Canadian author Hugh Maclennan wrote “Go to the musicians . . . in the work of a few musicians you can hear every aspect of this conflict between light and dark within the soul.”
Hey Mother Death are among those enlightened musicians MacLennan spoke of. The duo also bring to mind MacLennan’s great novel of national identity, Two Solitudes. The dual European heritage of Canada dealt with so eloquently by the Haligonian writer is mirrored in the duality of Hey Mother Death. Denma Peisinger is an English Canadian (from Halifax) and Laurence Strelka is from Paris, French French as she says.
The two met in Paris and the project was born there. They have since moved to the wild barrens of Cape Breton. They create sonic soundscapes tracks that run between the two solitudes of light and dark, of space and confinement, of wide open landscapes and close quartered urban streets. The name references an Allen Ginsberg poem and the high priest of beat was no stranger to the pursuit of balance. Much of “Highway”, their debut five song LP, was composed partly in Paris and partly in the Canadian and the French countryside says Strelka and the trick was finding the road between.
“There is definitely tension, a clash when the album was beginning. I felt the music itself, when we made it was very very atmospheric. Laurence really wanted to groove and I actually really love to too. At first I didn’t get it but once it clicked then it was finding the groove and we found it naturally in the rhythms that were happening in the ambient parts. But 'The Hills', that started with just drums and then we took a more dub approach to build that atmosphere,” says Peisinger.
“When I came back to Canada to work on “Highway” I was bringing a kind of grooving, beats and kind of a dancing rhythm which is really part of French culture,” says Strelka, “The French love beats and groove and basslines.”
Peisinger says there is no line in sight when they begin to write. They just begin. They take a very spontaneous approach, mixing free jazz and dub and just “follow the music,” he says.
“We have found it very productive to be in wild spaces when we work because I think whats going to happen is that for us its always a surprise and always uncovering. For us, its constantly, we don’t know where its going. Its always uncovering and developing. Its completely uncertain and can be nerve-racking when we are composing. When we were making Highway there were times when I completely doubted it, whether it was working and what was going on but we just pray and follow it.”
While France and Canada are the physical landscapes they draw from they say they bring a wide mix of influences and music styles to their own compositions but always seeking the edge and how far they can travel to find it.
“We come from many different places,” says Peisinger, “I spent some time apprenticing with free jazz composer Jerry Granelli whom I relate too but my vision is spontaneous composition. Laurence comes from a theatre background and she has the same approach. Musically we both love blues music. I was the first thing we spoke about when we met. What we listen to a lot is music coming from Black art and culture, also the Jamaican dub tradition. We have been introducing each other to music. Laurence has introduced me to the world of European electronica. At the moment we are both very excited about Grace Jones.”
Jamaican and New Yorker Jones is a great touchstone for Hey Mother Death who trade in the sounds of the old trade routes between Nova Scotia and the Caribbean as well as the French Connection. From Jones its an easy leap to Massive Attack and the Mad Professor and from them a sly Vespa ride to Hey Mother Death.
The Ginsberg quote by the way is from Father Death Blues, “Hey Old Daddy I know where I’m going”. Hey Mother Death don’t want to know where they are going they are just going because, as Ginberg's mate Kerouac said “There was nowhere to go but everywhere. . .”