With the release of her dark, avant-pop sophomore album, Oakland's Metal Mother is free to pursue her primal side
"I was left to entertain myself with the birds and insects and the critters out there. I have a huge love for the elemental part of the world, and also tribal rhythms and acoustic music and basic sounds forms in that way."
These influences are clear in the earthly, rich melodies and rhythms of Metal Mother. The other half to her whole came when she began exploring rave culture in the '90s. This is where she discovered electronic music.
It took both of these elements — the lush forest hangouts and the eye-opening rave nights to create the Metal Mother sound and aesthetic.
"It's not super planned out, but those are just my preferences," Tati says.
And yet, from the beginning, Tati has been almost entirely in control of her sound and career. While she's picked up local musicians along the way, in particular to play as her backing band at live shows, and of course, Earl was a huge part of Ionika, she's been the only constant of Metal Mother.
"I made every creative choice around the album," she says. "I'm trying to really preserve my own sense of spirituality within putting out an image of myself around my music, to the world, outside of my own personal circle. That's a huge part of who I am on a daily basis. I love herbs, rituals, and everything witchy, and I don't want to have to tone that side down." She laughs, a warm, frequent, occasionally nervous-sounding giggle.
After spending her early 20s in the street performance and renegade guerrilla performance art scene — mostly as part of the North Bay Art and Revolution, and a renegade little troupe called Action Creature Theatre — Tati unexpectedly shifted focus to music. She'd always dabbled in keyboards, but had never taken playing too seriously. And she'd all along been crafting poems and songs of her own. (Her mother was a theater director, which might explain the affinity for all things artistic expression.)
After friends discovered her "funny, quirky little keyboard songs," they convinced her to play live, which she did and then quickly found her calling. "I've just been following all the open doors, that's kind of how I operate my life. It's just like, [going] where the doors are opening. And the doors started opening with music, rapidly, so I just went that direction."
She named her new project Metal Mother, after the elemental fierceness of a mother and also a planet.
"I was just kind of wanting it to be like, maternal and loving and nurturing obviously, because I like to make pretty music and feel euphoric, but also that kind of fierceness because yeah, the world is a crazy place," she says. "You've got to have that strength to endure some of the crude realities we're faced with." Those realities seem clearer when she describes looking out her bedroom window, to the poverty she's faced with daily outside her doorstep, the homeless people huddled across the street, the loud chaos of the city whizzing by.
The name "Metal Mother" itself came from Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he talks of an ancient Chinese myth about the marriage of the Metal Mother and the Wood Prince — and that's what brought lightness and darkness together, creating the human race.
It took most critics a minute to figure out that Metal Mother was not, in fact, a metal act.
After first album Bonfire Diaries came out in '11, with its exhilarating single, "Shake," Metal Mother was hailed as "ambient, sexy," "beautiful, eerie, unfamiliar." One review described the album as "tight, ethereal art pop filled with Bjork avant ambiance, Kate Bush drama, and tense Celtic underpinnings."