It’s easy to describe Atlanta psych-rock group MammaBear with one word: wild. The brainchild of band leader Kyle Gordon, a MammaBear show is an intense ride from start to finish, unlike anything most millennial music fans have ever experienced.
As the band prepares to release their upcoming record, SAY, in March, Gordon took a few minutes to chat with Audiofemme about making music and living life in the fast lane.
AF: Okay, I’m starting with the most obvious, so bear with me (pun partially intended). How did you come up with the name?
KG:When forming this project, I wanted it to have a name that was in most English-speaking peoples’ vernacular, something that would be very easy to remember. I also liked the contrast between how soft the name sounded verses how destructive I am live. Some people have told me that it’s their favorite band name, but most people scratch their heads and say they don’t get it. I love it.
AF: You’ve been making music as MammaBear for five years; what did you do before, and what made you decide to start this project?
KG:Before I formed MammaBear in 2013, I was playing in the Atlanta band Young Orchids. In 2011, we released an album called Afterglow, and shortly after were working on songs for a follow-up EP, Knives. I had been making music and playing shows somewhat professionally for over a decade, and I had become a severe alcoholic by that time. I was making a lot of bad decisions and not taking myself, my personal life, or my art very seriously, and in the process, I did some serious damage to my loved ones, my reputation, and the band as well.
Over time, the band’s writing process began to break down and there were a lot of resentments and doubts about our future together; it was a negative time creatively. At that point, I had seen three other bands that I had formed come and go due to “artistic differences,” and thought to myself, “I want to make an album by myself, and I don’t care if anyone thinks any of the songs are worth a damn. I have to do this for me or I’ll die creatively.”
I decided I wanted to make an album after writing three particularly good songs that were somewhat different and more evolved than my previous work, and – due to the situation with my band at the time – I didn’t want to share or give them to a project whose writing was on the wall. I had been writing and demoing my songs my whole career, but never had the nerve to just go into a studio and do all the instrumentation myself with no one to blame or thank but myself.
The results are MammaBear’s first full-length album, released in 2013, Vol. 1 Birds of Paradise. Since then, I’ve had many lineups to perform my songs, the longest of which has been Troy Wolf, who has been playing drums for MammaBear for about three years now, and Josh Longino, who played guitar with the original lineup and now plays the bass and does backing vocals. I play the guitar and sing lead vocals for MammaBear.
AF: You’re a little bit rock, a little bit psychedelic, and you’ve got a twist that’s all your own. How did you go about developing this sound, and what bands have inspired it?
KG:MammaBear’s sound has evolved quite a bit over five years. Originally I wanted to do something not too far away from early Squeeze, but without ripping on them in any way, of course. I just loved the songwriting and the production of their album Argybargy and felt like what I was writing at that time reflected some of that same energy. After Vol. 1, I wanted to make an album that was a little bigger, more in the vein of Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush, but less electronic, so I hooked up with my very good friend Kris Sampson (formerly of Ponderosa), and he and I produced MammaBear’s 2nd full-length album, Chocolate, released in 2016. The album is more orchestral then any of my former work and proved to be extremely difficult to play live, especially when the band plays as a three-piece. In between the two albums, I released two EPs, Strange Love and Hell Cat. They sit somewhere in between ’90s grunge and The Kinks’ late ’60s pop.
I’ve received criticism that our recorded sound does not match up with our live sound, so our upcoming album release is an attempt at capturing us in a more live and guttural way. I did this not only because I agree that our recorded sound doesn’t represent what we are live in the slightest, but also because it sucks making albums you can’t play live.
AF: What’s your creative process like?
KG: MammaBear’s creative process evolves mainly from me honing an idea I think will go well with a live band, getting a rough demo to the players, then hashing it out in a live setting. When in the room, we will play the song four or five times in a row without much talking or any notes to each other, just focusing on remembering the changes of the song and learning the chord patterns.
Usually, after a few rehearsals, the song will start to really have some life. It’s important for everyone to have their own voice with a song; what I do on a demo is not necessarily what I’m looking for in the room with a band. Whoever I’m playing with – and I only play with great players – brings different muscle memories, different techniques, and alternate rhythms that aren’t innate in me, and some of the best stuff MammaBear does comes from my players being musically creative and feeling free to express themselves in their own way outside of my instruction.
When writing I try and be patient with myself, as good ideas cannot be planned; you have to be open and ready for creativity to hit you at any time. I try and push myself to be as creative as possible with my arrangements and rhythms, and know that everything musical has already been done, so it’s what we say and how we say it that makes our music stand out. For me, lyrics are always the last piece of the puzzle, as it’s the hardest part of relating to people for me; I’m so lazy that I will often wait ’til an album is about 90% done being recorded to start to write lyrics that don’t make me cringe.
AF: How has the creative community in the city impacted you as an artist? What’s your favorite part of being in the Atlanta music scene?
KG: I love the Atlanta music scene, and I think it’s one of the richest and most vibrant I’ve experienced anywhere in my time as a traveling musician. Atlanta attracts a lot of different people from all over the world and the U.S., so the scene is constantly changing and evolving. I’ve seen some good friends do amazing things with their music, and it feels incredible to see them making names for themselves in the greater world of art. I feel extremely fortunate to live in a time where a musician such as myself can record and release any type of music I want. That is freedom.
AF: What’s next for MammaBear?
KG: MammaBear will be releasing our third album, SAY, in March. I teamed up with David Prasse of Slush Fund Records to record the album and think we really captured something close to our live sound. After we finished recording, we signed with Slush Fund and have been hard at work on a handful of music videos, and have a tour lined up for early May.
Before we hit the road we have a double album release with Sash the Bash at The Earl on Friday, March 22nd, so mark that shit on your calendars so you can grab your own album or vinyl! In the meantime, check us out on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. for our previous releases, and our YouTube page is chock full of our music videos. Cheers!