Maylee Todd Grills Mother Tongues

The multimedia artist asks Lukas Cheung and Charise Aragoza the hard-hitting questions.

Lukas Cheung (vocals/guitar) and Charise Aragoza (vocals/bass) are the minds behind the Toronto-based group Mother Tongues; Maylee Todd is an LA-based multimedia artist and producer. Mother Tongues’ debut, Love In A Vicious Way, is out this Friday on Wavy Haze Records, so to celebrate, the three sat down to catch up about it all. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music 

Maylee Todd: Let’s get down to brass tacks here. A couple of questions for you. First of all, are you pissed off about these other Mother Tongues? 

Charise Aragoza: [Laughs.]

Lukas Cheung: They messaged us once and I was like, “We should play a show together.”

Maylee: Let’s talk about “Worm Day.” Char, this is a hard hitting question for you, and maybe it’s personal — and you absolutely have to share — there’s a [line] where you say you’re “taking it out on everybody.” 

Charise: Oh, I mean, that’s my voice, but the lyrics were written by Lukas. Shall we redirect? 

Maylee: Well, why I say this is because there was another song, tt escapes me now, where you said you’re taking it out on someone else. I think it’s one of your old songs.

Lukas: “Let You Down.”

Maylee:  It’s a lyric where you’re angry. 

Charise: Oh, “I take out my frustration on someone else.” 

Maylee: That’s it. 

Charise: Oh, wow. 

Maylee: There’s something going on here. It’s one thing to play the victim, it’s another thing to cross the line to perpetrator, and I’m just wondering what’s happening.

Lukas: Somebody is listening to the lyrics! [Laughs.]

Maylee: You guys are both in the hot seat, OK?

Lukas: Well, you know what? I think sometimes you’re writing from someone else’s perspective, like of this character or someone you know.

Maylee: Not taking responsibility at all. 

Charise: No accountability here. So sorry.

Maylee: That’s the way of the world, I guess, right? What’s the lyric — “damaged people damage people”? So what’s your excuse, Char? 

Charise: Excuse for what? 

Maylee: For taking your frustrations out on everyone.

Lukas: Yeah, this song’s actually about Char. [Laughs.] 

Charise: [Laughs.] Everyone back off.

Maylee: Do you guys feel like siblings now at this point? Because you guys have known each other forever. 

Lukas: Oh yeah, for sure.

Maylee: You’ve smelled each other’s pits probably at this point. 

Charise: Yeah, absolutely. 

Maylee: Maybe I should ask some serious questions. Who comes up with the video ideas?

Lukas: Well, the first one, “A Heart Beating,” I reached out to that artist, Carson [Teal], and it was a lot of back and forth. We actually were first working on the record art together. 

Maylee: Oh, cool. 

Lukas: Just building this universe around the songs, and that kind of informed the aesthetic for that video. He’s really amazing, a really brilliant 3D artist and sculpture artist. It was a very quick creative relationship, we’re very in sync. So he definitely brought a lot of his aesthetic. We were kind of just like, “Do what you do,” you know? With the “Worm Day” video, that’s very collage style. It’s a bunch of tour footage so it’s a nice little time capsule. 

The latest video — the DDR video — I think it’s because you were telling me that you and Jay [Charise’s brother] were really good at this game.

Charise: Yeah, Jay and I were obsessed from when we were kids right up until high school. We would go to the Silver City in North Toronto and just play there a bunch. And it was always a crew of either ravers or nerdy Asian kids, and we kind of sat in between those two crews. But Jay has been keeping up with it — up until the one shut down at Scotiabank Theater, he was going to that one and just practicing his favorite songs. Then we discovered one that was more central to us to shoot the thing, and that was very lucky because they’re so rare. Like I don’t see those machines anymore.

Lukas: The revolution is dying.

Charise: Yeah. But it’s so funny that it made its way into a video. It was something that we were so obsessed with and proud of at the time. I think it’s so funny that it resurfaced. 

Maylee: I’m glad you got it in there, because it is like a dying art form, and it’s a very specific thing. And I do think the ‘90s are coming back full swing — I went to like a party on the weekend and everyone looked like it was, like, 1999. But everyone was like 12. I was like, Wow, the ‘90s are back… I wish I kept all my rave gear, let’s put it that way. [Laughs.]

Lukas: Actually, we want to ask you about how growing up in that rave culture informed your career, or your sensibility in your music. And also, what it’s like to see it come back. 

Maylee: I was a junglist so I had like, all this snobbery — I was a junglist soldier. Don’t get it twisted. [Laughs.] I would die for jungle. And guess what? I’m not thinking about it at all. No, it is coming back around; I did do a jungle set.

I was a part of different crews — 187 Records and another crew called Dubplate Special. Shout out to all y’all still alive! [Laughs.] It was was such a time. And it was such a time of substance where there’s no testing. People are making stuff up and it’s a bit of a roll of the die. So, you know, you had some good nights and you had some bad nights and everything in between. Your Modrobes were covered in vomit out of the gate. 

And how it informed me to this day? It probably messed with my nervous system and probably some interior things, like irreversible damage, including like my ears. I remember just standing beside bass amps and being like, This is everything. But you’re so young, you think you’re invincible, and you just put all the shit in your mouth.

It’s crazy. But even hearing your music, I’m like, OK, yeah, we’re getting into the ‘90s vibe here. You guys have a ‘90s Taster’s Choice.

Lukas: Yeah, we were referencing a lot of stuff from back then, for sure. I mean, I listened to the Smashing Pumpkins so much as a young person, and still, and but also on the record there’s a lot of influence from French music like Air, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Bjork, Prodigy, you know. I feel like the production in the ‘90s was really ambitious. They had all this new equipment — it was moving to digital, the fidelity was really crisp. Maybe in the past I was really into recordings that were done on tape and very lo-fi and that’s got very much an atmosphere. But working with Asher [Gould-Murtagh], our producer and engineer, we were like, “Let’s make it sound as good as possible.”

Maylee: That’s very fun. Yeah, my sister was in an alternative band when I was young, called Sunday Best, and she worked on something called the TS12, which is a sonic computer which took floppy discs. It was heavy like a fridge, but it’s really cool and, yeah, things are quite crispy in there. I did a lot of Acts of Love on the 12.

Lukas: It seems like you’re always embracing new gear and new technology. Has it always been that way? Is it part of the process where you see this new stuff coming out and it gets you excited to do the thing? 

Maylee: Yeah, I think it helps with writing. I’m not sure if you guys have a similar process, but I think every record is different. Choose Your Own Adventure was my first record, so I bought a harp and I was learning how to play harp for the first time — so you can actually hear me struggling on the record, which is fine. Again, like a time capsule, right? The second record, it was the first time working with a band. The third record was the first time using Ableton and doing all the production. And then this fourth record is using the Tenori-on. Moving forward, I’m not sure what to do. I’m writing, but I’ve been writing music for 15 years too. I definitely had a moment of, like, I gotta take a break. So I did take a nice long break. I’m back at it, which is nice. I’m making a bunch of video game music. 

Do you folks go into the record writing like, “This record is going to be like…” Is it a concept record or are you just writing songs? 

Lukas: I feel like I’m writing a lot all the time and it’s revealing itself. Then you have maybe a set of songs that start to feel like they live together. That’s what becomes an album. The latest record feels really cohesive. The first EP we did, it was songs from the span of maybe five, six years, so it’s very spread out. Whereas the latest record, most of it is written when we were in lockdown. So it felt more like a more fluid motion rather than a time capsule of many years.

Maylee: Yeah, that’s great. That’s probably a good way to work also in terms of efficiency and kind of catching a vibe too.

Lukas: Yeah. I think the first record was learning how to make a record — you know, some of those songs I had recorded before and scrapped and then had to record again this one. This time we kind of knew what we were doing going into more. It was also more collaborative, this record. I was around for a lot of the writing.

Maylee: That’s great. And what do you guys what do you want to do with this record? What do you hope?

Lukas: I’m hoping that it lands well and we get to play shows in different places and meet new people.The hope is that it helps us break out of, I guess, the existing cycle of what we’re doing. We want to see growth and we want to see new opportunities present themselves.

Maylee: You want momentum for sure, while you have the energy. OK, where do you see yourself in five years? We’ll go there.

Charise: That’s such a good question because I don’t know how to answer it. I didn’t even know where I was going to be today five years ago.

Maylee: What about genie wish? Genie wish: [where are you] in five years?

Lukas: I hope we’re in a place where we can be making music and it feels sustainable. Right now, it feels like there’s always, you know, if you take the wrong turn it can make or break whether or not you can keep doing this. The stakes feel very high. And it’s a good motivator — it definitely pushes you to really do everything you can to make it work. But yeah, I’d like to see us in a place where we have the resources to do what we want to do, and we have an audience.

Maylee: OK. Let’s define it a little bit more. What stages do we want to play on? What festivals do we want to play on?

Charise: Let’s start with a European tour, because I recently did my first year of tour and I really loved it there and I would like to go back. But then, yeah, going back to the motherland I think would be would be sick. 

Maylee: What do you want your yearly salary to be?

Charise: Oh, shit. I just want to not be in debt every month. 

Lukas: A mil. 

Maylee: A mil! We’re dreaming big. We’re putting it in print. We’re loving this. So, we’ll see you on the big stages — and when you hit your million dollar salary, give me a ring, will ya? Take me out for dinner, you piece of shit!

Lukas: [Laughs.] 

Maylee: Swoop me up in your car, drive all the way to LA. Let’s go for a casual brunch.

Charise: I would. Absolutely would.

Love In a Vicious way is the debut LP from Toronto’s Mother Tongues. A cyber-psych opus that lurks between the cerebral and feral. At moments, precious and serene; in a blink, snarling, teeth razor-sharp. The songs are charged with a sincerity and teenage sentimentalism that captures a time when everything was crucial and felt tenfold.