By Annie Reuter
When singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke decided to put her record and tour on hold once her mother was diagnosed with dementia, she didn’t think her time as caretaker would turn into an Off-Broadway play, but that’s exactly what happened. My Mother Has 4 Noses, which runs through May 4 at New York’s The Duke on 42nd Street, tells the tale of Brooke’s experiences caring for her mother during the final two years of her life. In an interview with Radio.com, Brooke explained how the play came together and what it’s like writing with Katy Perry.
“I was supposed to make a record, go on tour, at that same moment I was realizing that my mother was in bad shape and needed around the clock care so I moved her in with me and my husband and took over a pretty daunting task,” she told Radio.com. “It became this crazy journey of learning on the one hand, how daunting dealing with dementia is but on the other hand, how much I loved her. I started writing everything down and I started photographing her and I started writing songs.”
Brooke said her instinct always is to write. As she was caring for her mother, she realized the music she was creating was bigger than a record.
“This is theater because Mom is funny. I would write down our dialogue every day and I would film us and photograph us and these songs came out. It ended up being hybrid theater piece, with a record of 11 songs inspired by this two-year stretch of time,” she said. “It’s part of a larger conversation that we all have to be having about our lives and caring for our loved ones and how we can make the most of our lives and our love.”
Brooke says she hopes the play inspires a dialogue and allows people permission to laugh while demystifying dementia. The title of her play, My Mother Has 4 Noses, shares the lightheartedness of her mother.
“My mom was such a character,” Brooke explained. “The back story is yes, she did actually have four noses. She had skin cancer so she did end up with a prosthetic nose. They made her four because you never know if you might lose one or be in the sun and get some freckles and need a darker pigmented one. She had the best humor of all about it; she would joke with people that she had four noses, ‘How many people do you know that have four noses?’ The essense of Mom was making the best of any situation.”
Brooke has recorded many albums over the years, but she realized recording an album and performing songs in a play are two very different things.
“In the play I realized quickly, you can’t sing a four minute song in a theater piece, it’s just too long. You need to chop it up.”
In addition to penning all the music herself, Brooke has recently written with Katy Perry on her latest release. Brooke co-wrote “Choose Your Battles” with Perry and Greg Wells off Perry’s 2013 release, Prism.
“That was so much fun. I had gotten word from friends over the years that she kept mentioning me in interviews as an influence and I thought, ‘Well, that’s wicked cool. How sweet is that?’ I’m a huge Katy Perry fan. Finally a mutual friend at ASCAP hooked us up,” she explained. “We spent three days in the studio [and] that was the first song we wrote. I brought this kalimba, which is a tiny wooden thumb piano. I thought, ‘I’m going to go meet Katy Perry, what can I bring that’s a little unusual and would be fun for the session?’”
Brooke said jamming on the kalimba kicked off the writing session and producer Wells began building a rhythmic bed around the song.
“The song materialized and was pretty fun and immediate. I’m psyched my kalimba is still a very big part of the track. The main way it changed from our initial demo is that Katy added awesome unbelievable vocals, especially at the end. She started stacking vocals. I’m just a fan of that. That was very, very exciting. And that it made it on the record at all was cool.”
She added: “Greg heard the kalimba rhythmic thing and started building this really deep track around it and it just inspired all of us. It was like we were finishing each other’s sentences in the room. When that happens you’re pretty psyched. Once in a while it’s like bad dating. Sometimes something happens and you’re like, ‘Oh God, when will this be over?’ Luckily we were all inspired by each other.”
Jonatha Brooke’s My Mother Has 4 Noses runs through May 4 at The Duke on 42nd Street. She will perform on Thursday, Aug. 14 at SubCulture in New York.