Get to know Mamalarky, a DIY supergroup that can’t seem to stay in one place—musically or geographically. The Atlanta-via-LA-via-Austin band spoke to Atwood about the making of Mamalarky, their restless debut album.
by guest writer Matt Wallock
Stream: “You Make Me Smile” – Mamalarky
I honestly am scared to tell you this, but our name was The Wipeout Gang, originally.
Mamalarky can’t seem to stay in one place – musically or geographically.
The genre-blurring indie rock outfit was formed in Austin, Texas, in 2016, but has since relocated twice: first to Los Angeles, then to their current hometown of Atlanta. Vocalist / guitarist Livvy Bennett, multi-instrumentalist (and overdub mastermind) Michael Hunter, and drummer Dylan Hill knew each other from their high school days in ATX, while bassist Noor Khan joined the crew during that stint in LA.
Livvy has said before, of Mamalarky’s music, that “rock, pop, some undercurrents of jazz, and psych are elements in there.” But the band’s long-awaited self-titled debut album—out November 20 via Fire Talk—is a restless melange of sputtering krautrock, off-kilter synth-pop, and heady psych-rock. The album’s ten tracks were written and recorded over a two-year period between LA and ATX through decidedly DIY means. Even the album art—a colorful rug by textile artist Hannah Epstein—exudes the handmade, tactile quality that defines the music: “I knew for the album I was starting to really think I want something that looks like you could touch it,” Livvy recently told me over the phone.
When I called her, on Sunday, I caught Mamalarky in an especially goofy mood. “Sorry I missed your call,” Livvy told me after letting my first ring go to voicemail. “We were in the throes of a Smash Bros battle that we could not interrupt.” Livvy, Michael, and Noor spoke to Atwood about the making of Mamalarky, their foster kittens Fluffy and Butler, and their dream record release show. Check out the full conversation below.
We go into the studio and ask ‘Will it blend?’ and we find out. I think the answer is yes.
:: support Mamalarky here ::
Stream: ‘Mamalarky’ singles – Mamalarky
A CONVERSATION WITH MAMALARKY
Atwood Magazine: Where are y’all right now?
Livvy Bennett: We’re in Atlanta.
Is that home at the moment?
Livvy: Yes, that’s where we live now.
When did you make the move there?
Livvy: Like two months ago—really recently.
I thought you might be in LA?
Livvy: Yeah, people keep saying that but I’m too lazy to individually say they’re wrong. It’s only been a few months.
What prompted the move?
Livvy: The move was prompted because we were basically just coming to terms with the fact that coronavirus was gonna exist for a really long time. We knew we were putting this album out and we wanted to keep working on music together and that truly wasn’t doable [in Los Angeles]. Noor was with her family in Atlanta, because she grew up here, and we were in LA. LA is just really expensive and kind of scary with the virus.
I read that you, Michael, and Dylan all went to high school together. Were you pals at the time, or did you belong to rival high school cliques?
Livvy: We were definitely in the same music-nerd realm of trying to make music and, you know, learning our instruments. But honestly post-high school is pretty much when we got serious as a band and started playing together.
Were you called Mamalarky at that time?
Livvy: I honestly am scared to tell you this, but our name was The Wipeout Gang, originally.
Are there any remnants of that project on the internet?
Livvy: I don’t want you to look it up, but maybe. We were playing a bunch of house shows and stuff. We had a different bass player at the beginning.
So when did you pick up the Mamalarky moniker? Why?
Livvy: 2016. I was writing a lot of music and I was playing with a bunch of other bands and I just wanted to see what it would be like to do this as our own project. I had GarageBand on my laptop so I was learning how to do stuff. I had a weird karaoke microphone that I was recording with for a long time. I don’t know if you know what an XLR and a quarter-inch are, but it was a quarter-inch microphone that I still have. I used that as my vocal microphone for years.
Michael Hunter: That’s our go-to microphone.
When did Noor enter the picture? Was that after you moved to LA?
Livvy: I basically was looking for a bassist and jamming with people and we met up and we just hit it off right off the bat. Would you say it was the Southern-ness of our personalities?
Noor Khan: That might have been it. I mean, it also could have truly just been in the stars.
Livvy: I feel like when you move to LA, it’s a lot of really intimidating people who aren’t very warm. It’s not even about warmth, it’s about genuineness.
Where in LA were you at the time?
Livvy: I was in Highland Park and Noor was in Glendale.
Was this around the time you were getting involved with Cherry Glazerr?
Livvy: That happened after [Noor and I] started playing together.
Noor: It feels like I’ve known you guys for like ten years.
Livvy: Stop! My cat keeps attacking me.
Wow, did you bring a cat from LA to Atlanta?
Livvy: No, we’re fostering two kittens. Their names are Fluffy and Butler. Butler looks like she’s wearing a tuxedo. She’s super cute, but she’s so sassy.
Around the release of your debut EP, in 2018, you said (according to The Luna Collective), “I think it’s safe to say that rock, pop, some undercurrents of jazz, and psych are elements in there… everything blends.” How does the fare on your debut full-length compare to the fare on that EP, musically? Does that description still hold?
Livvy: I think it still sticks for the most part, wouldn’t y’all say?
Michael: Yeah, we go into the studio and ask “Will it blend?” and we find out. I think the answer is yes.
Livvy: I think maybe the only thing that’s different from our EP is that we used more distorted, heavier sounds. If I was going to add a genre to that description—that I clearly thought on for so long—I would say we added some heavier stuff in there too.
How does a Mamalarky song usually come together from start to finish?
Livvy: Lyrics are usually the last part of the process, and very spontaneous—just whatever I think of at that moment in time. I really don’t think about my lyrics that much. But usually the way it goes is that I have a song idea and I show it to my bandmates and we’ll track a rhythm basic first, with the drums and guitar or drums and bass. A big part of it is just overdubbing weird things over time I’d say.
Michael: Lots of overdubs.
Livvy: I think that’s mostly Michael’s domain.
Michael: We spent most of the last two years just trying to cut out all these hours of overdubs.
Livvy: That’s pretty true, especially on songs like “Drug Store Model” and “Don’t Laugh at Me.”
What are some of the tools or programs that you’re using to do that?
Livvy: For the album that we’re putting out, most of it is Pro Tools. But we also use Ableton.
Michael: Lots of random outboard gear from the different studios and living rooms that we recorded the record in.
What were some of those studios and living rooms?
Livvy: Well we recorded most of the album in our living room in LA with my roommate Joey Oaxaca who is a sound engineer, but we also recorded at Studio 22 which is a really cool, tiny studio in East LA that bands like Froth and Sasami have recorded in, and Automatic. We recorded there, and then we mixed the whole album in Austin, which is where we’re from originally. That was in January , so right before everything went the way it did.
We spent most of the last two years just trying to cut out all these hours of overdubs.
What are some of the emotions that drive these songs?
Livvy: I think a lot of it was restlessness. Most of this record was recorded between tours that all of us would be on with different projects, so [these songs capture us] reuniting and having a lot to say to each other, musically.
Michael: A lot of pent-up musical energy.
That definitely registers. Did any tracks surprise you as they developed?
Livvy: Yes, I feel like “Big Trouble” was a song that I didn’t go into thinking it would sound the way it does and I think it’s really cool. Specifically the weird background synths and production on that songs—we ran it through a tape machine and were kind of pushing on the tape to slow it down at different parts and mixing that in with a normal mix. There are weird parts that I would not have imagined.
Also, I didn’t write a chorus when we got to the studio to finish it, and my bandmates were just like, “You should play a guitar solo for the chorus.” What else about that song is weird… the bass and synth are doubling each other and doing some weird stuff. It’s kind of prog-y.
You once said, of your approach to songwriting, “I think a lot of times I might end up throwing a pity party or roasting myself.” Is that still the case?
Livvy: I think it has gotten better over time, but I think my bandmates will attest that I move on from songs pretty quickly after they’re done. And I do roast myself too much.
Michael: We’re not allowed to play the record in this house.
Livvy: That’s not true! We’re gonna get the record tomorrow.
You don’t have any physical copies yet?
Livvy: No, we don’t have any copies yet. Someone was on Instagram yesterday sending me footage of them with the record in their hands and I was like, “WHERE DID YOU GET THIS?” and they wouldn’t tell me!
When and how did you get connected to Fire Talk?
Noor: We were on tour when we first talked to Fire Talk. I hit up a friend who knew a lot about the music industry and was really into finding labels and listening to their catalogues and really familiarizing himself with them. I just hit him up and was like, “Do you have any suggestions on who we could reach out to to show our music with?” He sent us Fire Talk and a couple other labels, and he sent Trevor [Peterson] at Fire Talk the music. Then Trevor hit us back and was like, “This is sick, would love to talk to you.” That’s how it started.
When you say “sent the music,” do you mean the completed album? Or some portion of it?
Noor: We sent him a whole bunch of demo-y demos. It wasn’t by any means close to the finished album. There was even a song that we added to the album like a week before mastering, just super randomly. We were like, “This can be on the album, too!”
Which song is that?
I was excited to ask about that song! “Singalong” is, ironically, the only album’s instrumental track.
Noor: That’s a crazy song that Michael wrote. I’ll let him talk about it.
Michael: That song is just a noodle-y thing on guitar that I’ve liked to play for a while, so I spent like an hour recording a demo one afternoon and sent it to my bandmates and they were like, “Okay, let’s put in on the record!”
What do you feel when you listen to it?
Michael: You know… Disappointed.
Livvy: What!? Michael sent me this song and I was like, ‘This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard on guitar; we have to keep it on the album.’
Noor: I don’t know how we’re ever going to play it live.
Livvy: Noor and Michael know how to play it… I could play keys?
Michael: It’s like three guitars, one going through a bass amp, really fucked up drum production.
Livvy: The drum production is FUCKED UP.
Michael: We can do it. We’ll do it one day.
Livvy: I really like that song a lot.
It sounds like something is being built, but it also sounds like something is being destroyed.
Livvy: That’s a good way to put it.
Michael: We’re going to ask the audience to sing along.
Is the cover art a real rug?
Livvy: Yeah, it’s a real rug! It’s from this textile artist, Hannah Epstein. She’s on Instagram.
How did that come about?
Livvy: I was just looking at a bunch of different artists. I follow a lot of different artists on Instagram, truly, and just save their art and look at it when I’m bored. I knew for the album I was starting to really think I want something that looks like you could touch it, from the cover. So I was really stoked when she was down to work with us.
Is Mamalarky getting into the rug merch game, or is that too ambitious?
Livvy: The person who pirated our record also asked me that! And no, we don’t have rug merch. I wish we could mass produce rugs.
Noor: That would be so cool!
Livvy: We would be so much richer if we were rug makers!
Ahead of SXSW, in 2019, you said that “The perfect festival takes place in LA, so I don’t have to pay to travel, and the weather’s generally nice. Let’s have Shannon & The Clams, The Go! Team, Nai Palm, Anderson.Paak, Deerhoof, & Melanie Faye.” What about the perfect debut album release show?
Livvy: Well, Jake Tobin’s gotta be on the bill. He made the inner sleeve art and he’s one of my favorite artists. He’s also in Atlanta so that would just be extremely convenient. Maybe Button Music could open up the show—also a really cool Atlanta artist you should check out.
Obviously we thought about that before COVID happened, but we are playing an album release show at Baby’s All Right, virtually. So that is the ideal now! It’s very socially distant because we will be at home. That’s the ideal in this reality.
Matt Wallock is a writer and artist based in Oakland. He’d love to make you a cup of coffee sometime.
— — — —
📸 © Gabriel Ovalle
:: Stream Mamalarky ::