Mother Mother Show Us How In The Social Media Age, Old Songs Can Become New Hits

Mother Mother formed in 2005 and have released eight albums across their career. In summer 2020, the Vancouver indie rock band experienced a curious phenomenon: Several older songs, including “Hayloft” and “Arms Tonite” from their second album, 2008’s O My Heart, suddenly became massively popular on TikTok.

Nearly two years later, vocalist Ryan Guldemond says Mother Mother still have no idea how the band’s music found this new audience. “There’s no Patient Zero, you know?” he says, Zooming in from Vancouver. “I think that’s what adds to the beauty of it. It’s just so cloaked in mystery.”

However, this newfound popularity has buoyed the band as they released a new album, 2021’s Inside, and started touring again. Guldemond checked in and shared the impact of their TikTok fame, how it’s influenced the band today and what they’ve learned from the situation.

When were you first starting to get the sense that the songs were taking off?

We noticed that our other platforms were growing, such as Spotify and YouTube. It didn’t make sense, because we were off-cycle [and not releasing or promoting new music]. There was nothing new happening for us at that time. But our management was able to trace the growing metrics to TikTok and noticed that there was a large community of young people vibing, connecting, and sharing early Mother Mother music. That was driving the streams on the other platforms and the hits on other platforms. So it started to make sense.

I like that your earlier work was connecting. When you’re a younger musician, you’re maybe a little less self-conscious when making music, and you’re trying to figure out your voice. It’s interesting that fans really gravitated toward that era specifically.

Yeah. I think that it’s a classic syndrome that the early work is often [freer] by virtue of its naivete. You haven’t failed or succeeded yet. And both of those outcomes can interfere with the creative process. Because if you succeed, then you’re trying to recreate it—and if you fail, then you’re trying to reinvent. All of that trying, it’s so heady. It’s so intellectual. Creativity is anything but cranial. It’s a heartspace endeavor.

I would imagine it’s probably gratifying that the popularity on TikTok translated to other platforms — that people were like, I really like this music so much, I want to follow the band. What did that mean for you as a musician?

It’s the best result when the introduction gives way to a substantial relationship. TikTok is the gateway. People are introduced to your aura, your image, and are then prompted to take a bigger leap onto a streaming platform and try to digest an album as a whole. You know, if you pass that test, then they start venturing into other platforms, like YouTube, to really sink into the visuals. We noticed that the trend was people sticking around and passing through these doors and entering the community, the world that is the band, and staying. We’re lucky that this TikTok moment is actually translating into meaningful fanship.

You started the band’s TikTok account after the songs started taking off. What was your strategy? What did you expect? And were there any surprises you discovered when you really started spending time on the platform?

I didn’t have much of a strategy. I was flailing and making mistakes. Learning and trying not to take it — or myself — too seriously, and not worrying about casting the right image. [I was] trying to trust that you’re being yourself and being authentic, then you can’t lose.

What I noticed really worked for us was making it known and felt that we were actually seeing this community and acknowledging their interests and subcultures. [We were] partaking in those various conversations by dueting, by advocating, by celebrating. Teenage culture is so big for them at that time in their life. So I think it’s pretty powerful for maybe their mentors, or the people they look up to, to acknowledge that and say, “Hey, I see you. I see what you stand for.”

You probably remember being a teenager — all you wanted was to be heard as you’re trying to figure yourself out. Having that support and getting that validation, even a tiny little bit, means so much to teenagers at that age.

It wasn’t anything that we had to feign either. It was very easy to celebrate and encourage what we were seeing because it’s amazing. Gen Z and the youth of today are pretty bright and curious and don’t suffer antiquated foolish notions easily. I think it’s inspiring.

Did having this younger generation discover the songs give the band any more insights into the songs? Or different insights? Considering the fact there was a gap between when they were released and when they hit.

All of that early music was written without any premeditation, which is the best. [It’s that moment] when you sit down with a guitar and a song arrives and there’s a story that was complete with or without you, seemingly. You just so happened to be there for when it found its form in the world.

[These songs] meant the world in that they felt amazing. But they weren’t extensions of our personal narrative. They weren’t autobiographical. I don’t know where all of that language came from. Because they’re pretty wild, these songs. The lyrics, the stories. It’s verbose and it’s abstract and it’s eccentric and dark. It’s a lot of stuff. But as I recall, it just kind of happened.

And now, to learn what it means through other people has been amazing. It’s like, “Wow, now I understand what that song means.” A lot of these interpretations are so powerful and spot on. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t see that!” All of those years of playing that song or recording or writing it, it’s wild that I skipped over the obvious themes within this music.

That’s really powerful all those years later to have those insights. It’s like when you read a book at a certain age, and you read it years later, and you see all these different layers when you have more life experiences and more insights. A piece of art is a living, breathing thing.

You’d think you would have more to say about your own art, that you wouldn’t need to rely on the interpretation to understand it more. But I like that, because it suggests that it’s beyond you, and that you aren’t the author. You know that old cliché, that you’re a conduit. I do like the conduit philosophy. I feel like it adds humility to the creative process. It also strips the ego from it. So yeah, this has all really kind of emblazoned that idea for me.

You had a new record that came out last year. Did the specter of this blooming popularity hover over the record at all? If so, in what ways? How did that sort of shape the music you were making going forward?

I don’t know if we were lucky or unlucky to be unwitting to what was going on as we were writing our latest record, but we were. We had no idea this was happening when the new songs were being written. I think that was probably a good thing. There might have been pressure to emulate the old magic and to capitalize on the new attention. So, that record was made free of any of that. I think it was a really authentic portrayal of where we were in 2020 as artists and as creatives. I love it. I’m really proud of it. But it wasn’t until we were mixing it and kind of packaging it that we were aware of what was going on with TikTok. It didn’t really influence it, it just made it really exciting to be observing this thing happening while we were finishing something that was disconnected from it.

That’s great timing, because you’re like, “Great, we have all this popularity, and we have something new coming.” You couldn’t have timed it better. But I like that it’s not self-conscious, because that’s very much how those original songs were made. There’s that same feeling that there’s not pressure on it. There’s not that something on your shoulders.

Yeah, and I mean, moving forward, I think the message is one of liberation, as it relates to writing new music. The old music getting this stamp of widespread approval is reminding us that we can—and anyone can—do whatever they want in the creative space with songwriting. Nothing has to be formulaic. Nothing has to abide by any rules. In fact, it’s better when it doesn’t, so long that it’s coming from a channeled and free space. We’re quite thankful for that message, for the permission that we realize now we never needed to just simply be free, to make art and songs unfettered by the rulebook.

Touring has obviously been a little more challenging in recent years. Have you seen crowds change at all?

We just went on a US tour for a month. We’ve been traveling and touring in the US for 15 years. But it was interesting, because these shows, everyone was there seeing the band for the first time. And it was teenagers for the most part. A thousand-plus teenagers in a room every night. We’d ask, “Who is seeing the band for the first time?” Every hand in the house went up. So that would only suggest that the people that used to come and see us that would have come and seen us just weren’t able to get tickets because these kids were hot on the pulse. That was a really bizarre and shocking environment to walk into.

Obviously, it was very exciting. Such good fortune. But it was a new introduction and it was a first impression. It was high octane, young, exuberant energy. You know, we really had to give a lot and do right by this opportunity to greet these folks for the first time and make their inaugural experience worth it. So yeah, the stakes were high and it was amazing.

That’s a lot considering the fact you’re coming back after having time off because of the pandemic and then you have to walk into this. That could be a lot of pressure.

Yeah, I guess it was a lot of energy. Coming off of the pandemic, we were humbled by how tired we got so easily. It was like, “Wow, we don’t remember touring being so tiring.” But it was a good kick in the ass. We came home and said, “Okay, it’s time to train for the road.” You know, in a new way, like Rocky-style. So yeah, we’re pretty inspired and driven right now to greet the rest of this robust touring cycle with some big energy that we create ourselves.

Gotta do some cardio or strength training.

You’ve got to actually do your vocal practice while you’re doing cardio. Like Beyonce — they’re on the treadmill and they’re doing lip trills.

That’s a TikTok video right there. There’s some quality viral content. What other unexpected things have you been able to have because of this experience?

Gosh, I mean, just seeing the world in a way that we haven’t and didn’t think we would. That’s a big part of it. The world is really opened up. We’ve never played Dublin and we’re going to Dublin. You know, small things like that. Or big things like that, depending how you look at it. It’s big to us.

You know, ultimately, the freedom. It’s nice to feel like we have complete freedom to be ourselves musically and do whatever it is that we want to do. That might be the most profound thing.

Inside is out now via Warner Records. Get it here.

Mother Mother is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.