Part of what makes Single Mothers so exciting is that they probably shouldn’t exist. Since forming, the London, Ontario hardcore act have gone through uncountable line-up changes, and at one point there were even two versions of the band in existence at the same time – after vocalist Drew Thomson fired the other members, they just carried on without him.
In 2011, after the band had pretty much fizzled out and Thomson was working as a gold prospector in a town called Swastika (seriously!), Jeremy Bolm of acclaimed hardcore trailblazers Touché Amoré put out their self-titled second EP. That caused the various members to reconcile their differences and give the whole ‘being in a band’ thing another shot. Their debut album was meant to be released last year, but, for various reasons, that didn’t happen.
Yet the band – now completed by bassist Evan Redsky, guitarist Mike Peterson and drummer Brandon Jagersky – are, finally, now about to unleash debut album proper, ‘Negative Qualities’, on the world. It’s at turns acerbic and bitter, sad and despondent, rushing through both existential quandaries and a frenzied flurry of emotions in just over 24 minutes, firmly establishing itself as one of the year’s most exciting, visceral and intelligent records. Seeing that Mike Peterson has, at one time or another, occupied every position in the band, we spoke with him over Skype to get the low-down on the band and their dysfunctional, crisis-ridden existence.
NME: You’ve pretty much had every role in the band. You’ve been the bassist, the singer, the drummer, the guitarist, so you’re perhaps the best person to explain how Single Mothers started and how you got to where you are now.
Mike Peterson: Well, Drew started the band initially, and that was kind of like a spit move towards his ex-girlfriend. We met in a bar one night and we were having drinks and we got wasted and he convinced me to come out to a band practise. So I was like, ‘Okay, I’m wasted, I’m not doing anything – what the hell!’ I’d just quit a band that I was in and playing drums for, so he was like ‘Come and play some drums for this.’ So I started out drumming and that was fine, and then I remember our bass player at the time ditched out on a show because he had a dinner with his girlfriend’s parents that he forgot about, so we were just like, ‘Okay, you’re out’. And then we got a different drummer, who was the drummer before me – he came back into the band I moved to bass. We did a couple shows like that for a while and then our guitar player moved to Montreal, so I was like, ‘Drew, I’ll play guitar!’ And it was funny – the ex-guitar player who moved to Montreal warned Drew against letting me play guitar because he said I’d take over the band. But somehow that worked, I ended up on guitar, we had the same drummer we’d had for a while and we recruited Evan. And then we pretty much had a revolving door of second guitar players and all that over the years, some that just didn’t work out and some that didn’t want to do the touring thing. So now we’re here as a four-piece. And then what I guess was the original drummer left while we were working in LA and then our current drummer, Brandon, joined three days before we toured for a month in the UK.
NME: And now you’re more solid and stable? Because you broke up a couple of times and only got back together properly when the self-titled EP (2011) started doing so well, right?
MP: Yeah. We finished recording it and Drew was like, ‘I gotta go make some money and do a thing’ and we were like, ‘Okay, well, we’ll finish up these shows we’ve booked’. We’ve always tried to keep an ‘If we book it then we’ll play it’ attitude, so we did the rest of those shows. And oddly enough, during one of those we ended up filming a music video. And then – I forget how it happened – I think our drummer went to see Touché Amoré as they came through London one month and reintroduced himself, and Jeremy was like, ‘I’ve been trying to get hold of you guys!’ and it just kind of sparked things again.
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NME: It must have really helped to have Jeremy and Touché behind it.
MP: Absolutely. And we’re very grateful for everything Jeremy has done for our band when we thought we were just going to dissipate. But I do think our music and our personality as a band also stand pretty strong on their own.
NME: You do come across, on record and live, as so belligerent and confrontational, yet in real life you’re all pretty nice. So how much of that is put on and how much of that is real?
MP: Well, in real life, obviously, all of us are real people so we’re not going to be assholes. We’re adults here! But as far as that disconnect between the two realms, I think it’s all pretty authentic. I’d say our live show and what we do on record is just this catharsis – all the music I’ve ever made growing up has been that way, just very aggressive and filled with emotion. On my end, it’s been more negative, and I think I just like to bring that to everything that I do, but everyone in the band really likes heavy music, so that’s just what we know, so when we do it live it just comes out that way. It’s nice to feel intense when you’re making or playing music. I personally don’t want to watch a band just stand there while they’re trying to play heavy music or music with feeling because I don’t buy it. If I’m going to play or write that kind of music, I want to outwardly demonstrate that.
NME: How do capture that energy on record? I know you had issues with [producer and The Bronx guitarist] Joby Ford when you were recording ‘Negative Qualities’ with him in LA and you re-recorded it after you worked with him, so how do you capture that visceral intensity? How do you bottle it up?
MP: Well, first, I wouldn’t say we had issues with Joby – it was more issues with our band! In terms of doing it on record, I don’t know. I don’t think we’ve ever tried to do anything. I think how we write is just what comes out. I’m not sure where that comes from – I guess I just imagine what I’d like to hear, as a listen and fan of music. I can’t speak for Drew, but he just gets in there and gets really pissed off at himself!
NME: And how does it feel to have actually finished the album?
MP: It’s exciting, and it’s definitely a milestone for me personally. It’s something that I thought I’d never see happen, so for it to be a reality I’m ecstatic.
NME: But at the same time, if there wasn’t that turbulent history and nature, you wouldn’t be the same band. Why do you think it’s been so turbulent?
MP: It’s just not easy to be in a band like this. It’s not easy to be in a band in general, but I think everyone in the band is a strong personality – Alphas, as you would say – so that’s made it difficult for a lot of people who have come in and out of the band. Everybody wants to have their stamp on it, their control, and there’s a lot of push and pull. You have to learn to deal with a lot of bullshit in this band, and that’s not for everybody. I sometimes wonder if all of us are just gluttons for punishment or something. But we do it somehow and it works.
NME: So how long did it take to record ‘Negative Qualities’? How long were you in the studio for the second time around?
MP: Two weeks. I was pretty much there fourteen days in a row from nine in the morning until midnight. It was an interesting experience, because everybody had their own schedules so everybody had to fit the recording of our full-length into our schedule. We did it in London, which is fine for Drew because that’s where he lives, but Evan and I both live in Toronto, so it was hard for us to go back and forth, and Brandon lives in a different city as well. Having that LA experience was very cool, but it just didn’t give us the sounds or the feeling we wanted, and I don’t think the songs were as fleshed out as they should have been. So going to Simon [Larochette] and having the perspective that Joby had given to us, and also being allowed to self-produce it from that point on with somebody who’s a friend of ours and who did the 7-inch, it ended up giving us the result that I think we needed. Wanted as well, but definitely needed – just that raw, straightforward sound.
NME: To me, it starts off really angry and caustic and just gets really sad at the end, both musically and lyrically. Is that something you’re aware of or is that just me projecting?
MP: That’s just us – angry at first and then crying! It’s a sonic representation of how we would be in a fight! No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know. There was a lot of push and pull the way we sequenced the record. I think we just wanted to come in hot and then take the record to a different place, leaving the listener with the potential of where the band could go musically.
NME: What’s been the hardest part for you in getting to that point?
MP: The hardest part, I think, is asking myself, ‘Am I making the right decision? Is this really what I want to do?’ All that dissonance that occurs is the hardest part, because when things are good and you’re busy in the band, it’s like ‘Hell yeah! This is what I should be doing’. And then, when you’re doing a 13-hour drive on no sleep and you’re sitting in the back of the van, it’s like ‘Oh shit…’
NME: But presumably having ties with XL [the album is being released on XL imprint Hot Charity] is some kind of validation for you.
MP: It’s validating for sure. It’s like at least somebody with some clout cares! Not to discount anybody else who’s ever supported the band, but it helps!
NME: Do you feel, now this album’s done, that the uphill struggle is coming to an end, that you’re over the hardest part?
MP: Maybe! I mean, this entire thing could have just been a cakewalk. I have no idea what’s going to happen after it comes out…
‘Negative Qualities’ is released on October 7 via Hot Charity.