PROFILE: MOTHERMARY Are Creating An Art-Pop Cult
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
The former Mormon twin pop stars discuss their religious upbringing, making music for women who feel themselves and their new album I Am Your God
All Photo Credits: Jasmine aka @sonicblooms on Instagram
Elyse and Danielle, known jointly as MOTHERMARY, are two of the newest signees to the renown electronic label Italians Do It Better. Their sound matches the mix of pop and the dark, brooding bass that the label has been cultivating since the early ‘00s. Their lyricism is deeply informed by their unique conservative upbringing, as a part of what some would call a religious cult. Mormonism, especially in the United States, is seen as “wacky” and “outlandish”. People think of the magic underwear, the polygamy, and the Trey Parker and Matt Stone musical named after the religion. For actual Mormons, especially those who manage to escape like Elyse and Danielle, the faith can be a cold and unforgiving one. It is a culture that is shame-based, one that is all-encompassing and therefore becomes something of a mind prison.
Using these experiences and the hard reset the both of them had to endure after running away from it all, the twin sisters created the musical project MOTHERMARY as a sort of counter-cult to the one they were previously a part of. Rather than shun promiscuous behavior, the two intertwine the acceptance of these desires into the religious doctrine they were taught for so long, re-writing the scripture for a realistic and secular world. Their new album, I Am Your God, received a Standout Album designation from us for that very reason. The clash of the sacred with the sexy on songs like “Resurrection”, “Burn With Desire” and “Pray” makes for some of the most exciting pop music of the decade so far. Through the power of Instagram, I was able to contact the duo and set up an IRL profile. After seeing them perform live at the Bowery Ballroom with Cobra Man, they invited me and my photographer Jasmine back to their hotel to chat. Some of the quotes are in unison, some are from either Elyse and Danielle individually. Here are the results:
RYAN ANTIART: I think it’s always best to start a profile out with humble beginnings, to kind of give the reader a sense that no matter where they come from, they can make interesting art too. You two, Elyse and Larena, have a very unique origin story. Can you tell us what it was like being twins, the youngest of nearly a dozen children, in a Mormon family? MOTHERMARY: We grew up the youngest of 11, in a small town in Montana. Speaking of humble, we grew up with cows, pigs and horses. Our dad had a good job, but no job pays enough for 11 children. We pretty much all had hand-me-downs our entire life. When we describe the circumstances of being Mormon, and how we had to escape, people think that we were like locked in a basement. The hardest prison to escape is the prison of the mind. A cage is scary, but when you don’t even know the condition you’re in –
RYAN ANTIART: It’s a prison of culture.
MOTHERMARY: All of us have some of that in us. It’s just scary when you zoom out and realize that your church believes in a man who wrote scripture by putting his head in a hat. Here we were, in college and immediately after, thinking: Was my whole life a lie? It feels like a giant joke was played on us. We felt like we did terrible things, whether it was trying to convert people, or shaming people for being themselves. But again, people imagine us hooked up to like brainwashing technology.
RYAN ANTIART: It’s way less theatrical than people make it seem, much more normalized.
MOTHERMARY: The Mormon Church is really good at conditioning people. It’s a framework that brings you right back in when you leave. If you search “brainwashing” and “repentance process”, there is no real difference. It’s about doubting yourself, leaning to and looking to something that you can never prove exists, etc. They essentially teach you that you’re garbage, that you’re innately evil. It’s so creepy, but in this circumstance, how could we even trust our own thoughts and feelings? Especially as a woman, we are not taught to lead. We are taught that our function is to give birth and nurture the children to be good future Mormons. The husband presides, you become the property.
JASMINE: Did you come to this conclusion that all of this was nonsense at the same time?
MOTHERMARY: Yes, but, as soon as they notice that you’re getting far, they swarm and swoop in.
DANIELLE: At the age of 19, I was pressured into getting married. Elyse didn’t even know. Even her I kept secrets from! I was pressured into the marriage after having sex with my boyfriend at the time, we’d been dating for a year. It was like a Monday or Tuesday that this happened, and this is the time Elyse also left the family and everything behind that Thursday.
ELYSE: Even before I had left, when I was at BYU [Brigham Young University, a Mormon operated educational establishment], I was deeply depressed. I had sex before marriage as well, and was going through this repentance process there. At the time I was still part of the church and believed that if I went all the way with this process, if I did everything right, I’d come out on the other side of it happier. But it was so creepy. We had to read this book called The Miracle of Forgiveness. It’s some older literature from the church, I won’t get into details but it has really disgusting and antiquated teachings about sexual assault, for instance. But this particular book is really important to them, about as key as The Book of Mormon.
RYAN ANTIART: I know a bit about indoctrination, coming from a Catholic background, but nothing was nearly this intense.
ELYSE: So I wanted to die, even after I did everything perfect, everything right. At the time I thought it was God, but it was just my body being like “Get out of there! What are you doing!?” Once I was out of it, I could kind of figure it all out without being sucked back in. And now back to Daneille’s story…
DANIELLE: So like I said, I had sex before marraige. I told the bishop. He told me he was going to have to kick me out of school, I would lose my scholarship, credits, everything. I’m 18 at the time, and I’d be shamed in front of my friends, family and community. He gave me an alternative to it and said, “well if you plan on marrying this boy that you’re with, then I won’t have to tell the school”. Which, in retrospect, was sinful of him to do because that’s lying. In the church’s eyes, he should’ve just gone straight to the school.
RYAN ANTIART: It’s probably like a utilitarian thing, where in his mind, you getting married and having like twelve Mormon children is more beneficial to the church than that “white lie” is a sin. It’s all justification, bullshit.
DANIELLE: So then I got married, I was with this person for years. It helped me get through school because they leave you alone at that point. You’re on the path, you’re in the fold, in their eyes. I always wanted to go to school for performance, but the community tried to drive me away from that. They’d say “you’re going to go to Sin City or live in Hell’s Kitchen, it’s not right. Why not just be a teacher?” I love kids, and I’m good at it so I went that way. I was a student teacher for some time, but it made me even more depressed than I’d been before. I stopped being able to eat, two weeks went by, and I’d gag it out each time. I woke up in the middle of the night, and had a seizure. My husband at the time, woke up and helped me. After I got settled, I woke up the next day, I quit student teaching, and decided to switch my major to performance since I had the credits anyway. After that, I called up Elyse who was living in New York at the time, asked if I could live with her, and I did. I left for the city, left my husband, and began an entire new life with my sister here.
ELYSE: I just had to pave the way for a few years.
RYAN ANTIART: How cathartic is it now to play what amounted to a sold out show here in NYC with Cobra Man? A lot of artists will go through a breakthrough similar to that and risk it all, and it doesn’t pan out. But you both did it and you’re signed to Italians Do It Better, the album is great, you’re playing packed shows.
MOTHERMARY: Thank you, that is so sweet.
RYAN ANTIART: Blue check on Instagram come on now!
MOTHERMARY: It’s the same as leaving the church, slow steps. But is it cathartic to play? Absolutely.
RYAN ANTIART: Especially after Covid too.
MOTHERMARY: Oh my god yeah, we released our first single with Italians in 2020, we were going to go play at South By Southwest (SXSW) at a showcase for them, and then that got canceled. We were like “we’re going to die of Covid before we even release the album!” But in the long run, it helped. We released our first music video and everyone watched it because everyone was on their phones.
RYAN ANTIART: That’s exactly how I found out about MOTHERMARY. We started AntiArt during the pandemic and we were searching high and low for something new to review or criticize. And After Dark 3 [Italians Do It Better’s compilation album] came out around that time. It was the first time we’d ever reviewed something and had artists directly responding to what was said. But how does it feel to be on Italians Do It Better, that must be a fucking dream.
MOTHERMARY: A total dream. We’ve loved them since After Dark 1, Drive, and the cult that they’ve created. We joke that we’re in the Italians Do It Better fam now, with mommy and daddy Jewel. We love them, they’re so sweet. They really just let us do what we want. We’re provocative and they just support us.
[Johnny Jewel and Megan of the band Desire are the current label heads and have a child together].
RYAN ANTIART: For such a long time, three of their flagship groups in Chromatics, Glass Candy and Desire, we all kind of cultivating this similar club sound. When I saw them play together it was kind of a united force.
MOTHERMARY: Right and Johnny produced all of it, and performed in all the bands. They’re just now starting to mix other producers into the fold. It’s funny because there will be articles written like “Johnny Jewels’ production on the MOTHERMARY record is superb” –
RYAN ANTIART: I actually had written that and was corrected by one of you.
RYAN ANTIART: But it was really produced by Elyse, and Chris McLaughlin. But Johnny and Megan are cool in their new role. They are kind of just like hands-off curators who pop in every now and again to produce, DJ, drop a Desire album, etc. They are like cultivating a new version of their classic sound with new ideas and new artists.
MOTHERMARY: Shoutout to Johnny and Megan, love them.
RYAN ANTIART: I’d like to loop back to the religious origin story considering the duo name, album title (I Am Your God) and nearly all of the songs on the album make references to religious imagery and ideas. From what I can understand, the thesis is a kind of uprooting of the male-led religious imagery (Jesus on the cross, white bearded God, priests) that is also repression and shame-based, and replacing it with a female-led image that embraces all the desires buttoned-up churchgoers darkly and secretly indulge in. Coupled with the statements you made on stage, it’s almost like you’re creating your own anti-church or anti-cult that gives people the power instead of these antiquated figures and doctrines. Would you say this is accurate?
MOTHERMARY: We were just thinking, like, it’s all the same. After leaving religion you examine why you were a part of it in the first place. Well, studies show that the sense of community, nice music and singing together, helps people feel less isolated. When we escaped, it left a void. We felt lost and even trying to be “spiritual” just felt innately connected back to that. But in a world where we don’t know what happens when we die, we all kind of need something. Something to heal the wounds. It’s a joke that it’s “the MOTHERMARY Cult”, but it’s kind of serious. We want people to belong and find a sense of community, a sense of strength. In a world where people shame desire, and things like intimacy. Like being queer. These are special things that we should celebrate. Let’s make a religion that celebrates that, you know.
RYAN ANTIART: I like that a lot, rather than continuing to bow down to stuffiness, dishonesty and uniformity, you want to create a celebration of uniqueness and transparency regarding wants and needs. That’s beautiful. I also see what you're doing musically as almost a torch-bearing from Madonna.
RYAN ANTIART: I mean everything she was doing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, subverting religious tradition with the songs “Like A Virgin” and “Like A Prayer”, two songs that you’ve covered. It’s like a simulataenous sacrilege of the old and celebration of the new.
MOTHERMARY: Even our name is an homage to her, MOTHERMARY is just another name of Madonna, the mother of God. Growing up religious, that name was always so sexy to us. It felt almost like a curse word.
RYAN ANTIART: I feel like more than anyone, two Mormon girls who escaped and make pop music have the right to carry that idea on from Madonna. More than anyone on Earth I could think of.
MOTHERMARY: Thank you. Well she’s fucking legendary and we love her. We’re just women, like her, who left religion and feel angry about it. Ultimately it was good to come from that background, have a breakthrough, and hit the reset button on our lives. Leaving something like that forced us to go from black-and-white to seeing color. It’s like we died in the Mormon universe, went through a black hole, and now we’re here. Every paradigm we’d been taught had all disappeared. We had to build new structures for ourselves.
RYAN ANTIART: So is that what you try to capture in your lyrics? Kind of the duality of that religious old guard and this exciting new world you’ve both discovered for yourselves?
MOTHERMARY: Exactly. The hypocrisies for sure. On I Am Your God, we have songs that read like scriptures but are double entendres. This is a woman dominating a man, or it’s Genesis, you can read it both ways. Or like “the second coming”, Jesus is coming.
RYAN ANTIART: Eating his body, he has abs and shit. Lapping up his blood. It’s wild.
RYAN ANTIART: Now more on a production front, what were you [Elyse] and Chris [McLaughlin] attempting to capture sonically? On a really basic level I can see the balance between dark and light.
MOTHERMARY: Really light vocals on dark and bassy electronic music is a nice juxtaposition. It’s something we felt in religion, opposing forces. But we never verbalized that connection specifically in the process of creating the record.
ELYSE: I just love really gritty, bassy electronic music. ‘80s, or hyper modern stuff.
DANIELLE: She is very humble with that, it goes beyond just liking a single type of music. She knows exactly what she wants.
RYAN ANTIART: Even you saying that makes perfect sense to me in the context of you being with Italians Do It Better. This idea of very meticulously made music that comes out sounding so effortless, accessible and unexplainable danceable. Even the light vocals and dark, brooding instrumentals fall into that Chromatics or Glass Candy lineage.
MOTHERMARY: Kind of off topic, but someone said this to us, and it really stuck with me. They said “you make music for women who feel themselves”. And I was like wait, that captures so much. So many times we were depressed and out of control for so long. We just wanted to feel powerful, and sexiness is just a small part of that. The darkness of the sound comes from that anger and sadness we once felt and still feel.
RYAN ANTIART: Ok, this is the last thing I’ll ask so you can both get some rest and continue with the tour in good spirits. I bet as twins, people mix you both up all the time. For your fans' knowledge, what would you say are the distinguishing features that are tell-tale signs that you’re either talking to either Danielle or Elyse.
ELYSE: Danielle is more outgoing, more of an attention seeker than me. She’s the funnier one, the less shy one, the nicer one. But, bossy. Boss bitch.
DANIELLE: Elyse, if you were talking to her she’d be a little cold. She’s cool and doesn’t show everything to just anyone, emotionally. She has a very specific quirky laugh [imitates it]. She has the funkier, darker aesthetic, she’s the more stylish one. She is, I think, the controlling one. She thinks I am.
MOTHERMARY: Maybe we control in different ways.
DANIELLE: She has tattoos. She has a line on her arm, that’s the physical differentiators. I think Elyse is also the prettier one.
ELYSE: [quirky laughter]