Making the leap from bonafide indie band to major label act is no simple task. For Vancouver’s Mother Mother, it’s taken them nearly a decade. Now, coming up upon the release of their fifth studio album, Very Good Bad Thing, which was produced by Gavin Brown and is set for release November 4th, the impresarios have closed a prosperous chapter with Last Gang Records and are set to begin a brand new one with Universal Music Canada.
Spending a mere five minutes with the band is enough to tell just how well seasoned they are. From the ease in their tone and the continued gratitude in their temperament, to the transparency with which they are willing to discuss the inner workings of their creative process, the members of Mother Mother have undoubtedly reached a place in their careers where they are comfortable letting their work speak for itself.
On Very Good Bad Thing, we see the band harnessing the best of their quick-witted humor, affinity for extravagant storytelling, and those peculiar but signature three-piece, powerhouse harmonies to expose both a charming level of confidence and a genuine artistry.
With some 10 radio singles already under their belt, including their latest, the infectiously charged “Get Out The Way,” it seems that Mother Mother has shed every last drop of insecurity––something frontman Ryan Guldemond reveals played a significant roll in the genesis of the band’s vocally-driven pop sound––to create what is unquestionably their most focused and ferocious album to date.
Noisey: Your fifth album Very Good Bad Thing is out November 4 via Universal Music Canada. Now, you guys have had a long-standing relationship with Last Gang Records, but the new album will be your first on a major label. What has it been like for you guys making the leap from indie to major label band?
Ryan Guldemond: Sorry, hang on a second! I’m in the bathroom and I forgot to lock the door and someone just walked in on me [laughs]. So, for the record, I am going to the bathroom while doing this interview. I’m a busy man! Gotta multi-task [laughs]. Anyways, to answer your question, it’s been really cool. It’s kind of like when you break-up with someone and the sex is fun again.
Jasmin Parkin: Yeah [laughs], it’s like getting a really big promotion at a job or something, you know? It’s like moving up and being excited about new and different things.
Guldemond: We should probably tread carefully with this question because we love Last Gang and the relationship was prosperous. It didn’t end out of bad blood in any respect, it’s just that in a career such as this one you are always looking to find new and different ways to amplify your message. After seven years of doing it one way with a group of people who were awesome, it just felt prudent, it felt wise, and it felt rejuvenating to try things in a different manor.
Take me through the recording process. What was it like working with Gavin Brown this time around?
Guldemond: It was incredible; Gavin is a machine of great chaos and organization. While those two things typically contradict each other, in this case they nurtured each other, so I think we kind of just held on and allowed him to use us as his muse, which is something we’ve never done. For that reason, within the new record, I think you’ll hear some of those paradoxical descriptors I used––it’s a big ferocious sound more so than ever but it’s also tighter and more organized. I think that it can definitely be said that that is a byproduct of Gavin.
That’s the thing about producers though isn’t it? Sometimes you need that element of organized chaos that only they can provide.
Parkin: Yeah absolutely. I think that as long as you can learn to channel that chaos it comes across more as being creative genius than being disorderedly––that is something Gavin does very successfully.
You guys clearly have a huge appreciation for vocally driven pop. Can you tell me a bit about what sparked that appreciation and penchant for really solid pop hooks?
Guldemond: Well, actually, when I started the band I was totally insecure about my vocal abilities and I thought a good way to get around that would be to sandwich in between to angelic fairies [laughs], and that’s actually a true account. I mean, I’ve always loved vocal harmonies and vocal bands, I love The Beach Boys and The Beatles, I like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, so they’ve definitely influenced the music, but in terms of beginning from a vocally harmonized driven place, that was greatly born out of insecurity of my own.
I want to talk a bit about your guys’ lyrical approach. What's it like to build a Mother Mother song? Walk me through the process if you can.
Guldemond: Well, lyrically it’s usually born out of gibberish––there is just some kind of sound or syllabic outburst. Quite often it sounds like a word and if that word has poetic weight then I’ll start associating it with other words to infiltrate the concept and eventually and miraculously something coherent is born; it always kind of baffles me that that happens. As for the sardonic, caustic, witty side of things, I think that’s just the natural result of who I am. I kind of see things as being tragically funny and so I think through that process of trying to make sense of all the gibberish, your own innate humor and world view seeps in. So, it’s not so much a pre-meditated thing as it is a melting pot of spontaneity and personality. I don’t know. Does that sound accurate Jas?
Parkin: Totally. I think of an artist painting for example. They may not know what they are going to paint but they just sort of start going. I think for anyone doing something creative, the personality eventually starts to take shape and it becomes something in the end even if started from nothing. Watching Ryan write lyrics and songs is very much like that. The gibberish births real words, which then birth concepts, which some how come to birth full songs; it’s really quite something to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else write the way he does and what’s so great about it is that it’s less from personal experience––though he does do that sometimes––and more just about storytelling.
Guldemond: I think one of the greatest luxuries of being a songwriter or writer of any capacity is that you don’t have to tell the truth. You can emphasize on such an extreme level, and in doing that you kind of become more of a dynamic character yourself; the creative domain is a pretty cool space.
You guys seem to catch a lot of flack and it’s interesting to take a step back and see the way that we as Canadians sometimes have this very strange way of being absolutely awful to our most successful artists. What it’s like to have facets of your audience chirping away in the background like that?
Guldemond: You know what? I don’t think we pay a lot of attention to it. I’m sure that would probably be the most popular answer when trying to take the high road, but I don’t know, I think at this point in my life, and I can probably speak for most people in the band here, you’re wasting your time if you are dialing in on the negative stuff. Our lives are fleeting and they are precious so it’s best just to gravitate to the affirmations and the positivity. Our fans are beautiful––they’re very supportive, quirky and unique little outcasts so there is a lot more love there that we can use as fuel than there is naysaying elsewhere that just ends up being detrimental.
It’s funny because I recently read an article on Chad Kroeger’s feelings about people hating on Nickelback and his response was something to the effect of ‘It’s okay if people hate us because it’s better for us in the end.’
Guldemond: There is that side of things too. It’s like to stir up something inside of someone is really what you want to achieve. The neutral reaction is the kiss of death, so even if people are being moved to distaste that means we’re doing something right.
Parkin: Yeah I agree. I can remember a time when I would focus on those negative things and was maybe more self-conscious about myself in general, but I think the band as a whole, as a family, has just gotten over that, you know? You eventually come to realize that it doesn’t mean anything if people don’t like you because you’re going to encounter a whole bunch of other people who are going to pour love into what it is you do. In saying that, you shouldn’t focus too much attention into those kinds of things either because you need focus on yourself and whatever is going to help you put one foot in front of the other every day.
Juliette Jagger is a rock n' roll journalist living in Toronto - @juliettejagger