Mamalarky band photo
Photo credit: Sara Cath

Mamalarky Make Me Smile

Mamalarky’s self-titled debut album is a rejuvenating listening experience. Full of creative spark, the songs practically dance out of the speakers while the ingenuity of the whole record is striking.

Featuring Livvy Bennet (Cherry Glazerr), Michael Hunter (White Denim), and Dylan Hill who plays with rapper Big Wy’s brass band, and Noor Khan as Faye Webster and Madame Gandhi’s tour manager, they bring something altogether new to the table. Mamalarky stake out territory that no other band could claim.

“I don’t think Tinder was created to connect bandmates,” bassist Noor Khan says. But in 2018, that’s exactly how she connected with singer and guitarist Livvy, who had put a call out for a bassist on the dating app. Livvy was a year into her life in Los Angeles, where she had been working in the music industry and playing shows as both a solo artist and as a duo with longtime collaborator Dylan Hill who plays drums for Mamalarky. With their friend Michael Hunter on keyboard and synth bass, they recorded their self-released debut EP Fundamental Thrive Hive but required a full-time bassist who could properly distil the “patchwork of different influences that comes together as a cosy quilt you can cuddle under.”

“I was swipin’ for a bassist which makes me cringe to say now,” Livvy adds. “I just had no idea where to start meeting people to play music with in a new city!” In the end, she found Noor and the final piece of Mamalarky’s puzzle was complete. “Using the best technology the world has to offer, I was able to find my best friend who I’d travel the world with in a few months time.”

Hailing from Austin originally, Livvy, Dylan and Michael’s lives had been interwoven for some time. Livvy and Dylan had met in middle school as budding percussionists and self-professed “band geeks.” “None of us were the most popular kids growing up,” Dylan explains. “There’s something special to be found in that common ground.”

They began playing music together with hopes of one day forming a proper band. In high school, they met Michael through the local teenage circuit of talent shows and underage showcases. In college, they frequented Austin’s dorm co-op scene (“hippie frats,” as Livvy explains) where they would cut their teeth on the in those shared living spaces. “Playing in a bunch of slimy living rooms really made us want to get our shit together in hopes of playing some shows someday,” Michael says. It was an early prediction of their not-so-distant future.

After adding Noor to their line-up, Mamalarky learned how to be a band on the fly. “I went to their jam space, saw a Nintendo Switch and the rest is history,” Noor recalls of their early days. Their first show with their new bassist was in November 2018 at a memorial in a wristwatch factory where they performed next to an in-use half-pipe. Over 2019, they became a proper touring act, finding strings of live shows between their individually hectic schedules with other bands.

Mamalarky spent two years working on their self-titled debut album. Raw and cerebral, the LP to a range of influences from their collective musical nerdiness. ”We might have a vocal melody that sounds like the lead steel guitar from Santo & Johnny, played over production that aims to be noisy and weird like Deerhoof or Sheer Mag, all the while steeped in the greats like Stevie Wonder or The Four Seasons,’ explains Livvy. The album itself was cobbled together in a mix of DIY ways: home recordings with Livvy’s roommate Joey Oaxaca (White Reaper, Mo Dotti), singles with Daniel McNeill (White Denim) and a “final wrapping-up” with engineer Jim Vollentine (Spoon, Skating Polly).

“We want to provide an experience that’s exploratory and trippy, but far removed from the problematic and corny psych stereotypes carried out by all those 60s dude bands. It grosses us out,” continues Livvy.

Topping it all off is Livvy’s hyper-personal songwriting. “I feel really exposed putting out an album,” she admits. Songs like “Drugstore Model” and “Don’t Laugh at Me” were inspired by her post-college move to LA where she didn’t immediately feel like she fit in with the local scene. The single “Fury” was born out of being on the road and written during a show soundcheck. “You Make Me Smile” had been penned in her car after an encounter with a stranger during a breezy day at the park that Livvy reflect on her own romantic life.

“’You Make Me Smile’ came to me as I was unpacking feelings I had been repressing for a long time,” she says of the song’s origins. Even though the chorus says the song’s romantic title, it’s a sad, bittersweet song for Livvy. “I was transmuting this lovelorn, unexpressed, guilty feeling into something I could actually say out loud. At the time it was just a realization that my feelings for someone were never going to go away. They were always going to be carried with me whether I liked it or not.” It was a scary but necessary realization. “I knew I was going to be sitting with this crush in my head as I bumped along the road in a van.”

Even the band’s geological distance came to inspire the track “Schism Trek.” In between tours together, they were split between LA and Austin. “’Schism Trek’ explores what life looks like when you’re finding your way without the comfort of your friends beside you,” the singer explains. “The whole band was going through this in different ways as we went touring with different projects. Taking leaps and pushing our limits, we all came out stronger people for sure.”

In quarantine and with no tours in sight, the song has taken on a new meaning when it comes to feelings of personal and global isolation. It’s something that anyone listening can relate to. “It’s weird how one passing sentiment you put in a song can be defining to whoever’s consuming it,” Livvy adds.

Like many bands, Mamalarky’s 2020 has not gone as planned. With an already-completed LP, the quartet had been gearing up for SXSW and the possibility of more time on the road. Especially as a young band, the lack of touring makes these unprecedented circumstances feel even heavier. They have learned to adjust: they recorded the single “How to Say” while in quarantine. Michael and Livvy tracked it in one take. Next up, Livvy, Michael and Noor will all be moving to Atlanta to live together. With Dylan a 13 hour drive away in Austin, they’re hoping to not only make it easier for themselves to live stream for new fans and record more music together but to also regain the joy they felt playing video games and making up joke songs like they often would while on the road.

“I also have a lot of hope for us, though, even though we can’t tour for now,” Noor says, confidently. “People will love this album regardless.”

While “Fury” and a few other tracks are quite heavy in places, “You Make Me Smile” and “Cosine” use a clever mix of light jazz elements and sixties pop to mesh up together into a psychedelic dream. “Almighty Heat” sounds a lot like early The Cardigans, and I love The Cardigans, but the flavours are decidedly more diverse throughout the ten tracks.

Mamalarky juggles the task of pleasing you with catchy melodies and while challenging you with risky musical moves over and over again. If the shifting tones of “Drug Store Model” and a few others here suggest a band finding its way around free jazz forms—though condensed into pop song-sized bites—other compositions, like the lovely closer “Don’t Laugh at Me”, reveal an altogether different approach; a kind of smooth DIY indie that is choppy in places, and sleek and cool in others. I suppose a comparison to label-mates Dehd might be apt, though Mamalarky seem more energetic. But it’s a feverish sort of cleverness that powers this one, along with the sweet charm of Livvy’s voice, making Mamalarky one of this years most enjoyable records to listen to from start to finish.

With a beautiful flow between experimental jamming and peaceful instrumentals, the album is music for the soul. The twinkly, almost liquid nature of “Cosine” and “Hero” soothe you like slipping into a warm pool, providing a sense of respite in a world currently so manic and strange.

Mamalarky is out on Friday Nov 20 via Fire Talk Records.

More details on Mamalarky via the band’s official website, or their official Facebook page.