If you ask a teenager who their favourite band is, nine times out of ten they can tell you. Usually emphatically. As people get older and their lives get more complicated, so does the answer to that question. For most people. But not me.
Despite early infatuations with the Bee Gees, Blondie and The Rolling Stones, when it really boils down to it, I have had the same answer for 30+ years: Depeche Mode. From 1980 onward, they were the one band I could count on. Every album had at least one song that was heroin to me. I make that comparison not based on experience but from a description given to me by a former user. He said, “Heroin is the moment when you are completely in love with a girl, and she suddenly, unexpectedly tells you she loves you, too.” The mundane vanishes. The world is liquid colour. Just like the Grinch, my heart grows to three times its size. In these moments I am completely, joyfully alive. Yes, I am talking about that Depeche Mode. Don’t ask me to explain it. They aren’t The Beatles or Beethoven or Lady Day. But they are the Dick to my Liz – we just can’t keep our dirty, 40-proof hands off each other till one of us finally kicks it.
Until recently. In the fall of 2013 I started up an affair with another band. And like many affairs go, I didn’t even know it was happening until it was too late. One day, Ryan Guldemond’s voice sailed out of my speakers and into my soul. He said, “Let’s Fall In Love.” And I did.
This is not going to be an op-ed piece about the history and discography of Mother Mother. Instead, it’s a story told in a series of images – moments only those born with the music gene can understand. Because I’ve come to realize that there are people who don’t have the music gene. People for whom that whole heroin comparison sounds like the ravings of a madwoman, a hormonally-imbalanced teenager or an obsessive fan LARPing in full costume at Anime North. But if you’re still reading, I’ll assume you have it. And even if you are still shaking your head at my choice of bands, if you have the music gene, at least you understand the power of those music moments. If you don’t, this article is only going to get worse for you. My apologies.
The 2012-2013 school year was a tough one for my family. I was one year into a nannying job that required fours hours of commuting per day. I missed my kids and they needed two parents. So, I made the decision to pull my two youngest children who were then nine and twelve out of their home school in Brampton and enrol them down the street from where I worked. For better or worse, at least we would have those hours in the van together. My kids had mixed feelings about being uprooted. The younger one, my daughter Milan, had no problem making new friends and adored her new teacher. My son was a different story. The transition between schools was a painful one for him at a difficult time in his life and he was mad – mostly at me for making this decision in spite of his protests. And while I stand by my decision to this day, there is no question that it left scars. Those morning drives usually began in the darkness of pre-dawn. It was cold. We were tired. There was usually a fight to get out of the driveway on time, followed by an actual fight in the van over whose turn it was for the front seat. My son would sit in surly silence for most of the ride, cursing my existence. It was tough. Two things saved us. (Okay, no three. But I consider the McDonalds breakfasts junk-food bribery, and their effects were short-lived.) Every morning, my daughter and I would watch the sun rise as we drove into the city. Those sunrises were never exactly the same and they were always beautiful and we always made a point of saying so. No matter what was happening in the van, that moment of acknowledgement and gratitude gave us respite, however brief, in the midst of the chaos.
The other thing that saved us was the radio. It filled the silences and cleared the air. There were only two stations I listened to at that time – 102.1 The Edge and the (at that time) new Alternative start-up, Indie88. The current renaissance in Canadian music was picking up steam, the competition between the two stations meant more variety and experimentation and, most importantly, Depeche Mode was a given, at least once a week. “Enjoy The Silence” took on a whole new meaning. Then one day, there was “Let’s Fall In Love.” I didn’t know who was singing it, I had never heard anything like it before, and damn, that woman had a great voice. (Yeah, you heard me.) The song wasn’t on heavy rotation, so it only cropped up sometimes. Soon, I found myself switching back and forth between stations, hoping I would catch it. Milan loved the song, too, and would crank it on my behalf. I finally caught the band’s name, Mother Mother, and looked up the video on YouTube. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the woman with the voice was a dude. He looked like my 80’s boyfriend, Billy Idol, and had the swagger and attitude of a real rock star. The two girls not only sang perfect harmony, they looked badass. What’s not to love?
Spring came, and with it, another song, “Infinitesimal.” Completely different from “Let’s Fall In Love.” So different, in fact, that it didn’t even occur to me that this could be the same band. It was just a great song. Something Milan and I could play loud, sing along to and escape into. I remember the exact moment when the DJ said the song was by Mother Mother. It was sunny, and we were almost home after a long rush hour, on Steeles Avenue. Wait a minute. What? The same band created two equally brilliant but entirely unique songs? Songs that spoke to my music gene with such ferocity? Songs that gave us three minutes of something great to cut through the melancholy and infinite sadness? That night I bought and downloaded all four of their albums. That summer, my daughter and I went to our first music festival, Edgefest, just to see Mother Mother. For her, the festival was a little overwhelming. There were no kids and the vibe was pretty intense for a nine year old. But we held hands as we huddled in the drizzle under our Incredible Hulk beach towel and sang along to to every song. We left before the headliners and the downpour and rode the bus home together in damp, exhausted bliss. We were in love.
Next story. That fall, we were gearing up for my friend Shelley’s daughter’s wedding shower – a massive affair to be held at the same hall where the wedding reception would be held the following summer. Neither family was particularly wealthy, but both sides were Italian, and this was serious business. Thousands and thousands of dollars in expenses. The day after the shower, I had tickets for my friend Madison and I to see Mother Mother perform at Hideaway Records and Bar in London, Ontario. Two nights before, all of the women helping with the shower gathered at Shelley’s house to hand-write the place cards, create the floral centerpieces, and assemble the bonbonietti filled with painstakingly hand decorated cookies. It was a busy, keyed-up, but happy few hours until the groom’s mother showed up and proceeded to spend the remainder of the evening insulting both the bride and her mother. Loudly. It had been building for months. His mother did not want this wedding to happen. And I guess the shower was her breaking point. The night ended like a scene from a movie – yelling on the front porch, neighbours slamming their doors in protest, and the poor bride-to-be in her bedroom, crying with every ounce of her shattered heart.
The next day, everything was cancelled – the shower, the wedding, the life that would have been. In hindsight, it was for the better, clearly. But then? The next day, it was like a bomb had dropped. We all were in shock. No one could believe what had just happened. The next morning, Shelley and I had one, hushed, tear-filled phone conversation. She told me their house was in lock-down – no phone calls, no visitors, please. So, I didn’t cancel my trip. But it still felt a little wrong when I got on the bus to London with Madison. I felt like my place was with my friend and I was abandoning her. But the bus pulled away from the Greyhound station, and that was that. In London, we checked into our cheap hotel, I put on too much make-up and my home-made Mother Mother t-shirt and we went to the show.
The Hideaway is one of the best venues I have ever been in. It’s intimate but roomy, hip but homey, and the drinks are cold and strong. Madison and I had spent the trip rehashing what had just happened. I had known the bride for almost her entire life. She was more like a niece than a friend’s kid. Was it selfish for me to be here? Should I have stayed and gone to their house to support Shelley and her daughter, in spite of their wishes? I couldn’t let it go. The Beaches were the opening act and they were great. Maddy and I had managed to scoop a prize location, sitting on a long bar table which ran along the side of the room. Two drinks in, with some four-chord girl rock, I could let the guilt go. A little. Then something caught my eye to the side of the stage. There was no mistaking Ryan Guldemond’s platinum mohawk as he stood in the shadows, smiling, watching, making a video of the Beaches on his phone. Like a fan. It was adorable and unexpected behavior. It was also clear that he was trying not to draw attention. And that is when I lost my mind. I slipped off the bar and started moving like a possessed zombie, toward him. I dimly heard Maddy say, “Where are you going?” but I didn’t even respond. I just couldn’t believe this gifted angel was right there, not ten feet away. I was not going to let this moment pass. What would I say? How would I say it? How could I tell him in five seconds what his music meant to me – what a genius I thought he was – without sounding like a babbling idiot? The crowd around me was starting to notice. They watched me as I moved between the last few people standing between us. Then, it happened. He turned his head toward me and this is what he saw – a sweaty, slightly pudgy, forty-something woman with a huge, curly red ponytail, wearing a clearly homemade shirt with a giant, silver-glittered “MM” emblazoned on the front and an expression of, I’m guessing, slightly hysterical shock, awe and determination. He sized up the situation in about .3 seconds and with all the speed and grace of a gazelle, turned and disappeared into the darkness, backstage. I froze, then laughed (out loud, I hope) as sanity flooded back in. I turned and shuffled my way back to my perch. Those who had seen this go down either looked away in embarrassment or smiled in sympathy (but mostly looked away.) All I could do was smile back, sheepishly, and try not to take it personally when The Beaches sang, “Baby, I’m a loser…”
Mother Mother’s show was transcendent. The band was at the end of their tour for The Sticks and they were tight, tight, tight. Jasmine (Parkin) wasn’t singing that night (I never found out why) but she was tearing it up on the keyboard. My friend Maddy, who barely knew their music before that show, was blown away and became a fan that day. They played a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” just for her, I think. And as the ebullient crowd inched our way out of the venue, the bar played a Nirvana medley over the sound system. All two hundred and fifty of us sang along. I was nineteen again and all was right with the world.
One last story. There are many more, but I feel like I should keep it to three, or this will become the Mother Mother novel. And I might put it out just to find I can’t sell a single one.
For the past fifteen years I have had a series of regular day jobs to support my theatre habit. I teach acting to a small, intensely dedicated group of teenagers on Sundays and each spring we produce a show at a theatre in downtown Toronto. Most of the shows are adaptations we create from classics – Shakespeare plays or novels like “Lord Of The Flies” and “The Outsiders.” The shows always include live music. “A Midsummer Nights Dream” was all B-52s songs, and yes, it was all Depeche Mode for “Sense On The Beach,” our adaptation of “Sense And Sensibility.”
In 2014 I was in the throes of my early Mother Mother passion, and decided to adapt “Alice In Wonderland” and “Through The Looking Glass” into one show set to Mother Mother songs. It was a wild show. We set it in the basement of an abandoned building. All of the characters, except Alice, were people dealing with various states of mental illness, addiction or poverty, who had sought refuge in this place. The Red Queen was the sociopath who ruled the basement. The seven Mother Mother songs the cast performed were key guideposts in the creation of our storyline. The band’s management was kind enough to give us permission to use the band’s original instrumental tracks, and “Alice Unchained” remains one of the group’s proudest achievements. There were so many standout moments for me, but the ending was always especially moving. In it, Alice is crowned Queen, the Red Queen storms off in a fury, and all of the remaining people in Wonderland gather around her to celebrate the end of their abuse at the hands of their former leader. Alice sings “Burning Pile,” and is gradually joined by the entire cast, who dance with her and each other to the repeated refrain at the end of the song that always reminds me of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” Right down to the trumpet section. It was a sad, sweet moment. We realize that Alice has finally brought happiness to this place, but in staying there has lost her sanity, herself.
Fast forward six months to the night of November 4th, as four of us stood in the front row at The Danforth Music Hall watching a special acoustic set the band was playing for those of us who had managed to scoop up VIP tickets. You need to know that “Burning Pile” was not a single. The album it came from, Eureka, was not their biggest seller. So, I was not prepared at all when their bass player, Jeremy Page, pulled out a clarinet and the band began to sing the song with a sweetness and gentleness that spoke to that very moment in our show. My eyes filled up and stayed that way. I was transported as tears streamed down my face, uncontrollably. Thank God Ryan didn’t notice. Or it was going to be: ‘It’s that crazy lady again. Run!’
Now, when people ask me who my favourite band is, I say I have two. There’s my old friend and my new friend. Or, as I like to think of Mother Mother, the Taye Diggs to my Stella.
Mother Mother is Canadian rock band from British Columbia consisting of Ryan Guldemond (guitar, vocals), his sister, Molly Guldemond (keyboard, vocals), Jasmin Parkin (keyboard, vocals), Jeremy Page (bass) and Rochelle’s rock-star crush, Ali Siadat (drums). They are currently working on their sixth album. They will be performing at NXNE in Toronto on June 18th at the Portlands and Rochelle will be there, in her glittery shirt.
Rochelle Douris is one half of the new podcast “Grostival,” (with Graham Conway) dedicated to exploring and celebrating the world of music festivals. She is the Artistic Director of The Upper Canada Repertory Company, a training ground for young actors, and director of the feature film “This Mortal Coil,” which will be released in Fall 2016. She is also the mother of four, married 25 years to a Toronto Firefighter who doesn’t have the music gene and thinks she’s crazy, but loves her anyway.