If the only Mother Mother song you’ve ever heard is their chipper — and catchy as hell — single “Bright Idea” (featured in a series of Kraft Cheese commercials) you might get the idea that they’re a sugar-poppy,radio-friendly outfit. You’d be mistaken.
In fact, the Vancouver quintet’s music (loosely here described as indie-rock, though their eclectic, eccentric sound defies such generalizing classification) is markedly cerebral — and decidedly dark. “I like people and the human condition,” says frontman and guitarist Ryan Guldemond, of the inspiration for their songs’ artfully crafted, eloquent (and ofttimes odd) lyrics. “But not in the lovely ways, more in the sad or bleak ways. And I like kind of drawing out the comedy in those things.”
It’s that delicate line between light and dark, weight and whimsy — that is Mother Mother’s hallmark. And it’s a line they walk with practiced ease.
At first listen, the darker undertones of their music might not be immediately apparent. Indeed, admits Guldemond, “I think that a lot of people don’t necessarily hear it, and they come out with this misguided idea that we’re a happy band with a happy message. Because it’s not totally common for people to listen too closely to lyrics these days.”
Not to listen closely would be a disservice to both listener and musician, as it’s the complex (and sometimes head-scratching) lyricism that makes this relatively under-the-radar band(they’re big in their homeland but, “America is a tough nut to crack…where there’s not that automatic domestic embrace, you kind of have to hustle a little harder and bank on certain cosmic aspects like luck and serendipity,” he says)so interesting. But Guldemond is the first to admit that while Mother Mother is prone to meandering, verbose songwriting, there is something to be said for brevity, now more than ever.
“You do have to be very immediate in today’s popular music genre,” he muses. “And it’s almost harder to be simple and immediate with something than it is to take your time. I was talking to a new music composer recently — and this is a guy who does not listen to pop, who does not exist in this world, but he’s quite a brilliant musician and composer, and very cerebral and creates these long musical journeys — and he was saying that he finds writing a three minute pop song far more difficult than writing, you know, a 20-minute-long avant garde piece for 18 musicians. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. It’s harder to cut to the chase than it is to be long-winded.”
To cut to the chase when it comes to his chosen craft, Guldemond’s philosophy is clear. “If there’s anything not to take too seriously it’s music,” he says, when asked about writing a song (“Bright Idea”) specifically for commercial use. “It’s a fun little challenge to write from that place, because usually it comes out how it comes out — you know, from the heart or however you want to put it. But this was more of like an expression within parameters. I don’t necessarily see music as something that has to be sacred and authentic at all times. You can kind of see it as an exercise. And I think in doing that a lot of the time you strengthen your ability to channel the authenticity at a later date.”
Keeping it real — in music and in approaching their part of the world — seems to be what Guldemond and his bandmates are all about. When taking the stage, he says, he tries to remind himself to stay in the moment.
“It is the one little window during the day where you can let loose a bit. I find it curious when bands on tour, when they play, they look excruciatingly bored or something. Not to say that they need to be animated — there can be a lot of passion in stillness — but that’s different than just looking like you’re bored or not having a good time,” he says. “There’s this one little window where something exceptional can happen. Well, I guess something exceptional can happen in any given moment, on any given day. But when you’re touring it’s just this sea of mundanity and that half an hour…onstage is like a little splash of magic. Or it can be, so I think it’s important to remember that.”