After tossing the idea around for almost a decade, Owen Steel and Motherhood finally teamed up and recorded some music together.
Some ideas are worth pursuing, even when they seem so farfetched and impossible to execute. This first release from St. Andrews’ musician Owen Steel and the Fredericton art rock trio Motherhood is a perfect example. For nearly a decade now, Steel and Motherhood have been sharing stages and bills and have thought about working collaboratively in some capacity since the beginning of their friendship.
“I came to know the band when they were first starting out as a five piece,” said Steel. “I remember very distinctly being in Fredericton at a friend’s apartment and he showed me some songs that Brydon (Crain) sent him. This was still in the days of Myspace. And this was before they were known as Motherhood. I was playing in The Belle Comedians then and we ended up sharing lots of bills and doing a couple little tours together. I suppose that is how I got to know them.”
According to Steel, the first mention of working together came from Motherhood guitarist Brydon Crain back in 2010 during a tour of emerging New Brunswick songwriters that included Steel, Andy Brown, Lisa LeBlanc and Babette Hayward. Crain was playing drums for Babette Hayward.
“If I remember correctly, it was Brydon who originally pushed to do a recording together,” said Steel. “Bry was playing drums for Babette (Hayward) on the tour. One night after our show in Perth Andover, the two of us were yapping and he mentioned the idea. Obviously, it took a long time for that idea to manifest, but I suppose the seed that was planted did not die. It was a good idea and kept itself around for that long so we finally decided it needed to be followed through.”
Steel’s discography dates back just as far. Across several EPs and a few albums, the St. Andrews musician has maintained a constant reinvention. Walking the line between folk and ragtime, his work has always carried with it a definitive experimental element that’s helped keep it ever so unclassifiable, yet familiar and undeniably something all his own. A fan of low-fi sounds not unlike those old blues recordings from the 30s, Steel’s music has always maintained a certain degree of quirk, which makes this new pairing with Motherhood as perfect a fit as it could be.
“Motherhood is in my circle. They’re my friends. They’ve consistently shown boundless enthusiasm for creativity since I’ve known them, and it just made sense at this point in time.”
“I think that The Mums have reached the point where, after about a decade of playing together, they share a sonic intuition,” said Steel. “And even if their ideas don’t match up, they’ve become the type of team that knows how to hack those obstacles. They also approach music like science, which usually makes for exciting and twisted results. There are lots of other bands out there who have played together 10 years, 20 years, 30+ years, have gone thru the wringer, have it down pat and are really good but, Motherhood is in my circle. They’re my friends. They’ve consistently shown boundless enthusiasm for creativity since I’ve known them, and it just made sense at this point in time.”
The five track EP mixes jangly, over-driven garage rock with Steel’s vivid storytelling and general off-the-wall delivery. It’s kind of a perfect pairing – Owen Steel and Motherhood – two acts known for dodging the predictable and challenging the norm. Through shifts in tempo and more than a couple of unexpected mid-song turns, Owen Steel & The Mighty Mums is an exciting listen. As a quartet, Owen Steel, Brydon Crain, Penny Stevens and Adam Sipkema seem to share an understanding few others could comprehend. It’s not only their collective ability to perform together that stands out here. What shines the brightest is how they seem to be able to make complete sense of chaos and in doing so, they’ve created an important document defined by both its originality and its palatability. At times, there’s some seriously weird shit happening here but it comes off with all the polish and confidence of a radio ear worm.
In addition to a digital release, this EP will also be supported by an accompanying comic book and a super-limited edition lathe cut 7” which features two tracks from the sessions.
The book, MCHL JCKSN LIVES IN ST ANDY (and takes refrigeration at the community college) PT 1, is a self-published cut ‘n paste quasi-comic-book / ‘zine created and complied by Steel.
“Honestly, I ended up doing this project because I spotted an MJ look-a-like in a car several years ago in St Andrews,” said Steel, explaining a bit of background on the book. “I told a local about it at a Thanksgiving dinner and they made a quip about him probably being a student at the New Brunswick Community College. I stupidly replied that I would make my first comic book about that and, well, I needed a creative project to attach myself to and felt like I better keep my word about it, so here we are.”
The publication includes recipes, poems, photographs, tour writings and other scattered ideas as well as an introduction to the story which Steel sees as the beginning of an ongoing project like a classic serial or, well, a comic book.
“It’s a story that I’m going to have to keep adding to as the years go on,” he said. “[In the book] there is a character who – rightfully so – is stressed out by small town lies and rumors surrounding her. A man enters the picture who she recognizes but just can’t place (any guesses?). Initially he seems willing to help, but the reader quickly learns he will offer little sympathy, opting instead to boast of his knowledge in the field of refrigeration.
“Because this project was started around the same time that Motherhood and I were beginning to play and record, I just wanted to combine them as one release. Content wise, the EP and comic are not really related, other than that they both provide a tiny bit of commentary on my hometown.”
The EP and the comic book are both available via Bandcamp and the comic comes with a download of the album. There is also a deluxe edition that features a 7” (limited to 50 copies) and additional downloads of material Steel recorded in 2017 including an instrumental track recorded with harpist Sarah Pagé of The Barr Brothers.
To date, Steel and Motherhood have only performed together a total of five times outside of the studio, playing one-off sets at Quality Block Party, Lawnya Vawnya, Paddlefest, Folly Fest and the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. And the likelihood of a supporting tour for this release is slim, at least for the time being.
“I hope more shows are in the cards however, it’s been really tricky due to several factors,” said Steel. “The Mums are so busy with their own thing, especially with a new album upcoming and of course, we live two hours apart.
“If we do any touring, it won’t be until spring or summer but hey, maybe by then we’ll have another EP done.”