As a Canadian who grew up obsessed with radio, I know Mother Mother from blasting “The Stand” on the way home from soccer games, from being 13 years old and having my mind blown by lyrics of “Infinitesimal”, and from borrowing A Very Good Bad Thing from a friend so I could see the album booklet. As someone who has yet to download Tik Tok, I was amazed to discover that a new generation has found Mother Mother through this video sharing platform. If you’re already on Tik Tok, you likely know Mother Mother if not by name then by the sound of their song “Hayloft” as well as a host of other songs from their 2007 debut album Touch Up and their 2008 sophomore O My Heart, which have been used on the platform over a whopping 325 million times so far.
After talking to Mother Mother’s lead singer and main songwriter Ryan Guldemond, it is clear this viral success is well-deserved. If not because he’s been writing hits for well over a decade, then because those hits are as thoughtful and authentic as Ryan is in our conversation. Mother Mother’s latest album, Inside, is both deep and deeply satisfying. With moments from frenzied and raw (“Sick of the Silence”) to quiet and moving (“Pure Love”, “Girl Alone”), it is a cathartic and uplifting listen which you can scream, cry, and learn to love deeply to. Read on to learn more about Inside, staying creative during the pandemic, the meaning of love, and more.
Melodic Magazine: I heard you were a professional chef for 10 years? How did that fit into your music career, because I know you’ve been doing music forever.
Ryan Guldemond: Well, I’m more annoying at restaurants than the average person when we’re touring because I used to cook. Food is important. It provides you the life force to do what you need to do. So, yeah, I’m grateful for those skills. I can take care of myself that way, as you do the rigorous job of touring and music making.
MM: Was it something that was alongside your music career?
Ryan: I mean, it was… professional chef, I think that’s a bit ostentatious. I was a cook, you know, and I cooked from 13 to 26. And I had nothing going for me except my love for music and my cooking job. But there was no academic trajectory whatsoever. So I cooked to get by and then chased after this music thing until one did that [points upwards] and the other could fall away. I didn’t know which one that was going to be. Luckily it turned out to be music.
MM: Which album cycle was that around, where you were able to quit your cooking job?
Ryan: That would have been around Eureka.
MM: I want to get right into your new album, Inside. During the writing process you explored different types of therapies, meditation, and journaling as a means to unearth songs from a deeper, interior place. What tools for healing have been the most useful for self healing, especially dealing with the stress of quarantine, and which were the most conducive to songwriting?
Ryan: It’s hard to say which one is the best or most conducive because they really work in a synergistic kind of way when you do them together. They’re all so good. But journalling is a really beautiful practice. You say things that you didn’t know how to say or you didn’t know you knew how to say. And I think it’s just really lovely to examine your days with some presence of mind. I would suggest and recommend journaling to anybody, no matter if you’re creative or not.
MM: Do you think that that inward journey influenced the album sonically as much as it did lyrically?
Ryan: Yeah, for sure. I think when you’re listening more deeply to, you know, your soul, the voices within your pain, that changes how you listen to music. I think you get more sensitive to whether a sonic structure moves you emotionally or just impresses you theoretically. And we were certainly going for the former.
MM: Pure Love began as a voice memo from a friend. How did that voice memo become a Mother Mother song?
Ryan: It was just good, what that voice note evoked. I knew I had to do something with it. And after working on it, it just made sense to use it as the big Molly moment.
MM: Was this friend hoping that it would become a song, or just thinking that you’d enjoy it?
Ryan: There was no sort of musical motive, this friend isn’t even a musician, she’s a social worker, but she’s really, really emotional and in touch with her feelings and was just singing while chopping wood cathartically to get some stuff off her chest as she was having a bad day. And she just sang this into her phone and then sent it to me, as she is prone to do – as we are prone to do. I’ll send her little things and she’ll send me things, it’s kind of a sweet facet to our relationship. Whether it’s like, bird song or her singing a thing or me making a demo. It’s a real safe, creative sharing space that I have with this particular friend. And so that was the subtext. Then when I built the song around it and sent it back to her she was blown away. She did not expect that. And now to see it evolve into this pillar track on this record I think exceeded both our expectations wildly.
MM: Did it come with any lyrics or was that all Molly?
Ryan: The initial refrain, the part that cycles through the song, was my friend’s lyrics. That’s what she sang into her phone. And then Molly, when working on it, felt like it needed another dimension, or another narrative corridor. So she wrote the ‘moth to a flame’ part. Which added a lot and really made it her own at that point, and I was just so into it because I didn’t write a single lyric on it. And that’s the first Mother Mother where that’s ever been the case.
MM: How was handing over the reins to Molly for the first time? How did that feel for you?
Ryan: Great. It just seemed what was meant to be. I think in songwriting, the more you do it, the more you come to learn that in order to be good at it, you get out of the way of it and you try to determine what it wants. And that’s what that song wanted, was for me to kind of get out of the way and to help steer it and to build the harmonic structures around these words and these melodies that weren’t mine. Once you establish that, it becomes easy.
MM: You played “Until It Doesn’t Hurt” during your creativity TED talk that you did in 2017. Even though it’s an older song it still fits the theme of Inside really well. Were there any other older songs that made it onto this record that just serendipitously fit the theme?
Ryan: Yeah, “Girl alone”, which is made for this album thematically, used to be “Man Alone”. I used to sing it, but Jasmine has always appreciated that song. And when trying to think of a great Jasmine moment for the record, that song found its way onto the table.
MM: Is finding moments for each singer something that you think about a lot when going into albums?
Ryan: I always try to find the moments for everybody. It’s hard vocally sometimes because we’ve endeavored to make songs on records that feature Molly or Jasmine, but they just don’t work out. And not because they didn’t do a great job, just sometimes the production is awkward in its own skin and instead of forcing it, you just gotta let it go. But, yeah, it’s always a big conversation I have with myself and with them when we make a record. And just luckily on this one we found two great opportunities that we didn’t have to fight along the way, they just really organically came into themselves.
MM: Thematically on the album, you’ve said that these songs are about “staying rooted in love and presence in a turbulent world”. What is love to you?
Ryan: I think love is connection. Feeling connected to an energy that is beyond yourself, that you share with everything and everyone. It’s when you can really touch that interconnected intelligence that brings you into the moment, that brings you into your heart, that brings you out of your intellectuality. And music I find does that. Really beautiful soul connections with people bring me into that kind of love space. And nature.
MM: There was this huge moment recently where an older song of yours, “Hayloft”, blew up on Tik Tok. What did that song mean to you when you wrote it? What does it mean to you now?
Ryan: Well, with all those early songs, they were so channeled and they just had a mind of their own. Like, I don’t think I premeditated anything for those songs. And “Hayloft”, it just happened. It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about anything that happened in my life. It was just a narrative, and having fun with language and words and phonetics around a story of rebellious love. And now, given this privilege of hearing these old songs through the lens of your generation, the meaning has really expanded. A lot of these youth are discovering a different way to be in the spectrum of identity and how that relates to their romantic dimension. And I think “Hayloft” has fit into that somehow. Maybe it’s sort of empowered the idea that love doesn’t have to look a certain way. I guess the long and short of it is that it’s really cool that a song can change through the filter of a listenership. It can grow. The story can keep unraveling beyond the last word that you wrote, based on how people are experiencing it.