Interview: Mozart’s Sister

Photographer Katie Jung
February 26, 2013

Montreal singer/producer Caila Thompson-Hannant's self-released debut as Mozart's Sister, the Hello EP, sees a brighter light of day today as it's beefed-up and re-released by Merok. Stream the whole thing below, and download "Single Status," the EP's most joyful and celebratory-dance-inducing song. Over the phone, I caught up with the delightful person behind Hello’s peculiar, captivating pop to talk about her in-progress next album, being "hyper-emotional" and taking a break from Montreal.

Stream: Mozart's Sister, Hello EP (via Dazed)

What are you doing in London? I’m recording. I’m actually in the 4AD studio right now. My manager works for 4AD, so I get the perks occasionally. I’ve been here for over a month, but I’ve just been in the studio for most weekdays.

Are you going back to Montreal when you're done? Yeah. It’s been horrendously cold there, and the cold in Montreal is surreal at times. You’re outside and you’re just like, I can’t believe this isn’t a dream, I can’t believe that this is actually my reality right now. It’s insane. I walk down the streets and I’m like screaming the whole time. Just running and screaming trying to get to the next place. So yeah, I’m avoiding the winter, taking a break from my routines there, which is really great. That was one of the reasons I wanted to leave Montreal to finish the record, because I felt at a certain plateau with what I was doing and I knew that I wanted to push beyond. Getting out of your comfort zone is a really good way to do that pretty instantaneously. I miss my friends, though.

What did you learn from the EP that you’re applying to the new album? A lot of stuff. It’s been almost two years since those songs were recorded. At first I put them out by myself. Some of the versions are different and there is a new song that I mixed myself and did everything… Essentially, the last EP—those are the first things that I recorded. While I’m very proud of them, I owned a computer for maybe a year and a half when I made those songs. I’d never had a computer before that and I just sort of learned how to use Ableton. The new songs have sort of more sophisticated production. Not sophisticated in a crappy way. Just learning more about how to make sounds and how to get what’s in my head come out a little bit more onto the track.

Is recording in a proper studio sort of like a return to your days of being in bands, then? Well, I did all of the tracking at home except for the vocals. The songs were pretty complete when I came here, with everything recorded, and all the elements basically in place. Plus it’s just me. It’s mostly about mixing, which is very creative in itself. It’s way funner for me, because I find the actual recording part of things to be something you have to focus on, especially when you’re doing vocal takes or things that you really want to have an emotive sense to them. If you’re making a beat, you’re kind of into that one little thing and it’s more spontaneous, but when you’re really trying to focus on doing a good vocal take, it can be kind of draining, and not necessarily in a super creative way. You’re just so focused on this one little thing you can’t see the whole picture. When you’re mixing it’s really cool, you’re thinking about the whole piece. I like that a lot more than recording a guitar line over and over, or playing drum parts so they’re in time, the sorts of things you end up doing in a band where you’re not really as engaged the whole time. When you’re a solo artist you have to be engaged the whole time, because you’re the only person making the decisions. It’s quite different.

So much has been made about the indie scene in Montreal scene lately, it seems noteworthy that you've released an EP with a British label and are recording in the UK too. Philosophically, in a sense, I just really believe in breaking out of your home because that stuff is always with you. I’m an only child and I’m really quite phobic of family. I’m family-phobic. I’m an only child of divorced parents, and they divorced when I was three, so my sense of family is—I was always really uncomfortable in large family gathering type settings. I was always like, this really isn’t my zone. I guess I feel like a little bit more of a loner. I’m very phobic of getting too settled anywhere. I really like the idea of Merok releasing [the EP] because I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to bounce around and have little sort-of stations set up in other places. I don't know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I take such inspiration from my surroundings, obviously. How could you not?

It's funny that as an only child you've called yourself Mozart’s Sister. Like for your imaginary sibling you chose such a towering figure to be in competition with. To me, Mozart’s sister was probably always the person that was slightly left out of the cool shit. She was not the A-list, but she was a person and also a very creative person that didn’t really get the same opportunities. But I would really argue that for the people who “don’t get the same opportunities,” it’s not a detriment, because to me art isn’t equatable to success. You just never know what’s going to be really significant and what’s going to be meaningful in the long run. Often the B-list people are longstanding and they last. I listen to that music that was made in the ’80s on lo-fi, B-equipment, and so as far as production standards it sounds really raw and not professional, but it has this quality to it that transcends its era, because it doesn’t fit in. To me that’s the idea of the underdog, and Mozart’s Sister as well. The benefit of being an outsider is you can get perspective on things that can transcend what’s really happening. If you’re out of the eye of a hurricane and you can see it from a distance you kind of have this perspective.

Merok’s webpage about the EP describes it as a “ambiguous hyper-emotional landscape.” Are you hyper-emotional? Yeah, I am. When I read that I was like, Interesting. I was actually quite glad. I think it was one of the press guys who was working the record who ended up editing my original bio and I was like, Sweet, I’m glad that comes across. Even if I don’t show it all the time, music is a really good vehicle for that. I find it’s good to show your emotion and the highs and lows, and it’s okay to do it there. Its almost like anything is okay on a record. Anything is okay on stage. It’s amazing, because even though it’s this kind of dangerous place, because you’re really putting yourself out there, it’s also this place where you’re free and and it’s accepted as a perspective and not necessarily who you are. So yeah, I’m hyper-emotional.

Interview: Mozart’s Sister