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Motherwort to mark debut EP ‘Metamorphosis’ with two release shows

Motherwort: from left, Heather Sandford, Mahra Parian, Darrell Long, and Youngiee Quennell.
Motherwort -- from left, Heather Sandford, Mahra Parian, Darrell Long, and Youngiee Quennell.

Self-described “farm-grrrl folk-punk” band Motherwort just completed its debut album, titled “Metamorphosis,” and will play a pair of release shows this week to mark the occasion.

The first is Wednesday night at the Upstairs as part of the “Practice at Presents” series, where they’ll share the stage with Silver Rein and Secret Service Men at the 9 p.m. show. The second takes place Saturday at Sweet Land Farm in Trumansburg, where they’ll be joined by Janet Batch and the Four-Bangers for the 5 p.m. show. The cover is $10 for each show, with a pay-what-you-can option at the latter.

“Songs by farmers, recorded by farmers!” read the album’s liner notes. “Motherwort began as a way for hard-working farmgrrrls to blow off steam. Borne from the soil and seasoned with fire, we came together and created this EP.”

The band – which currently comprises Heather Sandford (bass, vocals), Mahra Parian (guitar, vocals), Youngiee Quennell (guitar, fiddle, vocals), and Darrell Long (drums) – draws from a variety of influences, ranging from metal and punk to Celtic and folk, in service of a three-point manifesto outlined on its website:

“To create impassioned and original music that inspires people to take action and improve themselves and their surroundings.

“To explore and develop our artistic abilities and create music with integrity as a form of true self-expression.

“To share our music with the community at large and be a catalyst for personal reflection and change.”

Motherwort has had a shifting lineup since its founding five years ago, with various band members – Anna McCown, Nicole Costa, Polly Wood, Sarah Green, and Ashley Ickes (who plays drums on the new EP) – coming and going. Still, it has remained a place a refuge for its longest-running members: Sandford, Parian, and Quennell, all of who have ties to the area’s farming community and write songs for the band.

“We went through so many changes and now it feels like we've solidified into something like a stable lineup with our own kind of sound,” said Quennell.

“This band has been kind of a respite for us through a lot of transitions and some really hard times, and personal struggles,” Parian added. “And it's always been a place where we can check in and process together. And it is through that process that we've been able to express ourselves through this band. So that feels very relevant to me.”

Until Long joined the band a few months ago, all of Motherwort’s members have been female-bodied, which also has contributed to the vibe Parian, who’s non-binary, just described.

“I think that it was a space that we all wanted to explore,” Sandford said. “Youngiee and I grew up in the riot grrrl scene, and I used to play in all-female punk bands a long time ago, and really enjoyed that. There tends to be a lot of men in the genre that we're in, and I love playing with them, but in general, it's been really nice space to have the space for us to express ourselves.”

It’s fitting that the band will return to Sweet Land Farm this weekend – it’s where they recorded the album, working with Paul Martin (Rose and the Bros) in his newly built Big Sky Music Studio during the winter of 2021-2022.

“Paul approached us at Trumansburg Porchfest in June 2021, and said he wanted to record us as his new studio project,” said Quennell. “That definitely was a push in the right direction and a confidence boost to us. He just saw us playing and said ‘I want to record you, and I’ll do part of it for free.’ We were like, ‘Wow, yeah!’

“We expected to only do like three songs, so that's what we had prepped,” she continued. “And then Paul was like, ‘Okay, those are great. Do you have any more?’” They ended up with six songs on the EP, along with a bonus track. (Mark Gunnery, Parian’s ex-bandmate in the Bay Area group The Fools, mastered the album.)

The band members are also psyched about the “Practice at Presents” show, which will feature an opening set from Silver Rein, the solo new project of former Motherwort member Sarah Green, and a closing set from Secret Service Men, the local hardcore band with which they’ve shared several gigs.

“It feels really special that Sarah is doing this record release with us, and she’ll be playing one of her old Motherwort songs with us to transition into our set,” Quennell said. “And then we're also going to have the lead singer from Secret Service Men do a song with us at the end of our set. That's our nod to community and the interconnectedness of the local music scene.”

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.