Concert preview: Mothers traverses a painful path on debut album
The title of Mothers' debut album,When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired, reflects both a personal journey - singer and songwriter Kristine Leschper penned a bulk of the songs as a means of navigating a trying emotional period - and a big-picture view of the group's slow and steady transition from solo project to full-on band.
"I think, in a way, the record sort of documents us sort of stabbing in the dark in the beginning and actively trying to form an identity as a group in front of microphones in the studio," said Leschper, who joins her Athens, Georgia-based bandmates for an Ace of Cups concert on Sunday, May 8. "A lot of the songs on the record are songs I had been performing as a solo artist for quite some time, so working out the instrumentation and forming them into larger songs with other instruments was pretty challenging. We were always fluttering along the edge of trying to keep it as minimal and stark as possible to maintain the original quality of the song, but then also trying to evolve them into new things. We were all pretty terrified going into it. We were unsure of what we were doing."
Fittingly, the album-opening "Too Small for Eyes" kicks off with plucked acoustic guitar chords that mirror these hesitant first steps. "Walked softly as I could," the frontwoman sings, her voice as thin and fragile as bird bones. "And I still stepped on all their feet."
As songs progress, however, Leschper gradually shakes off the accumulated self-loathing, heartache and doubt, uncovering new strength to carry her forward. "I'm finding new legs to walk with," she offers on the dreamy "Blood-Letting," sounding newly resolute, if not quite healed.
"I think at the time a lot of the songwriting process for me was about proving something to myself, especially not feeling confident in my instrument and what I was doing," said Leschper, who resisted forming a band for years because she lacked confidence in her skillset ("I hadn't been playing guitar for very long … so I felt pretty clumsy in my instrument, and I didn't feel capable of keeping up with other musicians"). "What I learned though the whole process was I'm capable of making things, whatever they are. And I learned I want to keep pushing forward."
In that regard, Leschper views the album as more of a snapshot, like a yearbook photo, and there are moments littered throughoutWhen You Walk she finds as cringe-worthy as an unfortunate senior-year haircut.
"It's hard to listen back to the songs sometimes because so many things have changed for me in the way I look at music and the way that I play guitar and the way I form songs. I can feel very far away from them now," said Leschper, who wrote most of the tracks that appear on the record in late 2013. "It's a snapshot of us as a very young band, and specifically me as a very young musician. I'm still happy we put it out, and I'm still really proud of it, but it can be hard for me to listen to, if that makes sense."
Regardless, Leschper said she's never struggled with inviting outside listeners in on songs where she bares her various frailties and flaws - "I hate my body," she confesses in one bruising album aside - equating the process with a letting go, or an emotional exorcism of sorts.
"When I first started writing songs, and especially when I started playing shows out in Athens, it was a very empowering and cathartic experience to be really personal onstage in front of a lot of people," she said. "It was sort of an act of letting go and escaping the things I was talking about in the songs. It's something that's always felt very natural to me."
Similar comfort levels have always existed within the band as well, according to the singer, who described the album recording process as a "stoic, serious experience."
"Everyone kind of felt the weight of it," she said. "That kind of reverence and respect for the project was there with all of the members from the beginning."
Leschper first expressed an interest in guitar early in her teenage years, so her parents gifted her what she described as a "rock star starter kit," a combo pack that included a Fender Squier guitar, a small 10-watt amp and assorted accessories. Even so, it wasn't until the singer started studying printmaking at the University of Georgia that music started to take on greater importance.
"I wanted to take guitar lessons [as a young teenager], but at the time I didn't have the drive to dedicate myself to learning it. I'd get frustrated and give up, and the experience left me feeling dejected, like maybe I didn't want to play guitar," said Leschper. "Then in college I experienced this really restless imagination, and I started to feel more like I needed to get these ideas out.
"From there the music just exploded."
Ace of Cups
6 p.m. Sunday, May 8
2619 N. High St.,
ALSO PLAYING: Palm