Catch Up with Mamalarky and Jerry Paper

Would you rather only be able to whisper or only be able to shout? The would-be tourmates discuss.

Noor Khan and Livvy Bennett are the bassist and guitarist/vocalist, respectively, of the Atlanta-based rock band Mamalarky; Jerry Paper is the experimental pop project of LA-based artist Lucas Nathan. To celebrate the release of Mamalarky’s self-titled debut album — out now via Fire Talk Records — the friends (and would-be tourmates) hopped on a video call to catch up about bugs, scooters, colonoscopies, and much, much more. 
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Jerry Paper: How are you doing?

Noor Khan: We’re good, how are you?

Jerry: I’m alright! It’s just very, very hot here. I’m with my little bud. [Points camera to cat.]

Noor: Oh, man! We want to have a cat in this house so bad. I’ve always felt like houses are empty as fuck when they don’t have any animals in them.

Jerry: I know. It’s always nice to have a little life.

Noor: Exactly. I think I’m going to get a fish. Sorry, let me clarify — I want to get a freshwater snail, a shrimp, and maybe one other goofy aquatic thing.

Jerry: Nice. I’m getting a bunch of worms.

Noor: No way! Are you making a worm farm to compost?

Jerry: Yeah. My friend is giving me a whole bunch of worms tomorrow and I’m very excited.

Livvy Bennett: How many?

Jerry: I don’t know! He just told me he would give me a worm starter pack because he has a lot of worms.

Livvy: Are they alive when you get them?

Jerry: Yeah.

Livvy: I tried to buy insects for a music video and they were all in a package. If you go to a gardening store they’re just in an envelope. It’ll be thousands of bugs but they’re just crammed together. Do they live there? I don’t understand.

Jerry: I just got some assassin bugs for my garden.

Noor: What are those?

Jerry: I bought them online so they came in a tupperware container full of eggs. They’re crazy murderer bugs.

Livvy: Just to spice things up a bit?

Jerry: Yeah! The next time I came out and saw one of them sucking the juice out of a fungus gnat. [Laughs.] 

Noor: Oh, god. That’s so violent.

Jerry: I know, it was really hardcore! But also so small that it’s not disgusting. It’s more just like, “Oh, OK.”

Noor: In my head it was two large bugs.

Livvy: I was thinking about a lot of juice.

Jerry: No, they’re baby assassin bugs and the fungus gnat is also really tiny.

Noor: Is that what you were trying to get rid of?

Jerry: Just general murder. There’s no ecosystem in my cement slab backyard. I’m just trying to get more stuff that will control. I feel like the only things that come in are the shitty bugs. I had mealy bugs, I had aphids, I had fungus gnats, I had thrips, I had leaf miners…. I had every kind of pest you can possibly think of.

Noor: You identified them? I want to know what kinds of pests are in my backyard. All we have in Atlanta are mosquitoes, so we really need to do something about that.

Livvy: I walked upon a snake yesterday.

Jerry: You squashed it?

Livvy: No, I walked upon it, not up on it. [Laughs.]

Jerry: Like you were near it? Or you stepped on it?

Livvy: No, there was no stepping.

Jerry: You came upon it.

Livvy: I came upon it! But it was weird because I was walking with Michael and didn’t recognize there was a snake in my brain. Then I was just like, “Stop!” And I looked and there was a huge snake right there. My body told me to stop moving.

Jerry: I had a similar thing where I was on a hike. Did you ever go on a hike at Switzer Falls in Los Angeles?

Noor: No. Is that the one that has the swing on the way?

Jerry: I’ve never noticed a swing. You pull up to this little picnic area and then you walk through. It’s my favorite hike in LA. I’m sure there must be better ones, but I love it. I’ve seen bears, I’ve seen snakes… there’s so much wildlife, a little creek, and a waterfall at the end. It’s really nice. Anyway, one time I was walking and looked down at the perfect moment when I was about to step on a rattlesnake. I was like, Oh, shit! I walked back and it was just laying in the middle of the path. So intense.

Noor: That’s really scary. I was telling Livvy I’ve never come across a snake. Not in Atlanta and not up close at all. I’m going to knock on wood again.

Livvy: I wrote down some things we could talk about.

Jerry: Great! I didn’t prepare.

Noor: We did, like, five minutes before we started.

Livvy: This kind of ties into what we were just talking about. What do you guys think you would do if you had grown up in the wilderness and then encountered a mirror, if you had never seen your reflection?

Noor: Sometimes when I look in the mirror I feel like I’ve never seen my own reflection.

Livvy: I remember having that feeling as a kid. Like, Whoa, this is me. Did you ever have that when you stare into the depths of your eyes and think, This is my vessel forever?

Noor: Usually when I do that I have to stop pretty early because I freak myself out a bit.

Livvy: I know! 

Noor: Mirrors are really weird to me sometimes.

Jerry: That’s a hard question. It’s something I’ve never thought of.

Noor: Also you’re assuming that I would have never seen my reflection in a body of water.

Livvy: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

Noor: But a mirror is like a whole other thing, you know?

Livvy: Let’s try something more lighthearted. Would you rather fly a kite or ride a scooter?

Jerry: Oh, hard. I love both of those things.

Noor: I don’t think I’ve ever flown a kite! I don’t know why.

Jerry: Kites are the best!

Livvy: It’s a magical experience.

Jerry: Yeah, I’m a big kite fan. I went through a pretty intense kite phase, maybe two years ago. That sounds about right.

Livvy: Did you have a signature kite?

Jerry: I have two kites. A classic kite and then a sport kite. 

Noor: Does it go really fast?

Jerry: It’s a two-hander. You really have to grab it. [Acts out flying a kite.] It’s super intense, and so fun!

Noor: That sounds super fun. For that reason my answer right now now would be that I would definitely rather fly a kite. 100%.

Livvy: I had a major scooter phase.

Noor: What kind of scooter?

Livvy: Like a Razor scooter.

Jerry: I had a Razor scooter when I was a child, but also tour Bird scooters are pretty fun, or whatever the local company is. You find a parking lot, you get one of those… It’s an excellent way to kill some time.

Noor: It really is! And it’s a cheap way to see a city really fast. I’ve Limed in a lot of cool places.

Livvy: I don’t think I’ve ever been on a Lime.

Noor: Are you serious?

Livvy: I’ve been on a Bird.

Jerry: It might mean different things to some people, but it’s all the same.

Livvy: Would y’all rather only be able to whisper or only be able to shout? I think I’m team shout in case of emergency.

Noor: In case of emergency, but also, what if it’s someone’s ear who you really don’t want to whisper into? Whispering can be really intimate, you know?

Livvy: That’s what I’m saying. I’m team shout.

Noor: I think I’m team shout for that reason.

Jerry: I think I would be whisper because you can make your voice louder but you can’t make it quieter. If you whisper into a megaphone someone can hear you far away. If you need to find a muffling device, that seems way harder. [Laughs.] 

Livvy: You could use a helmet that you can talk through.

Jerry: I think I could find my way around the whisper problem, but not the shout problem.

Livvy: I feel like the shout problem can ruin some moments.

Noor: A shout can also be embarrassing sometimes.

Livvy: If you’re trying to tell a secret you basically can’t do it.

Noor: Or if you’re at a store trying to return something and you literally have to say, [raises voice] “It didn’t fit right. The material wasn’t what I thought it would be.”

Jerry: Either way your throat is going to hurt a lot.

Noor: What do you do if you’re booked for an acoustic set in a cafe?

Livvy: That’s true. Microphones can make your voice louder but would you be really good at projecting from your natural voice level?

Noor: There are so many scenarios where both of these could go wrong. I see how whispering could have less cons.

Jerry: It just seems a little bit more manageable with the technology available today.

Noor: It does. I agree.

Livvy: That’s all the questions I had, but I wanted to hear about your haunted house experience.

Noor: Oh, yeah, I was telling Livvy about how we went to a haunted house last night!

Jerry: That was so fun. It was what…. kraken themed? 

Noor: It was like an under the sea nightmare kraken death thing. It was in somebody’s house too, right?

Jerry: They converted their front yard into a huge crazy thing. I think it’s a Burbank thing. There was a drive through haunted house next to my place for maybe four or five days. I was just hearing haunted house sounds and scary music all the time. It must not be very scary because it can’t be safe to be scared in a car. What if you slam on the gas all of the sudden accidentally because you’re all spooked? [Laughs.]

Livvy: Maybe you park your car in one place and then they swarm you.

Noor: They could do that in a carwash too. That would be sick. I guess it’s just not going to be a zombie swarm because of coronavirus. I oddly miss going to haunted houses. The best one I ever went to was at Arcadia High School. I think I told you about it.

Jerry: Yeah, I think you did. 

Noor: It was put on by the kids but they snapped so hard. I was terrified. I think I also waited in line for two hours. 

Livvy: Did they grab you?

Noor: No, there was no grabbing, but it was spooky.

Livvy: There was a haunted house in Texas where they would grab you and breathe on you. They would have to freshen their mouths to do this, as part of the job. It’s really gross in retrospect.

Noor: That’s so fucking gross! Can you imagine if you got hired and they said you had to breathe on every single person that came through?

Jerry: The first time I went to a haunted house in my adult life was a couple years ago in Tucson. It was Halloween and we had a night off on one of the last nights of a tour. I got to the front of the line and the woman selling tickets was like, “Just so you know tonight is extreme night. We can and will touch you.” I was like “OK, I guess that’s fine.” We split off into groups and were holding hands walking through while all these people touched us. They had chainsaws with the saw removed that they would hold on your leg so it would vibrate. It was so fun and wild.

Livvy: It’s actually frightening to think about the kind of people who want to do that but it does sound so fun. Y’all would be down to be actors in the haunted house?

Noor: I’d be afraid of getting punched in the face or something. 

Jerry: You’re probably wearing a nice, thick mask.

Livvy: I wonder how often that happens.

Jerry: How are you guys feeling about the record?

Livvy: I’m feeling really excited but also super nervous. It’s probably the weirdest time to put out your first record. It feels really surreal. It’s the first time we’ve collected a bunch of songs and are putting them out. Releasing music is always a weird time-fuck. Like we wrote them a long time ago and now they’re coming out. It’s a big moment of reflection.

Jerry: It’s weird. Are you happy?

Livvy: I am happy, but also a little sad of course. We had a lot of plans this year. We’re really lucky that we live together. That makes it so much easier to do things, but I also miss LA. We’ll make it back at some point.

Jerry: The future is so unpredictable.

Livvy: Remember we thought we were going to Europe next month? 

Jerry: They won’t even let us in! I keep getting emails from my booking agent like “should we push this back a few months?” I’m just like… No! We’re not doing this ever. This isn’t happening. I just feel like all attempts to make plans are an expression of denial.

Livvy: Noor went to her first drive through show.

Noor: It was tight. It was all over the radios. Literally nobody got out of their cars.
Jerry: Who did you see?

Noor: His name is Clark Sounds. He’s from Atlanta. He’s so sick and one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. It was the most perfect first coronavirus show for sure. It was just so good.

Jerry: My friend went and saw Third Eye Blind at the fairgrounds for a drive in show. I think he had an amazing time! I can’t imagine playing a drive in show is fun though. Like, just to a bunch of cars? I have a hard time when people in the audience don’t dance. If the people in the cars don’t dance, I’ll be upset!

Livvy: Do the danciest people in cars go up to the front? That’s probably not how it works.

Jerry: Do cars drive up next to each other and try to get to the front? Like, “Excuse me, excuse me…” [Laughs.]

Livvy: I don’t know, I’m kind of down!

Noor: The one I went to was different because it wasn’t at a standard drive in. They just filled the driveway and then went up onto the curb. It was at somebody’s house and they performed on the patio. It felt great and went fine! But maybe I was just in a good spot.

Jerry: Being at a drive in show sounds fun, and playing a drive in show sounds like a nightmare to me. [Laughs.]

Livvy: Do people help the artist set up? If it’s outside is that OK? The whole thing is really weird. I remember at the start of this really talking about those things, like right at the beginning, but then people were like, “Ah, fuck it.”

Jerry: I haven’t really been on social media, but are people doing live stream shows as much?

Noor: I feel like yes, but not as often. Because of the election, everything seems more focused. There aren’t as many entertainment live shows. I’ve seen a lot of fundraisers.

Livvy: I recorded a set on our front porch, and… I’ll say it was cool. Halfway through our neighbors’ kids next door started really screaming at each other. “You’re stupid!” “I hate you!” “I don’t like you!” “Shut up!” They were arguing so hard to the point that I started laughing. But it’s not just that. It was nice to be out there and seeing people walk by perceiving music that I was involved in at all.

Jerry: Yeah!

Livvy: At one point we were driving around with a keyboard plugged into the aux in our car and just played it. That was kind of fun, but I just don’t know. These are unprecedented times.

Noor: Maybe playing a drive in show wouldn’t suck that much because we’re all kind of fiending.

Livvy: It just seems like if you want to do anything or go to the bathroom, you’re just stuck in your car for a while.

Jerry: I’m sure there are people out there who could enjoy it. I don’t think I’m one of them. [Laughs.]

Noor: I feel like I would only enjoy it for someone I really fuck with. Because also… I don’t know if I should say this. OK, I’ll say it. If you’re at a drive in show and you don’t really like watching the other person that’s playing, you know how at a regular show you can just leave and it doesn’t feel that weird? Could you just put your car into reverse and drive out of there? [Laughs.] I guess you could just turn the volume off, but that might feel even worse.

Livvy: What did you all think you were going to be as an adult, when you were, like, five?

Jerry: Oh, animator! Cartoonist. That was all I wanted to do.

Livvy: I was just telling Noor about how I would come to your house and you would have animation software up with really cool characters. I want to see more!

Jerry: Oh, yeah, the 3D stuff. I’m quite bad at it, but it’s really fun! When I was a little birdy, I loved drawing. All I wanted to do was cell animation and painting films. But then it didn’t turn into my career. It turned out I was wrong.

Noor: I feel like I also consider you a visual artist in my head. You’ve done a lot of your own album art, right?

Jerry: Not really. I’ve mainly just worked with friends. I have ideas but I feel like I can’t really execute as well as I’d like it to be done, so I just work with someone who’s better.

Noor: I thought I was going to be a doctor. I just wanted to help people like my mom! I don’t know what kind of doctor I wanted to be, but as soon as I realized that I don’t really like spit and other people’s bodily fluids, I wasn’t sure if I could deal with that.

Jerry: It’s a pretty fluid-heavy career.

Noor: It is, yeah. I was like, Maybe I can be a radiologist. But then I was like, Wait, I don’t want to look at x-rays!

Livvy: There’s a certain set of kid jobs. I’m embarrassed to say that I wanted to be a marine biologist.

Noor: What? That’s so sick! What’s wrong with that?

Livvy: I feel like I just said it because that’s what kids say they want to do. They’re like “I like dolphins.” And then they have to think about it a little harder.

Noor: Tell him about the snake thingy. 

Livvy: I already did!

Noor: No, the other snake thingy. Livvy really could have been a marine biologist.

Livvy: I used to collect baby snakes out of my backyard. There was a pile of bricks that I would lift up. I would get baby snakes, put them in an enclosure, and bring them to school. 

Noor: Snake lord!

Livvy: That’s all. I used to love insects a lot.

Noor: When I was a kid I also used to collect weird insect carcasses.

Livvy: When you’re a kid that’s truly a treasure!

Noor: I kept big ass wasps and cicadas and bees that I would find in my backyard. Then they started smelling really bad! [Laughs.] So I had to toss them eventually.

Livvy: That happened to a seashell I had one time. There was probably a little carcass in there. But worth it!

Noor: Is there anything else we want to talk about?

Jerry: I don’t know… music?

Livvy: I was also going to follow up with a question. Is there a defining show from when you were younger or one of your first musical performances? Were you in bands in middle school?

Jerry: Yeah, I was. I can remember defining shows of my 20s but not my teens.

Livvy: I mean that’s when you’re figuring things out. I remember being generally confused about what I was doing when I was younger trying to play music, obviously. You’re like, This is fun but I don’t know exactly what I’m going for.

Jerry: I was just happy to be playing bass.

Livvy: We can all get behind that.

Noor: All three of us for sure.

Livvy: I think the most iconic shows that can possibly happen are talent shows. I played an original song at a talent show. It was a big deal for me.

Noor: I remember a kid in my grade played a song that he wrote for a girl that he had a huge crush on. Everyone knew it was about her. It was iconic, y’all. There was a video of it on YouTube for so long and I wonder if it’s still there.

Livvy: Did she like it?

Noor: I think they might have dated for a while after that.

Livvy: Because of it?

Noor: I don’t know! I don’t need to air this out on the internet, but I’m going to find that shit. I’ll keep y’all posted on this.

Jerry: I wonder if a chemistry video I made for a class is still on YouTube. Let me see if I can find it. It was a project I did for a class where I truly hated my chemistry teacher. Looking back on it, I didn’t need to hate her. She seemed totally fine, but she just wanted us to learn all this chemistry and I was like, “That’s fucking bullshit.” I wrote one essay that I made totally unbearable for her to read. Each paragraph was a series of reworded sentences that all said the exact same thing. It was just regurgitating the information in the most obtuse, frustrating way I could do it. I did quite badly. 

We did kind of the same thing for this video project. It was supposed to show what the deal with carbon is. Other people did theirs like a game show but the concept we came up with was a person in a house and then another person breaks into the house and starts shouting information about carbon at them. The first guy tries to get in his car and drive away but then the other guy is just in there still shouting information. We tried to make it as unbearable as possible. Kids are terrible. [Laughs.]

Noor: I loved chemistry!

Jerry: I’m loving chemistry now. It’s amazing! At the time as a teenager I just had that attitude of “fuck you” to any teacher.

Livvy: I had some major relationships like that with a couple of teachers. Especially in middle school they were like, “You’re talking, go outside.” I was like, “Yeah, I’m talking because I’m 12! My brain is giving me information really rapidly right now.”

Jerry: I wonder if there’s a more anarchistic model for school that could be less hierarchical. Obviously you still need teachers but maybe it could be more mutual in a way.

Livvy: Pretty much just memorizing all of this information for the test is the model. That really didn’t work for me and I didn’t retain a lot of that stuff because I just crammed it in.

Noor: I had so much trouble with history. It’s one of those things I’m super interested in now, but back when I was 14 I had no interest in knowing what happened before I was alive. I sucked at history because I wasn’t thinking of it like a story. I feel like I would have fucked with it more if it was presented in a different way.

Jerry: Yeah, as a way to understand the present, as opposed to just, “You have to know this civil war battle happened and this genocide happened.” You’re just like “OK, these all sound pretty shitty.” These things are all so important to your life and why things are the way they are, but it’s just so obscured. I went to a pretty progressive school where we didn’t have tests or grades. There were a lot of things that I found helped me but at the same time there is this innate rebellion. It felt like people didn’t really explain things to me so I didn’t really care. I feel like I could have loved math if it had been shown to me as some sort of data abstraction instead of just, “You have to learn this.”

Noor: I really loved math because I had really good math teachers for some reason. I think that really did it for me. I also presented it to myself as a puzzle, so that made things easier.

Livvy: You are extremely good at math.

Noor: People still call me for help with calculus. It has happened multiple times in the past month, but I literally love it.

Jerry: It seems fun! When I was very, very young encountering math it always felt uninviting to me. I feel like I built it up in my head as something I wasn’t good at. I could have been if I had more confidence. Now I just look at a math problem and assume I won’t get it. I’ve prevented myself from making it an innate thing.

Noor: You have to look at something and imagine how you can solve it in a million different ways. Not a million but you know what I mean.

Livvy: It’s similar to music theory stuff. Once it’s programmed or you feel like you can have a fluency in envisioning what you want and knowing how you can play it, it becomes comfortable. For me with math, there’s just no fluidity or confidence behind it like you’re saying. That’s my preconceived notion with math.

Jerry: Exactly. I have that way of thinking in other areas like music.

Livvy: It’s like a language but it’s presented as a stressful subject.

Noor: Everyone talks about math like it’s the hardest thing, so maybe people hype themselves up in a bad way.

Livvy: They hype themselves down!

Noor: When I first moved I was tutoring kids in pre calculus. One thing I found is that if one way I was explaining wasn’t working, I would try again with a slightly different wording or process, and it would usually work then. Teachers don’t always have the time or capacity to do that.

Livvy: Lately I’ve been recording some demos with very little thought behind them. Like, here’s the chord that’s going to go here now! It actually really works. I feel like I’ve been underthinking it in a way that I really like. 

Jerry: That’s the best! The more your self-judgement is involved, the more stifling your creative process becomes. I feel like you just need to let yourself play the music that you’re going to play.

Livvy: It’s kind of like whatever will be, will be.

Jerry: I don’t think value judgements are particularly helpful for creativity and self-acknowledgement.

Livvy: So true. I feel like really talented people are at their best when they’re just playing in a way that’s truly themselves. Even if they’re just banging on a piano, it’s like they really put themselves in there.

Jerry: It just depends how you look at music or what your relationship with it is. For me, what I like the most is when I can hear someone’s unique voice. The point of music is self-expression, not crafting the perfect pop song or whatever. If I can hear someone, that’s great. The less judgement they put on it, the more they can just express what’s inside them. 

A lot of the time if I try to sit down and write a specific kind of song, it doesn’t come out like that. I’ve been trying to make techno for six years. I can sit down and it never comes down as a techno track. It ends up like a slow piano song, and I’ll be like, How did that happen? The less pressure you put on yourself, the more fun it is, and the more fulfilling it is for your mind.

Livvy: It is better for your mind! There are days when I’ll be working on something all day and then I’ll just sit down and be like, I’m going to write a song. It’s such a relief on your brain to make something without judgement. I remember specifically when I was younger I would be so nitpicky. Now that I’ve written an album, I know I can do that again.

Jerry: You’re also such an innately musical thinker. I feel like music flows through you in a really fluid way.

Livvy: Oh, my gosh, thank you! It flows through me like I’m getting a colonoscopy soon. [Laughs.]

Jerry: What’s that stuff that you have to drink called again?

Livvy: You have to drink pink chalk! 

Jerry: I had a colonoscopy and I had to drink a huge jug of this horrible stuff. It sucked.

Livvy: I remember an unnamed family member doing that, and I was like, “Good for you.” I know this is in my future.

Noor: Honestly, I’ve heard that colonoscopies are really good for you.

Livvy: I hope the name of this article says like “colonoscopies and more.” [Laughs.]

Noor: People will have to wait until the end for the juicy stuff.

Jerry: They gave me fentanyl when I got my colonoscopy, which people were cutting into heroin and cocaine and a lot of people were overdosing. It’s an insanely strong opiate. I remember it felt like I had the longest hose in my ass that they were pulling in and out. I just laid back and thought, This is chill. This is fine. I was so insanely relaxed. I remember feeling crazy but also I didn’t care at all. [Laughs.]

Noor: What the fuck? 

Livvy: Did you feel your whole body adjusting to this?

Jerry: Kind of! I was whacked out of my gourd so I don’t really know. It was probably a minimal thing, but it felt both crazy and totally chill. No big deal.

Noor: I’m still thinking about the pink chalk drink. With all of the innovations we have in science and technology they can’t make that shit taste a little better?

Jerry: I think there have been a lot of innovations. 50 years ago I think you had to fast for a week and drink all of this crazy stuff. Now you only have to fast for a day or something. I can’t remember. Anyway, fascinating stuff! [Laughs.] I guess someone will have to go through and find the interesting parts and edit them together so it’s not 50 pages long.

Livvy: We went to a lot of interesting places. This was also really long. Thank you for staying on the phone and not hanging up on this.

Jerry: You’re welcome. It was really hard to not just hang up on you. 

Livvy: You stuck it out! [Laughs.]

Mamalarky is down to water your houseplants while you’re out of town and plot an elaborate revenge on your high school bully. Mamalarky could very well be the cure for depression or the cause of all universal sadness. Mamalarky is a campfire song for American Idol rejects and a somber soundtrack for the months leading up to your next breakup. They are exactly what you would expect to see in an increasingly sentient robot’s dream journal.

Mamalarky started in Austin, TX and now resides in Atlanta, GA. The band combines doe-eyed vocal melodies, cerebral keys, dynamic finger-picked guitar, ebullient bass lines, and hard hitting drums to create an intoxicating elixir, entirely their own.

Their self-titled debut album Mamalarky is out November 2020 via Fire Talk Records.