Any released debut these days is born from a time of great uncertainty, but if you have come to the surface in the height of the past pandemic years as an artist, channeling one’s creativity is a tough exercise to be sure. Toronto’s Mother Tongues have been in that very storm, although when I reach Lukas Cheung and Charise Aragoza over at the other end of the globe, they do spark the air that this is just the beginning of their journey.

“Char and I met like in Toronto, so the musical seed started to grow probably a decade ago. And we were roommates actually before we ever started playing music together. So yeah, it’s like kind of started off as a friendship and became a creative project from there.” (Lucas Cheung)

Love In A Vicious Way comes as the preliminary result of making music together for “probably like eight years”, Lucas reflects. In 2020, when their first EP was put out, it was also the time where the vision of a debut album arose, coinciding with a stylistic switch, putting Charise in the lead vocal seat and Lucas resorting to the chief melodic and musical center as guitarist.

Social Distance Music

Anyone remember social distancing? Mother Tongues certainly do, as the critical years during 2020 and 2021 were kind of like their working circumstances while crafting Love In A Vicious Way, as Charise recalls: 

“I think if we can all remember when we had the bubble system where you could only allow like a certain limit of people into your circle for safety purposes. We definitely like kept each other and the other band members in that bubble. We were fortunate enough to write a lot of the record together and then also get in like a room together to just try things out. We spent a couple periods in a borough like next to downtown Toronto. And we would sleep over there. And there was this what used to be like a pool room like an indoor pool.”

Charise Aragoza (left) and Lucas Cheung (photo by Feng)

It was “this super like 70s house that someone had converted into a rehearsal studio” Lucas complements the picture where they spent “the thick of lockdown” to work on their material. While the core of their record breathes that tense, brooding and yet vital spirit, it is also an authentic document of the time it was being written in, as Lucas points out. “For the first EP”, he states, “it was maybe an accumulation of like six years worth of material. All of these songs were written in the past and then they get like pulled together for the first EP”. For Love In A Vicious Way, “it was all kind of written in a much more condensed period of time. It feels like there’s much more like cohesive kind of emotion behind it. And even just in terms of like sonically, it’s coming from one thought like the same place. And yeah, it’s definitely drawing from this angsty time of uncertainty.”

“It was a very special time to be making music, too, because it felt like kind of like you weren’t really sure that you were going to get the chance to share it with people again. So you were just making whatever you want to make. And there’s an intensity to that where you’re like, ‘oh, I better make it really good because one didn’t know what the world was going to be like next year” (Lucas)

“Headspace Things”

In its core an extensive reflection about love, longing and desire in its manifold shapes, Love In A Vicious Way channels existential ponderings and sort of a subjective feel towards these issues, which both Charise and Lucas express, as we dive further into the threads of the record. “I think there’s an emotional thread, you know, it feels like for me, it feels like the songs are all coming from like a very similar place and the headspace that I was in [at the time]”, Lucas begins. “I mean, some of the songs are written by Char too, so like, but there is like, even those ones, I think there is like a choice to like use those songs because they fall into the same universe.” 

“The first record we put out was like really like almost proggy and had like a lot of changes and all the songs are like six minute, you know, like rock jams. And I think that just comes from like, you know, not having put out recorded music before and you’re just trying to squeeze in every idea you have into this like song. Whereas like, I think now the way we write, it’s much more like we’re thinking about what makes a great song, like what makes a, you know, like what’s a good arc for a song, you know? And we’re really like trimming the fat. We’re like, oh, like, do we need this whole extra section? Maybe that’s just a section for like the live show.” (Lucas)

“I definitely agree that it was coming from more like a hard place”, his bandmate jumps in. “There’s a lot of headspace things, like all the changes and like the technically challenging things or whatever you want to call them”, she adds. “Just really tapping into the hard space.” 

“I think for this one, things that I like about music that inspires me is just that it brings you to joy or to tears or to whatever. And I think we were trying to recreate that in our own music. And yeah, just like really tapping into, I don’t know, an exciting time in my life for music was definitely like early teens or something. So really like referencing those influences too in the music.” (Charise)

Photo by Feng

Inside The Polarity Of Love

While there is a strong sentiment of nostalgia and dreaming yourself back to “when you’re in your youth and your teens and your early twenties”, as Lucas confirms, Love In A Vicious Way unfolds a strong cluster of emotional vulnerability and as such emphasises the contradictory nature of love. “Love is an idea”, Lucas starts to ponder about the underlying philosophy of the record, and as it is a “very warm thing that people share”, it can also be an overwhelming force, “it also kind of swallows you up… it can kind of overpower you”, he reflects. 

“I think the angst is more of like an undertone than anything else. I don’t think it’s like a central element at all. Just because now that I think about the musicality of the songs themselves, they’re pretty hopeful and energetic, I would say, but it does kind of like subtly touch on the dark side of it.” (Charise)

Charise is right when she talks about the subtle art of melancholy, because in fact there is a lot of hope breathing through the tracks, even the atmosphere of departure, when one listens to the second track Dance In The Dark for instance, which powers through with upbeat and vibrant forces. On other occasions, the ethereal psych-pop shoegaze feel kicks in much more intense, such as in the cloudy aesthetic of the title track or the stunning dreamlike vision that Drip Drip embodies, fully reaching a kind of Portishead vibe, which roams through the record in any case. 

“There are a couple of songs that are definitely like both spawned from a moment in my life. Some of the songs are more like kind of like an internal conversation, like heart beating is very much like the chorus is kind of like telling yourself to like come back into your body, like, you know, like you’re just a heart beating in an air ball, like and like just to come back to yourself. Whereas like, I don’t know, like maybe, well, like you were just saying, like Drip Drip is like a song Char wrote about a specific time.” (Lucas)

“A lot of [sentimental, nostalgic and reminiscent] feelings were up in the air and I think that’s reflected in the lyrics”, Charise says in an attempt to sum up their musical journey a bit. “It’s like being open to different concepts and questioning them instead of having such strong like one-sided feelings about that style of relationship.” All the while, Love In A Vicious Way showcases a heartfelt and thorough exploration of the complexities of love and desire and reaches a well-crafted state of passion and solemnity while being at it, at once soothing and agitating. This record might remain as snapshot of these past years for both Lucas and Charise, representative of their fears and joys all along, or to put it in Lucas’ own words:

“Music has always been a time capsule for me. And sometimes you don’t go into it thinking I’m going to write a song about this or this person. But you start working on a piece of music, you start writing the words and then after the fact, you’re like, ‘oh, this is about this, this is about this time or this person.’”

Mother Tongues’ Love In A Vicious Way is out now via Wavy Haze Records.