Kristine Leschper’s music is out of touch with the modern age. This a good thing. Her Philadelphia-via-Athens band, Mothers, made waves with 2016’s When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, a collection of oddly framed guitar-rock, their time signatures scattered. Leschper’s lyrical content reads more like literal poetry than any form of diary entry songwriting. She finds common ground with the intimate and the abstract, and the bulk of Mothers’ songs are the band experimenting with these very ideas.
Whereas When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired borrowed from anti-folk playbooks and sharp yet ultimately dispersed methods of guitar tracking, their latest for ANTI- Records, Render Another Ugly Method, finds Leschper and company sticking to the abstract. Lescpher’s prose is still very much visceral and taut, but the band’s instrumental craftsmanship bleeds into Mothers’ latest batch of songs more so than ever. Leschper’s poetry, in many ways, is still the focal point, but her vocal delivery has digressed, fitting in where the band leaves space for it, acting as a completely singular instrument, one that’s just as vital as guitar, bass, or drums. Render Another Ugly Method is nearly an hour-long anxiety attack, more frantic and on-edge than any guitar-rock record of the year.
We spoke to Leschper about Mother’s new album, writing poetry and staying healthy as a touring artist.
Treble: You recently moved from Athens, Georgia to Philadelphia. How has that transition been from a relatively small city to a much bigger one?
Kristine Leschper: Really, I just wanted to move to a city, as a personal challenge, because I’ve never really lived in one before. Athens is a city, but it’s a small city—I want to say it’s about 150,000 people. I kind of felt like it was something I wanted to try. It’s been relatively easy in the sense that I already had several friends that live here, who have been able to introduce me to people and tell me about shows. I don’t use Facebook, and I realize moving to a big city and not knowing anybody there, it can be really difficult to find out about what’s going on, if there isn’t a publication that’s posting about those shows, or if you don’t have people telling you about it. Luckily, I had this built-in group of people who were able to really quickly introduce me to other folks who would tell me about shows, and art openings and things like that.
It’s been really interesting moving to a city that’s experiencing so much change. That’s something I didn’t really know or expect about Philadelphia. The area of town I live in is called South Kensington. It’s right on the edge of a neighborhood called Fish Town, which is experiencing this really explosive growth right now, so it’s kind of like every time you turn onto a new block, there’s some kind of construction going on. There’s a lot of talk happening right now about affordable housing, and what that means with the current state of gentrification. I guess I felt really conscious of it moving here, because obviously I’m a young artist moving to a city that is already experiencing a lot of that displacement of local people. So, that’s been kind of a challenging thing about moving here—figuring out what my place is in the community, and how I can be a person that doesn’t just take up space here, or displace those that have lived here for a long time.
It was something that I thought about before I moved here, but it’s very visual when you get here. There’s so much construction and there are a lot of modern houses being built. Being here, you can’t really forget about it, its right in your face, all the time.
Treble: You were previously studying printmaking, but stopped doing that, right?
KL: Yeah, I’m not doing any proper print making anymore, largely because I don’t have access to those facilities. I’ve chosen to work visually in other ways that I can do from my house. So yeah, I’m not really participating in printmaking lately, but I’m still pretty active in visual art. I just sort of keep it to myself largely, like I’m not really creating work that I’m interested in showing right now. I’ve been dedicating a lot more of my time to music, but I think that my art practice is going to continue to be quite interdisciplinary throughout the rest of my life. I’ve been really missing time spent on visual work and creating writing that doesn’t involve songs (laughs). So it’s always hard to kind of figure out what I’m supposed to be doing at any particular time. (laughs)
Treble: Did you design the cover of Render Another Ugly Method yourself?
KL: I did not. Something I have realized about being in a place in some privileged in the context of playing in a band that has been somewhat successful, or a band that has a label, has resources, like, makes some money touring, how great it is that I can commission friends to do things for me, and that’s something I’ve been doing a lot. It feels really productive to be able to get friends of mine to do things and to be able to actually pay them for their work feels really good. I commissioned a friend of mine—their name is Alessandra Hoshor. They’re from Atlanta, and they live in Philadelphia now, and their work is really incredible. They’re also really an interdisciplinary artist whose work ranges from animation, video work, net art, to drawings and paintings. And they write music as well—they’re an electronic composer, they go by the name of Pamela and Her Sons. So I would recommend that.
Treble: As I’ve been reading the lyrics from Render Another Ugly Method, they kind of stunned me a little bit. Every time I read through them, they read like poems. It feels unforced, everything fitting very neatly with your music, a lot of it consisting of weird time signatures and such, the way you pair your lyrics with the band feels very organic—did you ever get into creative writing prior to Mothers, or was that something that came naturally along with composing music?
KL: Yeah, actually I would say that poetry was sort of my first love, or really the first thing I was interested in, way before visual art, way before music—I realized I was interested in poetry, which I think was because my sister was into poetry, and throughout high school I borrowed some of her books. When I was young, I was really drawn to these confessional poets, like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. And then at the same time I started discovering these musicians who were also very confessional, and they were kind of poets first. I loved Bright Eyes and Neutral Milk Hotel, and that was kind of like my introduction to poetry and also to music. I think that I’ve developed this strong poetic sensibility, and in ways it’s what is most important to me, but I don’t think it’s the only thing that’s important. Poetry is the foundation of what I do, but as I progress as a musician, listening to more music and understanding different styles of music, I feel like I’m better able to apply that knowledge to further the poem.
I read William Carlos Williams talking about poetry, where he talks about a poem as a field of action, and I love that, so much. Especially in the context of music, because if you visualize text as an action that can be shared between the writer and the reader, and not an inactive object—like something that moves, something that can be discovered—I think that totally applies to music. When I write poetry, I try to write in this way that’s active, that kind of flows from one observation to another, and I think that’s what’s different from the first album by Mothers and the second. The first record is poetry with a little bit of music in there, kind of like an early representation of what I was interested in, it’s very confessional, very private. It was really lyrics first.
I think something that makes the new record, Render Another Ugly Method, different from the first record, is this process that I was using that was much more like the cut-ups (technique) by the Dadaists and William Burroughs, it was put together much more like a collage than the first record.
Treble: I can hear that in the new songs, but what’s interesting about your discography is that the song structure and your writing are always different. Sometimes it feels completely freeform — are these methods conscious?
KL: I think that I’m always just experimenting, and I always have a lot to learn about my own process, but I think that’s just the product of me trying on different things and seeing how they work out. My songwriting process has changed a lot since I started writing songs, and I think that it will probably continue to be in flux. For Render, I was interested in these very linear structures, which is something I’ve always been interested in, and that was present on When You Walk, as well, but it’s a little more obvious and exaggerated on Render.
I’ve been thinking about these sort of long, linear structures that have lots of different moments in them, that are kid of pieced together and fragmented, so that was kind of my main focus. It’s interesting because, now that I’m writing things post-Render, I’m much more interested in melody first, like melody over structure. The songs that I’m writing now are still quite linear, they’re in a way much more straightforward and less of this fragmented feel, more concise and sentimental. I’m now also leaning towards this new, sentimentalist style, whereas before I had always been interested in this more cynical, sarcastic, sort of post-modern style. So I think it’s just always going to continue to change, through experimenting and trying on these different hats. (laughs)
Treble: Right, if something may have worked for you one year ago or three years ago, you definitely have changed in that amount of time. It’s been a few years since you last put out a full length, and I wonder, as an artist, do you ever have these moments in time where you look back on your past work and think “I should have changed this, or tweaked this arrangement,” or, once it’s done, is it completely behind you?
KL: I think it’s the most healthy to move forward, to be able to kind of separate yourself from past works. I think that’s really the way a lot of recording artists feel—what feels important is what’s presently being worked on. I’ve always felt that way, never feeling too attached to older work. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy performing it, but once something is recorded, it’s recorded, and it’s kind of like “what’s the next thing that can be done, and how can I use what I learned there?” That doesn’t mean that I don’t look back and, you know, maybe regret small decisions that I made, but I don’t want to be a person who does that. I’m always actively trying to not concern myself with mistakes I’ve made in the past or things that I would have done differently, because now I have the power to use what I’ve learned through those experiences.
It’s funny that you say that, though, because I do feel that at times, in the context of writing or interviews. I will not go back and read past interviews that I’ve done, largely because I feel that, when I first started doing interviews, I don’t think I established this language of how to talk about my work, which has gotten much easier over time, but it’s something I still really struggle with. The reason I make art is so I can present ideas in an abstract way, right? I don’t always like talking about it, but it’s hard to look back at those old interviews and I’m kind of like stumbling all over myself and not really knowing how I felt about my work, or what was important about it, to me.
Treble: You’re about to head out on a mini-tour following the release of Render Another Ugly Method, after being crammed in the studio for months. Are you excited to see the work you’ve been putting into the new album translate to a live audience every night? How do you prepare for something like that?
KL: Well, I really love to tour now. I probably wouldn’t have said that a year ago, or a year and a half ago, when I was kind of in the middle of it. I’ve learned a lot about how to take care of myself in the context of constantly traveling. When we first started touring, I really didn’t understand how to stay healthy, you know? It wasn’t a priority of mine, or something that I was thinking about. That’s definitely something that’s changed over time. I think how you eat on tour is incredibly important. If I’m eating poorly, I’ll just be emotionally distraught (laughs) because my body isn’t healthy, and the same goes for exercise. We learned that you have to really try if you’re going to exercise on tour, and for us it meant just bringing a soccer ball, or—like nobody just really goes on runs in my band. Some people do, and that’s awesome, but we kind of found ways to just play (laughs) by kicking a soccer ball around, or swimming.
As far as emotionally and mentally preparing for tour, I try to just make sure that I have a lot of reading material planned. I think that reading on tour is so productive, or for me, it is, because it’s so much time in a car, and you can’t always do very much. It’s pretty limited as to what you can accomplish inside of a moving vehicle.
Recently, we’ve been doing this thing where we try to write songs in the car, together with Ableton, so we’ve all been using Ableton a lot, to kind of construct ideas. I’m pretty new to using it as an initial songwriting tool, and for building arrangements and such. So we’ve been doing this thing in the car where we’ll try to just make a song in a day, or in one car ride, live mixing and plugging the computer into the stereo of the van, and we’ll record samples of people talking in the car or software instruments, and we’ll try to build a track in the car. It’s a really fast way to get through a car ride.
Treble: Right, that way you’re all involved.
KL: Yeah, it’s important that everybody is in good mental health. That’s something we’ve all been considering more recently, making sure everyone is really taken care of, or just feeling good, whatever that means for everyone.