Band To Watch: Mothers
Mothers’ debut single, “No Crying In Baseball,” is less of a confession than it is a concise, targeted purging. “I guess my tongue was softer then, but no one’s trying and I’m sick of it!” Kristine Leschper sings. “There’s no crying in baseball / Try and understand / Their chapped lips begging me over and over again.” She delivers this sermon in what some would call talk-singing, expelling her stream-of-consciousness lyrics with neither a smile nor a sneer, her voice builds and breaks down as she shouts “again.” When “No Crying In Baseball” was released, Leschper said that it was a song about being willfully vulnerable, about showing your offender where it hurts without resorting to hysterics, about realizing that weaknesses can be shouted and celebrated and owned without embarrassment. It’s crafted like an argument, albeit an internal one, and its declarative, abrasive, unrestrained delivery introduced us to Leschper’s powerful presence and the heart she wears on a tattered sleeve.
But that first song isn’t exactly an indication of what Mothers sound like – at least, it’s not what they sound like yet. The band will release their debut LP sometime in 2016, and though the themes found in “No Crying In Baseball” echo throughout Leschper’s songwriting, this forthcoming work shows much more instrumental restraint. “Things have gotten a little bit skewed as ‘No Crying In Baseball’ was released,” Leschper says, as she explains to me that the song was written and recorded in the months after Mothers pieced together their debut. That single is a B-side, an outlier that sounds like a clear departure from the coming full-length.
Mothers were originally conceived as Leschper’s solo project in 2013, a moniker that she used when playing around Athens, GA, where she moved to study printmaking at the Lamar Dodd School Of Art. Throughout that period, Mothers garnered what Leschper considers a “small but devoted” following, some of whom were resistant to her decision to expand the project into a full-fledged band. One of those fans was Mothers’ eventual drummer, Matthew Anderegg, who befriended Leschper through the intimate Athens music scene. Both Leschper and Anderegg describe it as an everyone-knows-everyone kind of place; a city with a small-town feel. But Athens has a long, storied presence on the national radar as a place deeply grounded in the arts, and especially in music. That makes it a hard place to escape, and though Mothers intend on staying their for the time being, Leschper expects to move on in the somewhat foreseeable future. “It’s so wonderfully cheap to live here,” Leschper says when I ask her to describe exactly what attracted her to the city in the first place. “But that’s also the problem,” Anderegg adds to underscore her point, half-jokingly. Sometime after they met, he invited Leschper to record in his home and the two started to add to her arrangements, eventually incorporating Anderegg’s drums and eventually inviting guitarist Drew Kirby in to work out the rest.
In December of 2014, Mothers recorded their debut album with Drew Vandenberg — who has worked alongside bands like Deerhunter, Toro Y Moi, and of Montreal — at Chase Park Transduction, a well-known and much-respected recording studio in Athens. It was Vandenberg who first introduced the band to of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, when he came to one of Mothers’ elaborate, multi-disciplinary performances in Athens. Barnes would later ask the band to open for of Montreal on tour. (It’s also worth nothing that Deerhunter’s Josh McKay plays vibraphone on some of Mothers’ as-yet-unreleased songs). After finishing the album, Leschper and Anderegg recorded “No Crying In Baseball” at Anderegg’s home. Leschper developed new confidence in the months after recording her debut full-length, and the band began to pursue a more dissonant sound. That song, and the material that the band has been working on since they finished recording their debut, invokes post-hardcore and math rock, and Leschper credits bands like Hella, Tera Melos, Parquet Courts, and Lightning Bolt for the development of a more acerbic sound. (Similarly, Anderegg invokes Protomartyr, Wire, and This Heat when discussing the band’s developing instrumental structures.) Though that new material is a long way off from being heard, Mothers’ forthcoming debut expands on Leschper’s solo work, integrating instrumentation arranged by she, Anderegg, Kirby, and bassist Patrick Morales, while still maintaining some semblance to songs that she’s performed on her own since the project began. Though a lot of the collection could be examined through the lens of the interpersonal, Leschper’s narrators make a greater point when we imagine them completely alone, combating a series of thoughts and predicaments brought on by her own conscience — at war with themselves.
Such is the case with “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t,” and when I ask Leschper to explain the song’s meaning to me, she asks for a few minutes to collect her thoughts. “I can talk a little bit about this one. It may not be terribly eloquent.” The third or fourth time Anderegg saw Leschper perform as Mothers, she mentioned completing a new song that could be worthy of drum inclusion, and so, in a sense, “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” was the first that she clearly envisioned growing into something much bigger than her initial solo demos, though it wasn’t until midway through their album session that the band decided to record it. The song takes several turns before Leschper’s voice tightens and sucks all of the space out of it, tugging you into a quiet moment as the tempo slows and she sings: “You have eyes in every room / But you won’t see me / You won’t see me / You won’t see me walk away / Once i was more than just a song to play / On your haunted tape / I don’t want to be away.” Leschper’s voice, her cadences, are often likened to Angel Olsen’s, but her lyrics, the distinct way that she places words on a page, aren’t comparable. Hers aren’t big, wide-open discussions of relational decay; they’re snippets of philosophy that beg to be parsed. And, as tempting as it is to prescribe “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” with an interpretation, or unburden one’s own hurts onto hers, it feels more fitting to let Leschper speak to its context, in her own words:
“It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” is essentially kind of a battle — the internal struggle between ego and self doubt, which is something that I find myself thinking about a lot. It’s a problem that a lot of creative people struggle with, and there’s very rarely like a good balance between them. It’s either that you have a huge ego or crippling self-doubt and there’s little happy medium between the two. This song is kind of about letting go of something that’s toxic in yourself — like a relationship — rising above it and being stronger in order to not need that thing anymore. The song talks a lot about self-doubt, about not being sure of your place in the universe and questioning how much you can deal with the person that you are. That’s what I mean by the last line, when I say: “I don’t like myself when I’m awake.”
That’s when all of the nebulous intensity of these songs can be pinned-down and interrogated; when you realize that listening to Mothers requires a kind of self-reckoning. The band is in New York for CMJ this week; check out their show dates below.
10/13 6:30pm @ Cameo (Cameo and TAYF)
10/14 1:45pm @ Pianos upstairs (Kanine, Dr. Martens, Culture Collide party)
10/15 4:10pm @ Cake Shop (NYC Taper party)
10/16 4:10pm @ Berlin (Rosquatch showcase)
10/16 9pm @ Rough Trade (Aquarium Drunkard party)
10/17 2pm @ South Street Seaport
10/17 7pm @ Pianos (Bird Dog Promo)
“No Crying In Baseball” / “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” is out now via Grand Jury. Buy it now on iTunes.