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Just what is a Very Good Bad Thing? It is the less savory side of human nature. It’s the wedge that technology has driven between humans and the natural world. And in the case of Canada’s harmonic band Mother Mother, “Very Good Bad Thing” is the name of their latest studio album, a melodic foray into synth-rock.
“The ‘very good bad thing’ is the person itself,” frontman Ryan Guldemond explains. “We are this terrifying, yet beautiful juxtaposition of creative intelligence and self-degeneration.” “Very Good Bad Thing” is also that rare accomplishment: a rock album that manages to be weighty in theme, but blissfully hook-laden in delivery. Already available in Canada, the album hit No. 1 on that country’s alternative albums chart and was nominated for best group at this year’s Juno awards. The latter is indicative of Mother Mother’s home-grown dominance — with the group’s previous release, “The Sticks,” getting more Canadian alternative airplay last year than any other album.
But Mother Mother is not just a Canadian phenom. The band — which also includes singer-keyboardist Jasmin Parkin, bassist Jeremy Page, drummer Ali Siadat, and Ryan’s sister, singer-keyboardist Molly Guldemond — has toured the U.S. extensively, including dates with Imagine Dragons and AWOLNation. And come April 7, “Very Good Bad Thing” (out on Def Jam) is ready to spark similar intrigue in America.
First-single “Monkey Tree” — and its moody video of anthropomorphic creatures — is about letting go of technology to embrace your inner animal. Like most of the album, its message is heavy but “tinged with humor,” Ryan explains. “Darkness is best presented with a bit of a smirk. Otherwise, it can be very mopey.” It’s also a great centerpiece for what “Very Good Bad Thing” does exceedingly well: The album makes electronic-driven music, which doesn’t sound human, feel all-too-human.
Each song has its own distinct personality. Where “Monkey Tree” ambles brightly as its feral message unfolds, the confessional romance-tale “Modern Love” offers a weightless chorus that shimmers with anticipation. The stripped-down “Reaper Man” builds to a sinful, throbbing apex, while the self-reflective “Have It Out” wades in sparse, almost nocturnal, sounds.
“There’s something very primal, yet modern, about a big knot of industrial and mechanical sounds,” Ryan says. Quite deliberately, Mother Mother made “Very Good Bad Thing” sound more synthetic, more electronic. “But the same rule applies that has always applied: Humans react to humanity more than anything.”
To that end, the mercurial “Kept Down” is a powerful anti-bullying anthem inspired by the death of Amanda Todd. “When that story came out, a woman came up to me at a show and was like, ‘My kids have trouble in school and get a lot of empowerment from your music,'” Ryan says. “I was wary of premeditating such an intense message. So I really took my time in finding those lyrics and crafting a story that was a celebration of outcasts in general.”
Much of “Very Good Bad Thing” came together less conventionally for Ryan, who writes the bulk of the songs, while the band members lay their parts atop his compositions. (For her unwavering honestly, his sister, Molly, is frequently his first sounding board for compositions.) “‘Monkey Tree’ started in the shower,” he says. “I was thinking about a song for this artist I was producing. It was all written in my head. When I finally had a chance to work on the song on a keyboard, it screamed with potential…so we kept it for the band.” He laughs.
“‘Get Out the Way’ has a very strange story, too,” he adds. The band was asked to cover “O Holy Night” for a holiday compilation, but they wanted to do a metal version of it. (“I’ll write the perfect song for the perfect day / Might take a little while to my song gets played,” the track goes.) “Basically, it’s an homage to ‘O Holy Night.’ You can actually sing that song’s chorus over the top of ‘Get Out the Way.'”
To be fair, there were many forces driving “Very Good Bad Thing,” and Ryan credits producer Gavin Brown (Metric, 3 Days Grace) for helping steer these concepts into a cohesive album. “We had a tendency to become a bit over-congested with ideas and parts — which I think gives this band a lot of its charm,” Ryan says. “But at a certain point you need to trim the fat and unearth the most powerful elements of a song.”
This indulgence of countless ideas distilled into a singular vision was an epiphany of sorts for the band. Says Ryan, “We want to write amazing songs, but in new incarnations. We want to experiment with production. We want to bring in new soundscapes.”