Interview: Mamiffer

My intent was to begin the record with a celebration of life. I wanted to open the record with the deliberate context of rejoicing in the life force and by stating a belief in the strength of the human spirit.

Mamiffer have just released their fantastic new album The Brilliant Tabernacle and the record, the follow up to 2016’s The World Unseen sees the music of Mamiffer expanding in the most glorious ways. Gavin Brown caught up with Faith Colloccia to hear all about The Brilliant Tabernacle and the new life that inspired the album and its creation as well as the video for the albums opening track ‘All That Is Beautiful’, the uplifting power of music, recent live shows, book recommendations and the highlights from Mamiffer’s career.

E&D: Your new album The Brilliant Tabernacle is out now, what has the reaction to the album been like so far?

Faith: The reaction seems to be very positive. A lot many people seem to “get” what’s going on with the concept, and I’m happy with the reaction. I have been sort of out of it for about 3 years, and a lot has changed since I last released a Mamiffer record, so I didn’t know what to expect, especially with a record that is very different from its predecessor. The response has been really participatory and active.

E&D: How did the creation and recording of the album go and can you tell us a bit about the process?

Faith: The making of the record started in 2013 at Studio Litho. A lot of the compositions were recorded live – I played piano while being accompanied by Eyvind Kang on strings and Randall Dunn handling engineering. I also worked on some of the songs during the World Unseen sessions at Avast in Seattle. Additional re-writing and re-recording of some of this material in happened in 2016-2018, and we added 2 new songs, with drum contributions from Jon Mueller at Robert Lange studio with Matt Bayles engineering. I re-did all of my vocals at home in 2017-2018, and also Aaron’s guitars and Brian Cook’s bass. From all of this we then edited down the record to be 7 songs. The final mixes for everything happened in October 2018 at Avast with Randall Dunn over the course of 5 days.

E&D: Who else worked on the album and what did they bring to the record?

Faith: We worked with Eyvind Kang, he played strings, and did the string arrangements. Jon Mueller played percussion. Veronica Dye played flute, and we made the arrangements with her and Randall Dunn. Brian Cook played bass, Aaron Turner played guitar, Monika Khot sang back up “calling” vocals on ‘River of Light’,  and Janne Westerlund played kantele on ‘To Be Seen’.

E&D: You worked with Randall Dunn on the album, how was it working with him and what do you think he brought to the sound of Mamiffer?

Faith: Yes, I have worked with Randall on about 11 recordings by now starting in 2010. He is great to work with. It is definitely a collaboration with him and his way of production. He gets me out of my comfort zones while also working directly with my input and ideas. I think sometimes I get him out of his comfort zone as well! I work with Randall because of his ability to make songs/compositions sound 4 dimensional. He has a great ability to translate the emotional and the abstract, and work with in depth/heavy concepts. He can hold space for intense emotions, and he gets emotionally invested in the work. He helps bring the sound of internal and outer space into being.

E&D: ‘All That Is Beautiful’ is a very ethereal opening song, did you always want the album to open up with that kind of vibe?

Faith: Yes, definitely. My intent was to begin the record with a celebration of life. I wanted to open the record with the deliberate context of rejoicing in the life force and by stating a belief in the strength of the human spirit.

E&D: You have also done a video for the song, can you tell us about the video and its themes?

Faith: I worked with Lauren Rodriguez on the video. She used old film and shot the video in the field across a ravine that’s behind our house. Monika Khot and I dressed up in my grandmothers old clothes, and gathered flowers together. I wanted there to be a matrilineal theme to the video, one of ancestor worship/respect while utilizing the psychedelic nature of the way infants view the world (non-linear/hallucinogenic). One thought I had while making the video, which Lauren interpreted: was the idea of “brothers in arms”. To my 3 year old son, it would mean people embracing each other or holding hands- not men holding weapons in war. I wanted to subvert the latter, and show ideas of returning to the earth and its spirit as true strength (rather than weapons as “strength”).  Not “power over”, instead “empowered with” : sisters arm in arm. Using the genitals of plants to show the life cycle (flowers used for celebration and also in mourning), and adding the narrative of trying to discover the strength of my foremothers.


E&D: The Brilliant Tabernacle is ultimately a very uplifting listening experience, especially on songs like ‘Two Hands Together’ was that what you wanted to achieve?

Faith: Yes. My intention was to represent the celebration of life, and rejoice in the force of life. I wanted to lift people up through sounds and words, and translate presence of spirit by creating a document for my son. I wanted to share this celebratory document with others because I thought it might help people feel as I have felt by being creative: empowered, vulnerable/open and strong. In the face of horror, oppression and corruption, humans survive by lifting each other up and creating community, and by openly showing love.

E&D: What were your intentions with the sound and topics the songs cover on this album and what inspired and influenced the songs on The Brilliant Tabernacle?

Faith: My original intention/influence was to create a document (Tabernacle) containing the story of my son’s birth and how he came to be – from who I was before becoming pregnant, through the spiritual journey of being pregnant including exorcism and working with generational sickness, to the birth itself and the resultant empowerment. I wanted to create a magic amulet for him, as he breathes and walks, a wish for him to be healthy and to do good in the world. The Tabernacle contains my observations of humanity at its most vulnerable, and my thoughts about how some humans come to be destructive and hate-filled. It was meant to be a personal document, although I felt like it could potentially help people, and so I released it as a record. The artwork and sounds reflect all of my intentions. The way I worked with Randall also fits the concept. For example: we usually take out a lot of the incidental breathing sounds from the vocal tracks, with this record I wanted them to be very present, representing the intake of the spirit through air, and transformation into voice, I wanted the listener to hear the breath.

E&D: How do you feel that Mamiffer’s music has evolved since your last album The World Unseen?

Faith: It represents an even evolution and an obvious continuation of the last record, although I know that may not be totally obvious from an outside perspective, haha. I would say that this new record sounds happier, or more life positive. I have surrendered most of the sadness and loss from the last couple records, and embraced healing and lifting myself and others up in making The Brilliant Tabernacle. The new record is also very personal, intimate and close and because of that I almost didn’t even release it. There is less of the self-created distance that I had enveloping The World Unseen and Statu Nascendi. There is still an element of heavy darkness, and I bring that out in a primal blood pulse way: more in the lyrics than in the sounds of production and piano playing etc. I feel that in the new record, I have found my voice and I am confident in my singing, and it’s a lot easier for me to sing than it was in the past.

E&D: How did your recent shows with Mono and Bell Witch go?

Faith: The shows went great. I hadn’t performed with Mamiffer since one show with Zen Mother in 2017, so I was a little afraid of how it would go. Performing with Nick Yacyshyn on drums and Aaron is wonderful!

E&D: You also played a show in Portland with Jim Haynes and Daniel Menche, how was that experience?

Faith: That was a really good show! I got to see all my best friends, and seeing Daniel is always amazing. It was my first time seeing Jim, and his live show is so good – I feel so lucky to perform with such talented interesting unique people. Modular 8 is a really great place to play a show, and all the people who run the store are the nicest humans!

E&D: Did you play a lot of music from The Brilliant Tabernacle in your sets?

Faith: We performed with Nick Yacyshyn (drummer) and we performed 2 songs from The Brilliant Tabernacle: ‘All That Is Beautiful’, and ‘To Receive’. We have also performed different versions of the songs without drums (as we did at the Portland show). We almost always perform 2 songs from Statu Nascendi (‘Caelestis Partus’ and ‘Enantiodromia’), and ‘Mára’ from The World Unseen.

E&D: What are your touring plans for the rest of the year and into next year?

Faith: Mamiffer does not have many touring plans, except for Japan in 2020 and maybe one show in Seattle in March. Mára may tour in Europe in the summer.

E&D: With next year being the start of a new decade, what have been your favourite albums of the past decade?

Faith: I don’t know how to answer that question! I can list all the books I read this year though. My son is still nursing and when it’s nap time, he nurses to sleep which sometimes takes a long time. I have used this to my advantage to read many amazing books. I highly recommended all of them.

By Toni Cade Bambara: The Salt Eaters, These Bones Are Not My Child and Deep Insights and Rescue Missions. Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq. By Toni Morrison: Paradise, Jazz, Solomon’s Song, Tar Baby, Love, A Mercy, Home, God Help the Child and The Origin of Others (Written with Ta Nehisi Coates). There, There by Tommy Orange. By James Baldwin: Go Tell it on the Mountain, The Fire next Time and Evidence of Things Unseen. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. Lakota Woman by Mary Brave Bird. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Thing Around Your Neck, Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. By Maya Angelou: Gather Together in My Name and Letter to my Daughter. By Kiese Laymon: Heavy and Long Division. By Valeria Luiselli: Lost Children Archive andTell Me How It Ends.

E&D: And what have been your favourite records of this year?

Faith: Kalmykian Archaic and Soviet Folk by Tatiana Dordzhieva and Maria Beltsykova, Jenna Sutela’s Nimiia Vibié, Chemical Flowers by HELM, Star Spawn by Blood Incantation, Marshall Trammell (Live), Tashi Dorji, The Necks, Julius Eastman, Jim Haynes (Live), Daniel Menche (Live), Sirens by Kevin Martin, The Deontic Miracle by Catherine Christer Hennix, Eternal Recurrence by Deradoorian and Pyroclasts by SUNN 0))).

E&D: What have been some of the highlights in Mamiffer’s career so far?

Faith: Touring while pregnant, making friends in many places, and keeping in touch with them over the years, collaborating with so many wonderful people, eating unknown foreign foods with labels I try understand and drinking foreign coffees and teas while hiding out backstage (and also getting really nice vegan food special-made thanks to great promoters), playing ancient church organs, touring Japan, performing live with so many special and talented people, some forms of transcendence while performing live, prevailing under complicated and ridiculous conditions!

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