In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week.
Rock ‘n’ roll changed music forever. It scared the hell out of parents, teachers and politicians, and yanked open the door to new possibilities in music. But as the decades pile up, another musical breakthrough as huge as the ‘60s and ‘70s rock explosion has been substituted with an extensive catalogue of descriptors placed in front of genre roots to portray styles of new bands.
Modern musicians are running out of ridiculous adjectives, buzzwords or trends to describe and influence their sound.
“We’re not ‘hip,’” said Courtney Hall, drummer for Columbus band Mama.
Bassist Austin Redd said the band unanimously hates subgenres. Mama is straight up ‘70s-style rock.
“If you want f—— ‘indie-something-something’ or ‘post-this-or-that,’ we’re not for you,” vocalist Travis Anderson said, referring to the massive amount of subgenres that describe today’s music.
It might not be the truth for some cities (i.e. Nashville, Tenn.), but in a place like Columbus, it’s unlikely that people will find young talent performing original creations in a classic rock ‘n’ roll vein, let alone blues-inspired vocals and ‘70s-style guitar free from effects pedals and oscillating psychedelic themes.
“It’s so weird ‘cause we’re kind of the underdogs,” Hall said. “When you think about it, we don’t really go with what’s popular right now.”
The unpopular style that makes Mama an underdog: “Organic rock ‘n’ roll,” said guitarist John Panell of Mama’s style. “Real, true, original rock ‘n’ roll.”
Members of Mama each have their own classic-rock “hero worship” (as Hall called it) to influence what they bring to the table.
Not surprisingly, their idols match the music they play. Mama guitarist Derek Spaulding is a fan of Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band and Hall looks up to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.
Even with focusing on their heroes or the concurrent records Mama is listening to at any given time, Anderson said the musical output is ultimately a failure to emulate their favorite bands.
“I mean, I know personally when I try to make a song a certain way, it never works out, ever.” Redd said to the band’s agreement.
“We’re all kind of music snobs, too,” Hall said, backed by the band’s wide reference-range of artists including Rod Stewart, Big Star, Elton John, Misfits, Busta Rhymes and the Doobie Brothers mentioned throughout the interview in the band’s practice space at Dude Locker in Clintonville.
“I feel like subconsciously we try to (create songs based off of our influences), but it ends up being a Mama song every time,” Anderson said.
Because of the ‘70s-esque revivalism, it’s difficult for Mama to build show lineups because most of the local acts are following buzzword subgenres and mimicking the ideas of popular contemporaries making it big in 2014. Hall said the gimmick-less rock ‘n’ roll purists keep everything simple in order to make quality music.
“We do what we want, and there is sometimes a price for that,” Anderson said.
“I feel like we do what feels good. I feel like we play for ourselves a lot,” Spaulding said.
“In the end, we’re unapologetically who we are. We can’t do anything else,” Anderson said. “I’m destined to not really be ‘cool.’”
Originally Anderson, Spaulding and Redd were in a band called Blues On Reds in 2006.
“We broke up partly because I couldn’t be around enough because I was married,” Anderson said. “Then me and my wife split up and Derek called me up saying, ‘I’m starting a band and you’re in it.’”
The band went through quite a few different musicians, and one of the early drummers always screamed ‘Mama!’, which led to the name of the band, Anderson said.
“Then we met Courtney, and it was like when you fall in love,” said Anderson, teasing Hall. ”And Courtney had been up my a–, like, “Ohh, I’m sweet (at drums)!”
While talking about her like the drummer of his dreams, Hall immediately halted the laughing Anderson.
“OK, so how about Courtney pipes in? So this is how this s— went down,” she said, beginning her stroll down memory lane.
“So Travis and I had an ill-fated, quasi-relationship, and he was a total a–hole,” she said, remembering a specific night where she was working at her job late. “This a–hole had the audacity to text me and say, ‘Hey, I know you probably hate me, but would you want to come try out for my band?’”
Thirty seconds into the first tryout, Redd said Hall had the job as Mama’s full-time drummer.
“I would never ever want to be your girlfriend, but I would totally be in your band,” Hall said to Anderson lightheartedly as the band laughed.
John Panell joined the group in May. This time, the new membership wasn’t initiated by a previous relationship with Anderson this time, he clarified.
Now that the band has stabilized its line-up, the members are committed to the band, despite the fact its unlikely to be lucrative for any of them.
“I always consider myself like a monk,” Anderson said, grinning.
He continued more seriously: “It’s like I’ve taken a vow of poverty to be a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band, and I feel like we’ve all done that. We’ve pretty much gone and accepted the fact that we’re gonna be broke as f—.”
The rest of Mama laughed without objecting.
“There’s been some strife here and there with the band lately, and that’s fine because we’ve got so many shows scheduled that I don’t even care,” said Anderson, who described any stretch where Mama isn’t performing as a withdrawal.
Mama is the most functional dysfunctional band, as Hall put it.
“There’s always something going on, but once we hit the stage, that’s all that matters,” she said.
“I think our dysfunctionality is probably what makes us who we are, to tell you the truth,” Anderson said.
He said he believes the band is attracted to chaos, drama and the like.
“I don’t think there is any variable out of place in this band with the people that are in it. It works because it doesn’t work,” Anderson said.
“The only way I could do something that I didn’t wanna do is if there was a gigantic amount of money shoved in my face,” Anderson said. “I would sell out instantly — in a heartbeat.”
“What if Miley Cyrus was like, ‘I want (Mama) to be my backing band,’” Hall imagined.
Anderson replied immediately: “Hell yeah! Where’s the check, b—-?”