Ann Courtney: Vocals
Elizabeth Carena: Vocals / Keyboards
Chris Foley: Guitar
Gunnar Olsen: Drums
Having set New York City and beyond ablaze with their live wire shows, a string of EPs, and their 2016 self-titled debut on Metal Blade Records, Mother Feather return with Constellation Baby - definitively restating their position as one of the most exciting and unique rock & roll acts on the circuit. This is deeply felt NYC rock & roll as it should be: towering riffs and now-or-never urgency, bolstered by pop precision and purity of mission.
Of course, upping the ante is no small feat when a fevered fan base expects greatness. "All I knew was that I needed the new album to be awesome," states band leader Ann Courtney. "'Mother Feather' is such an empowered album, and when I began working on the new material, I was really struggling to feel that way. I knew this album needed to be even better than the first, and to capitalize on its momentum it had to happen quickly. It was a tremendous amount of pressure to put myself under, and it was a dragon I knew I wanted to slay alone - at least at the beginning." Never one to falter, Courtney locked herself away to write, to face her depression and to stare down some uncomfortable feelings. "Truthfully, I went to some very dark and lonely places. But once I let myself go there, that's when the album started to take shape. There's a lot of fever and intimacy in those songs. I laid myself bare." And with her band - vocalist/keyboardist Elizabeth Carena, guitarist Chris Foley, and drummer Gunnar Olsen - ready to help her fully realize the songs, the result is a collection which is as cathartic as it is exuberant. "We are diving way deeper into the question, 'Who is Mother Feather?' and I think that the answer is extremely emotional. It's eclectic, but it all sounds like Mother Feather. This album will definitely expand what that means."
Anyone exposed to Constellation Baby will be immediately struck by its sublime melodies and irresistible, danceable grooves, particularly on tracks like "Shake Your Magic 8 Ball," which Courtney says is about "unlocking the answers to life's deepest questions by shaking your ass on the dance floor." The band makes this seem somehow effortless, belying the hard work and raw emotion they've poured into every aspect of the work. A little under half the record was written before Mother Feather hit the road in support of their debut, with fans (affectionately known as "motherfeathers") having already been treated to a smattering of the songs live. The majority of the songs were completed during the period Courtney spent in isolation. "Some of the inspiration came to me while on the road - in particular, experiences that informed the lyrics for 'Supernatural' and 'Man, I Wish You Were Here.' But in no way was I actually able to complete any new songs while on tour. There are way too many people around and so much constantly going on. I needed to be alone and beat my head against the wall. I had to crack myself open. It got a little weird, for sure." The honesty of the record is striking, and inspires a range of emotion across its ten tracks. "I let myself be extremely vulnerable," says Courtney. "The songs are still fun, urgent, empowering, and defiant, but I also let myself be immensely sad, which didn't really exist on our debut."
At the heart of the album lies the title track, composed during the infant stages of the band. "That song has always been a shape-shifter and has taken on many different meanings and significance for me over the years," says Courtney. "Ultimately it's a feminist prayer of super-connection. It's a wish for myself and others. I want women to be free and I want to be an example." For the recording, the song's intro was re-imagined with the help of producer Joshua Valleau, which allowed Courtney to "time-travel" back to the night it was written and remember its pure intention: "To connect to others and myself, to be true, and to be the kind of woman I could look up to. In the darkest hours writing the new songs for the album, forcing myself to stare down some gnarly feelings about fear, isolation, paranoia, drugs, a friend lost to suicide, it was always inspirational women and girls who led me back to a crystal clear sense of light and purpose."
Tracked entirely in Brooklyn at Mission Sound and producer Valleau's studio The Glass Wall, everyone involved spent three intensive months focused on the album, determined to bring it to life in the way the songs deserved. For Courtney, this meant learning to trust her gut more than ever during this process, but it was definitively a team effort, guided by Valleau's production. "Josh worked very hard to preserve what was already good about the songs, pushed us for the right performances, and cared very deeply about the quality of the sound. I trusted him implicitly to serve what's essential about the music, the unique chemistry of our band, and to elevate our sound at the same time," Courtney enthuses. "He has a knack for seeing people as they are and helping them achieve the music they dream of making. It's obvious he loves making records. He's an extraordinary, natural producer."
"It definitely wasn't a given that things would come together though," she points out. "It was hard won, even back to the writing. Everyone in the band went way out of their way to make it happen because we wanted it to happen. Everyone had something to say. Ideas were pushed to the limit and the result is the collective combination of those forces of energy. We were extremely vigilant about working through ideas. Stuff got worked, and it got worked again. In spite of the challenges - personal, financial, artistic - we all tried really hard to work together and create the thing that everyone meant, collectively."
When looking at everything they achieved in support of their debut, Mother Feather - including 41 dates on the 2016 Warped Tour, a live session for the BBC Radio One Rock Show around sell-out UK dates, appearances at large-scale stadium festivals Rock On The Range and Carolina Rebellion, as well as opening slots for The B-52s - it's understandable that the quintet are keen to hit the road in support of Constellation Baby. With the addition of Seth Ondracek on bass ("a ferocious player whose enthusiasm is pure sunshine," opines Courtney), Mother Feather are playing better than ever. Courtney asserts that upcoming shows promise "more blood, more lightning, more catharsis." While the devout will already be salivating at such a proposition, the vocalist is eager to expand the "cult" around the band. "I am greedy for fans. I want to go to Japan, more of Europe, South America, and scoop up motherfeathers everywhere we go. They are everywhere, and I want to find them."