The term “indie rock” is a meaningless signifier for an amorphous genre that we can tenuously define as independent-minded guitar music, but really any number of convenient generalizations will do. Mother’s Day this past weekend reminded us that if you listen closely, it’s no secret that indie rockers love moms.
To start, there’s the Krill song “Mom”, which comes about halfway through A Distant Fist Unclenching. “My mom says this is the year she’ll overcome her lifelong self-hatred at 61,” the song begins. Moms are mentioned twice on LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, in both “DBTS” (“I promised my mother I wouldn’t bother him…”) and in the album closer: “I called my mom / ‘honey you are so strong.'” And then of course there’s that unshakable Radiator Hospital hook: “When you call your mom back / tell her that I’m the one leaving.”
It’s not too far off to say that mom lyrics and dedications are a longstanding convention of the indie rock genre, however nebulous or disingenuous it may be. I remember a Neutral Milk Hotel live bootleg recording of “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” that begins with Jeff Magnum announcing, “This song is for my mother,” then stopping after the first few chords to tune his guitar and add, “If it’s for my mother I at least want to be in tune.”
Mother’s Day can be complicated for a lot of people; it would be wrong to not acknowledge that the tradition is difficult, especially for folks who exist in the world without mothers, who have suffered the loss of a mother, or who have made the decision to proactively cut out toxic family members. The definition of a “mother” or “parent” in general can be just as variable as indie rock, and conceptions of these relationships should be open to interpretation. All of that said, in our ongoing exploration of what makes parental relationships a common motif in indie rock, we decided to ask some of our favorite bands about their Mother’s Day plans.
Emily Burtner of Marge:
“‘Indie rock’ actually had a pretty big/funny impact on my family in relation to mothers day- I was really in to making mix CDs for friends when I was in high school, one year I went out on a limb and made my mom a CD with a ton of the music I was in to (Wilco, Mirah, Death Cab, The Shins, standard mid 00’s fair). I’m pretty sure that mix singlehandedly brought my parents up to speed with “current” music, which made relating to them a lot easier as an angsty alt-teen (and made them much more willing when I was trying to get permission to go to shows). Because of that silly last minute mother’s day gift, we’ve also seen a lot of great bands as a family (we’re going to see The Replacements and Superchunk for mother’s day this year- at her request!)”
Sam Cook-Parrott of Radiator Hospital
“Mother’s Day is always an interesting time for me, as often it falls on my birthday (as it does this year). Unfortunately this year I am in Philly and away from my mother, in Grand Rapids, MI. Last week though, I went home to visit and spent a lovely day with my mom: lunch at the restaurant she used to work at, walking through a beautiful sculpture and garden park in Grand Rapids. Peace be with all moms everywhere, you are crucial and doing important work!”
Nathan Albert of Arm Candy:
“My mom will be taking a minute out of her busy, selfless life of taking care of ailing people to drive to New York, likely soundtracked by conservative talk radio, and hang out with me somewhere. We will probably go to a park and a restaurant, and talk about how to cook salmon, Bernie Sanders, the GRE’s, and ways to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into our lifestyles.
Jim Hill of Slight/Painted Zeros/Trace Mountains:
“My family lives upstate in Rochester so I spoke with my Mom on the phone this morning. She’s the kindest person I know, and also a great host. That’s probably why I’ve often lived in apartments that hold big shows. Some of my earliest musical memories were in the basement of our old house where I would dance and sing along to her old Thriller LP. When I first started playing in bands she drove me to all of my shows. She still comes to see me play whenever she can and she keeps a list of all the bands I’m in so she can stay up to date. She’s the best.”
Kegan Zema of ZEMA:
“I put a card in the mail on Friday afternoon so I’m not sure if it will make it on time. My whole family lives in Portland, Maine so unfortunately I can’t be there to celebrate. My mom always sends me great cards including one I just got for my birthday a few days ago — really heartfelt stuff. I always try my best to return the favor even if most greeting cards make me feel weird ways about society.”
Katie Bennett of Free Cake for Every Creature:
“I’m going to write a song about my mom for Mother’s Day as part of the May 5-12 songs. My mom was instrumental in my development as a music fan & musician, from giving me her guitar to paying for flute lessons to introducing me to some of my favorite musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Bjork and The Cranberries. For mother’s day she requested I give her a free cake for every creature shirt :)”
Joe Galarraga of Big Ups:
“I unfortunately don’t have any plans for Mother’s Day as my mom’s in Baltimore. I’ll probably just talk with her on the phone. I’m a bad son. :-/”