Ann Courtney: Vocals
Elizabeth Carena: Vocals & Keyboards
Matt Basile: Bass
Chris Foley: Guitar
Gunnar Olsen: Drums
New York City. The lights go down, Mother Feather stride onto the stage. The bass frequency clarion call that kicks off “Mirror” charges its way through the packed room, a ripple of electricity riding off its back. Vocalist Ann Courtney steps to the microphone and purrs the first line: “I need your full attention…” And she’s got it.
What follows, every single time the quintet stand before an audience, is pure rock and roll catharsis, for Courtney, for her band mates, and for every individual crammed into the room. “I’ve worked for many years at a live music venue, and seen countless shows in that time, and too often find myself asking where is the dream of New York City in this?” she states. “Where is the magic? Where are the women who rock? Where is the danger? Where’s the cool pop music? Where’s the music that’s not speaking down to its audience? Any time I see any kind of performance I want to have a catharsis, and that’s what I’m hoping will happen when I step out on stage. That’s why I started the band, to save me, and the fact that it’s had this ripple effect and can do the same for other people is just gravy.“
The band’s self-styled pop cock rock is the perfect vessel for this catharsis. Their songs marry the scratchy yet catchy, swaggering and dangerous sounds of The Stooges, New York Dolls or The MC5 with the playfulness, pop sensibilities and exuberance of the finest 90s alt-rock, a little upbeat 50s rock n’ roll thrown in for good measure. Combined with Courtney’s overtly optimistic, inspiring lyrics, the band deliver an energizing and irresistible concoction that captures the attitude and beating heart of New York City on its best day, empowering everyone in their path. “I’m so over the New York City-bashing by quintessential NY artists. Blah blah, move to Newark, move to Detroit, there’s no edge left,” Courtney sighs. “I spent seventeen years overseas dreaming about this city, I’m not going to move! I’m going to do something. I love this city, and hearing those artists talk miles of shit is actually very motivating, because I’m like alright, I’ll show you something. This town ain’t dead.“
The origins of Mother Feather date back to the summer of 2009, when Courtney experienced a true epiphany. Fronting Ann Courtney and The Late Bloomers, the vocalist was increasingly disillusioned, feeling like she was not doing what she was supposed to, and while taking a road trip her salvation came from words that fell from her own tongue. “I meant to say motherfucker, but it came out as Mother Feather, and it was a Freudian slip that revealed my deepest desires. An a-ha moment through a spoonerism. I came back from that trip and immediately got to work.” One of the most profound elements of this inspiration was seizing upon the desire to empower, to let go of the negativity that had surrounded her and to instead focus on making the band an uplifting, optimistic experience, in every sense. “I had come from a place where I was romanticizing self-deprecation, and it was also a time in New York City when it was cute to be down on yourself and make this sad, lovelorn music. There’s a place for that, certainly, but I think it didn’t serve me at all. It was making me literally sick to sing about hating myself. So I wrote these songs to myself primarily, to lift myself up. These songs were the way in. They’re about being the best version of who you are. Quit crying and be awesome.” This resonates through every song the band have penned, with “Mother Feather” and its summon of ‘rise to meet your Mother Feather’ providing the thesis statement driving the band. Moreover, through this Courtney is embracing what she believes to be her true destiny. Acknowledging the difficulty that every New York band faces in attempting to carve out some space for themselves, her commitment has never wavered, even for an instant. “There have been a lot of struggles, but it’s absolutely worth it. I don’t know what else I would do. Mother Feather is my calling. It’s given my life purpose and meaning.“
Of course, the band is far bigger than Courtney alone, having surrounded herself with her best friends, who happen to be extremely talented musicians. Every member plays an intrinsic part when bringing the songs to life, both on record and when unleashed on stage. She affectionately refers to guitarist Chris Foley, bassist Matt Basile and drummer Gunnar Olsen as “three beasts“, all of them bringing so much attitude, energy and personality to the songs. Then there’s keyboardist/vocalist Elizabeth Carena, only ever “Lizzie” to Ann, whose interplay with Courtney is one of the most electrifying facets of their performances. “She’s my best friend, my hype woman, and we support and play off each other. I think it’s such an exciting, empowering thing to see two women on stage supporting each other and totally committed to pop cock rock. It’s an overtly feminist statement. I get excited when I see women with their eyes lit up in the crowd.“
With their two independently released recordings – 2011′s Mother Feather EP and 2013′s Living Breathing EP – they introduced themselves to the world, and these eight songs are being given a new lease of life as part of their Metal Blade full-length debut, Mother Feather, which is rounded out by new tracks “Natural Disaster” and “The Power“. “I’m so thrilled that these songs will have a chance to reach a wider audience. We haven’t rerecorded them, they’re already exactly as they should be,” she enthuses. Among these, the joyous “Trampoline” marries stomping beats and scratchy riffs to cheeky double entendre that does nothing to mask the unfettered exuberance and sense of freedom derived from the literal act of trampolining. The urgency of “Egyptology“, which gives way to massive Weezer-esque sing-alongs, was written “after doing an archeological dig of my soul. It’s pure pop myth – if ancient Egypt looked like the Bowery in 1970′s New York City. It’s a story of rebirth and an all-access pass to a supremely fabulous, eternal rock and roll afterparty.” And then there is “Natural Disaster“, which lashes a monster Sabbath-esque riff to lyrics about “harnessing the kind of big feelings that might otherwise control you“, and “The Power” is about choosing your people – something she has clearly proven adept at with the band’s tighter than tight lineup.
As will undoubtedly be picked up by many of those exposed to the unique record, there is no metal here, per se, which makes for an interesting addition to the Metal Blade Records roster, something that Courtney is thrilled about. “Brian Slagel is such a no bullshit guy. He came to us, said I love what you’re doing, I’m a fan – how can I help? It’s really been such an amazing thing for us to be a part of – and I’m absolutely delighted to think of all the black metal fans in Scandinavia who will think that Brian has lost his mind when they hear a song like ‘Beach House’ or ‘Trampoline.’” “I’m looking forward to claiming those souls,” she laughs gleefully. “Hail Satan!“
Still, as thrilling as the album is, when it comes to Mother Feather all roads lead back to their incomparable live show. All in attendance are exposed to “The Becoming,” as both band and audience are transformed over the course of those 45 minutes they’re on stage. “The songs chronicle that rebirth that happened when I started the band, and there’s opportunity for that to happen every time I sing them. That has to start inside me before it can spread to anyone in the room.” While some may look at the costumes, the makeup and the choreography and see the band as heirs to the crown of the likes of David Bowie and the mystique-chasing glam rock stars of the 70s, the last thing the band want is separation between artist and audience, the connection between them integral. “When I’m on stage it’s not a persona. Mother Feather is not a character. Mother Feather is the real me. Who I am off that stage is more of a persona,” she states plainly. “To make that connection with people you must commit, wholly, and that means being present in every breath and dance move. That’s where the space is, to be wild and crazy and nasty and vulnerable, the space to be terrifying. I want to see everything in a rock show. I want the horror, I want the beauty, I want the fun, I want it to be garish. I want it to be wild, I want it to be loud, I want the drama, I want the camp, I want it to be stripped bare. I want to have the whole world for dinner. So that’s what we try to do, every single time.”