Motor Sister have become the LA rock supergroup who have made waves within the music world. Their debut album Ride (out now via Metal Blade Records) comes from the ashes of another one time band fronted by band singer and guitarist Jim Wilson.
Before Motor Sister came to life, Wilson once fronted a much talked about band called Mother Superior. From 1993 until 2011, the lineup of Wilson, bassist Marcus Blake and drummer Jason Mackenroth (later replaced by Matt Tecu in 2005) was a much talked about yet underappreciated rock outfit who made waves throughout Southern California and beyond.
Wilson spoke about Mother Superior and about their time together and the history of the band.
“That’s a good question because I always get that mixed up,” he said, clarifying how many official releases Mother Superior had out. “The thing is we released eight different CDs of original material but there was one at the very beginning that I recorded myself on a reel to reel tape recorder that we used as a demo called Right in a Row. It was nine songs that never came out anywhere else. It’s a whole album’s worth of material.”
“That was the album, as a demo, I got to give to Henry Rollins when I worked at Aron’s Records (longtime LA indie record shop). I said check out my band. He listened to it. I called and he said I really like this and let’s stay in touch. That’s an album that gets put on ebay as an album. It actually is a full album but was never properly distributed. That would be nine, and at the very end in 2008, we had a French label come to us and said they wanted to put out a Greatest Hits of Mother Superior and if you had any new tracks we’ll take them. So it had seven old songs, two new songs plus we did a cover of a Beatles song which we did for a Beatles tribute album that never came out. We gave them that song too. So that’s like a tenth album. It’s got new material but there’s eight proper distributed albums. Not to mention we recorded three albums with Henry Rollins and a live album, so we did do a lot of music in the time we were together.”
Some may recall them as the second version of the Rollins Band from 1997 until 2003. They recorded Get Some Go Again (2000) and Nice (2001) during their time together, touring internationally and reaching new audiences.
“I always knew Henry was into the same kind of music I was into like Black Sabbath and he liked Parliament and Funkadelic. He was a real music fan. He liked Miles Davis. When we first met Henry, he was hardcore getting into the Beatles. He would always know about the Beatles. I met Henry and showed him my Beatles bootleg collection. He asked ‘can I borrow these overnight, copy them all and bring them back to you?’ It’s Rollins so of course. He got so into the Beatles and at that point we were sharing music together.”
“It’s like Motor Sister now. We were a band with Rollins because we were friends. We were musical friends. That’s how it feels now. When Mother Superior started, that original trio – we were all working in record stores and growing up together. We were friends and as time moves on, everyone has families, kids and it gets harder to keep the same three guys together. You start to turn into this alcoholic freak show instead of like proper adults. We took that as far as we could before you start looking around in your life for other experiences and other friends.”
Towards the latter half of Mother Superior, Wilson landed a gig playing with famed producer Daniel Lanois’ solo band, which opened his world towards sharing the stage with larger acts.
“I’ve been playing with Daniel Lanois for eleven years now because I’m his friend. I’m the longest running musician in his camp and has been playing with him. It’s fun for me because Daniel is a world class musician and he’s treated with respect everywhere we go, and I get to be in the passenger seat as his bass player and co singer. Because of Daniel, I came back from DC a couple weekends ago and did the Emmylou Harris tribute show with Kris Kristofferson and Chris Hillman from the Byrds, Rodney Crowell, Don Was and The All Star Band. I get to be part of that world too.”
He shared his status with his longtime bassist Blake, with whom co-started Mother Superior with. Aside from Rollins Band, the two also were in Lanois’ band together. Then he explains what happened since then.
“He was first in Rollins Band and he did play with Daniel for a while. Then Daniel had his project called Black Dub and that was a weird point. For his Black Dub project, he only needed a bass player and a singer, and since I’m a singer he asked me if I wanted to play bass and I said yes. I played some bass – not all the time but whenever he needed it. When I joined the Black Dub project, it turned into a world tour and very successful. I think he felt a little bit of ‘wait…why are you playing bass?’ It’s nothing personal. It also brought it into the band. I think after the original Mother Superior drummer Jason Mackenroth and that was the closest we ever were and friends that hung out. Matt Tecu was the second drummer and he was a great drummer. He joined the band as a replacement because we needed a drummer. We didn’t have the comradely the original band had. Due to that, I think me and Marcus grew apart a bit.”
“When I came back after Black Dub and into the situation of Mother Superior – oh are we going to make another album? No offense to Marcus but he brought in frustrations while I was away on tour and he had a bunch of songs he had written that he wanted to sing and said ‘on the next album I want to sing at least three songs.’ “
“There I was listening to him. He asked if he could use my guitar when we got together. He said he’s got a Foo Fighters kind of thing. I was like ‘listen…this has all changed. It’s not the same band it used to be. That’s when I decided to make a solo record. That pissed him off so I got a nasty email. ‘Don’t use any of our connections if you’re going to do a solo album…you keep it separate.’ It was that time where if I tried to do anything different it made the guys in the band angry. It wasn’t like I could go back into the Mother Superior situation and pretend like it wasn’t existing any more.”
“There’s a saying that sometimes alcoholics use…I love alcohol but I’m not an alcoholic, but I love the saying that trying to do something different the same way every time is the definition of insanity. That’s what it felt like at the end of Mother Superior. We had a sound and we couldn’t do anything different or it would make the old band mad. We had talked about trying to change and it meant something different to each of the guys. We would never see eye to eye. I know other bands in other situations where they say ‘oh we don’t get along but we still play together.’ That’s because those kind of bands…say like Metallica or something, they’re getting paid millions of dollars not to like each other. Of course they’re going to go to Portugal and get paid a million dollars if someone’s going to pay them. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Mother Superior has never had that situation where someone said ‘hey I’m going to pay you a lot of money to be friends.’ So we haven’t done anything together.”
Wilson admits he did reach out to Blake about his involvement in Motor Sister, which some fans may have noticed his absence from the project.
“To be honest, I tried to get in touch with Marcus when this project came about and got a negative response. So I tried to explain that the only thing that could happen is anyone who is interested will go back and check out the old stuff. Maybe it was too soon. Out of respect to the band, we changed the name. We threw the name around and there’s a song “Little Motor Sister” and Pearl [Aday, vocals] said “what about ‘Little Motor Sister”? And I said what about Motor Sister? Then it’s still MS. Now that we did that – I’m so glad that we did because it’s given it its own identity. It’s still related in a way where if anybody wants to know. I have nothing but respect for the original music. There are my guitar riffs and my melodies and all of my lyrics. As a singer I said I have to write all of the words that come out of my mouth. I’m glad people can still listen to the tunes and it’s going well. I wish all of the guys the best. Sometimes it takes time.”
Even after Mother Superior’s untimely ending, Wilson has kept active within music. He found a cult fan base for his music that became more apparent as time went on.
“I’ve been working on music since the Rollins thing. I’ve been super blessed that I get to do this. Somehow I survive. Because of that things change, and because of Daniel putting me in his touring band so much, it took me away from Mother Superior a little bit. It let me see it from a different place. While you’re in it every day…I can’t tell you how many times out of frustration, either the drummer or the bass player would say ‘we should have a meeting…’ and we would have a ‘meeting’ just for a chance so we can bitch each other about how we can’t pay our rent.“
“We really were a punk rock band that no major label would touch. We had fans that wanted us to keep making music. People were telling us ‘I love you guys! Don’t ever give this up. You really have something special. And you’re trying to keep this going but there’s no dash from the gas tank. Then you start looking for other ways to make this happen. At first we got lucky with Henry because I got to take the whole band on the adventure without changing anything. Henry took the whole band so nobody got left behind. But as time went by it wasn’t always possible. I had the opportunity to work with Daniel and it was something I needed to do. As it took me away from Mother Superior, maybe it made me go I don’t have to do that forever.”
“You know that Canadian band Anvil? I love them. I actually saw them open for Aerosmith in the 80s. I thought they were great. I saw that movie and thought about me and the other guys. I don’t want to end up in a dead end scene. I wanted to break away. I also think about Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and how John Coltrane was in Miles Davis’ band. He wasn’t afraid to take a chance to step outside that and that inspired me to do something on my own. It’s the history of music that not only makes me keep creating but not be afraid to try something different and doesn’t make sense at the time.”