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Q&A: Mannequin Pussy's Marisita Dabeast On Spontaneous Songwriting, Our National Myths, And Being In A Band Called "Mannequin Pussy"

Q&A: Mannequin Pussy's Marisita Dabeast On Spontaneous Songwriting, Our National Myths, And Being In A Band Called "Mannequin Pussy"

In the time it takes to watch an episode of Two and a Half Men sans commercial interruptions, you can head-bang through the recorded Mannequin Pussy oeuvre twice. But guitarist/singer Marisita Dabeast and drummer Athanasios Paul, both 24, come on like an acid-rain hurricane, packing their EPs meatslave and bonerjamz! with a metric ton of bile, sinew, and ecstasy. The NYC duo digs its claws into a passel of no-fi styles—grody pogo punk-pop, pre-Reject All American Bikini Kill, turgid dirges that suggest a rabid Rosemary Krust—with an irresistible, go-for-broke aplomb. It certainly doesn't hurt that Paul pummels his skins like they drowned his pet dog, or that Dabeast yelp-screams as though she learned how to sing by listening to Harry Pussy albums backwards at the loudest possible volume, torrents of pathos spilling from her like radioactive vomit.

Sound of the City emailed with Dabeast about Googling herself, drugs as political tools, and why Mannequin Pussy will never play "Pissdrinker" live.

"Mannequin Pussy" might be the band name of the decade. How did you decide on that, what does it mean, and is it awkward or weird to tell friends and family that your band is called "Mannequin Pussy"?

After we realized that we had "band chemistry" or whatever you want to call it, we talked about names. A friend of mine from Colorado was wasted one night and talking about band names and said "mannequin pussy," and it stuck in my head as being the greatest band name I had ever heard. So I mentioned it to Thanasi, and it was immediate; I called and asked my friend for the rights to it.

We were initially going to be a three-piece—with a bass player—but our friend didn't like the name. So Thanasi and I just looked at each other and decided that the name was staying and our friend was going. Just last week my mom said "have you thought about changing the name to maybe like 'Mannequin pee pee' or something else?" Basically, my Mom hates the name, but everyone else seems to like it as much as we do. It doesn't mean anything, really; it's just really, really funny.

One of the maybe unintended consequences is that Googling your band returns some hardcore porn links.

I know! Luckily, my grandparents don't use Google. I'm pretty sure that right after our band comes something like "man loves his plastic mannequin pussy" which I thought might be a review of a show, but it's not. It's a man who likes to fuck mannequins.

I saw that, too. It looked like something on a message board; I keep hoping someone gets on there and invites the poster to a Mannequin Pussy show.

Our target demographic is perverts, so I should definitely get on that message board and let him know that when he gets out of jail, we can play his freedom show.

How long have you two been a band, and how did you start out?

Thanasi and I met in the first grade, but it wasn't until last December that we started playing music together. I had recently moved back to the East Coast, and before I got on the plane I called Thanasi and we both realized that we had a mutual desire to escape boredom and bullshit. So we thought we should play music together; I had been playing guitar for a few months at this point and Thanasi has been in bands for as long as I can remember. But we've had so much fun playing together that we haven't stopped yet.

That's pretty unusual; most bands, it seems, are made up of people who met in adolescence or early adulthood. So you guys must know each other's tastes pretty well.

Thanasi has always had impeccable taste. He was wearing Sonic Youth shirts in, like, the fourth grade. He was very cool. But it wasn't until a year ago that we realized just how aligned we were. We never had a vision for Mannequin Pussy, or discussed bands we wanted to sound like; we just went to the practice space and played and that's when we knew.

When I listen to your songs I hear lots of influences: some Be Your Own Pet, some Cub, some punk thrash generally, some noise. "Empire of Blood" especially is very Ramones, very Fur.

I take that as a huge compliment; those are all bands I really admire. I really had no idea how to play guitar when we started, so the simplicity of the songs really came out of necessity. Luckily, Thanasi is such a nasty drummer that it helps to take it to a thrashier place.

The Sonic Youth fandom seems fitting given that the bonerjamz! cover art looks like a circa '85 SY sleeve or something; it has this cruddy homemade DIY vibe to it that fits the music well.

I wish I could take credit for that art, but my friend Trevor Jahner made it for us. He's this really self-deprecating and brilliant punk artist living in Denver. I also wish I could say you could find his art online, but he's too lazy and poor to make himself a website. If he ever gets his shit together, he could be our generation's Art Chantry.

What is "Pissdrinker" about? There's a tortured, weary grind about it that could be exasperated or carnal, but because it's hard to tell what you're singing about—apart from the "tell me what you want from me, tell me what you need from me" bits—it just feels tantalizingly inconclusive, elusive even.

That song makes me cringe. Everything you want to know about the song is in there—you've just gotta listen really hard.

The music always comes first. It's the drum beat and the heavy riff that we have fun with. Then we'll record the music, and Thanasi will say: "Okay, girl. Do something." I always have an idea in mind for the songs, but they're almost all improvised lyrics. The lyrics are secondary, but in some cases they are deeply personal. Especially "Pissdrinker." I've told Thanasi that I don't ever want to play that song live.

 

Are there any plans for a Mannequin Pussy full-length?

Yeah! I don't know when that will be, but it's in the not-so-distant future. Right now, we're working on recording our new songs and toying with the idea of re-recording our favorites from the EPs. Lots of new songs in the works. They're a weird mix. Some are really dark; we're experimenting with drop-D tuning, but some have a 50's "rock'n'roll baby" vibe.

What do you guys do for a living? I'm guessing that, like for most musicians, it's not as thrilling as playing shows and writing songs.

Thanasi is very proud of the fact that he gainfully employed; homeboy has a real job, nine to five. I just recently committed to living in Brooklyn about a month ago; for the last year since we started the band I've been in and out of the area. So right now I'm working as a nanny for a very sassy fourth grader.

Where did you guys grow up, and what brought you back East from where you were?

We grew up in Connecticut. For the last year I've been living either in New York, Connecticut, or Denver. Which means that for that year I've been sleeping on couches, futons or floors. I really just wanted to have a bed again. We're based in New York. I live in Bushwick (Brooklyn) and Thanasi lives in Chinatown.

Your song titles—"meatslave," "peepshow of horror"—are pretty heavy, almost black-metal extreme. Music aside, are there any influences that you're drawing from?

You mean influences apart from debilitating loneliness and heartbreak? The truth is that while some of the songs have dark titles, they're really just about getting period blood on someone's face or wanting to see someone naked.

For a while, though, I was reading a lot of really dark historical non-fiction about the Chicago World's Fair, the Founding Fathers, and the Blackout of 1977. Most things in our history, personal or otherwise, have a dark story that haunts it. We just hide those stories under layers and layers of sugar-coated patriotism.

I think I know what you mean; we see the selves that we want to see, as opposed to confronting who we really are. We buy into our own hype or mythology. In your opinion, what's the biggest skeleton in this nation's closet that goes unremarked upon?

Yeah, exactly. The identity of a nation or a person becomes essential to its livelihood. Which in turn allows the myths to dictate the "truth," or whatever. It goes along with the idea that the victors write history. In terms of skeletons, I'm sure this nation has something more like a basement full of secrets than a closet.

A couple years ago I read Please Kill Me, the book on the oral history of punk, and there is a section where Wayne Kramer from MC5 is talking about the unraveling of the band. He muses that you can only have so much violent political rhetoric before The Man starts coming after you. After a few years of telling people to fuck in the streets and overthrow the government and smoke tons of weed and drop acid, he comes home from tour to find that all the weed in Detroit is gone and the only thing you can buy is heroin. What's so important about the anecdote is that it really pulls the veil about the role of Nixon and the war on drugs. The most important thing to the livelihood of any government is to have a populous that doesn't give a shit, to govern people that aren't revolution-minded.

So if you have these drugs, the weed/hash/LSD, and you attribute those things to a spark in the people's interest in government, the most sensible thing to do is get rid of those drugs and introduce something a little more desperate into the population. Like the Black Panther Party and crack-cocaine or the hippies and heroin, it seems that once these drugs were introduced into the populous, people just started giving less of a fuck. History tickles me to no end.

Television had a long reign as the perfect drug; now it's probably the Internet. But the other side of the coin is that it's a wellspring of good information about all sorts of things, not least if all revolutionary matters and media. Do you ever think of what Mannequin Pussy does as subversive?

No. We're really just the latest in a long line of historic and contemporary bands that were also born out of boredom. We're not trying to re-invent the wheel. We just want to play really fast and brutal music.

Mannequin Pussy performs at Death By Audio with Useless Eaters and Hunters tonight.

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