Picture this: Bluff, Utah, 1889. A man’s leg comes into focus in the sepia-toned old West scene, stretched out on the dusty ground. Then four women in long dresses walk toward the body.
A few moments later, a riff from an electric guitar cuts in, and vibrant color images flash by, showing four women playing drums and guitars in the middle of the Utah desert.
The band’s name is accurate — lead singer Jessica Groom, bassist Victoria Green, drummer Nikki Ashton and lead guitarist Jami Taylor are all moms. And they rock hard.
They met because Ashton wanted to make friends, and made an immediate connection with Taylor. That led them to Green, and eventually Groom. They started as a cover band — belting out Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” among others — before coming up with “Elijah Jones.”
The song and the video — released on YouTube Feb. 28, just before the start of Women’s History Month — tell the story of a fictional group of polygamist women fighting back against their abusive husband, Elijah Jones (played by Seth Giddings).
The story, Groom said, “is pretty unique — that really only four moms from Utah could probably tell.”
Taylor added, “a lot of us wouldn’t be here without polygamy. A lot of us have ancestors. … It’s just part of Utah’s story.” (All four bandmates are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where some faithful practiced polygamy before church leaders banned the practice in 1890.)
Even though the story is fiction, the women said they know there’s a high probability that characters like Elijah and his wives existed in Utah history.
Country vibes, rock riffs
Each musician appears in the video as part of the band, and also as one of Jones’ four wives. It’s a nod to the band’s history that Groom, the last member to join Mothers of Mayhem, also portrays the last wife to become part of the family.
Taylor said she got the idea after doing research and reflecting on growing up around Lake Powell, where she listened to such country artists as Johnny Cash. (By the way, the band has a rock version of “Ring of Fire” in their repertoire.)
“To me Utah, the southern desert, and that type of music just goes right together,” she said. “It seemed really fun to kind of envision that this was a Western song that was done in southern Utah, and then putting all the pieces together to create the story of maybe what life would have been like at that time.”
Old West imagery permeates the song and video, such as harsh conditions, booze and guns. One metaphorically meaningful moment in the video shows Elijah setting a bottle of whiskey down on a copy of the Bible.
The video’s themes tie to Women’s History Month, and the band’s publicity includes a reference to the group that helped designate the month, the National Women’s History Alliance. This year’s theme for the monthlong celebration is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories” — which fit in well with Mothers of Mayhem’s ideas for the song.
The band filmed the video in Kanab, where they imagined a ghost town with a lone resident like Jones would live. Filming in Kanab — called “Little Hollywood” for the Western movies and TV shows that were shot there, from the silent era through the ‘60s — was “really cool,” Green said.
“It was so cool to meet people, complete strangers, and then become best friends in a two-day period — and just really see that little glimpse into everyone’s lives,” Green said.
While writing “Elijah Jones,” the band called it a “murder ballad” — because it fit the mold of old country-western songs with themes of homicide. (Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” with the infamous lyric “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die,” is a classic example.)
They gave the song a rock spin, with heavy chords and monumental guitar riffs. Taylor said they were able to do something she loves about the band: Taking a song that people expect to be soft, and putting a hard edge on it.
Toward the end of the process, the bandmates stopped referring to it as a “murder ballad” and instead called it a “self-defense ballad.”
“As moms, we always try to make things palatable for our kids,” Groom said, laughing.
Making music on busy schedules
The four women have 19 children among them, which they say is where the “mayhem” in the band’s name comes from. (It also gives the band the acronym “M.O.M.”)
Being moms who rock still surprises people, Ashton said. “Plenty of women play in bands, but to see all women together is just not very common. Particularly married women,” she said.
“Dad bands” are much more common, Ashton said — so much so that when the quartet is setting up on stage, people have asked if they’re preparing the stage for their husbands.
Since they’re all full-time moms, Groom said, they’re limited in what they can do. The meet once or twice a week, depending on their schedules. They put the kids to bed, and practice until they can’t stay awake anymore.
Each woman said being a part of Mothers of Mayhem is inspiring and empowering. It’s made them see their own value, outside of careers and family. It’s also given the moms something to share with their children — saying that if they can do it, the kids can do anything they set their minds to.
“To come on stage, and then play the way we do, it’s empowering, it’s fun, it’s satisfying,” Ashton said.
That attitude also helps the bandmates balance their lives with the career expectations the music industry sets on bands.
“Our time’s pretty valuable,” Groom said. “If we’re going to spend our time away from these really important things, we’re pretty choosy about what we’re going to do.”
The band is working on another original song, to be released soon. They also have submitted the “Elijah Jones” to a handful of film festivals.
The themes of the video, in some ways, are reflected in the band members’ lives. “It doesn’t matter if you’re four moms in the middle of your life,” Groom said. “You can stand up and take control of your situation and have the power to do that.”
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