. Mother Mother’s last album, 2012’s The Sticks, found Guldemond—the band’s singer, guitarist, and songwriter—drawing inspiration from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his own rural upbringing to paint a lyrical portrait of someone determined to turn his back on modern urbanism and retreat to the woods.

      For the Vancouver act’s major-label debut, the just-released Very Good Bad Thing, Guldemond meditated on the human mind, with an eye on the darkness contained therein. Not that this was necessarily something he was trying to do.

      “It’s easy to spin it into some kind of cohesion after the fact because you need to do that in interviews and stuff,” he says on the line from a Red Deer tour stop, “but it wasn’t premeditated as being a conceptual statement on humanity. But it is, and I think that’s the beauty of making songs and creating, is that you’re not supposed to know what it collects into as you’re doing it.”

      Very Good Bad Thing doesn’t take long to get down to the business of exploring Guldemond’s obsessions. The need for personal space he explored on The Sticks rears its head again on the new album’s stomping opener, “Get Out the Way”: “I’m not antisocial, I’m just tired of all the people/And I’m fine with rolling solo.”

      The narrator of “Reaper Man”, on the other hand, makes no such claims; he knows damn well that he’s antisocial, and he revels in it: “How’d I ever get so indiscreet? How’d I ever get so freakly?/Everybody out there on a leash/But not me.”

      “I think you’d have to be pretty lost or closed-off as an individual not to realize that each person is a vehicle for grave flaw and grave sin, in counter to that infinite potential for creativity and beauty,” Guldemond insists. “So that’s what all the songs are about, each and every one. ‘Reaper Man’ just happens to be about a guy championing his own darkness. Because we all have it, you know. Everybody thinks the monstrous thing—and the only reason why it’s determined we’re a monster is if we act on it, but the thought was had. So I guess that’s how I see life, and people.”

      Despite the heady subject matter, Very Good Bad Thing features some of Mother Mother’s most pop-leaning material to date. “Modern Love” is not a David Bowie cover but a buzzing electro banger aimed squarely at the dance floor, while “Monkey Tree” is a hook-barbed midtempo crowd-pleaser with a colossal chorus made for rapturous audience sing-alongs.

      The band—which also includes keyboardists-vocalists Jasmin Parkin and Molly Guldemond, bassist Jeremy Page, and drummer Ali Siadat—recorded its latest batch of songs in Toronto with producer Gavin Brown. Guldemond has been credited as producer or coproducer on the last few Mother Mother albums, but he says he was happy to hand the reins over to Brown (whose CV includes releases by Metric and the Tragically Hip) because it took some of the pressure off of him.

      “When any producer might work with a band with a fastidious leader-type person—or annoying despot character—I think they will find use in that personality, and help elucidate the band’s identity using that person,” Guldemond says of his role in the process. “That will happen, invariably. But, that being said, the lines were clear: I was not producing this record, so I could step away, emotionally, and not have to answer to the hard questions of ‘Where is this record going?’ and ‘Why is it sounding more yellow than purple?’ two months in. Which is what always happens. Everyone freaks out about what’s taking shape.”

      To hear the frontman tell it, though, there were considerably fewer in-studio freak-outs this time around. Guldemond says recording gets easier with experience, both in a technical sense and in a spiritual one, if you will.

      “That’s the deal: you make more records, you stop spazzing out along the way,” he notes. “It’s a little bit more like clockwork. There’s a naivety in your first record that can birth beautiful creation, whimsy, spontaneity, blah… But it can also just trump productivity: ‘Ah, fuck—why do the vocals sound weird and close and up-front and to the left?’ It’s like ‘Well, because we’re recording it right now in this way, and it’s a part of a production, so shut up and wait till it’s done, you fool.’ ”

      Guldemond says that, in working with Brown, he and his bandmates got over what he calls their “sonic megalomania”, or proclivity toward loading the songs with every possible musical idea. “Clarity was a buzzword throughout the whole process,” he says, acknowledging that in taking this approach, Mother Mother streamlined its sound, sacrificing some of its signature eccentricity along the way. Guldemond views the group’s having shed some of its quirks as a positive development.

      “I think ‘weird’ can act as a gimmick, when you discover it’s your tendency and it works and you expand upon it purposefully,” he says. “So that’s something to be wary of.”

      On its current tour, which ends with a homecoming show at the Orpheum this weekend, Mother Mother has been performing only one song from its 2007 debut album, Touch Up. Guldemond says “Dirty Town” shows just how much the project has evolved from its weirdness-for-its-own-sake beginnings.

      “It’s quirky, and it just throws all these brash and brazen idiosyncrasies out there,” he admits. “And that’s so much part of its charm, but it’s just a lot of weight in the realm of eccentricity. It was born out of naivety; it was born out of someone floundering and flailing in the creative landscape. I think it’s beautiful, but it does need to be reined in. And that’s just part of growing up, surrounding how you want to present your sentiments, how you want to truly focus your message. And I suppose there is a lot of that taking place right now, and that will continue to take place, and to take shape.

      “Yes,” the sardonically witty frontman concludes, “we will become very boring eventually, because we’ll become so mature in our songwriting.”

      Fear not, music fans: if Very Good Bad Thing is evidence of the band’s maturation, Mother Mother is in no danger of becoming boring.

      Mother Mother plays the Orpheum on Saturday (December 13).

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