An exclusive chat with lead singer Carla Pérez Vas about the latest album from Spain’s hottest band
In 2020, well, in 2020 everything sucks. But let’s try to step over into our independent music world for some non-terrifying perspective…
In 2020, it’s tough enough being a predominantly guitar-based young band. Even tougher if you are situated in a small Spanish town outside of Barcelona, and the first three years of your band you were cement-stuck in a bad record deal that prevented you from even being able to tour, even if you could – which you can’t because there are only so many towns with good rock bars you can make it to, and its pricey to go fly to the States or all over Europe.
That is Mourn’s salad days all over. Oh, but also toss in a searing stable of three critically praised albums, a reportedly great live show (if you got to see them on their lone U.S. trip), a rabid growing fanbase, and the fact that they started when they were teenagers, and are only now hitting the years when most bands just formed. Their musical abilities from the get-go, on their self-titled 2015 Captured Tracks debut, seemed to come from slightly older souls, already able to weave a catchy, teen punk power with darker influences that usually impress later in life. Lyrically, they’ve been increasingly more angered, given that shit record deal, some recent band member shake-ups, and a scary drift towards authoritarianism in our world-wide political landscape. In a kind of mirror-flip image of the usual rock band development, Mourn’s new album, Self Worth, is their most explosive, fast and furious yet.
The band’s root sound is like a louder, more manic form of the mid-90s femme-led indie outgrowth, ala the Simple Machines’ roster, Throwing Muses and early Sleater-Kinney. If those references are lost on this band’s mostly under-30 following, they seemed lost on the band too, as you’ll read in the interview below with singer/guitarist, Carla Perez Vas. Hell, even an older rock crowd seems to have allowed the non-grunge, non-hits ‘90s canon to slip into history’s dustbin. (Check that recent, cringy Rolling Stone Top 500 list.) Hence, simply playing furious rock ‘n’ roll in 2020 can seem rebellious again. We need the kind of young anger Mourn displays, even if their’s is not always easily, explicitly political. Though sometimes, it really fucking is.
The founding members – Jazz Rodríguez Bueno and Carla Pérez Vas – met in high school, and their zig-zag guitar playing shows a sync that comes with chumming through your developmental years. Their unique sing / talk duet vocal stylings can instantly jump to wonderful harmonies, even in faster, angrier screeds like “Apathy” and “I’m In Trouble.” Their work is one of the better Riot Grrrl redux that doesn’t just unfold the blueprint, but leaves it over there in peripheral vision. While this album is mainly stuffed with rightly fevered rants, there are melancholy melodic hints of that adult world that’s bearing down. Carla and Jazz decided to ditch that world and find a house in the Pyrenes to go write Self Worth before heading back home to record it.
There’ve been personal struggles for the band too, as 2019 saw the parting ways with original drummer, Antonio Postius. While sad, it also freed the band of some musical and lyrical handcuffs; plus they’re finally free from that bad regional record deal too. Having been hugged to the chest of the fine Brooklyn-based indie, Captured Tracks, for a while now, the band was really excited to finally get back on the road in 2020, until, well, you know.
So yeah, it’s tough for an independent rock band right now. But you listeners can still go get their fine new album, and Carla can still speak her mind.
VIDEO: Mourn “This Feeling Is Disgusting”
So the new album title, Self Worth. Is that title partly a direct reference to Antonio Postius leaving, and the rest of the band realizing their worth in the band a little more?
Self Worth makes reference to listening to what’s important for you and acting in consequence, realizing that your worth is important, stopping what is toxic or doesn’t work for you. Obviously, a change like that in our band had significance, but it’s not the main reason why we called our new record like that.
It just seems, on the heels of a band member leaving, that a number of songs seem to reference that, “Gather Really” and “Worthy Mushroom” especially…
Those two songs actually don’t talk about that issue. “Gather, Really” is about the moments when you gather with your loved ones and talk about your opinions and views on the world, specific events, etc., feeling supported and powerful together, while grabbing some beers. “Worthy Mushroom” is about feeling trapped in capitalist values that associate one’s worth to productivity. Also it talks about feeling left out, useless, misunderstood, and rejected by society.
Everything is of course on hold right now, but how was touring for bands in your country, before the virus?
Spain doesn’t work like the U.S. with touring. You can’t tour for weeks in a row, people go to shows only on the weekend, and mainly summer festivals. Before the virus, small venues already struggled, not only with money but with strict city laws about playing music ‘til late, etc.
Tell me a good story from when you played the U.S. over the years.
Our best time in the U.S. was definitely touring with our friends Chastity. Every day was a new adventure, and we felt like cool kids for once. At the end of the tour while in Montreal, we went on a hike to the mountain ‘til 2 a.m. and we walked around the cemetery. It was so fun and magical. We’ll never forget that.
VIDEO: Chastity “Children”
From the press releases explanation, you and Jazz took off to a country house to write the new album. How did it help to write that way this time?
When we started thinking about our fourth record, we felt a bit stuck and couldn’t really get started. After a while we thought that it’d be best to leave the city and find a green place where we could just be on our own and improvise, write, eat, drink, and have fun together while working on ideas. We found this amazing little house in the Pyrenees (Lalanne) through Airbnb and spent five days there. There was a beautiful tree in front of the house, and we could see the snowy highest mountains from a distance. We felt really inspired, and little by little we ended up with a lot of riffs, lyrics, and melodies that later on would define our new record.
How long did it take to make the new album, and any good stories about making it?
We started writing it around March, 2019, and recorded it in November, 2019. We spent the whole hot summer in our rehearsal space sweating like crazy and improvising, finishing parts and deciding titles. We even did a full song, ”House Hold,” while in the studio, from the start to the end. As always we love recording close to nature. Somewhere you could leave the studio and breath clean air and walk around peacefully. So we went where we recorded our last album, Sorpresa Familia (2018), and felt like home again.
VIDEO: Mourn “Men”
A lot of the bands you’re compared to are from the 1990s – Throwing Muses, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, etc. Were those bands inspirations when the band formed? Because you guys were really young when you started. And I think sometimes when you’re young, you just stumble onto your sound, and it’s older people who tell you, “This is who you sound like.” You know what I mean?
We didn’t know who Sleater-Kinney was, it was actually someone commenting on our Facebook page, that we reminded them of them. We never take this too seriously. Obviously we play guitar music and that can remind everyone of so many bands. Hahaha.
Having grown up with technology all around you, do you find yourselves having to take yourself away from the internet and all the gadgets these days, to clear your mind? The internet can be an ugly place.
The Internet has definitely made us feel more insecure on so many levels. I need to end my relationship with Instagram because it has been too long and too toxic. It can get too overwhelming to receive so much information through your eyes. Especially being an artist, there’re too many inputs that can distract you from what you really want to do.
VIDEO: Mourn “Call You Back”
“I’m In Trouble” – Can you tell me what inspired that song?
It’s about focusing [so much] on only one problem or issue in your life that you kind of forget about the rest that’s good, or even not working either. It’s about feeling overwhelmed and realizing that something is completely wrong and you feel suffocated.
Tell me about “It’s a Frog’s World”? It’s one of the more interesting songs on the album, lyrically and musically, as it goes from almost poppy to really crazed and noisy.
It talks about when you have an issue with someone you love, but none of you want to bring it up because it’s too painful to handle. Acting like everything’s okay, but you’re hurt. None of you is strong enough to admit there’s a problem and bring it to the surface, purely because you fear losing what you have. The title itself is a way of dissolving the matter and distracting yourself of said problem. After hearing the demo in the car on our way to a show, our sound guy, Nil, suggested that’d be a great idea to keep the song like that – only guitars and vocals – and then let it explode at the end. We thought that was great!
In ways, I feel like your band has gone in kind of a backward trajectory – you started maybe a little bit more serious and moody, and your records have gotten more energized and fast as you’ve gone on. That’s a big generalization, but would you agree?
We know ourselves a bit more now, so what you see and hear is what we’re honestly like inside. We also toured a lot and realized that we love having fun on stage, so I can agree that we’re more energized than before!
Great quote I saw from you – “I can put all the records I made on my resume, but that doesn’t mean I’ll get hired at a bakery.” You guys are reaching a pretty classic moment in any good band’s life – you made some good records, got a following, and now, right when you might be at a height of creativity, there’s a fuller realization that the money probably isn’t going to be huge, and hard choices have to be made. Not to mention fucking COVID-19! So how are you doing with that right now – that dreaded decision: continue with bohemia or get a job?
I feel like there’s a massive wrong idea with wanting to live off your music/art. We have to, as a community, stop idealizing our jobs and [instead] letting everyone know how fucked up this industry can be sometimes. Until they respect artists and musicians and pay us well to have a proper life. Right now the situation couldn’t be more blurry and scary, but the only thing I can tell you is that I’m dying to jump in a van and play and sing ‘tiI I have no voice left!
VIDEO: The Making Of Self Worth