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15th April 2016
Part of the joy of being a metal fan is the eclecticism and stylistic diversity the genre has to offer in the twenty first century. It's an indubitable fact the scene has fragmented into so many different subgenres that incorporate and blend a whole gamut of musically heterogeneous divergences. However, when a renowned label such as Metal Blade Records announces the signing of a band that, by their own admission, have no affiliation to the genre, it undoubtedly raises a few eyebrows. But Metal Blade founder and CEO Brian Slagel is a man whose musical tastes reach beyond the parameters indicated by his company's appellation, and his signing of Mother Feather, a self-styled "pop cock rock" quintet from NYC, is set to extend the label's boundaries that little bit further. Fronted by Ann Courtney, the theatrics of the band's colourful, energetic, costume-clad and cathartic live show perfectly contextualise the refined histrionics of her versatile voice and inherent optimism in the narratives she sings. And their soon-to-be-released, eponymously titled debut album, which is characterised by a series of retro yet fresh sounding tunes (call them what you will, but "pop cock rock" does actually seem rather apt), is the soundtrack to their catharsis. Ahead of the release, Metal Discovery spent a thoroughly enjoyable half an hour on the phone to Ann, chatting about Mother Feather's genesis; introspections on the transformation in her creative journey from self-deprecation to positivity; the empowering nature of the band's dual-female presence; and just how they landed the Metal Blade deal...
METAL DISCOVERY: Fine, how are you doing?
ANN: Hi Mark, how are you doing?
(Ann Courtney on the genesis of Mother Feather)
"...when I said “Mother Feather” for the first time, by accident, or maybe not by accident, when it came out of my mouth, it just was such a moment of inspiration. The name sparked the concept, completely, in my brain."
Mother Feather - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2016 Ester Segarra
ANN: I’m very well, thank you.
MD: Good to hear. I have to say, first off, congratulations on a fantastic debut album. There’s some great songwriting on there, and some great performances as well. Is it everything you hoped it would be for your debut?
ANN: Oh man! We had no idea this was going to happen and then we got a very nice message from Brian Slagel… [Laughs] You know, we were just an independent band in New York City, going on our merry way, trucking along… and it’s an uphill climb! [Laughs] But, it was nice for someone to say, “oh, let me give you a little hand.”
MD: Or a big hand!
ANN: Yeah, a big hand. We’re beyond thrilled.
MD: How did Brian discover your music, then? Did he hear the two EPs you had out already?
ANN: Well, he did hear the two EPs, but he was introduced to Mother Feather, via Twitter, through Chris Santos, the renowned chef and restauranteur. He’s most recently opened Vandal, but he’s also the proprietor of Beauty & Essex and Stanton Social, and he is a big metalhead and a bit of a tastemaker, so Brian trusts his opinion. So, one of Chris’ employees saw a Mother Feather show - I guess it was a year ago, February – and, then, came into work the next day freaking out and was like, “oh, you gotta check out this band Mother Feather that I saw last night, they’re amazing.” And, so, Chris just started checking us out online and was tweeting about it and sort of led us into the jaws, if you will, of Brian Slagel!
MD: Wow! Did you have any apprehensions about hooking up with Metal Blade, a predominantly metal label, in that it might be restrictive for any potential listening audience you might be aiming for?
ANN: Well, I thought it was interesting. I guess I wanted to know why Brian Slagel was interested in us. I mean, during our first conversation, I was like, “why Mother Feather, Brian?” First of all, he’s just an authentic, true fan of the band, but I think he also responds to it in that he grew up listening to hard rock as a teenager and, according to Brian, Mother Feather reminded him of some of the best aspects of glam and the hard rock he was listening to in the seventies. You know, like Kiss, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy… Brian not only listens to metal but he appreciates prog rock as well. That’s something that he saw in us and I think it makes sense, even though we’re definitely on the furthest end of one spectrum of what Metal Blade puts out. I’m extremely happy to be included in the bunch.
MD: And the metal genre’s become so fragmented and diversified in the twenty first century that, within the market, there is a desire for people wanting to listen to all kinds of stuff.
ANN: Yeah.
MD: The whole album’s great – I mean, there’s no filler on there at all – but I’ve been quite taken with three tracks that I’ve had going around my head the whole time…
ANN: Oooo, which ones?
MD: ‘Mirror’, ‘Trampoline’ and ‘Beach House’. Are there any tracks you’re particularly proud of on there?
ANN: I’ve been asked this question a few times and they’re all my babies, you know. They all represent specific times in my life and have taken on new meanings for me over the years. So, it’s really hard to pick a favourite. They’re kind of like children, I guess; they kind of fall in and out of favour!
ANN: You know, one song might be pleasing you more this week, and they have gone over really well live, so… yeah, I’m glad for every one of them!
MD: Good answer!
ANN: Very diplomatic!
MD: You seem to have a really versatile voice as well, so would you say the album showcases all aspects of your vocals, or can we expect further diversity in the future?
ANN: I think this record showcases my voice as a rock singer. I actually do all kinds of singing. I feel like this debut record is showcasing a truth about my voice that, before Mother Feather, didn’t really have an outlet, and I think that’s part of the reason why I built Mother Feather; so that I could be free in this way. But, I can actually do all kinds of different singing and I do all kinds of different singing. I think, since Mother Feather started, I’ve become much more known as a rock singer, but I do actually perform live in different incarnations. I’m actually a singer for hire, so… [Laughs] Part of that is versatility, you know, this is how I get booked! But, yeah, this is definitely my voice; this is how I sound.
MD: Do you think some of that other stuff you do will feed into Mother Feather in the future?
ANN: Oh, it does, already.
MD: The songs themselves, while bound together by an inherent optimism, offer up a pretty diverse range of styles, which is part of what makes the album such an exciting and refreshing listen. Were you aiming for that kind of diversity?
ANN: I think that’s just reflective of who we are as a band and of my taste, and kind of the blender that it’s going through. I mean, when I wrote a lot of these songs, I was thinking about dance music and I was thinking about rock music, but then you get in the room with the other guys in the band and they have so much of a rock background, and I think as soon as you introduce an electric guitar in your sound, it’s gonna sound pretty rock ‘n’ roll.
Yeah, all these different styles… well, I guess you brought up two things – you talked about optimism on the record. I think that Mother Feather is representative of my fight and my struggle for optimism. And maybe I am a naturally optimistic person and, at times, I think that’s challenged, greatly, and I think these songs kind of represent the arm wrestle, if you will… [Laughs]… to get back to that sunny place. You know, songs like ‘Living, Breathing’, that’s a song about all the feelings, and wanting to have everything – the pain; the beauty – but just to connect to it, whatever it is. It’s terrible, it’s wonderful, but at least it reminds me that I’m alive… [Laughs]… that I’m living, breathing.
MD: Cool. I gather your previous band, Ann Courtney and The Late Bloomers, was more about songs centred around self-hatred and with a pessimistic outlook, so is it fair to assume that the music you make now is a truer representation of yourself?
ANN: I think that band happened at a time when… I think it was like a trend in New York City to make self-deprecating music and that’s something that really appealed to me, being young and full of self-loathing!
ANN: And it really bummed me out. It really tore me down and I was using my own power and my own energy to sort of squash myself. And it was just this massive realisation that I could harness the same energy and use it for something really good, and use it to step into my power instead of using it to crush myself. And, so, it was pretty life or death, actually. Yeah, it was very conscious and very earth-shattering when I discovered that I could turn it around and sort of ride those same feelings into a place of catharsis.
MD: I guess, in one sense, it was probably necessary to go through that passage of pessimism and self-hatred to be able to arrive at the stage where you’re at now, with a cathartic state of mind and optimistic outlook?
ANN: Yeah and, also, I built this band to challenge myself… and it is a challenge for me. I have to be physically strong and limber and my voice has to be strong and limber, and I have to be calm but also energetic. I cannot phone it in and I didn’t want to phone it in, and I don’t want the music that I’m listening to, I don’t want the performances that I see, to be phoned in. That’s what I want to give to my audience… just empathising as an audience member and also, as a performer, I want to give myself my very best and want to give the audience my very best. And, so, I set the bar really high and I made these songs hard to sing and I made the show hard to perform…so I have to show up… [Laughs]… and be present and try.
MD: Yeah, well, I’ve not seen a Mother Feather show yet, but I think that kind of sincerity and genuine sentiment does shine through on the album. I gather the band name came from a Freudian slip when you actually meant to say Mother Fucker… so, what does the Mother Feather name represent to you, and did you discover anything about yourself, introspectively, through making that Freudian slip?
ANN: Well, yeah, at the time I was itching for a change and, you know, my former band name was quite unwieldy…
ANN: …and, also, it implied that sort of cutesy, self-deprecation in a way, maybe. Anyway, it was a mouthful and when I said “Mother Feather” for the first time, by accident, or maybe not by accident, when it came out of my mouth, it just was such a moment of inspiration. The name sparked the concept, completely, in my brain. It was sort of this embodiment through my mouth of this enormous sense of possibility. It happened as I was leaving the city to go on this weekend trip out of the city; a much needed little rest. And I said “Mother Feather” and it just got me thinking, and I sort of had this time in nature to meditate on what Mother Feather was; who it could be… and it just was this thing that was the match, you know.
MD: You’ve also described your performances alongside Lizzie as empowering in a feminist context, so do you hope that your music and general aesthetic proves to be a liberating experience for others too, both female and male listeners?
ANN: Oh, of course, of course. I mean, Mother Feather is for everyone, but I think Mother Feather also… I don’t know… I want to make myself proud as a woman and I want to make my nieces proud. I have two young nieces and I think this is all tied in together. I think that there’s something really powerful about seeing two women onstage, supporting each other, rooting for each other, but, also, I need Lizzie; I need her friendship. Of course, I need the other guys in the band but there’s something about a female friendship that I think is fabulous to also witness. And, yeah, it’s selfish in a way – I want her in my band because she makes me feel safe and supported. I think it’s an opportunity to see women lifting each other up.
MD: And witnessing that can be empowering for other people.
ANN: Yeah, that’s for everyone; that’s something that men need to see too… or should see. And that’s something that men should root for as well. So, yeah, it’s for everyone.