Fredericton trio resurfaces with first release since 2013’s ‘Problems’.
Matt Carter | @M_J_C73
“We wrote this album a lot differently than we usually write,” Penelope Stevens tells Grid City Magazine. “Usually things kind of happen song by song and we piece them together in an order than makes sense, but this time around we didn’t really have anything prepared.”
It’s been two years since Motherhood’s last release, Problems, surfaced via cassette and digital download. With a total running time of just 12:51, Problems was more of a tease than anything else, especially when compared to its epic predecessor Diamonds + Gold, the first recording to properly introduce the band’s solidified lineup of Brydon Crain (guitar/vocals), Penelope Stevens (bass/keys/vocals) and Adam Sipkema (drums/vocals), following various early incarnations of the group.
While Problems may have lacked in terms of running time, it made up for any perceived shortcomings by presenting the group as an even more polished, exciting and completely unpredictable ensemble, capable of crafting engaging sounds and structures completely their own.
But just because they haven’t kept a consistent release schedule doesn’t mean that Motherhood have been sitting idle these past few years. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite, which has a lot to do with why it’s taken this long for the group to get back into the studio.
As members of the Shifty Bits Cult, a Fredericton-based artist’s collective they helped found, the members of Motherhood along with other cult members, have been busy working on their own individual projects, hosting an annual circus, holding super-successful community meetings that have sparked a flurry of new artistic endeavors by city artists and musicians, performing in other bands and acting simply as a motivating force for worthwhile undertakings in the province’s capital.
In the past few months they also found time to participate in the first season of the Greville Tapes Music Club, pairing up with former Halifax musician Catriona Sturton (Plumtree) to produce the series’ first EP. And finally, in addition to touring that project, they also squeezed in a recent tour to Ottawa and back with fellow Fredericton musicians, Cellarghost. So, given the band’s collective creative output over the past couple of years, even the most diehard Motherhood followers have to go easy on the trio. They’ve been busy.
“Two weeks before going into the studio we didn’t think we were going to be able to do it. We had a lot of different pieces but no songs.”
The band finally returned to the studio in the late winter and created what may be their most dynamic and challenging work to date. Baby Teeth builds upon Motherhood’s established reputation as a boundless creative force, following inspiration in any and all directions while retaining the sonic characteristics founded on both Diamonds + Gold and Problems. But the new album didn’t come easily. After such a long break in crafting new material, they quickly realized that in order to write the next chapter in the Motherhood discography, especially one that could hold its own next to their existing catalog, they’d have to really work for it. There were no new songs banked or stored away waiting for the next album to happen. Baby Teeth began as a clean slate.
“This time we just came into the jam space as we’re like, ‘OK. Let’s write a record’. We ended up with a bunch of little pieces and it took some time to fit them all together,” said Stevens. “It was almost like completing a puzzle. Two weeks before going into the studio we didn’t think we were going to be able to do it. We had a lot of different pieces but no songs. Part of the struggle with this is that it had been two years since Problems and we hadn’t written anything. It was weird getting back into that.”
The band booked studio time with Saint John engineer Corey Bonnevie – founder of Monopolized Records and a member of praiseworthy indie act, Little You, Little Me – completely aware that the material they planned to record had yet to be written.
“We had a pretty tight schedule,” said Crain, “because we had to go and do the Greville Tapes recording just before we went to do this recording and so we were writing up until the last minute.”
“A big difference with writing this album was that the lyrical content came later, which is usually were we start.”
Unlike previous Motherhood albums, the process that led to the creation of Baby Teeth involved working against the clock with the band scrambling to link several ideas together into one cohesive thought.
“Starting to write an album is always a little intimidating,” said Sipkema. “This time around we kind of struggled with it for a while. A big difference with writing this album was that the lyrical content came later, which is usually were we start. Brydon usually brings some lyrics and an idea and then we kind of write the most interesting thing we can possibly write, but this time it was totally different.”
“Yeah, it was kind of weird that way,” said Crain. “Usually I’ll start writing songs to the point where we’re pretty much ready to go, but because of the schedule, things just worked out differently this time.”
But different isn’t always a bad thing. And it may be the lack of a preconceived path that helped the band hone in on their collective musicality with greater focus this time around. Baby Teeth brings more attention to the overall journey than any specific stop along the way. Melodic themes flowing in and out of each other played with Zappa-esque precision resulted in an album that puts less emphasis on the lyrical story and more on the soundtrack propelling the message.
“We think in terms of albums and not just which songs are good.”
Baby Teeth is a complete experience – a start-to-finish kind of album. There is no lead single and very few breaks from the first note to the last. But there is an underlying theme, a type of sonic message that carries through the album’s eight tracks.
Themes have always been part of Motherhood’s writing. Reoccurring characters and a loose lyrical storyline have been a constant in their work, with the band veering more and more towards concept-style writing that encompasses the entire collection of songs under a guiding thought.
“I like the idea of having themes,” said Crain, “like in classical music where a riff or a melody gets repeated in different ways. It helps present the music as a complete piece instead of seven or eight individual songs.”
“My favourite records are the ones that make sense as a whole,” adds Stevens. “A friend of mine was asking me about the new Kanye record and wondering what songs were good. I told her to listen to the whole thing because it’s a piece. That’s how we think of music. We think in terms of albums and not just which songs are good. When we’re traveling we don’t just put on a playlist of different stuff. We listen to full albums and I think that’s also where we’re coming from in our writing. Problems was like that too. It’s a full piece.”
Baby Teeth will be released June 10 via Monopolized Records. Motherhood play The Capital Complex June 10 – 10:30p.m.