Profile: Motherhood, Canadian rockers who “really love a good lyric about nothing”

 
Bryden Crain of Motherhood performs at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Bryden Crain of Motherhood performs at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

What’s it like being in an eight-year-long relationship, you ask?

New Brunswick’s self-described “avant-rock” trio says they’ve had to learn to admit their individual flaws while accepting each other’s.

“At a certain point it becomes more of a family where it’s, ‘I hate you right now, but really I love you and we’re gonna keep doing this because we all believe in it,’” Bryden Crain said.

“We’re pretty good at reading each other’s vibes now too,” Adam Sipkema said, “So we try not to get on each other’s nerves too much. “

“This is the longest relationship that any of us have ever had,” Penelope Stevens added.

Motherhood formed eight years ago when Crain (vox/guitar) and Sipkema (drums/vox) were still in high school. As graduation approached, Crain found himself unsure of his life’s calling.

“Everyone was going to [college] and I didn’t have anything to do so I decided I was going to get into music school, and somehow, I did,” Crain said, “I never got very good at classical guitar, and I was definitely not very good at getting up and going to class at nine in the morning.”

With a single semester of classical guitar in his pocket, Crain knew college wasn’t for him. He left Ontario to reconnect with his high school buddy in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where Sipkema was enrolled in school. Here, Sipkema made acquaintances with Stevens (bass/keys/vox). The trio put their musical talents together in an amalgamation of their personal influences. Crain listens to everything from Captain Beefheart to Kendrick Lamar, Stevens loves Deerhoof and The Oh Sees, but has a soft spot for classical piano, while Sipkema says he’ll listen to anything, even Randy Newman.

Penelope Stevens of Motherhood performs at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Penelope Stevens of Motherhood performs at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

“When we write music we write it all together and we bring our influences to the table,” Stevens said, “There are some no-fly zones in all of our musical tastes where we’re like ‘you’re allowed to like it but don’t bring it to practice.’”

Motherhood hasn’t always followed the collaborative route. Crain wrote their debut album, Diamonds and Gold, by himself. With their subsequent releases he opened up the songwriting process to the entire band.

“For Problems, I wrote little skeletons and we basically deconstructed them and put them back together,” Crain said, “With Baby Teeth, I pretty much just wrote lyrics and we did all the music together. That’s how we’ve been working now.”

“The final test is being able to play it live and keep yourself entertained,” Sipkema said, “because if you’re not making that much money then you better be having fun.”

Adam Sipkema of Motherhood performs at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Adam Sipkema of Motherhood performs at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

As Motherhood refines and reinvents their sound, Crain, Sipkema, and Stevens have put considerable thought into where their lives outside of music are leading them, if anywhere.

“I don’t think any of us necessarily have a career where we’re going on a track to be a lawyer or something,” Stevens said, “I work for festivals and write grants for artists so my job plays back into the band.”

For the time being, Crain works at a local brewery, while Sipkema works at a biotech production lab. These jobs pay their bills and fund the occasional musical splurge but they all wonder if, and when, Motherhood will become their sole focus.

“I don’t think you go from a 40-hour-a-week job to suddenly quitting your job and becoming a successful musician,” Stevens said, “I think you slowly balance the two until one falls away.

Motherhood has recently struggled with the idea of success. They’re trying to figure out what success means to not only the music industry, but to themselves.

“We’re at the point where we’re playing about 100 shows a year, we’re not touring a ton but we’re able to play around our [region] pretty easily,” Stevens said, “We’ll be touring more next year when our album comes out. We’ll see if we can pay rent.”


This past March, Motherhood made the trek down to the United States for the first time. They kicked off the tour with a show in Brooklyn before heading west to hit major cities such as Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco. They have yet to venture to the southern United States but have often been told its an area their sound would be well-received.

Between Crain’s vocals, Stevens bouncing bass, and Sipkema’s beats that often ride the snare, there is a definite country-twang in their music. American ignorance would lead many to believe these influences stem from a southern-upbringing and influences along the lines of Johnny Cash (if he hung out with Captain Beefheart). But American ignorance would lead you to be wrong.

“My dad’s family just lives out in the country and there’s a lot of uncles and cousins and stuff that play bluegrass,” Crain said, “I’m always a little wary to say the word ‘country’ to a lot of people when talking about the band — they might get the wrong idea.”

Crain’s lyrics often have ties to his upbringing and use colloquial language. If you’re not from the east coast of Canada then, admittedly, you may not understand all their lyrics and wordplay. These qualities give Motherhood’s music a personal touch while creating unique experiences for those unfamiliar with their life and home.

The band cites authentically nonsensical or mundane songs such as “Muffin Man” by Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan’s “Clothes Line Saga” as songs that influence their personal style of songwriting.

“I really love a good lyric about nothing,” Crain said.

Crain sings passionately at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Crain sings passionately at Kung Fu Necktie. Philadelphia, Pa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

While Motherhood is now based out of an urban community, they find their roots in rural life. Education, jobs, and most importantly, people, are found in cities. Without people, there’s no one to listen to your music, and Motherhood learned this lesson early on. The band once played a show in Sackville, New Brunswick where, much to their dismay, only “15 to 20” people showed up.

“The promoter told us ‘yeah that was super dope, everybody that would be out to see music was here today,’” Stevens said, “They loved it.”

Motherhood has found themselves as far west as Vancouver, a reasonable 3,338 miles away from home, give or take. Montreal and Toronto are still modest eight and fifteen hour drives west. Due to the vast and open geography of Canada, Motherhood often finds themselves in situations similar to Sackville. The proximity and population density are a major part of the appeal to tour the U.S.

Their current U.S. tour keeps them in the north east through the end of September just before their work Visas expire. The band’s Tour of the Pugs finishes with a string of Canadian shows in October before they head home for the winter.

Motherhood’s Canadian label, Forward Music Group, set up showcases with American labels in hopes of signing the band. They have been holding onto their latest album for about a year and ideally it will be released through a new label here in the U.S. If not, the band will be announcing the album’s release in October with its expected release in the springtime.