Indie band Mother Mother formed in 2005, but it just made an entrance on Rolling Stone’s Artists 500 Chart last week. The Vancouver-based group also debuted at Number 11 on September’s Breakthrough 25 Chart, which monitors the fastest-rising artists each month.
Even though Mother Mother hasn’t released new music in two years, a swarm of TikTok users became new fans in recent months, leading to streaming surges and the new chart milestones. But there wasn’t a single song, dance challenge, or meme driving the surge, as is often the case on the platform: Somewhat suddenly, hundreds of thousands of TikTok videos popped up with a variety of Mother Mother songs this fall. Some users included official audio, while others ripped audio to create their own “original” digital files. The hashtag #mothermother has been viewed more than 56 million times. Many of the videos include cosplay and gothic fashion, and the band’s music also seems to have resonated strongly with non-binary communities; users have played Mother Mother songs while discussing gender-related confusion.
“It’s such a high honor and huge compliment whenever it’s suggested that our music might serve as an adequate soundtrack to a courageous journey of self-discovery that often rubs against societal norms,” Mother Mother frontman Ryan Guldemond tells Rolling Stone. “We’re huge cheerleaders for the outcasts and the other.”
Although no one in the band identifies as non-binary, Guldemond says the band relates to “not feeling comfortable in your own skin and going on a unique journey to find your own individual truth” and has strived to make that a consistent theme in its music.
Mother Mother’s top three songs on TikTok — “Hayloft,” “Arms Tonite,” and “Wrecking Ball” — are all from the band’s 2008 album O My Heart. According to Alpha Data, that album nearly tripled in streams from mid-August to mid-October, up 183% compared to the previous eight weeks. “Hayloft,” which earned around 100,000 total streams from all major streaming platforms in the first week of August, soared to one million weekly streams at the start of October.
Why has Mother Mother’s older music taken off with young fans in 2020? Guldemond doesn’t know the precise catalyst, but he has a theory: Today’s society, which is in many ways driven by social media’s ability to publicize the private, is more accepting of self-expression than it was in the early aughts. Guldemond points to there being “a wider and richer vocabulary for people to use to identify themselves” without having to “fit tidily into these binary codes,” and he believes that is paralleled by the music’s gender-less, genre-less feel.
“That early music really struggled to fit neatly into the industry standards of either a rock or pop format. And we were all just learning how to sing too,” he says. “I sang straight from my throat and had a much more androgynous tone. It was very rich with unisexual harmonies, as well as eccentric, quirky, daring lyrics. Perhaps it’s just the right time for people to understand that music.”
Music streaming and social media’s penchants for discovery have breathed new life into a band that was brought up in a time when topping radio’s genre-centric and industry-powered charts could make or break a career. “I love that young people don’t know what radio is,” Guldemond chuckles. “The parallels of music’s evolution and the evolution of human identity are very loud. I think that’s encouraging. People have more options to be themselves and music doesn’t have to be boxed in. The two can kind of bloom together.”
While the band’s management hasn’t been able to pinpoint the new interest to one event, either, the team did notice a spike in monthly listeners on the Mother Mother Spotify profile back in the spring. After more digging, management members found songs were popping up on user-generated playlists like “tik tok songs that are actually good,” which has 142,000 followers.
Guldemond started a Mother Mother TikTok account on August 20th, earned 100,000 followers in the first two weeks of using the app and 300,000 in the first month. Since then, the band has more than doubled its monthly streams on Spotify, going from 12 million to 30 million plays.
Mother Mother is currently mixing a new album out of The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver. The band, which spent a significant chunk of 2019 touring, planned to take a break in 2020 and had no intentions of recording new music — until the intense emotions of the pandemic era jumpstarted their creative impulses. Fans who’ve just discovered the band through their older songs will be excited to know that Mother Mother is “trying to tune into the energy from the earlier catalog and wanting to get back to a more brazen, free spirit in the arrangements and instrumentation,” Guldemond says, adding that thematically, it’s “a pandemic record.”