this young catalan punk band wants revenge
After being abandoned by its record label while touring Reykjavík, Mourn gets cathartic on 'Sorpresa Familia,' a raw revenge record for tumultuous times.
Photography Noemí Elías
When Catalan punk band Mourn released their debut album in 2015, all four members were still in their teens. Since then, they’ve had to wear the label of ‘teenagers in rock’, and have been forced to deal with critics obsessing over their ability to make angry, angular rock music that occupies space alongside Sleater-Kinney and Pretty Girls Make Graves. But similarities aren’t always the result of imitation, and on Sorpresa Familia, Mourn’s third album for Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks, the band proves to be more than just a group of teens looking through a post-punk lens. On past records they’ve sung about romance (“Your Brain is Made of Candy”) and boys (“Jack”); here they sing about abandonment (“Fun at the Geysers”) and breaking free from their oppressors (“Doing it Right”, “Bye, Imbecile”).
In December 2015 Mourn released a statement accusing their Spanish record label, Sones, of holding “all income from us, including advances and royalties paid by Captured Tracks, all performance income from shows as well as merchandise money.” The statement went on to read, “We understand Sones has costs which need to be recouped, but the balance is well out of order.” While the dispute played out in court, Captured Tracks released the band’s second album Ha, Ha, He!, but Spanish fans missed out. Speaking via Skype from her home in Barcelona, Jazz Rodríguez (guitar/vocals) says, “Captured Tracks were not able to release it in Spain because in the contract they didn’t have that right. So [they] released it everywhere [else] and in Spain no one heard it.”
Rodríguez further explains, “It’s 99% sorted out. We went to trial and now we are free from the contracts… We’re still only attached for the first album, but the second, third, and whatever subsequent albums we write, we’re free… They appealed, so we’re at that point right now.”
While there is always two sides to every story, Rodríguez and her bandmate Carla Pérez (who also plays guitar and sings, and joins us via Skype) believes strongly that they were taken advantage of and neglected by Sones, who also acted as their management. Having gone through the courts and come out the other side as victors, Sorpresa Familia sounds like an outlet for releasing all of the rage that built up over several years of legal wrangling. It also sounds like revenge.
On “Divorce,” the tenth track on Sorpresa Familia, the band sings, “At 19 years old we’re signing our divorce.” It’s perhaps the clearest statement regarding the toll the process took on the band’s mental health. “I was on the train and we were going to sign some papers,” says Pérez. “I remember writing to Jazz and saying that it feels like I’m getting divorced and I’m only 19.” Elsewhere their rage is more pointed. “They may shut up. But I’ll stand up,” they belt on opening track “Barcelona City Tour.” “Who are you? Who are you to say what I am, stranger?” they scream on “Strange Ones.”
In 2015 Mourn was invited to perform at Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavík and it became one of the last trips the band took with their ex-management team. The song “Fun at the Geysers” opens with the line, “Let’s pretend this is a family trip,” and ends with, “Hurry up, call a cab. Go to the geysers.” Pérez says they arrived in Reykjavík having had nothing to eat all day and when they asked for money to buy food they were treated with disrespect and told that they needed to learn to suffer. They were all teenagers at the time – Rodríguez’s sister Leia, who plays bass in Mourn, was only 15. Their manager was much older (35, according to a line in the song “Divorce”). Rodríguez says, “I laugh about it now, but at the time it was like, ‘What the fuck?’”
“We were starving and they were like, ‘When you grow up you’ll understand, you’ll be able to starve,’” says Pérez, recounting the incident. “We went to sleep, and when we woke up they weren’t there. We had breakfast in the hotel and then we were like, well they aren’t here, maybe they’re walking around somewhere. Then I looked at my phone and I saw these photos… They posted this video of a geyser exploding and I was like, ‘What the fuck, where are they?’ They came back maybe two hours before the show at night and we had to have dinner before playing. The sound guy that was traveling with us had to pay because all the money – it was our money, but they had it. We were really furious about it, [so] we ended up deciding that it was a story that we needed to tell.”
The band finally got revenge this past winter when they took their own trip to the geysers to film a music video. “When we were filming the video we realized that the geysers are, like, almost two hours away from the city, so they took a long trip to go over there,” Rodríguez recalls. But unlike their runaway ex-managers, who only spent a few hours at the geysers before returning to Reykjavík in a taxi, Mourn got to spend three days there. “I bet we enjoyed it more, too,” says Pérez.
Sorpresa Familia will hopefully be the final chapter in a saga that once threatened to derail the band’s bright future. Catalonia is currently gripped by political chaos, youth unemployment in Spain is hovering around 35%, and Rodríguez admits to being fearful of having to pursue an alternative career. “When people find a job, even if it’s a shitty job and they are being exploited, they are going to take it and they are not going to leave because it’s the only thing they have, she says. “I’m a bit scared of that, because I’m not very good at anything else.”
It may also give Mourn more free time to concentrate on other matters. Pérez recently spent time in London yelling at nazis in a protest. “I always thought I was a hippie or whatever,” she says half joking, “but then last week I was in a protest and shouted at this nazi.” Likewise, Rodríguez speaks passionately about protecting free speech in Catalonia, citing the independence movement and the recent jailing of a rapper for his lyrics about the Spanish royal family. “The issue is not only about independence, it’s about freedom, because there is a lot of repression here,” she says. “They disguise it. They say Spain is great. Spain is awesome. But at the same time they are putting rappers in jail just for singing about the King and the royal family. They persecuted him, he went to trial and got three or four years in jail for a song. At the same time they were taking over the Catalan government, saying that Catalans are terrorists and they want to break Spain. That makes no sense.” Sorpresa Familia may be about the band’s own affairs, but it proves they have the ability to write potent protest music. Next time the subjects might be a little less personal, but a lot more powerful.