An Interview With Mother
Two weeks ago, a new Brooklyn band called Mother dropped their first track, "Easy," on Soundcloud. Within a week, "Easy" had received 60,000 listens and hit the top ten of Hype Machine.
Two weeks ago, a new Brooklyn band called Mother dropped their first track, "Easy," on Soundcloud. Within a week, "Easy" had received 60,000 listens and hit the top ten of Hype Machine. Without any information about the band other than the infectious, minimal groove of their first song, blogs started using the word "mysterious." Who exactly is Mother?
Well guys, all you had to do was ask. Mother is a distinctly open and contactable four-piece, made of Jimmy, Penn, Simon, and Darren. They formed in late 2013 and immediately began recording the material that will become their first releases. Three days after "Easy" arrived on the internet, they played their first show, first on the bill at the Echo in LA, at a night thrown by the record label Neon Gold. They have no PR machine, and until Neon Gold recently stepped in to host "Easy" on their blog, had no label backing. In the short time they've been together, they've already got a full-length's worth of material, recorded in various apartments across Echo Park, where Simon lives, Brooklyn, where the other three have been friends for years, and Chicago, where they mixed and mastered.
A lot of the reason blogs started mentioning mystery, and imagining some kind of imminent grand unveiling, is because "Easy" is such a freaking good song for such a young band. It's not polished, but it shines, and it has a professionalism to it that you only understand once you know the background of each of Mother's members. Darren is the bassist in New York band Rathborne, Simon is the New Zealand-born guitarist in LA band No, Penn is an actor best known for his role in Gossip Girl, whose musical skills were recently seen in the Jeff Buckley biopic Greetings From Tim Buckley, and Jimmy is a programmer and producer rapidly overtaking Dev Hynes as the hippest producer in town, responsible for the development of Lolawolf and Reputante. Because of Jimmy's involvement, the band had a producer straight away, and, as soon as they started hitting on a sound, they began writing and finishing material in a swift and unfussy way that perfectly suits the way we consume music in 2014.
According to a factsheet, the band's influences range from post-disco to experimental rock to "everything DFA" (Jimmy loves James Murphy), but what you'll hear in the music is each of their individual influences filtered into a minimalist landscape—only the essential parts according to the needs of the song. "There are no guitar chords on the record," they point out.
I wanted to be the band's first interview, but as you'll read, was beaten to it by Puff Daddy. Still, I caught up with Mother a couple days after their Echo show, as they were preparing for their first video shoot with New York filmmaker Mia Lidofsky. At this point in time, they're still working on a plan like any brand new band would, taking each event as it comes, albeit with the advantage of four people who have already paid some dues in the creative world. Your next chance to see them is at Pianos New York on March 22, a new single and EP are forthcoming on Neon Gold Records.
Noisey: Hi guys, is this your first ever interview?
Simon: These guys just shot today for Revolt TV.
Penn: Yeah, it's Puff Daddy's new site, you know him?
Never heard of that guy.
Jimmy: Depending on when this is going up this is the first online interview.
Phew! Hope we beat Diddy. What have you been saying so far? There's not that much information out there, so do you have an idea of what you want people to know?
Darren: It's the obvious generic thing, we just want to get the music out there. It's very simple, there's no mystery.
Penn: [The mystery thing] was actually kind of an accident.
Jimmy: Yeah, Neon Gold put the song up and that was it. Two days later we played a show. There was no mystery involved, we're just a new band.
With all your other commitments, do you feel like you're going to respond to the demand or take it as it comes? You gonna ramp up the promo, or stick to the original plan of doing your own projects?
Darren: We're definitely moving forward with this, we're gearing up. There's another single up in two weeks, we're shooting the video today in Downtown LA.
I heard you guys have a full record's worth of material already? Did you do most of that in the first two sessions in LA and New York, or in the two weeks you spend in Chicago?
Penn: We recorded the first half of the record in the first 5 days in echo park, and then because of that momentum, we spent a couple days in new york, then we spent two weeks in chicago, half of which was just mixing and mastering.
Simon: And we added a couple songs cause we thought, fuck it, let's just do a full length. The diversity of the music happened because of three different sessions.
Penn: Yeah, which happened because of time, and us all going through different things.
Darren: Chicago was big with experimenting with actual sound and tone, getting into the vibe of the record.
Penn: We knew we had something so we could take a little bit more time, more than a day and a half. that's why certain tracks are much more stripped down (like easy), and then something you hear later, is deeper. cause we were just going deeper.
Your factsheet mentions bands as diverse as Goblin, Larry Levan, Arthur Russell, Geneva Jacuzzi… were you doing a lot of listening while you recorded?
Jimmy: Actually, we listen to so much music generally, that while we were recording we weren't really listening to anything, we were just writing and trying to get into a creative headspace, and boucning ideas off each other. All we do is listen to music, so this was our opportunity to mess around with tone and patches, and different pedals, finding the tones we like to say what we wanted to say. We weren't trying to listen to something and borrow.
Penn: A lot of that was a function of time. at first we were trying an output of a song a day and that left us at the end of the day exhausted and not wanting to listen to a damn thing.
Simon: The funny thing that happened for me was that you don't know what everyone else is listening to, you're literally making a song together. Penn just presses a note on the keyboard and everyone reacts to that, rather than going, "Oh I was listening to this Arthur Russell song today let's choose a vibe."
Penn: Everything started pretty simply—or maybe naturally.
Are you the kind of band that bonded over your influences?
Jimmy: We all listen to a lot of hip-hop. We just picked the artists that we all kind of dig and respect and are into.
Simon: Jimmy is the producer, and the producer has a big role. A couple of those artists you mentioned are jimmy's favorites of all time.
Penn: We're actually really diverse. That came out not just in the sound, but in the way we would write. I come from a much more R&B and hip-hop and soul background.
I remember you being a D'Angelo fan...
Penn: Yes I am. And that's sort of one of my influences, but it's filtered through Jimmy whose influences are so radically different. That's the phenomenon that you'll see—all of us plug in to the band in a different way.
I remember you doing a show at the Living Room in New York a while back with some R&B material, and I hear a lot of that soul/R&B influence in your vocals.
Penn: Yeah, in some ways though I sing even less in Mother. I would start singing and someone would say, "Do that less."
Simon: We all have a lot of input with each others' performances.
Penn: We would toy around, and the first track was impossible, but eventually we found we had to chime in with each other less and less. The first five days in Echo Park were the formative days where we found our sound. "Easy" was one of those tracks, and that's where I think Simon found his airtight funk riffs, which I don't think he's played much before. With me, I've always done the R&B thing, but with Mother, I would do something and Jimmy would be like "Okay less," and I'd be like, "Awesome." Darren's always played kind of Motown...
Darren: It's the same thing—I'd start playing something and everyone would be say, okay do that, but do it 70% less. We all have our influences, but we all serviced the ego of the song, for the sake of the space we're in - whatever space that was. A big thing that Simon did is that there are no guitar chords played on the record at all. There's no chords on the entire record. Also, with the flow and dynamics of each song, that was all felt and not calculated. If we wanted to go big with the song, it would happen naturally, with everyone clicking at the same time, not intentionally.
And most of the parts were recorded with analogue principles?
Jimmy: Yes, I program all the beats with samples from old records, and 808s, and Oberheim DMX drum machines, then for the rest of the parts, we use an actual Prophet, an actual Moog. If a sound is manipulated, it's through pedals.
Penn: We were twisting knobs.
Simon: Once you find the tone, you print it.
Jimmy: So if we like the thing we did, we can't change it. we can't change the sound.
Did you end up doing a lot of the vocals in one take?
Penn: We comp'd them until we found the vibe. Then we would say, "Let's try this again," then I'd print the whole thing.
Jimmy: We were writing as we were recording. None of the songs were written before we recorded them, so we kept a lot of the practice takes that were happening as the songs were being written, it just added to the feel.
Yeah, there's a sense of immediacy about the music that's really attractive. How about the drum programming? Did that happen as the song was being written?
Jimmy: So the first drumbeat you hear is not the drumbeat that's going to make it on the track. we'll do a kick and a snare and bpm we like, and Darren will groove on the bass, and then these guys will go for a cigarette and I'll work on the drums a little. The drums are the first thing and the last thing that are being worked on on any song.
When you did your first show were people freaking out over "Easy?"
Simon: Yeah, it was weird, people knew it. But they weren't making a big deal about finding out who we were or anything.
Jimmy: Yeah, the deal with that is Neon Gold dug it and we dug them, so they put it up n their site. We didn't expect it to take off like that. When it happened, we thought, this is cool.
Are you going to keep working with Neon Gold?
Jimmy: Definitely, but we're not sure to what extent. It just looks like this is the route the band is going to take.
Darren: [Neon Gold] are friends that I just shared the music with, they were super excited about it.
Jimmy: They basically just put it on their site, and sent it to a blog. There's no PR for this band.
Jimmy: No one really asked us any questions. We're not trying to keep any mystery here. Amrit at Revolt asked us to do an interview today and we thought he was cool so we went along.
Simon: At the show people didn't even notice or realize or talk about [Penn].
Penn: I don't think my involvement really matters that much. It's incidental. I always thought we shouldn't be too precious with it.
Jimmy: We know a lot of actors cause we're in the arts. Almost all the actors we know have bands, so it's not weird to us.
Yeah and a lot of musicians are trying to make short films, and stuff. It's kind of normal I think, especially these days. You're all in a lot of other bands too, but is this Penn's first band?
Penn: I've done a lot of music on my own, but this is the first band.
Jimmy: Penn's jumped onstage with us when Reputante played.
Penn: I've always been looking for the right time, and it finally was the right time and the right people.
With all your other projects, are you going to find time to commit to Mother?
Simon: We're all touring all the time, and Penn might get a movie or something, but we're organized. We have a schedule for the next few months.
Jimmy, do you see yourself taking on more production work? Seems like that side of things is really taking off for you.
Jimmy: Yes, producing records and experimenting with different artists is most appealing. Creating content and expressing...A lot of [what I've worked on] will never be released but some of will. Everything from a death/swamp metal project to a 2 hour ambient noise drone in the key of F# I did with a shoemaker from Queens are amongst the projects you won't hear, those are for me. But there's some fresh pop shit I'm workin' on as well. I'd love to work with A$ap Rocky, he's dope. I heard some of his new instrumental record, totally tripped out, very rad, very talented.
Emma-Lee Moss is on Twitter and makes music as Emmy The Great - @Emmy_The_Great.