With the release of her dark, avant-pop sophomore album, Oakland's Metal Mother is free to pursue her primal side
MUSIC A lot of elements needed to come together to inspire Metal Mother's new record, Ionika. You can almost picture the woman behind the sobriquet, crouching in some foggy wooded wonderland, scooping up soil and critters, ancient buried treasures of forgotten societies and precious metals. Before we get into specifics, let's slip off the mask. Metal Mother is really, mostly, the glossy coating of one delicate Oakland musician: Taara Tati.
In between the release and subsequent tour after her first album, 2011's Bonfire Diaries, and the making of Ionika, which comes out in a week on April 16, Tati collected experiences that affected her future output. She picked wisdom up from extensive travels, Pagan and Celtic traditions, tales of ancient warrior women, and Sufjan Steven's '10 album The Age of Adz (which she listened to while exploring Europe for a month). Add to that Game of Thrones, the city of Oakland, the music of Son Lux, and all of Kate Bush. But the clearest running thread throughout Ionika is fascination with Druids.
"Getting into the whole ancient Celtic cultures thing, it was very matriarchal and tribal," she says, sitting in her "incredibly cheap" Victorian in downtown Oakland. "It was a really profound lifestyle. The more I discover about that, the more I want to learn about it, to be able to see that history and sort of represent that in a way, or glean some power from that."
She references the culture's interest in psychoactive medicines, and Queen Boudica, a Joan of Arc-like figure of a British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Roman Empire.
"I really came into a full-on obsession last year when I was traveling in Europe. I went on this full journey to all these different ancient sites and sacred sites, and it was empowering for me to be there, and to feel the history of that land, and... my ancestors."
Her lifelong inspirations, however, seem to have sprung from competing worlds; darkness and light, the electronic and the natural, woman and machine. And all those influences, all those cosmic connections are poured chaotically into Ionika, a densely layered, moody, and deeply spiritual release of 11 solid tracks.
The key track is first single "Prism," a stunning Grimes-ish (if Grimes were a bit more wild) song with Tati's many vocal tracks delicately laced throughout twitchy beats and drums. Equally breathy is "Prism"'s sonic twin "Tactillium." Some tracks waver questionably — "Windexx'd" kicks off with a harrowing grind and ghostly howl — while others sound as if they were ripped directly from her innards. The epic "Little Ghost" (clocking in at 7 minutes and 29 seconds) begins lightly with Tati's crisp, otherworldly soprano vocals and a few click-click-clicks of the machines, then builds into an Enya-esque soundscape, with gently pulsating electronic drum hits.
Much of Ionika's form and sensibility came from David Earl, an Oakland producer and sound engineer whom Tati met through friends. A multi-instrumentalist, Tati would write the songs' skeletons alone in her Victorian — along with the vocals, and most of the melodies — then bring them to Earl and the two of them would pile on those folded ribbons of sound, with Earl adding crucial rhythms with beats and additional backing tracks.
"It was kind of insane, we had so many crazy, creative whims we went with. We didn't really delete as much as I thought we were going to delete in the end, you know? We just went for it."
"He took everything and put it on digital steroids, basically," she says.
Tati was raised "literally in the woods in Northern California," in tiny Occidental, Calif. (population: 1,115) in Sonoma County, just west of Santa Rosa.