“You like songs about dancing?” Ann Courtney shouts from the stage of the Lower East Side’s beloved Mercury Lounge, conducting the pulsating energy of the large and raucous audience with a single question. The front woman and lead vocalist of Mother Feather is clad in a silver sequined and fringed leotard, matching glitter slouch boots, and heavy eye makeup that’s avian and theatrical in equal measure.
“Sorry, what?!” Courtney calls out, before leveling her question again to the sweaty, moshing crowd screaming in affirmation. “Sorry, WHAT? Let’s take a look to the future!” And with that, Courtney, keyboardist and vocalist Elizabeth Carena, guitarist Chris Foley, drummer Gunnar Olsen, and bassist Seth Ondracek launch into one of the high-octane empowerment anthems that have made Mother Feather a staple of the underground rock scene in New York for the past decade.
While the band’s glam punk rock style (something they’ve termed “pop cock rock”) and dynamic live performances are no doubt a part of their allure, much of Mother Feather’s electrifying appeal comes from their inherent sense of being free—something that’s summed up cogently in the lyrics of a song off their most recent album, Constellation Baby: “We do what we want, it’s totally awesome.”
COOLS caught up with Courtney following their show to talk about creativity, feminism, and why New York City currently feels “rinsed.”
Can you explain the origin of the name Mother Feather?
“The name Mother Feather landed in my mouth by a direct message from my subconscious via Freudian slip. It started as an obscenity, tongue-twisted into the name of my deepest desire.”
When is your earliest memory of making music? How did that evolve into your current project as Mother Feather?
“There is lots of video footage of me as a child running around naked and singing at the top of my lungs, driving my dad crazy. I can draw a straight line from that to Mother Feather.”
Mother Feather’s look is so glam rock and highly-stylized—why is this important to your work as artists? Where do you draw inspiration for this?
“Everything is 100% informed by the songs and the message of the music. Showmanship isn’t about flash or spectacle, it’s about commitment and urgency. The costumes and the stylization are all opportunities to express the sense of ceremony, fun, and the importance of the message. I wear my visual influences on my sleeve—everything from Kabuki to Miss Piggy to Iggy Pop. I discovered performance artist and singer/songwriter Cynthia Hopkins during my senior year of college, right around the time I began playing guitar and writing songs. Along with fronting her art-punk alt-country-folk band Gloria DeLuxe, Cynthia would weave deeply personal stories into these elaborate, super-ambitious theater pieces that blurred truth and fiction in profound and magical ways. I absorbed a lot from her when I started performing my own music.”
How does New York City and its energy impact and influence your work?
“It’s complicated. This year will mark 20 years living in NYC. I don’t have anywhere else to go. I love it, but it definitely also breaks my heart. I’m struggling to make rent. We can’t afford take our show on the road without going into debt. Our biggest challenge remains getting five independent artists in the room all at the same time to rehearse and perform. Everywhere you look, there’s a stupid new condo or bank popping up in the place where a cool club used to be. I feel gross about the gentrification of my Brooklyn neighborhood that I know I’ve contributed to and that I’m now being priced out of. At times, NYC feels incredibly rinsed. Sorry, if this sounds dark—this winter has been tough.”
What do you think the state of rock music is in New York City right now? How do you think it differs from the past and what do you hope to see in the future?
“I’m deeply disheartened by the amount of covers nights I get asked to play. I do not understand the appeal—and I know I’m in the minority because those shows sell tickets! I know tons of musicians who survive playing covers gigs. I fully understand that covers nights can be wonderful networking opportunities for musicians and that people can get great gigs through them. I like nostalgia too…but this is part of the ‘rinsing’ of NYC I’m referring to. It seems like more and more audiences just want to leave the office to get shit-faced and sing along to subpar covers of their favorite songs rather than seeking out original live music. And because these covers nights sell well and clubs have to make their bottom line, the cycle is perpetuated. It’s so boring and it’s a trap.
“I know not all hope is lost for original rock music in NYC. Bands like Yaasss are definitely ‘keeping the scene alive’ along with acts like The Muckers, The Advertisers, Liza Colby Sound, Chris Morrissey, Tower, Gnarcissists, Mutant Scum, Ryan Scott, and Blame Candy. These are the people you should be giving your money to.”
Mother Feather’s music and shows have a really strong theme of empowerment and feminism—why is this important to you?
“I grew up in a few different countries in South Asia and encountered lots of women and girls who are denied their most basic human rights. The misogyny was very obvious. When I moved back to the United States at age 17, it shocked me to see how insidious misogyny is here. It’s been incredible seeing how our current political administration and the resurgence of #MeToo has brought this to light. I’m thankful that some of this insidiousness is being exposed, but as a culture, we’re very much still in the thick of it. Even within our own organization, we’ve had to face it directly. I want women to be free and I want to be an example. I do that by freeing myself, by subverting expectations of how a woman should look, sound, and behave, and by not taking any shit from men.”