Music Interview

Interview: Mamalarky

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Sweet but entirely aware, Mamalarky serves out some delightfully chaotic, softly sung, and groovy indie rock for the pissed-off masses. The four members (Livvy Bennett, Dylan Hill, Michael Hunter, and Noor Khan) met in Austin and Los Angeles, but now live in Atlanta where they released their recent self-titled debut, out now on Fire Talk. It all makes this New Englander wonder if I made a mistake not moving to the South—sugar-honey-iced-tea, the album makes me want to kick my legs up, watch the sunset, and talk some shit with the locals. Mamalarky has artsy-but-popular, punk-but-still-trendy, cool kid energy; they make you trust them immediately with the fuzzy, self-deprecating celebration in their lead track “Fury,” draw you in with the “groooooovy, baby,” baseline-driven, downright sexy, “You Make Me Smile,” make you feel a part of the group with the beachy “Almighty Heat,” and invite us to the party with “Drugstore Model” before leaving you with the angsty album closer, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” winking as they fade back into the dream they came from as if to say: the joke was really on you this whole time.

I was lame in high school, but Mamalarky’s energy makes me feel like I finally made it to the in-crowd. In an effort to prolong that feeling, we chatted with singer and guitarist Livvy Bennett about the band’s debut, their Southern roots, favorite hair products, and more.

These tracks are sugar dripping slowly into the backs of my eyes and honey poured over my brain, making my energy levels spike. They’re a leisurely melodic journey through an absolute frenzy of surprising drums, take-over guitar, seamless overdubs, and off-the-cuff lyrics. Listening to the collective complexity, it’s no wonder the album was two years and three cities in the making.  What was it like holding together the pieces of this project over such an amorphous period of time?

Livvy Bennett: It’s been weird! So weird. I think it shows how much we love making music together that we’ve always found a way to keep chipping away at it. It’s funny to see how many songs we can record from home now that we’re in pandemic times, and how we can complete something in a couple days as opposed to a few months back when life moved more quickly. I think the novel coronavirus has made this aspect of our project feel even weirder, like, what is time… what is this song about… when will it see the light of day. I’m trying my best to not pin down these factors and just keep goin.

You’ve joined forces in the past with Cherry Glazerr, and Michael plays keys for White Denim—this is a group who’s been around the block. Do you have plans to stick together as Mamalarky for the foreseen future, or do you think the different musicians you each work with end up benefiting your sound when you come back together after some time apart?

LB: I’ve been able to somehow find some positivity in quarantine in that it has us all staying at home and working on our music. In the past when we’ve been touring with other projects we’d be on the road for weeks at a time. It was simultaneously inspiring and exciting, but deeply exhausting. We’d come back with new experiences and friends and a revitalized focus of wanting to pour everything we had into our own project. We have no idea what the future holds other than more music with each other and others.

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Anyone who’s walked through your website, Spotify page, socials, or even glimpsed a press photo, can see that this is quite the colorful group, with some excellent hair on each of its members. Do any of you have any tips and tricks for those luscious locks? Also, what inspires your amazing album art, and overall bright, pop-of-color aesthetic? (Special shout out to Hannah Epstein, a textile artist responsible for the hand-woven rug that makes up the album art for MAMALARKY).

LB: I’m not sure I’ve ever really discussed this because I’m kind of just now realizing it, but I think a lot of the visual influence can be traced back to my elementary/middle school friend group. We were really into making art together; collages, drawings, sewing, jewelry. We were all very over-the-top, wearing costume-y clothes to school because as long as we stuck together, we were somewhat safe to do so. My best friend Blythe specifically had quite an impact there.

As for hair we just don’t cut it or wash it too much.

Throughout this year, you’ve mentioned snippets of intent behind some of your most accessible songs, like that “How to Say” is about differing love languages, “Schism Trek” is a heartbreaking attempt to let go of the ones you love, and how “Fury” came along quickly from the hilarity of navigating one’s early-20s ambition. What’s something all-encompassing over the 10 tracks that you hope comes across to listeners?

LB: I’ve been trying to let go of hypothesizing how people perceive our music, I think that’s a lesson I’m still coming to terms with. I guess it’s a lot of love songs that can hopefully be seen through the lens of whoever is listening to it, maybe feeling less alone in that yearning space. Being accepting of your own energy flux and moving forward at your own pace, and striving towards brutal honesty with yourself and others despite the challenges that presents. But truly however you experience the song is the best way!

You’ve been compared to some corner-holders in indie music like Stereolab, Deerhoof, Sheer Mag, and Superorganism, plus fellow head-turners (and label-mates) like Dehd and Patio.  What’s it like to pick up that praise, and to be seen through the lens of such an eclectic group of artists?

LB: It’s extremely flattering!! We definitely enjoy mood-shifting across our songs, and that’s why we hear references with a healthy mix of high energy and tranquil artists alike. We’re just grateful anyone’s listening and it’s still really funny when people compare us to bands we’ve never heard of.

You’re signed to Fire Talk, a New York label. You also played your album release party in a virtual live show hosted by Baby’s All Right, a Brooklyn venue. Any plans, then, on relocating to NYC? Or will you end up back in LA, where you were hanging out before the world shut down?

LB: That’s a really good question and one we’ve been asking ourselves. Our home here in Atlanta is pretty perfect for us, and we’ve put extra love and care into fixing it up since it’s an older home. But I do miss the buzzing energy and lovely weather in LA. It also depends on when touring becomes a factor again and finances and A LOT of things to be frank. We’ll see, I guess. I don’t think NYC is in the stars, but I kind of never know what’ll happen in this reality so I won’t rule it out.

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Seeing as most of the band’s origins can be traced back to Austin and Atlanta, do you find traces of the South in the way you make music? Do you have any Southern-specific influences that you pull from in your songwriting?

LB: I definitely hear Southern influence in our guitar/drum sounds. Being loud and simplistic, using what they call “riffs”… but yeah who doesn’t love Dolly Parton and Sly Stone (who was born/resides in Denton, TX).

Given your lyrics are both improvisational and confessional, it’s no surprise that you have a great Twitter presence as a band. From Tweets about coffee/cookie pairings (Oreo, apparently, reigns supreme), to the woes of being a songwriter with both a Scorpio Sun and Moon, plus some on-the-pulse political commentary, it’s a recommended follow for some light-hearted and at times self-deprecating online banter. Are you specifically into building up your brand on Twitter and other social media, or are you just looking for another way to express yourself and connect with fans during this year of isolation?

LB: I’m lonely, yes. I don’t know… Twitter is simultaneously so funny and also somewhat of a news source for us. I enjoy that our following there is pretty small so I don’t think too hard about what I put out there. I don’t feel like I’m being that annoying since it’s a tight knit group.

As touring musicians forcibly turned recording artists only for the year, what do you miss about life on the road and is there anything that you don’t miss at all?

LB: I just miss interacting with people. I miss feeling a group of people react to our music and the whole group of us building an experience together. I miss finding a new restaurant and laughing with my bandmates. I miss seeing other bands play most of all. I do not miss being stuck in a car, I do not miss not sleeping, I do not miss lugging gear, and I do not miss getting my period on tour. When it comes back it’ll be the right time and we’ll be equipped with new songs and skills so I’m trying not to be too pressed about it. Hope to see you there!

You can grab a copy of Mamalarky’s debut over on Bandcamp

Devyn McHugh
Dev can’t cook, but she can in fact listen to music. To say her taste is paramount is to be correct. If you ever meet her you should say so, and also compliment her tattoos. Just don’t say anything bad about Mitski Miyawaki, stella beer, or the city of Boston. Kidding, you can totally talk shit about Boston.

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