Mothers: Nurturers of Process
By Lindsay McDuffie
–Mothers, from left to right: Drew Kirby—guitar; Kristine Leschper—vocals, guitar; Matt Anderegg—drums; Patrick Morales—bass (Photo by Secret Playground)
Record Store Day 2016 was a busy one for Birmingham. Athens-based Mothers came to town, so talented our city booked them twice: once at Seasick Records, once at The Syndicate Lounge later that evening. Standing up to critical acclaim from Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan, and Consequence of Sound, Mothers began as a solo project of Kristine Leschper and has since evolved into a four-piece, playing together for only a year and a half–a small amount of time for their level of artistry.
Mothers’ debut album, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired swells with feeling and precise instrumentation. Existential lyrics, somber vocals, and languid melodies transition into rousing, though altogether brief, experimental/indie-rock jams. A quick denouement–and it’s back to “the way things were.” When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired reincarnates every step of the way, endearing listeners to the wearier sides of life and, at the same time, encouraging us to maybe get out of bed before the sun goes down.
We got a chance to hang out with the band, ask a few questions, get to know ’em a little. The Syndicate Lounge’s cozy couches proved generative for a down-to-earth, humorous, and enlightening conversation.
[Mother Plug Music] Welcome to Birmingham! Have y’all ever been here before?
[Drew] My family’s from Alabama. So I’m from all over Alabama. Around Montgomery and Mobile. […] I did a tour with Fake Flowers that played at, The Nick? Is that right?
[Drew] They were playing a really racist country song [laughs]. That’s my only memory of The Nick. When we were loading in, there was a jukebox. And we were like [whispers] Where are we??? It was really strange.
[MPM] Yeah, The Nick is one of those places that’s been around for so long, you never really know who’s gonna show up.
[Drew] Ah, okay. But this place seems cool!
[MPM] Yeah! I love The Syndicate Lounge. There are a lot of neat venues here. Some, of course, aren’t able to last. It’s sad. But, that’s the way it goes.
Did y’all get a chance to check out any records at Seasick for Record Store Day?
[Kristine] Patrick bought a ton of records!
[MPM] Yeah?! What’d you get?
[Patrick] Man, just a bunch of weird stuff. I was just kind of grabbing random stuff. I dunno, Boko Haram. Do you know them?
[MPM] I’ve heard of them, but never listened to them. (Later realizing it was the terrorist organization, not the band, I had heard of.)
[Patrick] It’s this prog stuff from the Seventies. And then like, just some random Eighties pop records. What was the one that I showed you?
[Patrick] Cameo. So, yeah, just stuff like that.
MPM: “What’s that on your shirt?” Drew: “Shrek smoking Shrek. You found the headiest dude in Birmingham, Alabama, today.”
Y’all are from a big music city: Athens, Georgia. Our city is creating its own scene, too. I heard someone make the comparison that Austin, TX is like the prom queen, and Birmingham is like the nerd playing Dungeons & Dragons in their mom’s basement smoking weed. How would y’all characterize Athens, if we were to continue the metaphor?
[Drew] That nerd, like, ten years later.
[Kristine] Also, like, hungry teen. Like, expression-hungry teen. Angsty, young, individual, seeking something bigger.
[MPM] Do you feel that works for y’all? Do you feel plugged into that persona?
[Kristine] Yeah, yeah.
[Indistinguishable Bandmate] I guess.
[Kristine] It’s been weird, being away for so long. Honestly, it kind of feels weird to be so far outside of a scene that we were so much a part of before. We haven’t had very much time to play shows in town, because we’ve just been on tour a lot and we’ve been playing elsewhere. So it’s kind of weird, and it’s a little bit sad to feel disjointed and to feel like we’re not really a part of what’s happening there right now. Because we’re not spending much time in town.
[MPM] How long have y’all been away from town?
[Kristine] Pretty much all year. Since January, heavily. But we started touring in September of last year. And it’s really been on and off since then. And all of this year, we’ve been gone.
Kristine: “We don’t really know what we’re going for. We’re just sort of doing it.”
Let’s talk about y’alls music for a minute. Allow me to paint the picture: existential lyrics—I think that dials into the “finding something,” hungry-teen thing—melancholy vocals, slower melodies. But then, things transition into these rousing jams, musically. Where does that energy come from?
[Kristine] I think it comes from a disparity in all the different kinds of music we listen to. I think each of us has a very broad range of influences, just individually. Then all coming together, you know. We’re sort of coming from different backgrounds of music that we play, and we’re all songwriters. Which I think also has a hand in that evolution. But I think a big part of it too was that, when I was starting to write these songs, I was really interested in a lot of folk music. And sort of like ballads, singer-songwriter. I was listening to a lot of Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, The Microphones. So I started with that. And since then, I started listening to a lot of heavier music, more abrasive music. Things that are a bit more technical. So I think it’s just started to evolve more into that.
What are the rest of y’alls influences? What makes up the spectrum?
[Drew] Arab On Radar.
[Kristine] Yeah, Arab On Radar is a really abrasive noise-rock band that was really active in the early Two-Thousands, and they’re just really…scary. [Everyone laughs] Yeah, really scary.
[Matt] Ex Models is another one that’s in that realm.
[Drew] Lightening Bolt. At least it’s a bigger name. Maybe because they’re still active.
[Kristine] Lightening Bolt. And definitely Death Grips. Things that just exist in a totally different area of music that I don’t even know how to describe.
[Kristine] I know that Drew listens to a lot of hip hop and rap music, and I just like, that’s something that I don’t really dive into. But I think that everything you listen to has a hand in the stuff that you put out. Even if you don’t realize it, you can take the nuances of a genre or a type of music and insert them into what you’re doing.
[Matt] Music can have a passive effect on you. So even if you don’t mean to express it, you kind of “are what you eat.”
[MPM] And whatever comes out, comes out.
[Matt] To a certain extent.
[Kristine] Yeah. And we definitely want to handle it that way. Whatever comes out, comes out. I think that’s an important thing to know about how we operate. Our goal isn’t to be a certain type of music. And we don’t have a genre goal. We don’t really know what we’re going for. We’re just sort of doing it. And seeing where it ends up. We’re pulling from a lot of different kinds of music. It’s hard for me to describe it, exactly, because it’s changing all the time.
Your lyrics pivot around themes of letting go, whether you’re able to or not—for better, or worse. I’m writing a book right now where the main character, Amazing Anne, performs different stunts of “letting go” with her traveling circus. Do you have any advice for Amazing Anne?
[Patrick] She should read Alan Watts. He’s just an awesome writer. He writes a lot about that kind of thing.
[Drew] I probably need to read her book. She can probably help me more than I can help her.
[Kristine] Yeah I would probably learn more from her.
[Patrick] I think one thing this band does well that would fit into that is just kind of observing everyone in this band, they’re very process driven. And I think that’s an important aspect of “being”—focusing more on how you’re doing stuff and if you’re doing stuff, versus the stuff that comes out, the results.
Patrick: “Read Alan Watts.”
For my last question–I ask everyone this–what are y’alls favorite words?
[Patrick] Package. That was my favorite word growing up. I loved the way it sounded. Every time someone would say it, it would just make me happy.
[Drew] Obfuscate. That’s an amazing word. I love that word! It means to abstract something or side step it. Journalists use it a lot. Like, “obfuscate the facts” or something.
[Matt] Resplendent. And ostinato. It’s like a musical pattern that repeats. I’m not even that big on ostinatos in practice. I just like saying it.
[MPM] It’s like tostada, which I’ve always enjoyed saying.
[Kristine] Quesalupa. That’s my favorite word.