Story and photos by Michael Kuhn.
On a cold wet night just last week, the Oddboy Collective had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with members of the new haunting gloom outfit, MTHR. As we sat waiting for the go ahead from guitarist Rick Contes to head over to his new place, singer Ally Hoffman invited us over to her cozy bungalow down the street filled with homey knickknacks, candies, and books you could get lost in for hours. As we taste-tested her most recent purchase of seasonal beers and colored in pages of old imported Texas’ punk zines, I started to understand the reason behind choosing their nurturing name. Before conducting the interview, we were first previewed tracks off of their debut EP, “Howl” which is set to be released early next year. The songs radiated with oppressing dark tones complimented by Ally’s soothing vocals that echoed through the open rooms of Rick’s still empty home. The tonal landscape was a fitting soundtrack to the ominous weather of that night. Aside from our more recent friendship, forged around food and the exchange of garden veggies for baked goods; I had only known vocalist Ally Hoffman from playing in local band, Center of the Sun. Rick, and MTHR’s second guitarist Chris Nolen, had also played in COTS before they decided to call it quits almost two years ago. Rick is a local veteran of the Charlotte scene, with over 10 years playing in projects of just about every genre, most notably Young and In the Way and Votnut (formerly Meth Mountain, Grids, etc.). After the dissolution of COTS, they rapidly realized how much they longed to continue writing together. Inevitably, the musical chemistry between these two could not be hindered, thus resulting in the inception of MTHR. This was our conversation…
Let’s start from the beginning guys. How did MTHR get started?
Ally: I’ve been in Charlotte for two years now. I was in Texas for six. When I first moved here is when we first we started doing Center of the Sun. Ben sent me the tracks before I moved here and so I started writing for that right when I got back.
Rick: Yeah before you moved here Ben was like, “Ally’s moving back. We need to get her to sing”, and I was like “Yes. We definitely do.” We had demoed a couple ideas back in 2010 for what would become Center Of The Sun. Then when she moved back here and it kind of solidified everything to start playing live
A: We’d known each other since we were teenagers, but until that point we had just never worked together on anything creatively.
R: Now were in our late twenties, trying to catch up.
A: Center Of The Sun happened really quickly but Rick and I discovered how much we enjoy writing together. Then when the hiatus started that was the thing that I missed the most. It’s one of those things where you’re always writing, always thinking, the gears are always turning. And this summer was really heavy and humid, and really inspiring I guess, and I was sitting on my porch writing a lot, and I got a text from him saying that he had been contacted about doing a sophomore Center Of The Sun record and asked what I thought about that and I said, “fucking yes, totally”, and that’s kind of how we started writing again together. And even though it was under the idea of Center Of The Sun, it quickly transitioned into something else.
R: Yeah we started writing again for Center Of The Sun, and we soon realized it was going to be hard, because Ben, the drummer, moved to Canada. Joe, our bass player, is working all the time. Chris Nolen is really hard to get a hold of. He actually has no idea that we’re doing this (laughs).
A: He’s a ghost. But it works for us.
What should people expect from MTHR?
R: It’s minimal. Center Of The Sun had this kind of pop element to it, and this is maybe in the same realm but darker sounding.
A: I think I’m always going to accidentally write pop.
R: I’ll get you out of it don’t worry.
A: No! I don’t think you should. We’ll just keep stirring the two. It works for us! But when we first started writing, we would sit in the kitchen in these two chairs with the keyboard set up, and I already had a bunch of stuff written so Chris would play along, and Rick would hit record and we would just go. The bonus track on the seven-inch was actually just one take. When we finished it I couldn’t even really remember what I did. It was so organic it was great.
R: Essentially these all these songs are demos that we polished up a lot.
How did the name come about? Do you guys consider yourselves really nurturing people?
A: That kind of happened on its own too. But I try to be. Rick is definitely a nurturer.
R: Am I?
A: I was so hungover the day after Halloween. I was in bed dying. I reeked of whiskey. My cat’s asleep on me, it was the only comfort I had, and he comes in with doughnuts and coffee and just leaves. Puts it on my dresser and leaves.
R: I said, “Ally…this is what best friends are for” and walked out (laughs). But I think you or Chris said “Mother”, and I brought up Mother without the vowels.
A: I was a little skeptical about that because that’s kind of a trend these days, and I didn’t want to buy into that. I didn’t want to do anything with our name like replace A’s with V’s or something. But I find myself really liking my musical projects more than I like any of my relationships or anything. So, you know when like a girl will write a boys name in a notebook a lot? I wrote MTHR so many times. It’s aesthetically pleasing. Geometrically it just looks cool. And aesthetic has been another focus of ours. Any sensory experience you can get from this is something that I want you to have. When you watch us play I don’t want it to be like “oh shit I have to listen to this” or “oh I have to look at something.” I don’t want you to have to think about it.
R: With performing, it’s great to just get up on stage and play your songs, but if you can do something extra it’s awesome. Why wouldn’t you? Make it something to remember. When we first started doing all the stage stuff with Young And In The Way, we were really nervous about it. We didn’t want it to come off as cheesy or forced. But if your performance is authentic people will recognize it.
A: We would be at their practice space and there would be all their bones and blood everywhere and I started bringing over like candles and dried flowers and lace and stuff like that.
R: It needed a woman’s touch.
A: A dead woman’s touch because all of my flowers were dead. But I worked at this restaurant for a while, and I was talking to the owner about how I have dried flowers all over my house. She’s Colombian, and she said that’s bad because they believe that dead flowers hold spirits and it was basically like having a dead animal or something in my house. So I was essentially hanging these dead “bodies” everywhere. I don’t know if I was subconsciously thinking about Young And In The Way and all their dead animals when I brought them over there or something, but those kinds of things are going to be worked in. I’m really big on Southern Gothic. I wish there was some way to recreate how humid and uncomfortable it was outside when we started writing.
Rick, every one of your projects over the years has been completely different from the last. How do you keep up?
R: I think a doctor would diagnose that as ADD. I don’t know really. I listen to so much. One thing I’ve gotten from one of my favorite bands, Darkthrone, is just doing whatever the fuck you want to do whenever you want to do it. Those guys put out some of the most classic second wave black metal records from like ‘90-‘96. Then went away for a while. Then they came back with a record that sounds like Iron Maiden. And then they put out like a D-beat crust punk record. They just do what they want. It’s amazing. The best decision I’ve ever made musically was buying Pro-Tools and recording equipment and just teaching myself how to do it. So a lot of times it will be like, “Am I going to start a new band this weekend?” And also it’s good because we can meet up and demo whenever we want.
A: We’ve been doing a lot of Jewel covers.
Ally, where do you draw inspiration from lyrically?
A: The MTHR songs are kind of like a time capsule of the last three years. I can listen to it and know exactly where I was or what I was reading. I worked in behavioral therapy for a while so I was reading a lot of Jung. I was reading this book called “Women Who Run With The Wolves”. I’m really inspired by Flannery O’Connor. The female archetype in mythology, poetry, folklore. I use a lot of female pronouns in the songs. I want other women to hear it and feel cool about it. By that I mean anyone who identifies as female. I sent the songs to a trans friend of mine, and she texted me back and said the song “Miscarry” was her favorite, the bonus track. The song is all about our femininity and the roles we have: mother, daughter, sister, whatever. And it was cool that that was her favorite. It was perfect. I don’t want to be singing about heartbreak and dudes and things like that. I want to sing my actual insides. I want to make people cry. Creating an antecedent to which someone reacts with sadness inspires me. I also love religious connotations.
What have y’all been jamming to lately?
A: Broadcast and Stereolab. I really like the new Earth record. Torche’s self-titled is one I never get tired of. I’m really into this guy Don Gibson. Roland S. Howard is amazing. We recorded a cover of “White Wedding” but we took after his version. Stoner metal. I really like New Order and Death in June, but people think you are a Nazi if you listen to Death in June.
R: Today I listened to a lot of Rotten Sound to prepare for the new Votnut record. My “Best of Venom” cassette tape. The True Widow record, not the newer one the one before that. Handsome Family. The new Ryan Adams record is fucking awesome. The new Nails. I’m always listening to Alice In Chains. Celtic Frost. That band Pallbearer is good.
Gloom or doom?
R: If I have to choose I think I’d have to call it quits.
A: Yeah, I can’t chose. They have to both be in your arms crying. They have to be together.
So a doomy, gloomy baby?
A: Doomy, gloomy baby! That’s my answer.
R: That’s you!
If MTHR was a homegrown garden veggie or a baked good, which one would you be?
A: I would love to liken my music to your tiny tomatoes, Michael, because they are so good.
R: Pot brownie?
A: Tomatoes and pot brownies.
What’s the most recent horror movie you’ve watched?
R: Zombie Christ?
A: We’ll go with Zombie Christ. It’s on IMDB. Check it out.
What are your thoughts on the Charlotte scene these days?
A: I feel like I’m still learning about the Charlotte music scene. It was interesting moving back here and immediately being in a band. I played in a couple bands in Texas, and that was my first real experience with being a part of music scene. And then Charlotte had this weird dichotomy for me for a while because I grew up here and knew people but was still very new to the music here.
R: I didn’t even know you sang until right before you were about to move back. Isn’t that weird?
A: That’s still funny. But I like the scene. I think people work very hard to keep it alive. I think it’s important as a female to stay involved in it. I love when girls come up to me at shows and tell me they like my music. Otherwise I would be so bored.
R: I think my favorite thing about the Charlotte scene, is going out on the weekends and go to bars and stuff and we’ll run into anyone in a band and we’ll just hang out and drink. Like we’ll go have a beer with Shane (Stranger Day) and then look over and there’s Terrence (Junior Astronomers) or anybody. It’s a community. It’s a real one big happy family community. It’s cool.
A: It is cool! My one complaint would be that there should be more willingness from bigger venues to put local acts on bigger touring acts’ shows. Local music shouldn’t just be in Plaza-Midwood and around here. It should be everywhere. I don’t know how that could happen but it should. I feel like everyone on all ends would benefit from that.
Thanks guys. This was cool.
A: Cigarette time?
R: Cigarette time.