Stream: Hey Mother Death's Highway LP

Zack Wilks

hey mother death, highway

Hey Mother Death is a band on the threshold, resting in the liminal space between both geographic location and sonic classification. Comprised of members Laurence Strelka and Denma Peisinger—who reside in Paris, France and Halifax, Nova Scotia respectively—the duo create the sort of music that both combines and transcends genre. It was evident on their debut eponymous EP, but it is even more so on their first full length, Highway. Released on the band’s own Snake Power Records, the album mixes aspects of dub, ambient, spoken word, film score, and no wave.

At times, the influences are easy to discern: the bassline on “The Hills”, for example, is syncopated in the dub tradition; “Snake Power” has hints of Pink Floyd-esque guitar lead explorations; “Highway” mirrors the ambient abrasiveness that made 80s era King Crimson so great. But once these elements are combined, Hey Mother Death’s music becomes nearly impossible to define. One thing’s certain, though: it’s sleazy. Between the seductively delivered bilingual whispers and the beckoning noise, it feels like drunkenly walking down a city street at three in the morning, holding on to that stranger you just met at the bar. There’s passion but there’s also detachment, lust coupled with disillusionment.

Besides the actual music, the release itself is unique in that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to an NGO. Each song is coupled with a different organization: 350.org (“Highway”), Amnesty International (“The Hills”), The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (“Bad Sex”), and The World Wildlife Fund (“Snake Power”). If the whole album is purchased, the buyer picks how the money is split between the charities. But the album is still pay-what-you-want on Hey Mother Death’s website, so all of this is entirely optional.

We’re proud to premiere Highway here, which you can stream in its entirety below. Keep scrolling to read a brief interview with Denma and Laurence as you listen.

You describe yourself as creators of “dark and mesmerizing moodscapes,” and I think a lot of that relies on the spoken word aspect of the vocals. What's the concept or reason behind that?

When we play and compose, we really don’t think too much, all our music is born spontaneously. We try to follow the music and what it wants, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

There’s no concept at all behind the spoken word vocals. We write texts and poetry, so when we first played together, without thinking I (Laurence) just grabbed those texts and stared putting them on the music and it was completely evident that that's what the music wanted. Also French language is very inviting for spoken words for some reason.

Our friend, Darcy, called it dark and mesmerizing moodscapes and we liked it so we use it to describe our music sometimes.

How does bilingualism play a role in the band's music? And is that related to the physical distance between you and Laurence—Nova Scotia and France?

Almost all of the lyrics for Highway were written while we were physically separated and we were writing poetry to each other, Laurence was in Paris and Denma in Halifax. There was definitely a sense of contemplating loneliness, but we have been in the same places for a while now which is a whole other challenge.

Bilingualism is just happening because we're writing and thinking in two different languages and cultures.

We both love French Spoken word music, Serge Gainsbourg's L’histoire de Melodie Nelson is a such great piece of music.

Hey Mother Death's debut EP sounds more cinematic in comparison to Highway—the second and third tracks on the EP make very minimal use of a percussive beat and rely on either strings or textural synth to provide a sort of musical climax. The new record makes extensive use of electronic beats and electric bass, components that are more associated with dub or dance music. How did the band arrive at this more beat driven sound?

The music really wanted that to happen and honestly I (Denma) had a really hard time seeing that, but Laurence didn’t. We argued a lot about that, we fought about that, but in the end it definitely came around.

We both love and are deeply inspired by a lot of African rooted music, pulse based music, blues, funk, soul, jazz, fela, old jamaican reggae. We actually connected for the first time talking about Blues.

The album had some kind of french touch hidden in it that we needed to follow. The song “Highway” started as an improvisation with Laurence on synth and Denma on guitar and then Laurence put lyrics on it and it was this crazy ungrounded ambient wave of emotions, but there was all this groove in the synth… It took me (Laurence) six months to convince Denma to put a kick and a snare on the track. Once we started following that, we took it all the way and we started spending all our money on old gear and analogue studios to mix our album in the dub tradition.

The release of Highway is unique in that you can pay what you want, and a portion of the money is donated to one of four NGOs. If you buy an individual song, money will be donated to a charity associated with that song; if you buy the whole album, you choose how the money is split up between the charities. Is this sort of thing going to be common in the future, especially through the launch of your label, Snake Power Records?

All music today is instantly available for free, and buying it is completely optional, so we feel if somebody decides to pay for music it is as much because they want to be generous to the artist as it is about the convenience of owning the music.

From that perspective of generosity, it made sense to us to share that support with important issues that we are concerned about; and that would definitively inspire us to be generous.

As people we feel very responsible for whats happening in the world, so it was very important as artists to engage with that.

Snake Power Records came from that and allows us creative freedom, from the ability to give half of our proceeds away, to being able give to people, if they want, the master quality audio as well as the MP3s. We are very interested to see what will happen.

That being said we'd love to collaborate with another label to co-release the vinyl 12”, which by the way sounds great.

Speaking of the future, what's coming next for Hey Mother Death?

We spent the last while learning a lot about everything…engineering, shooting music videos with great directors, collaborating etc… Which has been great.

But now, we are really looking forward to be playing, performing again, with the energy of an audience.

Being spontaneous is great but it makes it very challenging to translate into a live show, very exciting though.

Highway is out now digitally and is available for vinyl pre-order via Snake Power Records.

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