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Ryan Guldemond of Mother Mother on 'Grief Chapter,' TikTok Discovery, and How Examining Death Can Give More Meaning to Life

'We embrace our strangeness, and we think certain aspects of unviability are a blessing.'

qmother mother by mackenzie walker sm
Source: Mackenzie Walker

Mother Mother's ninth album, 'Grief Chapter,' was released this month.

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Canada-based Mother Mother has a unique sound, blending elements of indie rock, pop, and folk with lyrics that explore themes of love, loss, identity, and mental health. Frontperson Ryan Guldemond, keyboardists and vocalists Molly Guldemond and Jasmin Parkin, bassist Ali Siadat and drummer Mike Young touch on all of the above on their latest release, Grief Chapter.

For Ryan Guldemond and his sister Molly, the group's musical journey started on Quadra Island, British Columbia, an environment so far removed from mainland Canada that it takes two ferries to reach the nearest city, Vancouver. The uniqueness of their vocal harmonies – with Molly and Parkin encircling Ryan's delivery has helped revive songs like 2008's "Hayloft," which became something of a TikTok sensation, exposing the band to an even bigger audience.

The force of TikTok discovery proved so strong that Mother Mother recorded "Hayloft II" in 2022 as a sequel to "Hayloft," with a narrative that expounds (and concludes) the original's dark story of love, death and revenge. Guldemond has acknowledged the importance of their discovery in social media, explaining to Rolling Stone: "(it's a) high honor and huge compliment whenever it's suggested that our music might serve as an adequate soundtrack to a courageous journey of self-discovery that often rubs against societal norms."

Q caught up with Guldemond via Zoom to talk about the album, the group's earliest influences, and how examining death can give more meaning to life.

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Source: MAR / Capital Pictures / MEGA

Ryan and Molly Guldemond, Ali Siadat, Jasmin Parkin and Mike Young, The Forum, London, November 2022.

Your sound for this album is very muscular, compared to previous releases.

I think sonically, it is. It is very forward and muscular and sturdy. It stands on its own two feet, as it were. It’s got a good physique. It would do well in a street fight. [Laughs]

Is album sequencing still important to you?

Certainly, it's still valuable to make an album for the sake of an album, to be a purist in that way. I think you can be a purist while simultaneously adapting to the modernity of the music industry and a singles-based market, as people like to say. But I think, in truth, people wanna go on a ride, and people want to take in a full story. I know firsthand when I peruse what these younger fans are talking about when they listen to Mother Mother albums. They will dial in on a cross-fade between songs, where there's a trail at the end of a song, and it spills over into the next song, like classic album architecture. They love that, and they will talk about it. So that only empowers us to still carry the torch of making an album in the classic sense.

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How do you feel about the role TikTok has played helping fans find you?

TikTok is a huge melting pot of positive and negative and neutral expressions and information. I think the people who connected with us were looking for something positive. And so it's just the vehicle for like-minded entities to connect. And you know we thank our lucky stars for TikTok, that it was this conduit for a discovery, a rediscovery, and reinvigoration of our career. For our lives. We have nothing but reverence for that story.

Source: ℗ © Sony/atv Music Publishing Canada, Famfam Music ?Mother Mother / YouTube

Mother Mother - Nobody Escapes (Official Music Video)

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A lot of it does seem community-based, which seems to translate to your live shows.

Some of those sweeps of the camera were at festivals where we were playing to just our own crowd. And yeah, it's amazing. We have not played shows with this type of energy in 15-plus years of touring until now.

Where did you see that shift, specifically?

It's the youth. There is a magic potency between young people and music, where it's not sonic wallpaper that accompanies you in your life. It is the inroad to discovering who you are, so it means the world. For whatever reason, a lot of these younger people have found some kind of home here, it seems. For many young people who maybe don't feel at home, in their home or in their skin, or in the world. And I think when you make that kind of discovery, it does unearth a lot of passion and to bear witness to that is very powerful. Especially in the live show when you're breathing in the same oxygen source.

Source: ℗ © Mother Mother / YouTube

Mother Mother - European Tour 2022 Recap

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With Grief Chapter, the overwhelming arc is death, and how we can power through that in our mature years when we become complacent in life. How did that theme come into focus?

Yeah, I don't know exactly why the death theme unveiled itself so clearly during Grief Chapter. Maybe it has to do with spending so much time around younger people who are gripped with the passion of discovering life and themselves in life, and then relating that to your own adult experience that does become somewhat staid and... what was the word you used? Complacent! Complacent and resigned.

And then you're reminded that even though you are moving into a more mature chapter of life, there is an opportunity to be a child, to have that awe-struck wonder, and to have that fire guiding your path. And I think it's easy to factor in death and the inevitable into those ideations, because what better reference point for how to live?

qgrief chapter artwork
Source: Warner Bros. Records

Mother Mother - Grief Chapter

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The wave of feelings and emotions that I saw in that crowd is such a heavy connection. Is it the way that you convey the message?

With songs, you can sing about anything that has melodic power and harmonic interest, and it doesn't matter if you don't understand, or if you can't relate, you can still love it. I think so many of songs we love most are ones we don't understand, just because the music gets into our bones and moves us. You hope that you're writing great music, regardless of the lyrical reach. But I think everyone thinks about death. And I think everyone thinks about life. And maybe it just takes a song to posit that the two are just so incredibly entwined, to wake up a young person into realizing that, "Oh, my! My thoughts about life are, in fact synonymous to thinking about death." If it is alienating to young people because they are so far from that conclusion, we hope that maybe it enlightens them to their mortal coil. Because I really truly believe that it is the best inroad for living more fully and more gracefully and more reverentially for this strange miracle we find ourselves in. And that is truly what we want for everyone. We want that for ourselves. We want that for our families, for our communities. And we want that for our fans. And if the music has any deeper function than just making people happy because music makes people happy energetically, it's that it helps them wake up to their beautiful life, and that they can live it more fully and happily.

Do you think some of that comes from the way you grew up?

Yeah, maybe there is something to living on a small island that's you know, a ferry from a small island that's a ferry from the mainland. It's twice removed from the mainland, and I think remoteness and isolation can birth curiosity. I've certainly always had that mind, kind of bursting with questions. Then things like music come along and they give the best version of an answer.

How did you discover music when you were young? Were there radio stations? Did you have a CD player? Did you actually have a favorite record store that you went to?

There was no radio. But I had a Walkman at one point in time, and I had great parents with great tastes in music. My dad introduced me and my sister Molly to the Pixies when I was 10 years old. Up until that point, I was listening to a lot of classic rock, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and things of that nature, which felt very rebellious and cool. But when I heard The Pixies, that just felt, like, extra-terrestrially cool. Otherworldly cool. And it felt like me. It was the first time I heard music that I truly wanted to embody and emulate, or at least channel and use as a springboard to finding my own authenticity and originality. So that was a powerful moment when I was young.

Then my mom was a big jazz head, and so there was a sophistication of music that was ever present and championed. Like, "Hey, music can have a depth beyond four chords." That inspired me to enroll in jazz school as a very young adult and study the language more deeply and get into the mathematical grace of music theory. Which certainly spilled into writing. Then my efforts in becoming a better musician converged and spit out these songs.

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Source: MAR / Capital Pictures / MEGA

...Fire guiding your path. Onstage at The Forum, London, November 2022.

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The title track is the last song on the album -- why was it important to have that as the closer?

It’s the perfect last song. It's almost like a little prayer at the end of a very passionate sermon about life and death. The title track works gloriously in the last spot, just as much in the first spot. If we're speaking conventionally, I think it is a great bookend song. In either case, I don't believe the title track should just live somewhere in the murk of the middle of an album and also it's the most gentle song. After you finish a big journey, it's nice to lay down.

The album is so tough and physical. I felt like "Grief Chapter" would just get clobbered if it was mixed up in all that energy. It needed to be the sigh at the end.

I think the music is compelled to take the composer on a journey, and if the composer is up for it, that journey can become quite colorful and treacherous and vast. Then once they get spit out the other side of that writing process there’s the feeling of having gone on a journey. Then yes, you are inspired then, to offer that to the listener. But I feel like the music kind of has a bit of a mind of its own, and you never go into writing with a pre-meditation about wanting to do something elaborate or brief, or crafting a journey, or even sentimentalizing. In a certain way, I find that all those preemptive ideas work against the flow state and doing what the music wants to do.

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Source: Mackenzie Walker

'With your feet on the air and your head on the ground.'

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What is your relationship with your sister like when it come to music?

Molly's certainly the most blunt, and probably the hardest to please with regards to the music, and I think that's great. It's nice to have a really honest barometer there, and someone you trust, and also someone you want to impress. She's my big sister. I want her to think I'm cool. I want her to like the music and not just because she's my sister, but because she has cool taste in music. And so, yeah, there's that little sibling trying to please their older sibling kind of mechanism in place.

There is so much in this album: I listened to "Normalize" and went, "We’re venturing into some hard metal here."

Yeah, the metal bridge! We were searching for the word. What is it, normalized? Is it "no-more lies?" There are a few words floating around that syllabically needed to be the big word in the chorus, but weren't fitting. And then we found the word normalize, and I think that inspired the broader theme, which was pushing against conventions of normalcy. And so the thought was, "Well, if we're gonna sing about that, then we should embody that in the composition, and we should make this song as abnormal as possible." Put our money where our mouth is.

When it came time to get to the bridge, it's like, let's change it up. Let's turn it on its ear and dip our toes into the heavy metal. Why not? What is normal? That was the overhanging question mark.

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Source: ℗ © Sony/atv Music Publishing Canada, Famfam Music ?Mother Mother / YouTube

Mother Mother - The Matrix (Official Music Video)

Have there been any misinterpretations of your music based on your stage performances?

I mean, it's two different experiences when you play to your people. We're all in this together. It's a family reunion, and you're speaking the same language. And then when you play to new audiences – if you're playing to a stadium full of Imagine Dragons fans – all of them are not going to get the Mother Mother experience. And you're going to look out and see a lot of blank faces.

And it's a compliment, really. Because we embrace our strangeness, and we think certain aspects of unviability are a blessing. It makes you different. And I think in the field of music, where there's just so much information, so many people vying for a spot and attention. It's good to be different, even if that means you're never going to reach mass appeal, because it's too fissuring your sound. I’d take that over being the biggest band in the world and sounding like another band that just didn't get there for some reason.

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A lot of musicians that I speak with say, “It's been Plan A all the way. There was no Plan B.” So the album’s coming out soon. Do you have a Plan A?

I think we'll just try to be the best ambassadors for this body of work and this offering as we can be in the context of performing it, speaking to it and representing it. You know it's funny: you make a record, and you're really in the kiln with this music. You're in the fire, and the thing gets made, and you kinda just need to let go because it was so intimate, the gestation period. And it's almost not really ours anymore. You know, we let it free. It will connect or it won't. It doesn't matter regardless. We will stand behind it all the way because that's our job. But as we do that, we're going to be making new music. We're going to be looking for the next thing. Our part in connecting to it is over. Now we represent it. Now we do the job of promoting it and touring it. We hope that now some people here on this planet can have a similar relationship that we had to it six months ago when we were making it, and that is positive for them. Every time you make a record, you just get better at the art of letting go, because it's just so nonsensical, this industry. And when things take hold, look at our case, for example. It took 13 years for music that we thought was amazing back in 2008 for other people to think was amazing. And maybe Grief Chapter will be a big hit in like 2080.

When you create stuff, it's like you are risking not being here when when your work is celebrated. Because in the time frame of the universe, the universe doesn't care about our fiscal periods. It's like things will happen when they're meant to, and that can take a really long time. So yes, you must let go of expectations when releasing an album. But one should rise to the occasion of doing everything they can to represent and act helpfully on behalf of that album. And that's what we intend to do.


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