When No Joy leader Jasamine White-Gluz decided it was time to revamp her band's sound and temperament, she harnessed a blend of ambition, experimentation, and playfully bad taste to arrive at Motherhood. Setting aside the band's prior shoegaze fixations, White-Gluz arrived at a more expansive, sometimes conflicting sound that "branches out fearlessly in all directions...but never loses the plot," in the words of editor Fred Thomas' four-star review. It's also an evolution that happened in plain sight, if one kept up with the eclectic array of EPs the band released between albums.
Branching beyond No Joy's more serious shoegaze origins isn't so surprising after speaking with White-Gluz, who is quick to compare her songwriting style to an urgent bout of nausea, or to express pride that her album almost shares a release date with Korn's Follow the Leader. She also discussed some of the album's unexpected influences, why it was time for the band to change course, and how recording Motherhood was like playing Jenga.
AllMusic: 'Motherhood' definitely takes some new turns from your past records. How do you find the parts of your sound that you feel comfortable tinkering with while still retaining the band's overall DNA?
Jasamine White-Gluz: On this record, if there was an idea I thought was really stupid, I was like, "OK, let's try it." If I had to ask myself, "Is this really cool or really bad," that's when we'd push it even further. Most of the time, we kept those things.
Like on "Birthmark," we were taking a break and watched this kind of terrible band called Hannah*s Field, it's like that SNL skit Ras Trent, and we were cruising YouTube looking at stuff and said, "Yeah, let's get some bongos, let's get some banjo, let's play a Jane's Addiction acoustic guitar," so we just started throwing all these ideas that were kind of a joke inspired by that weird video we'd watched, but it sort of worked. That's all in there, the bongos, all the percussion, and it came from a place of saying, "Let's try it, who knows."
AllMusic: So if you take inspiration from something you think is terrible, how do you bring it into your music and turn it into something you no longer think of in that light?
White-Gluz: I think being unpretentious or not too serious about songs is important. If you take things too seriously or are too precious, you might never be happy with what you've got. In the past, I've done recording sessions where it's like, "I want this to be the most intense," and this time it was like, "I just want us to have fun, and if good songs come out of it, great."
If you can tell we were having fun while we were doing it, then that's the best part. For no good reason, we recorded like five skits, full plays, just to try it, but that didn't make it on, because it was a little bit too stupid. Just trying to be a little bit more open-minded and self-aware but also open to trying things that might be so weird that they seem really crazy.
AllMusic: What made you feel like this was the time to explore these new directions?
White-Gluz: When you're in your twenties, you want to project what kind of person you are, you have a style that you want to stick to, but when I got to my thirties I was like, "I don't care!" I don't care what I'm wearing, I don't care about makeup, and I think that came into the music, too. And not that I didn't care, but more like, "I don't give a shit, I'm going to try it because this is what I want to do."
I like a lot of music and I'm inspired by a lot of music, and some of it is not necessarily good or critically-acclaimed, but I really do love stuff like nu-metal, which is hilarious in retrospect, but I really do love the music, so I wanted to look at things like, "Let's just try it, who cares? I don't care if people like it or not." I'm not really thinking about that. It's more in the moment, let's just try and do this.
AllMusic: When you listen to music, do you think you can tell if they were having fun while making it?
White-Gluz: For a long time, I liked those records where they have this legend of how they were all fighting in the studio but they still finished it. But this felt more focused because it was just me and a different group of people I brought together, and it was easier to communicate my ideas. I have to look at my record collection and ask myself, "Were these people happy?" I like contrast a lot, so I like when something sounds happy but maybe the lyrics are dark, so that could also play into it, that some of the songs are happy but lyrically not that happy.
AllMusic: How important were the EPs you released in between More Faithful and the new album?
White-Gluz: They were super important. When we did the last full-length, I'd reached a point where touring and recording with a traditional rock band lineup, I was kind of over it, or I was just not as inspired by it. It feels like less risk when you put out an EP, it's less of a big statement, so I was trying to use those EPs to flesh out ideas or creative things I wanted to try to see if that was where I wanted to go on a full-length. So that by the time it got to Motherhood, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do.
AllMusic: You're also a guitar player, how does the guitar fit into the new music?
White-Gluz: Every song pretty much started with a guitar, and the guitar is my main instrument, it's what I play live. A lot of times we'll take the guitar parts and transpose those on other instruments to see where it goes, so a song like "Why Mothers Die" was a rock song, but we took the instrumental and put it on a piano instead, and then took it to a whole different direction.
Guitar will always be there, but we tried to use it in different ways, we tried to use it less as the thing pushing the song along, but sometimes we needed something for texture, so there's a lot of acoustic guitars and banjos and mandolin, other string instruments. As opposed to other records, I was never playing the song fully with everyone in the room at the same time, it was more of a Jenga game where you put in a piece and make sure the thing doesn't fall, then you put another thing, so we built it by layers. But the guitars were always there, they just sometimes sounded like other things.
AllMusic: Did you find that a tough process to adapt to?
White-Gluz: It makes more sense to me, that's how I write and it's how we recorded most of Wait to Pleasure, so to me, it felt more interesting for me to record that way. On More Faithful, we were all in a room, playing at the same time, and this one was a different setup in terms of personnel and how we wanted to build it. There were no ideas that were bad, so if one day I wanted to try a vibraphone, and I don't know how to play it, then we just tried it. That made mixing kind of insane, but luckily [producer and co-writer] Jorge Elbrecht is a genius and can take the million tracks that we do and figure out where to put those things so they all make sense together. So we just tracked everything and figured it out later, and that's my favorite way to record.
AllMusic: With so much experimentation and layering happening in the studio, how important are your demos for reminding you of what the core of the song is?
White-Gluz: I think sometimes there's a magic to those original demos. Sometimes I like to compare my songwriting to nausea, like say you really have to puke and you're like, "I have to get into the bathroom and puke into the toilet," you just can't stop it. Songwriting for me is like that, I'm like, "Ahh, an idea has to come out, it's going to happen right now," and it gets done in one day. So it just sort of happens, and sometimes there's a charm and something really special on those demos that I like, and I don't think I'd put out a song unless it captured that same sort of energy or made it even better than the original.
AllMusic: Is there an example of an album you enjoy sitting down with to pick apart the layers?
White-Gluz: A recent record I really loved like that was Dose Your Dreams by Fucked Up. I thought that was a record that sounded like a band you know, but they were also taking risks and it was all over the place. For me that was a really good record that felt like experimenting, a band being honest with themselves, and not really trying to fit into any sort of box, just doing what they want to do. Maybe I have a short attention span, and that's why I like songs that are three minutes and have a ton of shit going on, but I find that exciting.
AllMusic: Are you the kind of person who wants to talk to the band about how they got to that point, or is that a sickness that only people with my job have?
White-Gluz: I was at a wedding where Damian [Abraham], the singer, was also there, and it was the day after we finished recording Motherhood. We were just chatting and I was like, "Yeah, my new record is pretty crazy, we have flute on there.." and he was just like, "Flute? You think that's crazy?" Because they've had flute on their records for like 12 years. He was like, "Yeah, I get it, but..." It's a thing where we're both like, "Yeah, we went off the rails a little bit with this one."