Alternative rock in Canada has had a great ’10s decade already. Thriving indie rock scenes in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and yes, Ottawa, have produced award-winning albums and established a few household names from each of those scenes. 2019 is already looking like a banner year in the city given how many of these bands have already come to town, and how many are scheduled to drop by soon.
You can include Mother Mother on that list. The band has been on a steady climb ever since their aptly-named Eureka breakout album in 2011, which spawned ‘The Stand’, their first Top 5 hit of many to come. Their rise has culminated with their latest album Dance and Cry, which has already produced the band’s second #1 single, ‘Get Up’, with the follow-up single ‘It’s Alright’ already hitting the airwaves and sure to challenge for a Top 5 spot of its own.
We caught up with Ryan Guldemond, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, ahead of a pair of sold out shows in Toronto, to chat about the new album, the current tour, and what else Mother Mother plans to conquer in 2019.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: First off, congratulations on surviving the tour so far. It’s pretty brave taking on a tour of Canada and parts of the United States in January and February. So how has the tour been going so far?
Ryan Guldemond: It’s good! As for the cold, we’ve all developed a new-found immunity which I think will be useful forever more, so it’s a blessing in disguise. Beyond the weather, it’s been remarkably positive. There’s been great attendance, and everyone’s been really engaged with the new music and it just feels like a vibrant, loving conversation between ourselves and the fans.
Mother Mother has been on a steady climb ever since Eureka in 2011, and the new album seems to be following the trend with stellar reviews, and the lead single at #1. From your perspective, how has the reception been for the new album?
Really amazing! I think it stems back to the intention behind this record, which was to make something authentically emotional and, as a byproduct, I think the fans are reacting in an emotional manor—in a visceral way and that’s just the stuff of good connections.
Besides the steady climb, your music has evolved significantly over your recording career, especially with No Culture and the new album. There’s definitely more emotion and introspection in the new material, and it’s more unfiltered, without as much of the tongue-in-cheek from the previous albums. How has that changed in terms of your own songwriting? Does it require more openness?
I find that the songwriting currently mirrors the extent to which I’m willing to investigate myself. The deeper I go with myself, the deeper I can go with the music. Whereas before it was more allegorical, it was more of a playground of ideas or themes, or fictitious tales, or just abstract emotions, which is a perfectly adequate and effective way to create. But I’m just not able to do it in that way anymore. Now it’s more like creating is the backdrop to my personal development.
Over the last two albums, there have been a lot of themes of personal growth, especially with Dance and Cry focusing on the bipolarity of highs and lows. Was your intention with this album to explore those extremes and the dichotomy of the two?
When I started writing the record I wasn’t in a very happy place. I was in a fairly broken hearted and lost place. But I knew where I wanted to go, and that was to a place of peace and freedom and potential. But in order to get there, I realized I had to sniff around my misery or my unresolved issues and get to the bottom of things and that unearthed the theme of Dance and Cry.
In order to truly authentically dance with abandon, you need to cry out some stuff. You need to shed some of that pain, or at least understand it, instead of suppressing it. Because when you suppress everything, it just gets worse, and whether you know it or not, there’s a real inhibiting quality to suppression. You might think you’re fine, but your spirit, subconsciously, is being hijacked by fear and anxiety. It was a process of exploring these concepts that really steered the feeling and the thematic arc of the record.
“When I started writing the record I wasn’t in a very happy place. I was in a fairly broken hearted and lost place… But I knew where I wanted to go.”
I suppose if you just always stay in your safe space, you never allow yourself to feel the extremes of either end.
The grey zone, that’s purgatorial and really a horrid place to exist.
You spent some time in Costa Rica when you started writing this record. I suppose that was a physical version of getting out of that comfort zone?
Totally. That’s the physical method that exacerbates the spiritual upheaval as well. I find there’s a lot of information in our physicality. For me, I get shy when I’m stressed, or physically uncomfortable or in a foreign setting, and it’s in that shyness that much of my struggle resides. So travelling was really good in terms of doing this kind of work with yourself, because you’re forced to figure out how to free up your being and your essence, since there’s no familiarity to rely on. In taking that trip, and going down some rabbit holes, two very important songs from the record came to be: ‘Get Up’ and ‘Dance and Cry’.
I can’t say I loved the trip, but I’m grateful for it because the motivation for going was certainly fulfilled.
Once I got back from the trip, something opened up, and the remainder of the writing process was truly joyous and transcendental. It was something I really needed because I hadn’t felt that kind of creative euphoria for years and years.
In listening to the album, one song stuck out more than the others, in that most deal with the extremes, such as ‘Get Up’ and ‘Dance and Cry’, but then you have ‘It’s Alright’ which provides a validation and acceptance of wherever you are on the spectrum between the highs and lows.
That song definitely felt as though the record became complete when it landed. It tied up these polarities and punctuated the whole mission statement.
‘Get Up’ is still sitting in the Top 5, but do you have the next single lined up already?
Actually, we just released ‘It’s Alright’. Perhaps an atypical candidate for being a single, but on the other hand, I just think it has so much emotional power and relatability that for what it might lack in radio production format, it makes up for in its human quality.
You’re well known for your fantastic videos, so is there a video coming for that song?
Ya, there is—it’s being released on March 6th, and it’s a totally unique video compared to how we used to do things, in that we made a casting call to our fans and requested that they submit their own stories, their own tales of hardship and pain and grief and shame, along with a headshot, and once we selected the thirty or so fans, they came down to the studio and basically just emoted to the song—sang along, danced, just gave expressions, just try to tell their story through their face, and so there’s this montage of emotionally charged facial expressions produced by our own fan base. I think it’s a very special video, and whatever it is, it’s honest.
“Music videos can be a bit posturing, and I really don’t like that about them… so we just wanted to do something that was truly honest and vulnerable as possible.”
That sounds perfectly in line with the emotional power and connection of the song.
It just felt like the right thing to do. Music videos can be a bit posturing, and I really don’t like that about them. It felt like even to touch that quality with this song would be blasphemous, so we just wanted to do something that was truly honest and vulnerable as possible.
With the tour almost complete, what do you have on tap for this summer and fall? Festivals? Other tours?
We’ll be going to Europe in May which is exciting, since we haven’t been there in years, and we have an anchor date at the Escape Festival, so we’ll be putting together a tour around that, and we’ll be releasing ‘Get Up’ there as a single, and then lots of festivals.
We’ve found there’s been a real palpable quality of growth down in the U.S. on this tour, and we’d definitely like to fan that flame on this cycle. People are really engaged, and we’re doing a lot more sellouts south of the border, which is encouraging, since it’s a tough market. But it’s better than it’s ever been, so we’d like to go back.
Mother Mother will be playing a sold out show with special guests Said The Whale at the Algonquin Commons Theatre (1385 Woodroffe Ave) on Thursday March 7, 2019. Doors open at 7:30pm, show starts at 8pm.