Just minutes from the heart of downtown San Jose, a huge, dark, haunting sound escapes from a small beat-up shed. At first, only a solemn, gritty guitar plays along with the steady boom of a bass drum, rocking you, luring you, as an organ slides underneath to fill the empty space. Then, a deep bass joins the brew, settling into a gentle sway, before the guitar howls out, and the sound explodes into angular rhythms and a relentless beat. Suddenly, you find yourself in the midst of some great tension in the dark, and the only thing you can do is shake and rock with the music of Mothers Worry.
Most often seen playing at The Ritz or the Caravan Lounge, Mothers Worry was founded in the summer of 2014 by guitarist and vocalist Michael Hale along with keyboardist and brute bassist Amanda Mikaelsson. The band played a few shows with a stand-in drummer before longtime friend and drummer Ryan Strader joined them permanently in early 2015, solidifying Mothers Worry as a band based on deep mutual respect and friendship.
Now, pulling from their collective range of influences, the trio drifts between rock and electronic, punk and goth, garage and surf—resting on a feeling only long enough for you to get comfortable before throwing you into something unexpected yet familiar. “We had a little thing between us,” says Hale. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we had a band that could play with a metal band, a ska band, a punk band, an indie band, and anything bad?’ ”
“And so far, we’ve been able to jive with all those bands,” says Mikaelsson, jumping in before Hale could finish. “We’re definitely different from those groups, sort of, but we have a little bit of something everyone, anyone can relate to,” adds Strader.
Still, for Mothers Worry these labels hardly matter. Unconcerned with fitting into a genre, they emphasize the lyrics and the tension of a song. According to the trio, the story almost always flutters to the top of Hale’s head first—before any melody is conceived—swiftly followed by a feeling, then some words. Before too long, the group fleshes out a new song as Mikaelsson patches in her parts seamlessly and Strader accentuates the drama.
“A story falls on your lap like a block,” says Hale. “And with that block that has been mysteriously given to you by the cosmos, or whoever, whatever—it’s up to you to carve that block. And sometimes it’s jagged. Sometimes it’s soft. Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it’s hot.”
The trio explores death, lost love, inner demons, that goading voice in your head—struggles that everyone encounters and must face. For instance, “S.O.S,” the title song of their upcoming EP, touches on themes of drug abuse, mental illness, and suicide.
But perhaps even more interesting is the way their stories move—not through actions, not through characters, but through images. In “Riverside,” another song off the EP, Hale writes: “Broken legs in a sea of snipers. Kill a dove just to watch it go. Take a bow behind a wall of flames. It’s your opus from above, dedicated to your love.” He leaves it up to the listener to piece together the narrative behind the images he conjures.
“What’s more vulnerable than broken legs in a sea of snipers?” Hale asks and chuckles. “That’s a feeling. You put them in a feeling, you know? That’s helpless. That’s helpless when you’re waiting for the first bullet to hit.”
It’s that helplessness, that universal feeling of struggle that Mothers Worry tries to embody and share with its audience among the noise of the wailing organ, the lonely guitar, the fierce bass, and the thoughtful drums. Though the trio may paint a dark picture, they refuse to neglect the beauty of these universal struggles. “If Mothers Worry had one theme we keep returning to,” says Strader, “it would be that dichotomy between dark and light, that yin and yang that everybody has.”
Mothers Worry will be releasing their debut EP, S.O.S, near the end of 2016. The trio describes the six-track collection as the best representation of the sounds and themes they are trying to explore.
Interview by Giselle Tran
Photography by Arabela Espinoza