Five Questions for Kristine Leschper

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Kristine Leschper was listening to a lot of krautrock and The Fall when she wrote the songs for Mothers’ new record. Bear that in mind when you listen to the repetitions and the tone used in these tunes. Though Leschper’s voice is a whole lot softer than Mark E. Smith’s was, the sounds on the John Congleton-produced Render Another Ugly Method clearly owe something to her post-punk influences.

Here, Leschper takes us through the process of bringing these songs out, from songwriting that fed on the chaos of a busy touring schedule, to crafting demos, to live tracking and overdubs in Sargent Recorders in Los Angeles.

What went into the process of writing these songs?

While I was writing all this music, things were very busy and bustling and confusing because we were on tour for the first time. I’m a person who gets overstimulated easily, and that whole year was kind of like walking into a room full of people and sounds and feeling overstimulated.

I was also consuming a ton of new music. When you are in a van with other people 6 to 10 hours a day, every day, you listen to a lot of music! So, there was a lot of discovery at this time as well; I was listening to music that I hadn’t been familiar with before, including super-repetitive krautrock records by Hermonia. I feel like that reference is apparent on [the single] “Pink”, with its motorik beat.

I also got really into The Fall. I was listening to their record Dragnet a lot, which I think crept into the songs as well: those very sharp, almost barbed guitars and Mark E. Smith’s sinister delivery. I also love the way he is so dry and monotonous, and I became interested in trying something like that. I had all these different riffs and musical ideas that I was trying to piece together.

Where did you make the demos? Do you have a home studio?

At the time I was living in Athens, Ga., and we didn’t have a studio per se, but we have a lot of equipment. We were mostly using Pro Tools and whatever instruments we had at our disposal. We demoed everything, and we spent a lot of time putting down rough ideas of what the songs could sound like, but the finished record sounds really different from the demos.

John Congleton does so much great work. What made him he right producer for your project?

Before we met John, I only knew a handful of the records he had done with St. Vincent, for example, and Angel Olsen, but I was intrigued by how radically different his projects are sonically from each other, and this was a really good sign. I could tell he would be someone who would understand that I didn’t really fit into one place, and he would have all these different experiences that he could bring to the table.

Something I’d heard about John was that he’s good at getting these super raw takes out of people, and that’s really true. He was really serious about not overdoing things and not retracking or overdubbing parts for no reason. There were times when we would want to retrack something, and he would be like “No, that first take with the mistake in it is so good.” He’s truly interested in capturing something—almost like documentary style.

Tell us about your work in Sargent Recorders with him.

That studio is a big part of the way the record sounds because there was so much amazing equipment that we were able to use. There were a ton of old drum kits, some dating back to the 1920s. I think the drums and the rhythm section for the record are really dynamic from song to song because we switched out drums and played with how tonal they could be, rather than just percussive.

We weren’t tracking instruments individually and building up tracks, though. We started with live tracking — drums, guitar, bass, and vocals — for every song, and then we’d go in and change or add parts.

Can you give a couple of examples of parts that were added?

On “Mother and Wife,” there’s a textural guitar-drone that I performed using a paintbrush to gently vibrate the guitar strings. I’d seen this technique used by Fred Frith during one of his performances with Prepared Guitar — a similar idea to John Cage’s experiments with Prepared Piano. Fred Frith has really influenced the way I think about music.

There are happy accidents, too, like on the track “Western Medicine” there are squeaking door sounds because the studio we were in is an old house where the attic has been turned into a reverb chamber, and someone opened the door and walked into that chamber while we were sending a signal to it. We decided to keep that, because it sounds super weird and kind of interesting. That’s another example of John Congleton’s influence: This thing happened, it’s special, and we shouldn’t mess with that.