Stage Times: Mother Mother

Ryan Guldemond walks us back through his gig history – from finding a superfan in Solange to becoming the talk of TikTok

There is perhaps no better example of TikTok’s ability to change an artist’s fortune than the effect it’s had on indie quintet Mother Mother. For 15 years, the Canadian group toiled tirelessly, cultivating a devoted but modest following. In late 2020, that all changed when TikTok users discovered songs from 2008 album O My Heart and blasted their streaming numbers into the stratosphere.

It’s in the wake of this new-found fame that the band, led by siblings Ryan and Molly Guldemond, release their ninth album, Grief Chapter. Appropriately, given its title, the album’s themes incorporate death, mourning and grief. But whilst it may be their “death album”, as Ryan Guldemond confirms over Zoom, their spin on these morbid themes is rooted in the positive. 

“We’d been a band for 15 years before this [TikTok exposure] happened,” he says. “I think that naturally leads an older person into conversations about how slippery good fortune is… and that can be transferred to the good fortune of simply having a life. Any of us could be snuffed out on any given day. It was a bright time that birthed what is, ostensibly, a dark theme, but in fact it’s a positive theme as it’s using death as a reference point for life.”

Guldemond explains the fact that a younger generation had seized upon the band’s earliest work was creatively vindicating. “This was the music that the industry hadn’t resonated with because it was so strange,” he remarks. “And that was a big ‘er, duh!’ moment for me, because I was reminded that you’re supposed to make music you love. Of course, you’re not supposed to shape and mould it for whatever might be deemed the ‘industry standard’. You should only ever do it for yourself, and then get good at the art of letting go. If people resonate with it, that’s a bonus. That was my takeaway.”

With that in mind, and on the eve of the release of their fine new record, Guldemond delved into his memory bank from his musical life both with and without the band.

Mother Mother - Explode! (Official Music Video)

The gig that made me want to make music

During the grunge era, Molly and I went to a number of Lollapaloozas with our father. The festival atmosphere was very free, bohemian, and dangerous – it felt like something new was in the air. And that was very intoxicating. Although I was too young to really understand it, I knew I wanted more of whatever it was. 

That beautiful Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington makes you feel like you’re on Mars, especially as the sun is going down. A particular memory was seeing Soundgarden there, and being struck by Chris Cornell’s presence as he channelled his words into that music. That was very, very powerful indeed. 

The first

When I was in my early 20ps, I studied jazz guitar at Vancouver Community College. That’s where I started the band. Music school wasn’t like a bunch of people jamming. It was incredibly studious, difficult, and very cutthroat. But I loved it. I got so much out of it. Those were some of my favourite times of my life: being young and playing guitar for eight hours a day. I shared a bachelor apartment with my girlfriend, and I’d go to the bathroom and practice jazz scales while she slept. 

I brought the very first incarnation of Mother Mother to my “Performance Technique” class. We were just called “Mother” then and that name was listed on the little recital pamphlet. We played ‘Ball Cap’, which ended up on our first album, and a couple of others. I just remember the energy in the room changing as we played. Everyone was present and dialled in, and it was special. It felt like such a good omen. It felt like what we were doing had legs. 

The best

When we were unsigned and starting out, it was really important for us to go beyond Vancouver to places like Toronto and Montreal. But we came from nothing. We had no money and no means. In Canada, there is grant money for the arts, which is a wonderful thing. As an unsigned and independent act, we didn’t expect to receive it, but we did. It allowed us to travel and play one of the world’s most revered jazz festivals, the Montreal Jazz Festival. 

We played our hearts out, and I saw passers-by poke their heads up with smiles on their faces, seemingly liking what our strange band was doing. It was summer and the stage felt magical. It was so neat to be on the other side of the country on grant money, playing this prestigious festival and, most importantly, making these people in the crowd happy, en masse.

Mother Mother - Hayloft I (Official Video)

The worst

Our worst might also be the best. About 16 years ago, we played SXSW in Austin. Jasmine Parkin had just replaced Debra-Jean [Creelman] as the vocalist and keyboardist in the band. Debra-Jean had a big voice, so I can imagine that people who were really connected to the music she sang would be a huge fan of her: a “my favourite Beatle”, type of thing. For one of Jasmine’s first gigs, we played this little club at SXSW and there was this guy a foot from her face, screaming, “Fraud! Fake! This isn’t the real Mother Mother! Get off the stage! Booo!” Just hardcore heckling Jasmine. 

This woman suddenly comes along with a lot of pizzazz and confidence. She gives him a verbal lashing and kicks him out of the club. We were at the merch table afterwards meeting whoever wanted to meet us – which was very few people at that time – and that lady comes up. It was Solange Knowles. 

It felt like only 15 people in the world knew who we were back then. The fact that Solange was one of them and dealt with that guy so beautifully was super mad. We learned that she was a massive fan of the band and had memorised our first album. She just glowed with praise for that early work. While that gig was happening, it was the worst, but it probably turned into the best. 

Did you stay in touch?

No, we didn’t really stay in touch, sadly. 

A Mother Mother x Solange collab needs to happen. 

Yeah, that’d be cool!

The smallest

On our last European tour, two fans missed the meet and greet in Hamburg. They showed up late and were distraught, so we invited them into the green room and gave them a little private concert. Ali [Siadat – Mother Mother drummer] tapped on a table and we played all these songs in a way that we’d never played them before. It was so low-pressure that it opened us up and we reinterpreted our music in a playful and natural way. And these two fans were over the moon. It was really special, just the seven of us in a room together, and on my birthday too!

Mother Mother - Normalize (Official Music Video)

The biggest 

In the summer of 2022, we opened for Imagine Dragons in Europe on a two-month tour of stadiums. The first gig was in Latvia in front of 20,000 people and that felt pretty massive. But then the second night we played to 70,000 in Prague, and it was just a whole different feeling. Very out-of-body. And humbling too. We thought, “Okay, this is a different sport. It’s another language and we don’t know how to speak it yet”. 

We quickly learned that you need to be bigger in every way: from your energy, to how your use your intonation when you speak between the songs; something grander and more of an oration as opposed to something subtle like you’d get in a smaller room. And then of course, you run around, wave your arms. You use the space. It was a great experience. 

Would you like to achieve stadium status as Mother Mother?

We’re always looking to evolve and elevate. I think the dream is to play big spaces with the production infrastructure to have a hell of a good time. I think that’s where every rock band wants to go. It’s loud music and the extent to which it gets louder is the extent to which the space can grow. 

The weirdest

We once played this little acoustic gig for a group of meditators at a Transcendental Meditation society in Vancouver. We sat down and meditated with them first for twenty minutes and then played right after. I remember thinking, “How am I supposed to meditate when I’m thinking about this gig I’ve got to play in 20 minutes?” It was a terrible meditation for me, but a good gig, because everyone was peaceful having zen-ed out for 20 minutes!

Mother Mother start their UK tour on 17 February. Find tickets here.