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Interview: Mommy & Daddy

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Vivian Sarratt and Edmond Hallas are a married couple. They have an apartment and a cat in New York City. They tour in a station wagon. When I called to speak to Vivian, they were just sitting down to watch a movie together. Vivian Sarratt and Edmond Hallas, a.k.a. Mommy & Daddy, are a married couple and a rock band…but they ain’t exactly Wings either. On the contrary, Mommy & Daddy deal in sexually charged, bass-heavy electro-rock which ought to please fans of Death From Above 1979, the Kills and Thunderbirds Are Now! alike. Now, in the Modern Pea Pod’s first-ever interview, we talk to Vivian about drum machines, the Strokes, and um, Finding Nemo. Hey, like I said: sex, drugs and rock’n’roll this isn’t. But that doesn’t mean the rock’n’roll isn’t pretty sweet, too.

Modern Pea Pod: How about we start at the beginning: how did Mommy & Daddy get together?

Vivian Sarratt: Well, Edmond and I met in college about 1998, and pretty much the first day we met we started talking about music – actually we played together for the first time later that day. Mommy & Daddy as a project didn’t really start until 2002, though; we’d made music together before, but this was the first thing we felt really motivated to do.

MPP: How come?

VS: I’m not really sure. It was just different from what we’ve done before; we were inexplicably motivated. Maybe it had to do with September 11, which had just happened, and we just sort of wanted to do something. We wrote six or seven songs in a week and had our first show within a month. We got signed a month from there. It was exciting, a totally different genre from what we were used to… When we started out we just knew we both wanted to sing, but we were worried it might not make sense, like the switching off between bass and vocals might be too distracting. But it ended up making things more interesting.

Both of have really short attention spans, anyway – when I go to a show, no matter how much I love a band I always end up getting bored. To be honest, part of the switching off instruments is just to keep it interesting for us.

MPP: Now Edmond in particular came out of the punk scene in New York City. Did you feel like with Mommy & Daddy, it was time to break into something new?

VS: Well there’s really only so much you can do with punk rock…there’s either the genius of the Ramones, doing the same thing over and over, or there’s the tons of derivative crap that came out afterwards. But it’s kind of an accidental thing that we don’t sound like a punk band, because there is definitely an influence: the way our songs are structured, short and sweet, the things we do onstage. Really everything we’ve done, and the way we’ve turned out, is just a matter of convenience and effort. We use old, outdated equipment: our drum machine is a Roland Groovebox, actually, the same thing Peaches uses. We just don’t want to spend money on more expensive equipment.

MPP: Was the two-person line-up a convenience issue too?

VS: Yeah. We never really thought about introducing another person, because it’s hard to get another person involved on the same level as we are. With just the two of us we’re able to rehearse in our apartment, almost every night. We tour in a station wagon. Even being really close with the person in the band – you’re less self-conscious when you’re on stage. I can say really stupid shit, like the other night I said that Edmond cried during Finding Nemo…everybody was like, “I can’t believe you said that!” [laughs] But that’s what it’s like, it’s almost like being in a band with brothers or sisters. We’re good friends with the Allen brothers from Thunderbirds Are Now!, and they say they’re comfortable like that, too.

MPP: Would you say it helps that this seems to be the era of two-person groups?

VS: I think it’s cool there are so many bands with two people. We were over in the UK in 2003, when the Kills were happening, and you know, after the White Stripes. People used to say, “you should get a drummer”…now they seem to get it more and more. And I mean, having two people is a big part of the sound and the live show.

MPP: One thing that interests me compared to other musicians I’ve talked to is you seem like you’re not afraid to mention other bands. Do you worry about lumping yourself in with, say, the Kills or the White Stripes?

VS: A lot of bands are afraid of sounding like their record collections, I guess. I think with us, in a way the stuff we listen to sounds nothing like us and in a way it sounds exactly like us. Both of us are total collectors, and both of us read so much music journalism: Punk Planet, a lot of different zines. A lot of people can be really snobby, like they come from a mathematical angle, deconstructing pop songs or whatever. I don’t even really think of myself as a musican…we’re just trying to get on stage and forget our problems and play.

MPP: Let’s talk about your new album, Duel at Dawn: it feels a lot more raw to me than the first one [Live How You Listen]. Do you hear a difference in sound between the two albums?

VS: There’s a huge difference in sound. The first album we recorded in England and there was just a more “European” mindset in how things should be mixed. Like we came out at around the same time as the Strokes’ second record, and the producers even thought that was too hard.

MPP: [incredulous] They thought the Strokes were “too hard?”

VS: Yeah, we gave them all these records to listen to; everything from the Dwarves to the (International) Noise Conspiracy…they came back and said, “how about the Strokes?” So now we listen to the first album and we just cringe because the bass is so quiet. We were pissed off about that for a while…if we ever put that record out in the US [Live How You Listen was released only in Europe] we’re really going to have to remaster it first.

MPP: But Duel at Dawn is an improvement?

VS: Definitely an improvement. We’re so happy with it…even if we never made another record, I think it’s the most perfect one we’ve done so far. It’s the first record we’ve done completely by ourselves, without a studio or professional producers. This guy Mark Lewis produced it along with us – we actually recorded it in his apartment, which is this very small apartment on the Lower East Side. It only took a week to finish; the songs were already written. He’d just set up and go into his living room, and we’d just do our thing, day after day and well into the night. It was much more comfortable than a studio, like with leather couches and bottled water everywhere. That’s just weird to me.

Actually, we really want to produce the next album at Mark’s apartment, too. It’s only like ten blocks from where we live…every time we see him now, we try to casually ask him whether he’s still living there. [laughs]

MPP: So there’s already a third record in the works?

VS: Yeah, we want to do another one after we get back from touring, probably record it in February. We’d like to put out at least one album a year…we want to be the Woody Allen of bands. Our new songs are already about 85% done.

MPP: What do they sound like?

VS: The vibe is pretty similar, but a lot more pop – they’re catchy songs, like the New Pornographers. To me the true test of a good pop song is if a little tiny kid can enjoy it, like five years old. So that’s kind of our goal.

MPP: Do you think some of the Mommy & Daddy fans will be taken aback by a “pop” album?

VS: Well, it’s not like a total change…it’s similar, more like an evolution. Edmond and I listen to pretty much everything across the board. For us, writing something catchy and fun, there’s nothing wrong with that.

MPP: And after the new record, what else? How long do you see this project going?

VS: We’ve actually been wondering the same thing too! I mean, you can’t live in New York City and not work, unless you’re anything but extremely wealthy. We have to tour at least once every three months, so we have someone subletting our apartment while we’re gone and then we come home and get jobs or whatever. This year we’ve been on tour for seven months. We’re in the car more than we’re at home…which kind of sucks.

But being on tour is so much more fun than any job. It’s just awesome, hanging out with Edmond all the time. We meet bands all the time and they’re like, [groans] “I’m so tired, I’m so wrecked, we’ve been on tour.” And I say, “Oh, how long have you been out?” And they say, “four days.” [laughs] To me that’s a little ridiculous. With us, as long as someone keeps putting out our records, we’ll keep going.

Interview by Zach Hoskins

This interview is also posted on The Modern Pea Pod.

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