Mozart's Sister On Making Bedroom Pop
Caila Thompson-Hannant (a.k.a Mozart’s Sister), is a fiercely independent guitarist, songwriter and singer who’s become a synthesizer pro. After playing with several bands, she has released her solo three-song EP, Deep Fear, from her makeshift bedroom studio. All eyes are on the Grimes protégée, who’s finally releasing her first album this year.
“I was very influenced by the music my uncle gave me,” says Caila Thompson-Hannant, the musician known as Mozart’s Sister. “It was primarily electronic music, trip-hop especially. Massive Attack, some new agey stuff like Deep forest, Björk, Portishead. My mum is Irish so I was influenced by stuff she listened to, especially Sinead O'Connor. Later, I discovered Nina Simone and Lou Reed, then Brazilian tropicalia, then indie rock, Sun City Girls, Deerhoof then Kanye West and Daft Punk. Now everything I want to listen to is on Type records or Hyperdub. Death Grips and Lil B are slaying me too, especially on a spiritual level. Genre-wise it may not seem coherent, but I am attracted to heavy, fearless, genuine stuff even if I don't always love it musically.”
This diversity of sounds may seem confusing to some, but it is emblematic of a new generation of musicians who are mashing up different sounds in wild collages very much brought together by the internet and the accessibility of new technology. When Thompson-Hannant, who was born in British Columbia and moved to Montreal a few years ago, got tired of being the only girl in the band (she had toured with Shapes and Sizes, Think about Life and Miracle Fortress), she locked herself up with two synthesizers and a low quality microphone and started recording her own songs.
“I can safely explore that space and create a diversity of sounds,” she says. “I use synthesizers and samples and drum samples, I’ll create drum samples from a vocal recording. I have a crappy mic and like clap into it. I use like straight off the Internet drum samples. I used a Juno when I was 6 and a Nord Lead Synth digital synth. I really like it. And then I use my voice, sampling it, speeding it up.” Her first EP, Dear Fear, is a true work of DIY earnestness: layers of dance loops and heavy beats with harrowing vocals and lyrics that deal with sex addiction and loneliness.
“To do things by yourself in a place that’s not completely saturated with other influences is incredible,” says Thompson-Hannant. “I’m a bit of a loner and all the bands I’ve been with are completely guys and everywhere you go is like dudes in rock bands. I was like, ‘fuck I’m the only girl, I don’t even play any instrument that well.” I went into the studio and there was so much pressure. Making music on my own is a way of not self-destructing and feeling like an alien.”
Opting out of rock bands was a way for Thompson-Hannant to grow as a woman and a musician. A feminist, she is too aware of the limited opportunities for women in music. “Music just reflects the rest of the system,” she says. “Our women in music seem to be more independent, or at least that's the line, but it could be just a juicy story that we like to hear and not the actual truth. We'll see. As far as female producers, record label owners, bar owners and stuff like that we have a long way to go before there is even a semblance of equality. Grimes, Julia Holter, Tune Yards, Missy Elliott! Female producers! That's what gets me excited.”