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DATE OF INTERVIEW: 12th December 2018
Back in 2016, eyebrows were undoubtedly raised within the metal community when Metal Blade CEO, Brian Slagel, announced the signing of Mother Feather, a self-proclaimed "pop cock rock" band. However, metal's parameters have been increasingly expanded over the years, making it the most diversely amalgamable genre; encompassing, incorporating and embracing a whole array of styles and sounds from a multitude of other genre idioms. And, over two years on from their eponymously titled debut record, it seems this NYC bunch have been fully embraced by the metal community and beyond. With a new album, 'Constellation Baby', delivered in November, once again via Slagel's legendary label, Mother Feather are back with more diversity, more glitter, and further cathartic potential, on a record where the emphasis is firmly on FUN! Metal Discovery quizzed the band's frontwoman and driving force, Ann Courtney, about this second outing; reactions to her band within the metal scene; how her own metal education is coming along... and a brief exchange of polysemic anagrams...
METAL DISCOVERY: Hey there! ‘Constellation Baby’ – amazing stuff!. You set the bar high with your debut, and have delivered the goods once again. But did you feel the pressure of “difficult second album syndrome” at all?
ANN: Very much so, yes! Mother Feather is my opportunity to say and do exactly what I mean, so I put a great deal of pressure on myself to get it right. It was a struggle until I dove right into the center of it and started writing about the struggle itself. That’s how I unlocked it.
(Ann Courtney on the "Motherfeathers")
"The sense of community and kindness our fans have built among themselves is something I never expected or planned for. The fandom has taken on a life of its own that I find extraordinary and deeply moving."
Mother Feather
Interview by Mark Holmes
Artwork copyright © 2018 Katy Hirschfeld Leinoff - www.collage-garage.com
Thanks to Andy Turner for offering and arranging the interview
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MD: It’s another diverse platter of music, just like the first… but it all sounds unmistakably Mother Feather. Despite the stylistic variances on the album, do you feel you’ve fully established an aesthetic, sonically and visually, that is uniquely Mother Feather, while succeeding in remaining free of genre monolithism?
ANN: Sure! Maybe not consciously, though. We do what we want. I fight really hard to be able to listen to and stay true to my instincts. My gut has always steered me right.
MD: The opening song, ‘Red Hot Metal’, while not inherently a metal track, is the heaviest on the album, so is this partly a nod of gratitude to the belief Brian Slagel placed in your band?
ANN: I have an ocean of gratitude for Brian Slagel and the support he has shown Mother Feather. ‘Red Hot Metal’ isn’t a song about that, though. It’s a song about mental fire, doing battle with yourself, and speed as a remedy. It was actually titled ‘Blood From a Skull’ for a while but that name didn’t stick.
MD: Now Metal Blade has been your home for over two years, have you found the metal community have embraced you more and more since releasing your debut?
ANN: Everyone we’ve met in the metal community through Metal Blade and Blacklight Media has been incredible. I think we still take a lot of people by surprise and make people incredulous, which I revel in. Right after we finished mastering ‘Constellation Baby’ at Fred Kevorkian’s studio on the Upper West Side, our producer Joshua Valleau and I were walking down the block and saw a huge line of people uniformly dressed all in black, queuing up for what was obviously a metal show. I was rocking the bright neon green and yellow striped mini-dress I’m wearing on the album cover, with white snakeskin cowboy boots. I saw the opening band unloading their gear and I asked who was playing at the venue that night and they told me, “Whitechapel and The Black Dahlia Murder.” I was like, “Oh wow, cool! Those guys are my labelmates!!!” They looked at me like I had two heads and just rolled their eyes. It was awesome.
MD: When we spoke a couple of years ago, you said, “I have so much to learn about metal. I mean, I knew very little about metal…” So, how’s your metal education coming along? Have you dipped your toes into the genre a little more now?
ANN: My studies have been coming along very well, thank you! I just want to know why the fuck nobody told me about JUDAS PRIEST!!! All of the coolest stuff is in the NWOBHM. As for more contemporary acts, I love our Blacklight Media label-mates Gozu (who bend way more towards more of the psych-rock end of the spectrum) and I still think about the supremely rad Goatwhore show we saw with Brian Slagel a few years ago as one of my highlights of metal discovery! I can really get into some doom - Josh turned me onto Sleep, who are awesome. I also really like metal that falls more on the hardcore end of the spectrum, like Bloodclot and Harm’s Way.
MD: You also told me back in 2016 that, “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.” Do you continue to challenge yourself with Mother Feather? In the same ways, or have you set any new challenges?
ANN: Maintaining strength and pliability in my body and mind and carve out creative time while running the band full time is plenty to keep me busy! We still are fully self-managed, for better and for worse. Running Mother Feather is a full-time job that I still have to work very hard to balance with the jobs that pay me actual money. Plus I’m constantly trying to keep four other members feeling good about showing up for a labor of love. It’s a constant balancing act. I really want to get us on the road more, but financial and logistical hurdles make it tricky. I have a full plate of challenges, thank you very much!
MD: Do you find that challenging yourself opens up your creativity and makes you thrive as a human being, artistically or otherwise?
ANN: Oh, of course. Mother Feather exists at all because I wanted to make myself proud and be a fully realized human being. Now I have the challenge of keeping Mother Feather alive and helping it thrive. It’s much bigger than just me now. Now we have fans who are counting on us.
MD: Your vocals on the new album’s title track are a little reminiscent, in terms of both style and melody, of Emilie Autumn’s ‘Swallow’, another lady who sways towards the glittery, theatrical and performances loaded with cathartic potential. Has Emilie been an influence on your art, at all?
ANN: I’ve never heard of Emilie Autumn, but it sounds like I should check her out!
MD: Talking of theatrical, ‘Totally Awesome’ and ‘Shake Your Magic 8 Ball’ are both delightfully quirky tracks… and with a touch of the histrionic, but in a very refined way. How did these two numbers come to be?
ANN: ‘Totally Awesome’ was the first time I used a keyboard to compose, on a spiffy synthesizer on loan from my cousin. It’s also the first song the band worked on with the album’s producer Joshua Valleau, long before we began official production on the album. That song perfectly encapsulates the feeling of exuberant freedom that he brings to my entire existence.
‘Shake Your magic 8 Ball’ is about the sorcery of dancing and unlocking the secrets of the universe by getting down on the dancefloor, based entirely on true events! I wrote it while bouncing on a trampoline and listening to a Busta Rhymes remix. We performed it in our live set for years, and then Josh re-harmonized the chorus for the album and I couldn’t believe we’d ever played it any other way. Jay Ruston nailed the mix.
MD: ‘Snakebite’ is more of a bread-and-butter rock ‘n’ roll song, with some psychobilly flavours. What’s the story behind this one?
ANN: It’s an homage to the evil impulse and the speed of its ambush. I wrote ‘Snakebite’ in a hot 20 minutes, after doing something really naughty. It’s about the lash of vengeance. It’s a quick reminder that if you fuck with me, I will ruin your life.
MD: ‘ICU’ has a kind of late-90s/early-00s post-grunge feel to it, in places. Do you have a penchant for that era/style?
ANN: Oh yes, indeed - although, when I wrote it, was thinking about the Ramones. When we were working through the arrangements, the Pixies came up a lot, which I think you can totally hear.
MD: You’ve stated in press materials that you “went to some very dark and lonely places” when composing for the new album. I wrote in my review, “There are glimpses of melancholy and a few dark twists here and there, but it’s all about fun, once again. That’s the overriding feeling I garner from all this. If the genesis of songs did indeed start life as being born from the dark recesses of Courtney’s psyche, then they evidently transcended their desolate origins to be transformed into a glorious and mutual rock catharsis amongst her musical comrades.” So, is that a fair comment? Is it about quashing and purging any sense of negativity by confronting it head-on, and transforming it all into positive energy?
ANN: I’m so glad you feel that it’s still ultimately fun! I don’t know if it’s about quashing negativity, but I definitely did face it head-on. Did I successfully purge the negativity? I can’t say exactly, but in the spirit of “the only way out is through,” maybe some alchemy happened.
MD: I have to say, the album cover’s fantastic! I think it’s not only the most colourful, glittery and vibrant in Metal Blade’s history, but probably in the history of music! Did you want something that immediately and emphatically spoke of the music; of Lizzie and your friendship; and of the band’s buoyancy?
ANN: I wanted something magnetic, emotional, rich, raw, colorful, and female, so when I discovered Katy Hirschfeld Leinoff’s collages online all my alarms went off immediately. She mostly creates portraits of women, collaged from a bunch of different faces, surrounded by these wild, layered universes spiralling around them. There’s a magical realism to her work that I find incredibly emotional as well as playful. Her pieces are simultaneously gritty and poppy and I knew that her style would be perfect for the album we were making and would tie everything together visually.
MD: You’ve said that upcoming shows will feature “more blood, more lightning, more catharsis.” So then, when will the UK next get a taste of all this? And are we talking metaphorical or literal blood there? Have you shed blood through injuries at shows before?
ANN: SOON I hope! I am trying to manifest some powerful touring wishes into reality for next year. I’m talking about metaphorical blood, but I have shed plenty of literal blood at Mother Feather shows, too - everything from chipped teeth to bloody knees to cracked ribs. I don’t relish having to cut a show short to visit the emergency room, it’s awful.
MD: I gather fans of the band are now called “Motherfeathers,” but have people generally embraced the general ethos behind the Mother Feather name in the ways you hoped they would?
ANN: And then some. The sense of community and kindness our fans have built among themselves is something I never expected or planned for. The fandom has taken on a life of its own that I find extraordinary and deeply moving.
MD: Finally, seeing as Mother Feather is an anagram of ‘Theme for Heart’, do you think this sums up your music and ethos well? That, in essence, it is all about heart and love?
ANN: Cute! Sure, but Mother Feather is also an anagram for “Harem For Teeth” so, chew on what THAT says about us.
MD: Thanks for the interview and I’ll look forward to the extra blood, lighting and catharsis when you eventually make it back over to these shores!
ANN: Thank you for these thoughtful questions, Mark! It was wonderful speaking with you again!