Long Read: We talked with Faith Coloccia about Mamiffer’s new album, working with Randall Dunn, Sige Records & motherhood

Faith Coloccia is the driving force behind Mamiffer. Along with her partner Aaron Turner (Isis, Sumac, Old Man Glood, etc) and more amazing musicians, they create songs that have a strong bound to family and personal emotions. Their new album, The Brilliant Tabernacle, is no exception, where it’s captured the human experience such as true love and vulnerability, but also the struggles of maternity – Faith and Aaron are now parents of their first child, Ashley Isadore Coloccia-Turner. We talked with Faith about the new effort, working with Randall Dunn, the label SIGE Records and how it’s like for her to be a mother and musician nowadays.

L year you’ve released Mamiffer’s new album The Brilliant Tabernacle. What can you tell us about the whole creative process and what drove you into making such striking songs.
This record took a very long time to make! We started it in 2013, and reworked many of the initial songs over a 5 year period of time, and made two new ones as well. Many songs had vocal compositions without lyrics. I created the lyrics over a long period of time based on dreams, intuitions, visions, and pieces of writing I had collected since I was a child. A major part of the lyric writing was based upon the question “where do we find strength?” Such as the strength to overcome illness, overcome generational sickness, the strength to resist oppression, the strength to protect family, friends, loved ones, to be vulnerable, to survive death, the strength to bring life into being, to love, to deal with our issues and still be present.

I wanted to pull together all the sources I had saved and tested, strength I found in my grandmothers journals, in my mothers ideas of commitment in the face of dangerous situations, in the ideas my father gave to me of the spirit of the earth, ideas I learned in church that I took with me into my adult life. Quotes from books that I happened to read at the very moment I needed them to “save” my life, save me from making bad decisions, save me from being in situations with people that were wrong for me. I wanted to bring all these threads together, and weave them into the songs. Many of the songs compositions are based upon the ideas of weaving codes into cloth, codes that are not immediately apparent but can be “read”, and that hold families together as they are passed down. I have one of these weavings from my family, and I can feel the power of the women who made it, putting their stories into the cloth, and singing while they made it, old songs from the soul, being present and still while working. I attempted to do something like this process in record form.

On this album you explore the human experience and all the feelings and emotions that we go through in our lives, such as true love, strength and vulnerability. How much has our society and all that’s related to it affected your music and perception on the world nowadays?
This is an interesting subject for me that I attempt to work with on this record: the feelings and issues that come down a family line and are inherited through habit, repetition, example and genetic/inherited memory. I attempt to examine this in my own family line, and shine light on it so that I can be the kind of mother I want to be. I have to look at the deep dark of my family, and what my ancestors learned from the cultural conditioning they received and passed on, and what subsequent generations of my family did to rectify or conform to these ideas. I wanted to see what I have to work with, and how this is also reflected in other families was well as society.

In looking at these things I also could see the strength in many decisions generations of mothers have made, and how these strengths could be taken for granted and overlooked. I wanted to uplift and draw empowerment from my family line. I could see and feel the choice of love, and also the strength of vulnerability.

“Many of the songs compositions are based upon the ideas of weaving codes into cloth, codes that are not immediately apparent but can be “read”, and that hold families together as they are passed down.”

The whole art design of the album was made by you. What inspired you to create such beautiful artwork and how does it link with the songs?
The artwork was created with a superstitious intention, and with the idea of weaving in mind. The drawings are each based on the stories of the songs, and the meditation of the line-work was my attempt at protective “magic.” The artwork took a year to complete, and I did the drawings during my sons nap time. Every day I would work with them, and concentrate on my intentions of what kind of world I wanted to help create for my son (and by extension for other’s perhaps), and what he could do with his life force for others. I wanted the text to reflect religious pamphlets I saw as a child. Handwriting mimeographed by old grandmas in my parents church.

I wanted the drawings to reflect the idea of an amulet, or tabernacle, much like the folk art I was exposed to as a child in the desert. The cover is a photograph of morning sunshine on grass in winter, I wanted to re-create the feeling of light coming through church windows on Sunday morning, and here show that the church is the earth – the ground and dry grasses the altar, a place of worship. The back of the record is solid gold foil, I wanted golden light to reflect upon the person holding the record, and have the golden light reflect off of objects in the room, showing that the holy tabernacle could be any space you occupy, if you are willing to be present. I wanted to represent the ideas I have had through out the recent events in my life, that holiness is in being present in all that one does. The golden light can show that even for a second-time “stops” and you can commune with the spirit within and all around.

You had an amazing cast of musicians working with you on this new album. Tell us a little bit about their contribution to it.
Yes, I started the record at Litho Studios in Seattle, WA with Randall Dunn, using the amazing ancient grand piano they have there, and Eyvind Kang did the strings there also. I talked with Eyvind about the ideas behind the songs/compositions and he interpreted them into sound. Sometimes I would tell him the “shapes” of the string arrangements I wished to hear, and he would interpret that way also. I worked with Jon Mueller, and gave him the ideas behind the songs, and some song sound influences, and he would create his parts by interpreting them. When working with Brian Cook, I talked with him about the psychedelic nature of the songs, and he would interpret these ideas into his sound. I sang with Monika Khot on “River of Light”, and I told her an idea behind the song of “Kulning” and of “calling” sounds, and she sang with me based on that idea. I’ve been working with Aaron for about 11 years, and we have a very intuitive working relationship, sometimes I write his guitar parts on piano, or through singing and he interprets my ideas into his own sounds.

The Brilliant Tabernacle was produced and recorded by Randall Dunn at Studio Litho. How was it like to work with him for this effort?
It was great to work with Randall again. This is the 10th record I’ve made with him, and I think on this record we had our best working relationship, and understand each other, and trust each others process. In the past there was a lot more push and pull. Randall is great to work on an emotional level, he gets really into the process and the unconscious ideas behind records. Working with him has changed how I perceive music, it’s really a great leap of trust, and I hope to make many more records with him.

You also released Mára’s new album Here Behold Your Own and Barnett & Coloccia’s VLF last year; those albums were also produced by Randall Dunn. How do you separate your mindset and inspiration for each project?
Yes, this year, I released Barnett + Coloccia’s VLF (we made and released Retrieval in 2013) and also See Through (Collaboration with Aidan Baker and Jon Mueller) which was mixed by my Randall Dunn. I released Mára Here Behold Your Own which I mixed myself onto tape, Randall Dunn mastered that record. I’m not sure if I separate mindsets as much as I feel like I’m always dealing with different overlapping waves of creativity, sometimes the waves wash together, and sometimes they are far apart. Somehow, everything always works out. I take a very long time with ideas and the life of a record’s creative process can be years, so I have a lot of time to determine what creative energies go to which recording.

With “Barnett + Coloccia” I only work with ideas Alex and I come up with, usually we come up with themes we’re both thinking about at the time, and plot, we share emotions and paranoias in our process and these inform our records. With Mára, I work solely by myself, and use cassette only recordings. With Mamiffer, I value collaborations, and composing for different instruments and people, and part of of that experiment and the social aspects of this inform the work.

“If you are committed to being a creative artist and a parent you will find amazing ways to bend time and make things happen!”

You been releasing music on your own label, SIGE Records, since 2009. Now 10 years later, what were the ups and downs that stand out on this journey with Aaron? What have you got planned in terms of releases for this year?
When we started SIGE it was supposed to be a really small operation for our own releases and for some of our collaborators. We wanted to keep control of our artwork and not have as many restraints. Around 2011-12 we started to expand SIGE a little too much and it became overwhelming in terms of products and how many people we were working with, so around 2015 we started to only work with a few people. Now it is more manageable. We never intended for SIGE to get bigger than we can handle, and it did become so for a while. We now have a small group of people we work with, and are continuing to release some of our own records as well.

One of the highlights for me, was giving Marshall and Zachary of Black Spirituals the print for their first SIGE release Of Deconstruction at one of their shows. It was so long in the making and such a beautiful collaboration. I have loved working with their powerful ideas and making drawings for them, and seeing their records come to life. Another highlight was in February of this year. Vashon (where we live), got 26 inches of snow – which hardly ever happens. We don’t have any snow plows here, and we had a Sige records showcase at The Chapel in Seattl that night. We all had to make it to the show through the snow, off the island and into Seattle. We didn’t know if anyone would show up to the show because of the snow, but the night sold out! Nordra, Mára, Marshall Trammell + Aaron Turner, William Fowler Collins and Daniel Menche all performed, it was such a great night! For 2020 SIGE a new record coming out for Monika Khot (NORDRA) called Pylon 3, we’re talking with Zachary James Watkins about releasing a solo record, there’ll be another Mamiffer record coming out at the end of the year, my first solo record Ravine Time Map, and 2 Old Man Gloom re-issues.

Mamiffer toured the UK and Europe with SUMAC a few years ago. I went to one of the shows and it was an amazing experience. Are you planning on doing another tour together?
Yes, we have some ideas about touring together sometime, although I don’t know when. Mamiffer is playing 2 shows in Japan in 2020.

How’s it like to be a mother and a musician nowadays? How do you cope with it?
Cope? [laughs] Well I don’t feel that I have to try to “cope” with my situation. I feel that I integrate my child into my creative process, and that it’s very good for him to see the work Aaron and I do. We take him to the studio and have taken him to our shows, and he sees our creative processes. One way Aaron and I manage integrating parenting and creative process is by sharing child care equally, and we are sensitive to each other’s wishes and deadlines, and cover for each other. We have been including Ashley (our son), in our creative process early on, so he knows he’s not excluded, but also seems to respect our need for space when we are working. It was a shock at first not to be able to do things as I accustomed to doing them, although I found that now I am really good at multitasking and managing time – and because of giving birth, I am more creative and sure of myself and my ideas than I was before motherhood. I feel as though pregnancy and giving birth healed many self esteem issues I had, insecurities I had about using my voice, and taking up space. If you are committed to being a creative artist and a parent, you will find amazing ways to bend time and make things happen!

Now that 2019 has ended and we’re entering a new decade, what have been the highlights of this past decade for you?
Oh gosh! It has been a decade since 2010. So much has changed within that time, thank you for asking me that question, I love to try to think about time in nice sequences. I am just beginning to circle back around to the threads I’d left hanging since 2010, and re-make my connections. And I am seeing mistakes I made and how I healed from them, making sure I nurture connections to long important long-time friends, and seeing clearly how special and important family and close relations are. These thoughts have been highlights, especially becoming empowered and healing through pregnancy and giving birth, and the connections that come through love and kindness, friendship and family. Also picking up on ideas I had in music and art and circling back around.

Words: Andreia Alves // Photos: Ethan DeLorenzo – The Brilliant Tabernacle is out now on Sige Records.

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