The sound that emanates from a band called Mothers could take a number of disparate directions. Frank Zappa’s group of highly talented misfits under that banner cornered the market on orchestral complexity, scatological Rock, Doo Wop, Jazz and a veritable kitchen sink of assorted weirdness, so that’s off the table. Befitting the name, Mothers could also be gentle lullabies to dream-laden babies, but that would be a little obvious.
Kristine Leschper’s Mothers finds itself somewhere in the middle ground between those two extremes while drawing on both ends of the spectrum. The Athens, Ga., quartet plays a combination of rattling Indie/Math Rock and soothing Chamber Pop, topped off by Leschper’s quirkily compelling voice — think Björk if she’d grown up in the American South — and gently powerful guitar style.
When it comes to influences, Leschper has been steered by many things, particularly the expressive work of guitarist Spencer Seim of the band Hella, but such inspirational points give her a feeling to emulate rather than a sound.
“I’ve always been influenced by music that is melodically and rhythmically dense, a lot of Noise Rock, Math Rock and heavier Post Punk, but when I was a solo artist I didn’t feel like I had a way to show those influences,” Leschper says from the band’s snowbound tour stop in Baltimore. “I would only get comparisons to Angel Olsen and Sufjan Stevens, which are influences of mine, but playing in the full band has allowed me to bring those other noisier, more experimental influences to the forefront.”
To that end, Leschper and Mothers draw heavily on their influences for ambiance rather than trying to mimic their sonic fingerprint. Based on the early results, available on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and YouTube, they’re succeeding on a grand scale.
“Math Rock and Noise Rock is jokey and funny and pointed — not always, but it tends to poke fun and not always be a serious thing,” Leschper says. “That’s one of the biggest ways we depart from that; we’re drawing a lot of influence from the way the music sounds, but not necessarily the mood of it. We’re adjusting it to better fit our needs as far as writing songs that are really heavy and powerful emotionally, not musically.”
Leschper’s path to Mothers has been a strange but not particularly long trip. Growing up south of Atlanta, Leschper took guitar lessons in eighth grade, but wasn’t internally motivated to actually learn, and wound up setting aside music for other pursuits.
“It wasn’t high enough on my list of priorities of things to do as a teenage girl,” she says with a laugh.
Leschper began studying psychology at Georgia State in Atlanta, but hated the direction her life was taking; after her freshman year, she completely shifted gears by transferring to the University of Georgia in Athens to study printmaking. Unleashing her long-simmering love of art eventually led to a return to music.
“Printmaking, which is what I have my degree in, is this nerdy, old-school way of making art,” she says. “I discovered that I love obsession and being totally entrenched in something and not being able to see past it. Printmaking created this joy of making and being really busy and made me want to create more in another form. I was already based in Athens, which is thriving musically, so it was this organic, natural thing.”
Given her bad tutelage experience, Leschper returned to the guitar but taught herself to play, picking up mandolin and bass along the way. She self-identifies as an instrumental tinkerer, having dabbled in drums and keyboards as well, but prefers to leave those disciplines to the professionals.
“My negative experience with music lessons kept me from wanting any kind of instruction once I was actually interested in music,” she says. “I always thought it felt better to be feeling it out. I think it makes me a better songwriter, in a way.”
Leschper began writing and performing as a solo act in mid-2013, which continued for about a year and a half. Although she had the desire to play in a band format, she was hesitant to make the leap.
“I was terrified of playing music with other people,” she confesses. “I wasn’t confident in my abilities as a guitarist. I’d never played with other people — I didn’t know if I could keep up with them musically. The whole thing was very intimidating. I had always envisioned it becoming a full band, it was just a matter of figuring out what I wanted to sound like and meeting the right people.”
In late 2014, the right people entered Leschper’s musical life. Guitarist Drew Kirby, bassist Patrick Morales and drummer Matthew Anderegg, all veterans of the Athens music scene, offered their services and Mothers was born. The fact that each band member fronts their own group outside of Mothers strengthens the unit.
“Matthew has a band called Group Stretching that he’s the songwriter for, Drew has a project (with Anderegg) called New Wives and Patrick has two different projects, one called Viking Progress and also a project called Bronze Brain,” Leschper says. “I think it’s made us a lot stronger to have the perspective of four different songwriters.”
Almost immediately after coalescing as a group, Mothers recorded the material that has been coming out since last fall, including the band’s first single, “It Hurts Until it Doesn’t”/”No Crying in Baseball,” and the follow-up track, “Too Small for Eyes.”
The band’s full-length debut, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired, is set for release later this month, which comes after a long period of honing their recorded songs and newly written material on the road.
“Our live performance is more confident and sure-footed and unforgiving, and a lot of that comes down to the band growing as a unit,” Leschper says. “Being a part of this bigger thing has made me able to express myself better. We’re learning so much. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write the songs that I’m writing right now because I wasn’t a good enough guitar player. Being on the road has allowed me to write things that are much riffier and more complex.”
MOTHERS plays a free show Friday at MOTR Pub. More info: motrpub.com