New York City-based band mammifères rekindles and recomposes ancient music from across the world into postmodern folk. Led by Lukas Papenfusscline, the band tangles roots music with new harmonies and adapted stories, at times both irreverent and deeply indebted our musical heritage. Disarranging structure and finding inspiration in ethnic chaos leads the band to a primeval energy that travels fast and wide, hiking across musical landscapes.
These urban mammals create a dadaist mess by crafting new tunes based on field recordings, manuscripts, and learned songs from years past, refurbishing them with the musical languages of the future. Equally comfortable playing American folk as medieval chant, the group pulls from improvisation, noise, jazz, queer culture, and contemporary performance to create their unique and sensitive sound.
Their recent album, Olema, is an ode to the natural beauty of the landscape and its complex human history, inspired by the Pt. Reyes Peninsula off the California coast where Papenfusscline was raised: “Old songs are made anonymous when they’re sung millions of times,” says Lukas. “Singing them is like hiking: you’re being thrown into a world of history, of otherness, of nature, a place you feel you don’t belong but absolutely do. Olema for me is about human interaction with wildness—it’s benefits and destructions.”
mammifères, which means “mammals” in French, is Steve Conroy on bass, Aiden Farrell on drums, Henry Ott on guitar, and frequently features guests on saxophone, keyboard, violin, and clarinet. “We learn the tune as it stands, a melody and some pretty words from another era. Then we work with harmony, finding fresh chords that can interact with the melody in a new way, and with more color than a 1-4-5-1 structure ever could. I make changes as they come and let the arrangements develop organically with the band.” Still, though, the band is constantly changing the arrangements: “We’re improvisers and hate to set the arrangement too concretely. Each time we play it’s a very different song, never the same twice. It has to be dependent on the moment rather than the chart.”