Sometimes you need to go back to go forward. Knowing when to mine what came before and when to blaze a way forward is a kind of wisdom. After 35 years of relentless effort to find that balance, the Mommyheads manage to do both at the same time.
This month, Mommyheads return to the Bay Area where they were based during the heady San Francisco alternative music scene of the ’90s. The band will play Santa Rosa’s Lost Church on Oct. 26 and the Chapel in San Francisco on Oct. 27.
Although the Mommyheads’ lyrical, timeless, retro-now sound draws from across the eras of rock, the legacy of the ’90s post-punk takeover looms large in the feel of the band. Their weird mix of musical styles is almost normal to the ear now, enriched by the alternative rock legacy of noise fused with melody.
The Mommyheads’ new album, Genius Killer, is a tight, self-assured affair that sounds all the more youthful for its maturity.
Adam Elk’s raw vocals, brazen for their limited—if any—production, sound familiar and edgy, like listening to the patient arguments of a kid home from college trying to open the mind of a beloved uncle.
Oscillating wildly from the electro-tweak of the title track to the straight up Stevie Wonder future-funk of “Distill Your Love into Your Dying Light,” to an album closer with trip-out electro-rock worthy of the Doors, the Mommyheads produce that heart swelling pull of rock anthems without sounding like Panic at the Disco.
Reflecting on the band’s time in the Bay Area, Elk told the Bohemian how different the nurturing local scene was compared to the band’s original and current home, NYC. “[In the Bay Area if] you connected with the audience, you played for three hours,” said Elk. “In New York, you got half an hour, 40 minutes. In LA, you had to pay to play in the ’80s and ’90s.”
We also shared memories of the idiosyncratic local experimental noise scene of the ’90s and 2000s.
“A band like Mr. Bungle would never come out of a big city like … New York,” Elk said. “In the Bay Area, you could woodshed a little bit, work on your [music] without the pressure of having a big crowd so fast,” or having to appeal to the attention of industry players.
“We’re number 58 this week in college radio,” Elk enthused. “There’s some 20 year olds that like a band in their 50s. That’s an accomplishment,” he laughed.
Even with an outsider mentality from the start, Elk has come to see more clearly than ever that the band’s endgame is to have fun and play music.
“[So many] artists are wrapped up in their ego, and they’re just gunning for something … but they don’t know where they’re going. I think when you finally realize what you’re trying to get [as a band], it can be as simple as what’s right in front of your nose, [which] for us is a better show and better music,” said Elk. “That’s where we’re at, which is very healthy.”
When I congratulated Elk on his wisdom, which seems lacking in music now as much as ever, he said, “Well, music wisdom. It’s all I got.”
The Mommyheads play on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the Lost Church, 427 Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa. 7:30pm, $15, all ages. Local electro-funkers B3PO open for the Mommyheads.