Motherhood’s Exuberant Art Rock is Rooted In Fredericton, New Brunswick’s Underground Scene

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Motherhood, photo by Emulsion Lab/Kyle Cunjak

Motherhood is a trio from Fredericton, New Brunswick in eastern Canada that has been developing its unique and eclectic sound since 2010 when its members met while at university. When critics and fans make unusual and diverse comparisons between a band and personal musical reference points, you know the band in question is onto something refreshingly different from prevailing trends. For this writer, hearing Motherhood there are resonances between the band’s music and the otherworldly, carnival-esque sounds of a Danny Elfman soundtrack, the frayed folk art punk of the Mekons and the strongly thematic and sonically diverse yet focused conceptualization of Rubblebucket. Some might hear in its songs the sort of amalgam of slackery looseness and precision that has made Pavement so interesting and unpredictable. Of course Motherhood, as you’ll see in the interview below with bassist/keyboard player Penny Stevens, doesn’t really sound like any other band touring in the underground precisely because its influences are so disparate even as the alchemy of its creative process and its evolution over several years has resulted in music that one might expect from artists who developed early on in a small city (Fredericton even now has a metropolitan area population of under 110,000) with no entrenched musical sub-scene to easily access.

On March 1, 2019, Motherhood celebrated the release of its new album Dear Bongo (out on Forward Music Group) and its songs informed by humor and brimming with tender emotional immediacy even as it explores the folly of seeking and demanding perfection in our lives whether through our relationships, our psychology or in our creative work. Motherhood is currently on tour throughout North America including the following shows coming up in Colorado and at the Treefort Music Fest in Boise, ID.

Sunday | March 17 at Lion’s Lair, Denver
Tuesday | March 19 at Seventh Circle Music Collective
Thursday | March 21 — Treefort Music Fest, 8 p.m. at Boise All-ages Movement Project
Saturday | March 23 – Treefort Music Fest, 9 p.m. at Tom Grainey’s Basement

Queen City Sounds: Your band has been around longer than I had assumed. Has it been around for about eight years?

Penny Stevens: Yeah, Brydon [Crain] and Adam [Sipkema] have been playing together since high school and I joined them during our university days. 2019 will make nine years since we formed Motherhood.

How did you meet them?

They’re from a small town kind of in the middle of nowhere and they moved to Fredericton, which is where we all live now, to go to college. I needed a place to live and I ended up moving in with them and we started jamming in the basement.

Did you grow up playing music?

S: Yes, I’m the only one that took actual music lessons in band except I took a semester in classical guitar and Adam took two drum lessons, I think. I took classical piano lessons while growing up. So I write the piano stuff. When we started out we had a bass player and when he quit I took over bass duties and had to pick it up pretty quick. We’ve been playing music all our lives. I guess a lot of it has been at this point in Motherhood and we learned to play instruments while in this band. A lot of of artists have had other projects that they developed in and formed something later on but we kinda grew up with Motherhood. It’s been a constant for a long time. We didn’t experiment too much outside of Motherhood so we spent our experimentation years inside this band and we sound completely different now than when we started out. Now we can identify what we’re going for. There’s a more clear vision of where we’re headed next.

We all had little projects in middle school and high school but this is our first “real” band that played actual venues. It took us a long time, when we first started out, to figure out how to BE a band. Coming from a really small town with not a lot of other bands around it took us some time to learn how to book a show, make a record and stuff like that when there’s not really anyone else to follow.

Was there a local music scene and places to play for you starting out?

There’s one sweet venue where we booked one of our first shows, The Capital. We were horrible but they kept booking us and asking us to come back. We still play The Capital all the time. The record label that we’re on now, Forward Music Group, is based out of Halifax but it was formed in Fredericton and a lot of bands that were on the label we consider kind of the grandfathers of the music scene there. A lot of them are still playing in awesome bands. They’re older and have families now but we kind of came up going to see those bands play and watching them. Grand Theft Bus is like a prog jam band, they’re pretty cool and still playing. Bands like Force Fields, Share, The Slate Pacific—they’re not as active anymore but those folks are still around and will come and see us once in awhile. That was the only record label we were familiar with coming up so nine years later we’re working with them and it feels pretty good to be a part of the family after all these years.

Is The Capital an all-ages venue?

No, it’s a bar. Some friends of ours started booking there in the late 90s, taking a risk because there wasn’t really any live music happening in Fredericton and touring bands weren’t coming through much but they begged the owner to have a show there and it went really well. The guy that started booking the shows now owns the bar and he’s a huge supporter of the music scene and keeps the Fredericton music scene alive and he does a lot for other bands too.

Did you get a chance to see many bands not from there coming up?

It comes and goes. There’ll be a few years when a lot of touring bands are coming through and there’s a lot of activity. We’re in a little bit of a quiet space now. I lived in Fredericton when I was a teenager and I would sneak out of my mom’s house and go see all-ages metal shows when I was 14 or 15. Those were my first shows and I didn’t even know you could do that thing. That scene isn’t really alive in Fredericton anymore. When we released our record Dear Bongo on March 1 we put on a big all-ages show and we had probably close to seventy high school kids come out. It’s pretty rare to have an all-ages show in Fredericton right now but I hope they’ll be able to have the kinds of experiences I had when I was a teenager going to see all-ages shows and thinking, “Oh, I should be in a band!” That show was at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, which is a community art center that has a big auditorium.

Presumably this isn’t your first big tour.

This is the biggest we’ve done yet, it’s six weeks long. Last year we were gone a month. We came through Denver [at Seventh Circle Music Collective] and across to Idaho and Northern California and up the coast and back. We won’t have to drive as long this time but we’ll be out longer. Our music is diverse so we can fit into a lot of different places. We can play a legit venue and we can play a punk house and it’s not really that different for us. It translates to a lot of different audiences. In Boise we’re playing at Treefort on Thursday and Saturday. We played Treefort last year at Neurolux and another place. It’ll be nice playing with DIY bands we’ve been in contact with across the US like Charcoal Squids from Missoula, Montana and Lloyd and Saviour from Idaho.

Dear Bongo is not your first full-length.

We’ve had two full-lengths and put out our first in 2013.

Dear Bongo is a name I associate with something people might name their dog but I assume that isn’t the case here.

No, but a lot of people make that association. The dog’s name is Tesla.

You made a video with footage from a GoPro attached to Tesla?

Yeah, we made the video for “Bird Chirp.” We shot that in one of our favorite places in the world called the Nashwaak Flats. You gotta know it to know it, you’ve got to know where the little path is but it’s very close to where we all live. We can bike there from where we live in a few minutes. You basically leave downtown and follow a little path for a few minutes and come out onto this huge, open field. It’s close to downtown Fredericton but it’s quite secluded so we spend a lot of our summer there hanging out and having fires and stuff. We took Tesla down there, she loves it there, and she rants around for twenty-five minutes and collapses and has a naps. So we just strapped a GoPro to her and took her off leash and had a really good day at the Flats. She’s a greyhound and she’s so fast so it kept flopping onto the side so we had to stuff socks between the leash and her shoulder blade so it would stand up.

Kyle Cenjuk took photos and did some performances on the new record?

Yes, he co-produced the record and he runs Forward Music Group so we asked him to produced the record not having any knowledge of how we were going to put the record out. When he came to produce the record he kind of fell in love with it a little bit and asked to put it out on Forward Music Group. We were super stoked about that, obviously. He plays in a bunch of Canadian bands and he plays upright bass so we had him play upright bass on a couple of tracks. He helped with vocals and arrangements. Right now he’s touring with David Miles, who is a pretty well-known folk, pop artist. He also plays in Olympic Symphonium, which is a five piece chamber folk group and he plays in Force Fields, a really intense post-rock band. He has his fingers in many pies as far as East Coast music goes.

When people hear your music they probably accept it for what it is but it gets interesting comparisons like The Mekons, which seems fitting.

Usually when we get comparisons a lot of the time we don’t know the projects. I don’t know who The Mekons were until someone wrote that about us and I checked it out and thought, “Okay, I can kinda see that.” We get Primus a lot, which is fine. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense but I can see where they’re coming from.

There’s some playfulness in the music and it’s not obvious if there’s some genre it’s coming from.

Yeah. When we write something with an obvious influence we like to make it very obvious. Our influences are thinly veiled but very diverse. On Dear Bongo we have a song that we were like, “Let’s try to make this sound as much like a Beach Boys song as we can.” Because we all love the Beach Boys. There are songs like that throughout the record, homages to artists we really care about. Either way, we’re not trying to sound like any particular band but there are bands we like to pay our respects to for really setting the stage for us.

On the Forward Music Group there was a reference to a story associated with the new album about a painter who was pursuing perfection, which is something many people aim for but don’t really find.

S: Pretty much every album we produce is conceptual and completed in one album. So there’s a running theme that carries through every song lyrically and sonically. The lyrics for sure play a part in telling the story but also in the music we have themes that will repeat in different songs in different ways to add cohesion and completeness on the album. This record tells the tale of a painter who is going through a horrible breakup of some sort, falling out of love with someone. He uses painting to try and solve his problems, to paint the world that he wants to see but perfectionism doesn’t mean it can be too perfect. There’s a lot of metaphors and it’s not just one kind of painting. He paints lines on the highway, his house and pictures. By the end he’s playing every blade of glass, tree trunks, trying to paint the world as he thinks it should be but he’s never going to get it quite right.

14 Of The Must-See Artists to See at Treefort Music Fest 2018

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Pussy Riot, photo by Sacha Lecca

In addition to featuring an excellent cross section of indie and underground music Treefort Music Fest 2018 is bringing some of the more noteworthy newer bands (Magic Sword, Zola Jesus), classic underground and counterculture artists (George Clinton, Karl Blau, Dear Nora, Andrew W.K., Selector Dub Narcotic, Cindy Wilson, Tad Doyle and Brett Netson and Built to Spill) as well as the kinds of reunion shows (H-Hour, Treepeople and Dirt Fishermen) that you’re not likely to see happen at another music festival. Also, this may be one of the few times you will be able to catch Pussy Riot, the band sentenced to prison in 2012 for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in Russia. The performance art/punk band performs at El Korah Shrine at 11:25 p.m. on Saturday, March 24. What follows a list of the musicians that should be on your must-see list for the weekend with the links to more information on those artists.

Friday | March 23, 2018

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Magic Sword, photo by Tom Murphy

George Clinton – 8:30 p.m. – Main Stage
H-Hour – 10:30 p.m. – Neurolux
Magic Sword – 10:45 p.m. – Knitting Factory (Main Room)
Dirt Fishermen – 11:30 p.m. – Neurolux
Treepeople – 12:30 a.m. – Neurolux (also Saturday, March 24 at The Shredder, 12:20 a.m.)

Saturday | March 24, 2018

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Zola Jesus, photo by Tom Murphy

Tad Doyle and Brett Netson (improv set) – 5 p.m. – The Shredder
Karl Blau – 6:50 p.m. – Linen Building
Dear Nora – 8 p.m. – Linen Building
Andrew W.K. – 8:30 p.m. – Main Stage
Selector Dub Narcotic – 9:20 p.m. – The Shredder
Cindy Wilson – 10:30 p.m. (also Sunday, March 25 at 3:10 p.m. at the Main Stage) – Linen Building
Pussy Riot – 11:25 p.m. – El Korah Shrine 
Zola Jesus – 12:30 a.m. – El Korah Shrine

Sunday | March 25, 2018

Built to Spill – 11:15 p.m. – El Korah Shrine

Colorado Bands at Treefort Music Fest 2018

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Rubedo, photo by Tom Murphy

 

Ever since the founding of Treefort Music Fest, Colorado bands have been a staple of the event as Treefort was inspired by The UMS in Denver. This year is, Colorado based bands are on the bill virtually every night of the Fest and what follows is a rundown of those bands and the time and place where you can catch them. Esmé Patterson is being included because, well, she became a significant artist before she moved from Denver. The organizers of Treefort Music Fest have done a great job of providing links and photos so click on the links for each band to find out more information and in most cases give the artists a listen.

Thursday | March 22, 2018

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Bad Licks, photo by Tom Murphy

Dear Rabbit – 6 p.m. – Boise All-ages Movement Project
Kyle Emerson – 10 p.m. – Ha’Penny
Eldren – 10:40 p.m. – The Reef
Bad Licks – 11 p.m. – Ha’Penny

Friday | March 23, 2018

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Kitty Crimes, photo by Lindsey Webb

Tyto Alba – 8:20 p.m. – Ha’Penny
The Still Tide – 10:10 p.m. – The Olympic
Esmé Patterson – 11 p.m. – The District
Edison – 11:15 p.m. – Tom Grainey’s
The Kinky Fingers – 11:20 p.m. – Ha’Penny
ill-esha – 11:30 p.m. – Fatty’s
Kitty Crimes – 11:30 p;m. – Grainey’s Basement
déCollage – 12:40 a.m. – Grainey’s Basement

 

Saturday | March 24, 2018

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Midwife, photo by Tom Murphy

The Raven and The Writing Desk – 4:30 p.m. – El Korah Shrine
Ancient Elk – 8 p.m. – Ha’Penny
Midwife – 9 p.m. – Boise Contemporary Theater
Serpentfoot – 9:30 p.m. – The Olympic

Sunday | March 25, 2018

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Porlolo, photo by Tom Murphy

Porlolo – 4:50 p.m. – Linen Building
Rubedo – 7:30 p.m. – Neurolux

Treefort Music Fest: 25 Great Independent Bands to See

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Mint Field performs Saturday, March 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Boise All-ages Movement. Photo by Maria Fernanda Molins

Treefort Music Fest kicks off tonight in Boise, Idaho. As usual, the festival offers a broad spectrum of indie music with a well-curated selection of headlining acts. Here are some highlights on each night, although you can’t really go wrong with where you end up for the night. Hopefully this listing can serve as a guide to what are some of the most interesting acts each night that maybe not everyone has heard of without bombarding you with too many options. Hopefully you’ll want to explore those other options as you check out various performances. We will also include a guide to the reunion shows and other must-see/legendary stuff you’ll want to catch should you be so inclined as well as a rundown of all the Colorado acts performing throughout the weekend.

Wednesday | March 21, 2018

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Dick Stusso, photo by Cara Robbins

Preakedness – 7:30 p.m. – Linen Building
Bullets Are The Cure – 8:30 p.m. Grainey’s Basement 
Dick Stusso – 10:15 p.m. – The Olympic
Crosss – 11:30 p.m. – Linen Building
Big White – 12:30 – The Olympic

Thursday | March 22, 2018

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Skating Polly, photo by Angel Ceballos

Sun Blood Stories – 8 p.m. – Neurolux
Alien Boy – 8:15 p.m. – Linen Building
Love-Lace – 9 p.m. – Linen Building
Skating Polly – 10 p.m. – Boise All-Ages Movement Project
Kelly Lee Owens – 12:30 a.m. – Neurolux

Friday | March 23, 2018

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Groggy Bikini, photo by Jason Sievers

208 Ensemble – 4:30 p.m. – Boise Contemporary Theater
Twin Peaks – 5:50 p.m. – Main Stage
Groggy Bikini – 6:30 p.m. – The Shredder
Frigs – 9 p.m. – Linen Building
U.S. Girls – 11 p.m. – Linen Building

Saturday | March 24, 2018

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C.J. Boyd circa 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Prism Bitch – 5 p.m. – Linen Building
Mint Field – 6:30 p.m. – Boise All Ages Movement Project
Moaning – 7:30 p.m. – Boise All-ages Movement Project
C.J. Boyd – 9:40 p.m. – Boise Contemporary Theater
Thunderpussy – 11:30 p.m. – Hannah’s

Sunday | March 25, 2018

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Clarke and the Himselfs, photo by Ellen Rumel

Yardsss – 4:30 p.m. – Neurolux
Spiritual Warfare and the Greasy Shadows – 5:50 p.m. – Linen Building
Clarke and the Himselfs – 7 p.m. – El Korah Shrine
Aan – 9:30 p.m. – Neurolux
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya – 10:4 p.m. – Neurolux

The Haunted, “High Desert Psych” of Sun Blood Stories

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Sun Blood Stories, photo by Jackie Hutchens

Sun Blood Stories makes its latest appearance in Denver tonight, 9/15/17, at Lion’s Lair with Big Dopes and Serpentfoot. The former quintet now trio from Boise, Idaho, has been creating its experimental psychedelic music since 2011. Though the band emerged around the time when the most recent wave of psychedelic rock was headed toward its peak, Sun Blood Stories seemed to come from a different place. Its shows feel a bit like you’re seeing what a traveling, shamanistic musical ceremony might be like. Its songs, some rock, some weirdo folk but all informed by an attempt to create a mood and an experience as much as, or more so, than melody.

The 2017 album It Runs Around the Room With Us has a title that suggests the supernatural and the songs themselves are often melancholic compositions haunted by memories, dreams and experiments in crafting atmospheres that stir the imagination and don’t seen leave the mind. We recently caught up with the band via email to discuss some of its history, inspirations and perspectives in creating its riveting body of work. Where a specific band member responds the name will precede that response otherwise assume it’s a collective answer. But you can figure that out because you’re smart.

Queen City: What brought you together to form Sun Blood Stories?

Ben Kirby: I played as a solo act for awhile and really just wanted a band because that’s a shit ton of work and pressure for just one person. Delegation is key.

Jon Fust: He actually just wanted a bunch of mindless fools to do exactly what he told them.

Amber Pollard: Which totally backfired because what he ended up getting was a bossy chick and a drummer who can literally never make a decision about anything.

Ben: Anyway, through a couple line up changes and stylistic progressions, we arrived at this band.

The name of the band suggests that maybe you have a narrative element to your songwriting. Would you say that’s true? What kinds of stories tend to make their way into your songs?

There’s definitely a few continuous themes that tend to push their way into our music: time and death, dreams and wonder, pain and dealing with it. Oh and politics.

Amber: I write a lot about my own personal experience and how that relates to the current political climate. This comes pretty naturally as I am a loud activist in our community. On this newest album we touch on themes like the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, the confederate flag, the lack of adequate healthcare for the underinsured, police brutality, human trafficking, LGBTQIA rights, etc.

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Sun Blood Stories, photo by Everett Smith

Were you in bands before SBS? What kinds of bands?

Jon and Ben were in a band called Talk Math to Me which was loud and garage rock-y which was active from 2010-2011. When Talk Math to Me dissolved Ben started playing solo as Sun Blood Stories.

When you started out were there really any bands locally that seemed like-minded? What kinds of places did you play early on and did any of them play an important role in your development as a band?

Jon: I feel like Boise has a really good community and the bands are all friends but there aren’t too many overlapping genres here.

Ben: We played really everywhere we possibly could.

Amber: Treefort Music Fest has really given SBS a yearly goal to just play better. The first year of the festival [2012] was Ben’s first year of performing as Sun Blood and every year since we’ve worked really hard to ensure that we are growing and trying to keep up with Treefort’s cool.

What bands or other artists that had a particular impact or influence on what you’ve done with SBS?

Jon: My natural instinct is to say The Velvet Underground because they make me wanna make weird noise.

Ben: I’ve learned a lot from Deerhoof both from seeing them play and reading interviews about how they actually run the band.

Amber: Can I just pick a genre? Cause I listen to A lot of 90s R&B and Hip Hop. It’s taken a lot of strategy and smooth talking to convince the band to let that influence our music.

Having traveled around on tour, what have you come to appreciate about Boise and being based there?

Amber: 1, I can go out and not see anyone I know or I can go out and be surrounded by friends. It’s small enough and big enough for both. 2, I can ride my bike any where in the city. 3, cost of living is pretty low in comparison to other Metro areas which makes supporting this band a lot easier on us a family.

Jon: I like Boise because the music scene is in a cool stage of growth right now and I feel like we’re right in the middle of it.

Ben: Um, I’ve loved many of the towns and cities we’ve gone to but I always just want to come back home.

It’s always awkward trying to describe someone else’s music much less your own, but why do you shorthand describe your music on your Facebook page as “High Desert Experimental Psych-Fuzz”? Certainly that kind of description could be used to describe Spindrift, some aspects of Black Mountain or a trippier, harder edged Ennio Morricone. 

Amber: At Treefort 2015 Wolvserpent posted a picture of us performing on Instagram. Their caption described our sound as “High Desert Psych,” and I just embraced that. I added in the experimental descriptor because sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing but it always sounds good. After a bit I needed to add in the Fuzz part because who doesn’t love fuzz?

Ben: Also it was the coolest 5 words we could think of at the time.

Jon: We have a Facebook page?

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Sun Blood Stories, photo by Sun Blood Stories

Your music has always had experimental underpinnings. You could have followed the psychedelic rock trend of the last 7 years and done okay for yourselves. But you seem to have really embraced what some might consider the weirder side of your songwriting as part of the whole. Why is that such an important aspect of your music and what do you think got you interested in exploring that richly as you have?

Jon: It just felt natural.

Ben: I’ve always loved deeply weird music. The fact that we’re considered a psych band is really interesting to me because it’s almost just a coincidence that the psych thing was happening as we were beginning.

Amber: The Residents and captain Beefheart have really held a place in Jon’s heart since he was very young. Fitting into a genre is just not our jam. I’m much more interested in carving out our own space and I think we do a pretty good job of that. Like when we release a new single and people hear it on the radio, people who have listened to our album or seen our show can tell right away that that’s Sun Blood playing through their speakers. I don’t want that to change.

It Runs Around the Room With Us is very different from Twilight Midnight Morning. Neither would be considered a straight ahead rock record, for sure. But It Runs Around the Room With Us not only suggests the presence of spirits in the music with the title, it’s more overtly ambient/deeply atmospheric. What inspired that approach to the songs for the album? What sorts of feelings and ideas spawned that set of songs?

Ben: Much of the difference between the two albums is the lineup change that occurred between the recording of each. We went from being a quintet to a trio and there was considerably more space within the sound. We tried to reign in some of barreling cacophony and focus more on the development of the pieces themselves.

Jon: Yeah I feel like the line up change had the most significant impact, at least for me and what I’m playing. Having two less members opened up a lot of space in the music, which forced us to get more creative with how we filled that space, and allowed me to start playing keyboards along with the drums.

Amber: I kind of feel like the tracks on It Runs were all loosely based on “Misery is Nebulous,” the final track of Twilight. The elements of that song that really stood out for us were the build, the spaciousness, the beauty and the pain. We took those elements, expanded on them, and used them as the foundation for this album. Creating this album was a healing experience and playing it live is like a therapy session.