Mothers began in 2013 as the solo project of Athens, Georgia-based visual artist Kristine Leschper while she studied printmaking at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. The discipline instilled in her a strong work ethic and an intense focus to detail, while simultaneously inspiring her to pursue other creative aspects of her personality. A self-taught songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Leschper’s earliest musical influences span a great swath of early aughts rock and folk, such as Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, The Microphones, and Athens legends Neutral Milk Hotel; she later developed a love for experimental music, math rock, and noise artists, including Lighting Bolt, Hella, Don Caballero, and Tera Melos. As a result, her earliest demos exhibit a sense of striking catharsis under non-traditional song structures, which flirt between strength and vulnerability, and are often quite linear in form.
Leschper wrote the majority of the songs that would evolve into When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired while finishing art school in early 2014. Fittingly, as while her attention to visual art and music come from very different creative spaces for her, each cannot help but bleed into one another. The delicately resolute opener “Too Small For Eyes,” which she says is about “being incredibly uncomfortable in your own body and learning how to relate to yourself,” even shares its title with that of her senior thesis project.
Over the course of the year, she played solo shows that earned her local acclaim, including from Flagpole, which praised her “visceral, deeply personal” songs. But she knew that in order to reach her true musical vision, she would need to expand the line-up, so she recruited multi-instrumentalist Matthew Anderegg to help flesh out the arrangements and guide the songs to their final state. They expanded the line-up with guitarist Drew Kirby and, after playing together for only one month’s time, quickly recorded their debut full-length album with producer Drew Vandenberg – who has worked on albums by Of Montreal, Deerhunter and Porcelain Raft – at Chase Park Transduction in Athens in December 2014 (the album also features collaborations with Josh McKay of Deerhunter on vibraphone as well as McKendrick Bearden of Grand Vapids, who played bass and provided string arrangements throughout). Bassist Patrick Morales would later join the band as a permanent fixture.
When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is an introduction to the foundations of the young band, a snapshot of a particular period of their genesis that maps both where they began and where they are heading. It’s the sound of a band being born, in the truest sense: songs that were conceived in Leschper’s solitude and nurtured with added direction from Anderegg. “The name Mothers relates to the idea of creation and being the mother of something. The act of being a Mother is tragic, you have to eventually let go of the things you created,” says Leschper of their name’s origin.
The album’s bookends perhaps most explicitly display this musical chronology. The gorgeous “Too Small For Eyes” was the only one of a few solo songs Leschper had written on the mandolin that made it onto the album, its use of space, piano, strings, and her voice entwining and undulating to elegantly set the stage for what unfolds afterward; closer “Hold Your Own Hand” blooms from its plaintive opening bars to an ascendant, spirally waltz to an uproarious math-y breakdown, hinting at the louder, more post-rock and math rock-influenced sound for which their live show is fast becoming known (the blog Heartbreaking Bravery described one of the band’s CMJ sets as “…intricate, knotty indie pop songs that are equally unpredictable and enticing”). “Copper Mines,” the first song they wrote together as a band, captures the new mix of everyone’s voices and energy on tape, and also informs their other new material, such as “No Crying in Baseball,” a home recorded B-side they wrote together in the months following the completion of When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired. “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t,” which looks at the dichotomy of an artist’s ego and sense of self-doubt, falls somewhere in between – the first song she wrote that she saw in the context of something bigger than her performing solo, it takes many twists and turns before arriving, like so many of their songs, at a different sonic place than where it began.
Across the album, Leschper meditates on the human condition: what anyone’s place is in the universe; what is our value; mortality; and what it means to have relationships in consideration of all these things. And while the songs are filtered through her frequently difficult, personal microcosmic experiences, she relates them in a manner that is at once highly intimate and readily universal. At heart, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is about being alive, and just how surprisingly unmooring – and exhausting – this fundamental thing can be. The album is a window into the long path Leschper traveled while creating it: breathtakingly honest and rooted in the subconscious of one’s journey.
Upon the album’s completion in January 2015, the new quartet line-up steadily played local shows throughout the spring and summer, including at festivals like ATHfest and Slingshot. Before heading out on their first tour supporting Of Montreal, they debuted “No Crying in Baseball,” earning national press attention from Stereogum, NME, Brooklyn Vegan, Ghettoblaster, and others. A headlining east coast tour followed in September, and things began to fall into place. Stereogum named them a ‘Band To Watch’ alongside a premiere of “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” ahead of their 10-shows-over-five-days jaunt at the 2015 CMJ Music Marathon, which included sets at the Aquarium Drunkard, Brooklyn Vegan and Culture Collide showcases. Both the song and the band earned even more praise throughout the week, including from Vulture, NME, BBC Radio 1, and The Wild Honey Pie, among many others. The following week they were named one of Stereogum’s ’50 Best New Bands of 2015,’ and signed to Grand Jury in the US and Wichita Recordings in the UK.