Kristine Leschper of Mothers
Kristine Leschper is the vocalist and lead guitarist of the band Mothers. Their second record, Render Another Ugly Method, an assemblage of personal vignettes and imagined scenarios that examine consent, escape of the body, power and powerlessness, and the act of making, is available as a double LP on September 7, 2019, on ANTI- Records.
This interview was conducted over the phone by Sophia Richards on August 7, 2019.
SOPHIA: In an interview with Creative Loafing, you said, “The self-importance of [Mothers’ first record, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired], looking back, has made me feel sheltered and embarrassed by my own experiences, especially as a white, cis American born in an upper-middle class family.”
How have your thoughts on this changed since you gave this interview? How much do you feel like it’s possible to write outside of your own experience?
KRISTINE: A lot of my own writing was influenced by confessional artists. Poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, and musicians like Bright Eyes and Neutral Milk Hotel. In a lot of ways, I feel like the confessional mode of speaking about your personal life is really valuable. Especially as a young adult, reading about small moments in these poets’ lives made me feel really special. So in that interview, I was trying to say that, looking back on the music that was written at that time, it’s very confessional, and that’s just what it is. Like, it doesn’t have context. I was unwilling to consider other people’s experiences. And I don’t think it’s bad to be a confessional artist. But I just felt a bit embarrassed that I had this very insular, sort of parochial perspective.
Moving forward, one of the things I was thinking about while writing [Mothers’ forthcoming album] Render Another Ugly Method, was trying to engage in a more observational practice. I tried to look less at my own life and my own personal experiences, to be more of a listener and observer, and to create conclusions based on this wider image.
SOPHIA: You just started to talk about this, but could you talk about the transition in headspace and musical style from your first to your second record?
KRISTINE: The way that I wrote the songs from the first record was super linear and intuitive, and everything came together without much fuss. The way that the writing has changed the most for Render is that it was decidedly deconstructive. Where the first record was about putting something down and that’s the finished song, Render was more about challenging whatever was originally written and sort of tearing it apart and reassembling it. It sort of references the cut-up techniques that the Dadaists used, and that William S. Burroughs used in his writing. The writing for this record was much more visual, more like collage, where I was often discarding most of the written song in order to rewrite it using one particular section.
SOPHIA: While I was reading about you in preparation for this interview, I was struck by the pretty uniform way that journalists tend to depict you, which is this fragile soprano with a haunting voice and porcelain skin, frequently crying…Someone described your lyrics as “injured”—
SOPHIA: Does that feel faithful to who you are and what you want to project to the world? People reviewing your new album will have a hard time describing you that way.
KRISTINE: That’s such an archetype, right? This injured woman.
SOPHIA: Very Wuthering Heights.
KRISTINE: Yeah, this woman who’s an antenna for emotion, just channeling feelings. I have been somewhat bothered by that depiction in pieces that have been written about me. But I also feel like I haven’t always been great about the way that I’ve represented myself. I haven’t really talked about it, and I’ve never answered this question before.
I’ve had uncomfortable feelings about the voyeuristic aspect of performance for a long time, and I created this totally backwards set of rules for how to deal with it.
When I was first starting to play music, I dressed in a way that was more boyish because I thought that I needed to present myself as masculine if anyone was going to take me seriously. I think I wanted to ride this extra layer of privilege where you don’t have to constantly prove why you’re valuable. Obviously that’s sad for a handful of reasons, but especially because it put this barrier between me and my freedom to interpret femininity.
That was a phase that I went through, and I feel like I’m coming out on the other side. I feel like a lot of it has to do with the amount of shows that I’ve played now, and the amount of times that I’ve had to put my body in front of strangers who I know are looking at me and at times sexualizing me. I’m getting to this point where I’m comfortable with however I want to represent myself, and I think a lot of that has to do with feeling more comfortable with the music that I’m making.
It’s been a struggle and an experiment—to represent myself some way, see how other people interpret it, and then to gauge my own reaction. It’s an ebb and flow, and I’m still developing my feelings about it. But I don’t want to be pigeonholed, and I don’t want to be perceived as this woman who’s “accidentally” making art. That’s a really harmful way to discuss someone.
SOPHIA: In your interview with Audiofemme, you said “It’ll do everyone a lot of good to not talk about gender in music so much.” I was wondering if you feel differently now, and why or why not?
KRISTINE: I feel like this is another example of that period where I was trying on this very masculine image, which, when I look back on it, feels really bad. When I hear myself saying that now, it almost reminds me of the argument, “I’m not racist; I don’t see color.” And that’s upsetting to me. I think I wanted to refuse to consider gender at all. Ignore it, because I didn’t want to imagine that it affected me.
Now I do feel like gender is relevant, and it’s extremely healthy that it’s being talked about. I feel really hopeful about the language that’s being created to talk about ways that people are marginalized in music. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that people who are consistently marginalized are not silenced or discredited. And obviously that contains women and people of color, gender-nonconforming people, disabled people, etc. My answer to that question is very different today.