Tattoos, Psychedelica, and Family Dynamics: a Q&A with Ryan Guldemond of Mother Mother

Sometimes it’s greener on the other side. Just above the border in Vancouver, Canada, Mother Mother have been engineering energetic, danceable tunes for nearly ten years, straddling a thin boundary between synth pop and indie rock. The five-piece is currently on a U.S. tour, stopping in Philadelphia to play at The Barbary on June 18th. In the meantime, Rock On Philly got to chat with the man behind Mother Mother’s infectious, wailing vocals, Ryan Guldemond.
Rock On Philly: Have you played shows in Philly before?
Ryan Guldemond: Yeah, we’ve played Philly a couple times. Once at World Cafe Live opening up for Canadian rocker Sam Roberts, and once at The Fire. Both were smallish shows, but there was at least a fan presence. As long as one person shows up for the band, it can be as good a show as any.
ROP: What was your experience here like?
RG: As for [Philadelphia], it’s dark and beautiful, but we haven’t gotten to know it very well yet. I’m hoping to explore it more this time around. Now that we have a tour bus, it affords us more time during the day to sniff around places. I’ve been enjoying jogging through town at our tour stops, listening to trippy music and taking pictures. It’s a very objective, yet detached way to get a feel for a place.


ROP: Mother Mother’s music seems to have incorporated more electronic influences recently – what caused that shift?
RG: It mostly stems from just liking those sounds. One tires of organic instrumentation when spending their whole lives with it. I can barely write a song on an acoustic guitar anymore. I’d rather start from a beat or a synth texture. Also, as time goes on, we chase a bigger sound. Electronics are a great way to do that. You can only cover so much ground with the meat and potatoes of rock and roll: drums, bass, guitar. 

ROP: What has the band been listening to lately?
RG: In fact, a lot of electronic music, so that probably has something to do with our recent flirtation with the genre. Bands like Little Dragon, James Blake, and The Acid. Son Lux is making amazing electronic music. I recently got turned onto this band called Black Moth Super Rainbow. It’s great. Psychedelic stoner rock, very creative, and drenched in fantastic analog synth textures. Check em out! 

ROP: The new album is called Very Good Bad Thing – what would you consider to be very good bad things?
RG: I guess things that offer fleeting joy but lasting consequence. Drugs, alcohol, hollow sex, ice cream… Hmm, what else. Sun tans? One could dive pretty deep into this concept. 

ROP: Mother Mother formed about ten years ago now – how has the band stayed afloat for so long?
RG: Good question, because it really can be hard: the relationships, the industry, the creative side – all storms to weather. I think a big reason why we haven’t disbanded is because we’ve always been ascending, even if at a snail’s pace. There’s always been something to point to, letting us know it’s getting better.  I would imagine it would be hard as hell to keep things together if an album did worse than the last one or if you started playing smaller rooms than the last tour.  That’s a hole you’d have to dig out of, and with holes, it often seems easier just to lay down and die in them, metaphorically speaking.

ROP: What has changed most in the band over the past decade, besides member changes? On the other hand, what has stayed the same?
RG: The sound has changed the most. I hear the first record against the latest and it’s like two different bands. And it’s crazy how different my voice is. It used to be all stuck in my nose and face, Kermit-esque… I still don’t fancy myself a powerhouse singer, but I’m definitely better than the early days. And even though the music has made such dramatic shifts, the sentimental voice of the band has remained pretty much in tact. The lyrics are still strange and human conditional, brandishing irony and witticisms. I like that about us and am happy that hasn’t changed. Maybe it’s because I’m romantically challenged. They say a songwriter’s songs turn to shit when he enters his 30’s, falls in love and gets married. But on the other hand, perhaps that is why we haven’t had an international hit. People really relate to heartstring music. 

ROP: What’s it like to have siblings in a band together?
RG: I mean, the band’s familial nature extends past just Molly’s and my sibling status. Jeremy is her common law husband. Jasmin and I were serious partners for 4 years. There’s a lot of rich, complex dynamics in this band. Molly and I just scratch the surface of all that. But I can say I enjoy being in a band with her. One doesn’t often get an opportunity such as this to nurture a sibling tie in this way as an adult. It’s usually just Christmas dinner and family reunions, but not with a band. You share a life, a passion, a career, a bus. Sure, it’s challenging, but it’s very unique and extremely rewarding. 

ROP: What are you most looking forward to on this tour?
RG: The bigger American festival circuit is something we haven’t really done. We play a lot of them in Canada but not south of the border. Sasquatch was profound. We used to go to the Gorge as kids and see Lolapalooza with our dad. Playing that venue on a good stage at a good time was big for us. Not so long after in Napa at Bottlerock Festival, I saw Robert Plant backstage and walked up and said hello, had a little convo, walked away.  That was pretty big for this kid. Anyway, we’re ecstatic that after years of grinding down here for little back, we’ve found some traction. 

ROP: Has anything out-of-the-ordinary happened on tour so far?
RG: Hmm, yeah, I guess. I got “beef” tattooed across my right toes with a little strip loin on the big toe. It was an homage to a promoter and DJ named “Beef” in Phoenix who’s been beating our drum in that city for years, and is the sole reason there were 800 people at the show. He brought his tattoo artist friend to the gig and I ended up getting inked in the green room. He has the very same tattoo so now we’re tattoo brothers. It spawned a three-day bender which ended with me weeping on a curb in Vegas with this festering foot tattoo. But maybe not so out of the ordinary. 

ROP: What makes a Mother Mother show unique?
RG:There’s a lot going on. I’m pretty intense. The girls have beautiful symmetry. We don’t stop much. There’s lots of segues and composed interludes which bridge the gaps between songs and build suspense. It’s a lot more than just an album being reenacted, musically speaking. Very high energy. But there’s some nice down moments too. We’ve been doing this killer cover of Lana Del Rey‘s “Video Games” that Jasmin sings. It’s a great part of the set. 

ROP: How would you convince Rock On Philly readers to come out to the show next week?
RG: I’d do pretty much anything to get Rock On Readers to come out. I’d even perform unlawful acts of intimacy with a prawn. Heck, I’d even saw my own legs off and call me “shorty.” I’d even go so far as to promise that whether or not you left with a new favorite band, you’d leave having just watched one spill their blood, sweat, tears and guts out for you.  

Hyped for the show at the Barbary on June 18th, get tickets here! Check out Mother Mother’s live performance of “Get Out The Way” from their new album Very Good Bad Thing below!

Featured Image courtesy of the Artist


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