Mozart’s Sister is a sonic exploration made for the dance floor. Both energetic and mesmerizing, the project of Montréal-based musician Caila Thompson-Hannant has been active since 2011.
In February, Caila and Mozart’s Sister released their second full-length album, Field of Love. Today we are premiering the video for “Bump,” a frenzied world of hand-drawn electronics, cow-like creatures, and flashing lights. It’s like seeing a vision of the future through the lens of a ’90s cartoon:
Earlier in April, I had the pleasure of talking to Caila about the raw power of pop music, creating sensory experiences through sound, and how creative boundaries can be used to your advantage.
ANNA WHITE: What was the inspiration for the video version of “Bump”?
CAILA THOMPSON-HANNANT: It was a funny thing. When I was mixing the song, the first thought I had when I was listening to it was of a cartoon of a zoom-in on a seashell. Then you go inside the seashell and there’s Mickey Mouse dancing. I was like, “I should try and get a cartoon video for this song, an animation!” I’ve always wanted an animated cartoon video. Jordan [Minkoff], my friend who made the video, had been doing a lot of painting and drawing, so it was sort of perfect!
What were you thinking about when you made the song itself?
I wanted to make something that was really playful. [Something] that felt like you were listening to a song that never really came to fruition. I was trying to build climaxes that never really went anywhere, to make it feel like a drive, like you’re driving through the Hollywood Hills or something. There’s never any predictability. And I thought it would be fun to do something more instrumental, that didn’t have a clear vocal lead. I felt like, This is going to be really fun and easy and kind of goofy!
It’s different than some of your earlier songs, especially vocally! Is this a new direction?
I don’t know if it’s a direction, but I definitely want to make more [like it]. I’ve always wanted to make instrumental music, and I think of the voice as an instrument as well. I try to use it as such. I use a lot of vocal samples, so this was sort of like, “I’ll just use some vocal samples and not add a melody.” It’s something I really love and will explore a lot more.
Is there a meaning behind the title, “Bump”?
There are a lot of songs that are designed for the dance floor and that are centered around the idea of “I’m feeling sensations because of love,” but they don’t necessarily have a strong narrative saying what the love story is about. There’s just more of a sensory exploration into a romance, and they’re designed for dancing. I wanted to make a song of that lineage, a sensory exploration into being really into somebody and being on the dance floor, where you’re almost not listening to words, where words are more phonetic. They’re feelings. “Bump” is a dance move and a feeling at the same time. You can imagine what a bump looks like on the dance floor.
Do you normally approach songwriting as creating sensory experiences?
For sure. Especially with words. I like working with rhythm a lot, and trying to create phonetic and rhythmic slogans. Like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, when he says “Shimmy shimmy ya, shimmy yam, shimmy yay,” it’s like a slogan for the song. It doesn’t mean anything, but it has a feeling to it because of the phonetic rhyming scheme and the rhythm. I like that a lot. I like playing with the sensory experience of words beyond their dictionary meanings. But I also like building in movement. With my song “Angel,” I was trying to build a landscape. “Bump” [is like] you’re driving down a road and it’s a hilly road, and you sonically make that a feeling. That’s what pop music is good for. It’s a full sensory experience. Really great pop songs will make you feel really intensely.
That’s so interesting! So many people complain that pop music is the opposite, that it doesn’t have as much depth or feeling, but I guess there’s more raw feeling.
Yeah, exactly! People complain a lot about pop being lyrically generic, which I would suggest is quite true. Not always—sometimes there’s real innovation—but the innovation is sometimes subtler than poetic lyrics. It’s more through cadence and rhyming and association. But there’s a lot of feeling in pop music—pop is just trying to make you feel something really strongly. That’s what a “hit” is.
Your Facebook page says you use music as a way of “drawing form from living in a world of isolated passion, where submission to the things you cannot change liberated a space for inner logic and inner values.” Tell me more about that!
I don’t know how much I identify with that anymore, but the birth of this project could be summed up very well with that statement. I was feeling quite un-empowered in musical situations and life situations when I started Mozart’s Sister. The project was essentially me saying to myself, “All right, this isn’t going to be perfect.” There are certain restrictions you have to acknowledge in life, but acknowledging them gives you space because it takes the focus off what you can’t do. It says, “All right, here’s my boundary for this moment. What can I do within that boundary?”
How did you create those boundaries?
They’re created for you. Everyone has restrictions, or wants things that are difficult to achieve at that time. When I started this project, I didn’t know how to record myself. I didn’t know much about computers at all. I could write songs, but I couldn’t arrange them because I wasn’t able to record. I hadn’t taught myself, and I wasn’t comfortable learning that with anyone at that time. That was my restriction. I was like, “I don’t know how to do this, but I really want to do this, and I don’t want to be beholden to people who know how to record music to do what I want to do.” So I was like, “Well, there’s my restriction. I’m going to have to learn this thing, and it’s probably going to be messy and sound bad at first, but there’s my boundary.” Once you have a sandbox that has edges, you are like, “OK, I can play in here,” and you don’t even notice it’s getting bigger. But it does.
If you had one piece of advice for someone interested in doing what you’re doing, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for advice, ask for help. There’s so much knowledge out there, and people like sharing knowledge, generally. If you want to learn something, don’t be afraid to ask for help. ♦