Mozart's Sister interview: "There's some surrender involved in making music." The on-the-make Montreal pop singer talks visual art, feminism and finding an essence behind a work of art.
Mozart’s Sister is Montreal’s Caila Thompson-Hannant. Her sound fits into the general wave of off-kilter electronic music that has been coming out of the Canadian city (from the likes of Grimes, Born Gold). She creates ethereal dream pop, as shown on her debut free to download EP ‘Bedroom Paranoia’, which you can grab over here. After touring the US and playing SXSW, Mozart’s Sister is in the process of recording a full length album. I met up with her in Montreal’s Mile End neighourhood and we talked over some Donburi.
What are you up to these days?
Lately I’ve been watching this tacky BBC series called The Power of Art. I just watched the episode on Van Gogh. There’s something about these shows that is a mix between comforting television and information that actually touches on the essence of the joyful; of the vibrancy of life. I find a lot of inspiration in the visual arts.
Can you name a few visual artists that you keep going back to?
Yeah. Francis Bacon is one of my favourites. I may be completely making this up but you get the impression that he’s on a quest to find the essence behind the image. It’s quite visceral. I feel that, as a painter, or an artist in general, you have to be looking for the gritty shit. I’m also into Otto Dix and Mahler. I guess there’s an underlying darkness to them all that I find interesting.
So you talk about this essence behind the work. How do you engage it in your music?
I used to play in Shapes And Sizes and Think About Life and I had a lot of fun but for some reason the projects just seemed too thought out. I think it’s Brian Eno that talks about surrendering as a part of faith and I feel like there’s some surrendering involved in making music, you take a part of what you’re going through at a certain time, and give it a life of its own. I watched another one of those cheesy BBC documentaries called Life of Buddha (laughs) At some point it talks about making decisions where you feel comfortable. I think that’s what I’ve been doing lately with this project.
How do you feel about songs you wrote some time ago when you play them in shows now?
Like I said. Once a song is out, it’s out. So I guess it’s kind of like a zombie resurrection of sorts. I’d say it’s akin to a past relationship, like an ex-lover. It’s not tugging at your heart-strings but there is a degree of bitter-sweetness when performing. Lately I’ve been in a quicker, less thought out process of composition. There’s some temporal reality stuff in there, you go back without necessarily re-living. I don’t go back and review what I make constantly. There’s something more natural about my music that way. I’m much faster and more intuitive now.
Why did you pick the name Mozart’s Sister for this project? I saw that it’s also the name of a film.
I know! I didn’t realise it until after I chose it. Mozart had a sister and she was incredibly talented. I guess she never shone because she was a woman in that time. They would both travel around and play together as kids. It was kind of like the Jackson 5 of the time with the controlling father and all of the psychological issues that child stars go through. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of the ‘glass ceiling’ in feminism. About how there is an invisible pressure and limitation that comes with being a woman. I think there’s some aspect of seeking a sense of surrender as freedom. Of subordination as control. Chris Kraus is one of my favourite authors and she talks about this to a certain extent.
You played a show with Grimes and Born Gold recently. How do you feel about Claire being so huge now or about the possibility of reaching certain levels of fame?
I think it’s great for her. I don’t really think about fame or even public reactions when I’m making music because I feel like that would take away from it. I wouldn’t be as truly creative. It’s all relative anyway I mean, when you think of Grimes, or U2, or the Queen. I don’t think fame is that relevant when thinking of music. I think inspiration is something that jumps fluidly and sometimes you can get inspired and be creative writing an email or looking at a picture on Twitter.
Do you change anything about yourself for your live shows?
I like to wear clothes I wouldn’t wear on a normal day. It’s always a weird challenge to dress outside of the norm without playing into gender roles of dress and conduct. I have atheatre background and that comes through on stage. The line of sexuality is tricky as a woman, however you dress is a statement. There’s a sense of pressure sometimes but you just have to separate that from yourself. Right now I’m playing by myself but I’m going to start adding more instruments and a band. Having other people on stage is a sound that I’d like to explore more.