Written By Taylor Tash
Phoenix Rising: Meet Mother Feather
Google ‘Mother Feather’ and the first link you’ll find features no other description than ‘you have lucked upon my lightning.’ This adage can also be seen stamped on the CD copy of their debut EP, and is a lyric featured in its lead single. It’s apropos that the creative forces behind one of New York City’s most exhilarating bands chose this as a tagline of sorts. Anyone who comes across Mother Feather is in fact incredibly fortunate since there’s nothing quite like them in the current scene, and their live performances are nothing short of electrifying. Their genre is a sonic cyclone fusing a wide range of influences into self-declared ‘pop-cock rock,’ and their songs are compulsively listenable and danceable, with cheeky lyrics transforming trampolines, airplane landings, and magic eight balls into euphemisms for sex and nightlife. Their front-woman, a ferocious little vixen named Ann Courtney, has booty-bounced and high-kicked her way towards attracting a dedicated cult following. Every time Courtney takes the stage she does so in an explosion of passion and spandex, and doesn’t leave it until it’s drenched with glitter-flecked sweat. Think of her as Karen O on steroids, or the precocious lovechild of mid-80’s Madonna and late-70’s Siouxsie Sioux. It’s as if she’s a gift from the rock gods, and just might be exactly what this city has been needing to bring back a little bit of the flame the specter of gentrification has been trying to snuff out.
Considering her upbringing, it’s obvious why Courtney developed such a bold and adventurous disposition. The daughter of US diplomats, she spent what she considers her formative years in exotic locales such as Pakistan, Singapore, and the Philippines. Performance has been a major part of her life since childhood and her father, a pipe organist with a passion for 1920’s and 1930’s vaudeville music, provided some of her earliest inspirations. Much of her overseas teenage years were spent reading and fantasizing about shows she couldn’t attend in faraway New York City, and she later attended Fordham University to study theater. At Fordham she met future musical soul mate Elizabeth Carena, who would go on to perform with Courtney in her first band, Ann Courtney and the Late Bloomers.
“I wasn’t having much fun,” Courtney says of her time spent as front-woman for the Late Bloomers, “So I decided to make my own. I had a pop cock-rock epiphany following a period of deep depression. I torched my blues and a phoenix rose from the ashes.” Carena joined Courtney in the evolution from the Late Bloomers to Mother Feather, and helped recruit Chris Foley, who Courtney describes as “the dreamy guitar player who may or may not have met Lizzie in a former lifetime when she was underage drinking one night in a bar.” The recruitments of Gunnar Olsen and Matt Basile, done through some ‘of-age drinking’ at Lower East Side venue Rockwood Music Hall, rounded out the rest of the band and Mother Feather was born.
From Mother Feather’s inception, Courtney has remained steadfast to her aesthetic of campy glam and makes no apologies. “After our first show, at which I wore a light-up codpiece in the shape of a phoenix, someone told me he thought it was ‘tacky’ in a bad way. I suppose it did look a little bit like a flashing chicken with multicolored wings, but if you can’t appreciate what’s funny about a front-woman wearing a rising phoenix codpiece, you probably don’t ‘get’ me, and I’m totally comfortable with that,” Courtney says. Every Mother Feather performance has a strong emphasis on showmanship and pure unadulterated entertainment, from each of Courtney’s and Carena’s outfits (custom-made for each performance by the singers themselves or designers such as Xango Shola and Suzanne Rae, and rarely if never worn twice), to their Clockwork Orange-meets-Cleopatra eye makeup, and choreographed dance routines for each song. “I mean, it’s New York fucking City! Don’t get onstage in this town and phone it in. My dream of what New York should be is dashed by mediocrity.”
In spite of her onstage persona of vibrant assertiveness, Courtney is humble about her art and gives credit where it is due. “I wear my influences on my sleeve. I find Lady Gaga’s fearlessness is tremendously inspiring. PJ Harvey and Missy Elliot and Marc Bolan are profoundly influential performers to me as well,” she says, “Bands like Belly are where a song like ‘Beach House’ starts for me. ‘Shake Your Magic 8-Ball’ was strongly influenced by the Busta Rhymes song ‘Touch It.’ Sonically those influences are drastically different but I think they share something way more essential: they make me feel awesome.” Underneath all the glitz and attitude, however, Courtney says “I can be extraordinarily hard on myself, which has been both extremely beneficial and utterly paralyzing. I think the trick is to harness that self-critical energy and redirect it to make the show better, so that it becomes a source of power. When I manage to pull it off, it feels amazing. I feel totally connected to the audience, and for me that is true happiness.”
In the meantime, Courtney says she and her band mates are “working hard to get more recordings completed, perfect, and out into the world,” guaranteeing that the phoenix will continue to rise. “Whatever direction our sound and aesthetic takes, you can be sure that it will be righteous.”
Mother Feather will be performing at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City this Friday, April 5th, at 10 PM, and at MilkBoy in Philadelphia on April 20th. Be sure to check out more dates and info on Mother Feather at www.motherfeather.com.