Potty Mouth is a rock band from Western Massachusetts. With the exception of singer/guitarist Abby Weems, who graduated from high school last year, the members of the band either attended Northampton’s Smith College (bassist Ally Einbinder and guitarist Phoebe Harris are graduates) or currently attend Smith College (drummer Victoria Mandanas is in her last semester). Prior to forming Potty Mouth in 2011, Harris and Weems had never previously played in bands; this is evident on the sloppy Bad Bad demo. The versions of these same songs recorded only months later for the Sun Damage EP still sound casual and jangly, but the improved chemistry between the four musicians was significant and promising.
“Damage,” a new single released in January, is Potty Mouth’s best work yet. The tune is grungy and contagious, and the dialogue between Harris’s lead guitar line and Weem’s nasally vocals is particularly clever. “Damage” is the first single from a currently label-less 10 song full-length which, like Sun Damage, was recorded at Dead Air Studios with Will Killingsworth (ex-Orchid, Ampere). “The new songs sound so much bigger,” says Einbinder. “We wanted them to sound like the Foo Fighters, not the songs themselves, but the sound quality: bigger, fuller pop songs. Like with ‘Damage,’ Phoebe’s guitar leads make it sound different. She’s such an intuitive musician, and that’s really cool because she never played guitar before Potty Mouth.”
Talking on the phone a few days ago, Einbinder and I spoke about the making of the “Damage” video, the unique challenges of being in an all-female band, and why you should never, ever, under any circumstances, read the comment section of Brooklyn Vegan (because those fucking idiots are fucking morons).
There’s a scene in the “Damage” video where the four of you are walking on a mountain of car tires. Where was that shot?
It’s a huge tire pile on this farm in Hadley, which is in between Northampton and Amherst. It’s on a very rural street with a bunch of farmland. We just pulled the car over and asked the people working on the farm if we could shoot some video. A friend of ours from Hampshire College shot it with a 16mm camera, so the whole thing was shot on film, which is why it looks the way it does. The rest of the video was shot in Easthampton, in this abandoned building you can’t see from the road. We were trespassing, but we weren’t caught. The video was actually really annoying to do, because our work schedules conflicted so that none of us were available to shoot it during the day at the same time. So we shot most of it at like six in the morning.
There’s an abandoned warehouse, and you’re breaking through a fence, and you’re playing music, but there are no fans cheering, and there’s no glory, and the scenes are very desolate. How do these scenes define Potty Mouth?
We were originally going to use this video for “Hazardville,” a song on our EP. But since the video took so long to put together, we decided to use it for this new song from our full-length. “Damage” is kind of about something totally unrelated. It’s about a friend who was having a hard time, and was really depressed, and he left town all of a sudden and none of us knew where he was. But the video still works for the song, I think. People often think we’re all much younger than we really are. It’s true that Abby is very young, and we give off this youthful energy, and our song “Kids” is about not wanting to grow up. So having a video where we’re kinda rebelling and going to this place where we’re not supposed to be and we’re fucking stuff up will maybe show a different side of the band.
I’ve lived in both Western Mass. and Columbia, South Carolina (where Victoria is originally from) so I know both can be a bit of a bummer at times. This video, and “Hazardville,” both address the unique boredom and alienation that people sometimes experience in a small town. Potty Mouth was born in a small town. How do you think this inspires the music?
Abby writes all the lyrics, and she had that idea for “Hazardville” while we were driving to do a show in Connecticut. When we were on the highway, we saw a sign for a town called Hazardville, and she thought it was ridiculous that there would ever be a town called that. She has lived in Amherst for her whole life. So, for her, the idea of growing up in a small town has a lot of meaning. None of us are really bored here, though, because we all love it. But I think it makes us all a lot more creative with our time. There’s a song on the new record that’s all about a similar feeling. There’s a line in one song that goes “You think you want to be big in this world, but you’re just a small town girl.” I think it’s about trying to move to a bigger city but not being successful at it because of your small town roots. For Abby, I think it’s very personal. Eventually she’ll be going to college in Boston or New York, so I think she’s thinking about this a lot.
Do you think living in a small town has made it more difficult for the band to get attention?
Northampton’s a really great place, I think. Right now there’s a growing music community. There are a lot of people here interested in booking local musicians, and there are a lot of venues, and a lot of touring bands passing through. When I was growing up, in Albany, I always thought Western Mass. was a dead zone where nothing happened. I was really surprised to find that that’s not true. Especially lately there seems to be a lot more crossovers and alliances. There’s a lot of experimental music here. You can be in an experimental noise band and people will still come hear you.
And we play Boston a lot, and have gotten a lot of Boston press, so sometimes people think we’re from Boston. People think the whole state is just Boston. But Western Mass. has its own little indie rock history with Dinosaur Jr and others. Almost every review compares us with them, or Sonic Youth, because Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore live here. Abby actually went to school with their daughter, Coco. Since they’re the two biggest bands here, we’re always compared to them. I don’t think we sound like either of them, though.
When Potty Mouth started, where did you play?
Our first show was in a house, in May, 2011. We were called Vacation then, but we changed our name that summer because there was another band called Vacation. We actually played a show with them soon after, so it was good that we changed our name. So we played a lot of houses, but now we’re playing a bunch of bigger venues, like the Middle East in Boston. There aren’t really huge venues in Northampton, so we play art spaces and bars and restaurants. I think we all prefer house shows, though, because people dance more and there’s more energy. That’s probably because they’re more drunk.
You mentioned earlier that people think you’re all younger than you are. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I think because we look young. And I guess it’s cool to think of some sort of teenage girl punk band. People like that idea. Abby is young, and she’s been in this band since she was 17. It annoys me a little bit. I get it all the time in real life, too, because I do look young. I’m the oldest in the band, but I look the youngest, and Abby’s the youngest, but she looks the oldest. But it only annoys me when it seems like we’re not taken seriously because of it. People assume that we’re incompetent, or something. And since we’re all women, that comes up all the time, too. To have those two things combined is very frustrating. It feels like people are being condescending.
At the end of the “Damage” video, the band finds entertainment by looking at an unplugged television with a drawing of a dog taped to it. And you also have a song about a dog called “Dog Song,” right?
That’s a dog drawing that Phoebe did, which we use on some of our shirts. The song’s about Abby’s dog, Lily, who’s a really old family dog. Abby always thinks about how lonely Lily’s life must be because she’s always sitting at home while everyone’s at work, or locked in the backyard waiting to be fed. The whole song’s about the dog. For some reason, people hear it and think it’s about women, because some of the things could sound metaphorical. People interpret it as being about women having to be subordinate, but it’s really just about Abby’s dog.
I read another recent interview you did where, in response to that feminist interpretation of “Dog Song,” you said: “We are not a political band.” Why do you think people make that assumption?
People see an all-female band that plays music that’s kinda punk inspired, and they say “Okay, this is a riot grrrl band.” That’s a really lazy comparison to make, and so I go out of my way to say we’re not a political band. I don’t want to dis-identify with riot grrrl, though, because I love that music, and it helped me get into punk music. And it’s also just coincidental that our name comes from a Bratmobile record. Phoebe came up with that name randomly. She thought of it while she was on the toilet, and when she told me, I told her it was the name of a Bratmobile record. She didn’t know that. It’s a nice coincidence, but it wasn’t intentional.
But because of that, and because we’re all women, and we play punk-inspired music, people are ready to slap on the riot grrrl label. It’s annoying, because then we’re compared to Bikini Kill and L7 and I don’t think we sound like those bands. I wish people could describe our music in a way that doesn’t rely on those references. I don’t even know how to describe our music, though.
Our only explicitly political song is “Girls XL.” I actually wrote that song, and I wrote it because I was pissed off about this message we got from a male friend that accused us of being too confident, as if confidence is a bad thing. He said we should just be quiet and not be in a band. It was an annoying road block for us. We shouldn’t have to apologize for being confident. Abby and Phoebe had never even played guitar before our first practice. We didn’t really know what we were doing at first. We didn’t know how to write music or anything. And right around this time, this guy sent me this message. I was like, “Fuck you, we’re doing this for the first time, so don’t tell us we’re being too confident.” None of the other songs have a political message, though.
Why do you think so many all-female rock bands get dumped into the riot grrrl category?
I don’t know, but it’s very annoying. Any band with women in it has the same problem. When you read a review about an all-male band, the gender never comes up. Especially not in terms of the other bands they’re compared to. You never read shit like “This all-male band sounds like this all-male band which sounds like this all-male band.” We live in a time now when more women are playing music, so people should write about these bands in the same way that all-male bands are written about.
It also seems like it’s assumed that all-female bands must necessarily have some sort of political, feminist agenda.
It is not our job to teach the rest of the world how to not be assholes. About a month ago, we were written about on Brooklyn Vegan. There was a picture of us–and I understand that website is the worst of the worst when it comes to trolling–but the comment section was fucking ruthless. The picture showed the four of us sitting on my bed, and it’s the most inoffensive picture ever, and almost every comment was like “yes, no, maybe, never” all in reference to whether or not the commenter would have sex with us. At first I didn’t even understand what that meant, but then I realized they were all about sex. And then the comments got even more sexually violent, or just violent. One commenter said they hope we get in a car accident and die on our way to New York. There were comments about how we give women a bad name because our music is bad and we can’t play our instruments.
These comments made us all so upset, because we’ve never experienced anything like that before. It really is a different experience being in an all-female band. You can’t even have pictures of yourself on the Internet without people saying things like this. This guy tried to tell us that we shouldn’t have expected anything otherwise when we put that picture on the Internet. I said, “Fuck you, are you fucking serious?” It’s similar to those people who say women deserve to be raped because of what they’re wearing. It makes no sense. We shouldn’t have to be invisible to avoid comments like this. We were all really mad. All the posts on Brooklyn Vegan about other female artists all have the same bullshit, too.
There are so many terrible humans in the world and the Internet brings them all together. And Brooklyn Vegan, in particular, attracts the worst of the worst.
Also interesting is that I submitted a comment to the post to correct some of the show information that was wrong, and I submitted it as “Potty Mouth.” I got a message saying it may take a few moments for the comment to post because all the comments are moderated. My comment was never actually posted, but the article was updated with the correct information. So that leads me to believe that there is a person on the other side moderating these comments and deciding what matters and what doesn’t matter. There’s someone behind the scenes approving all of these terrible comments.
This was gonna be my next question for you: Now that people are paying more attention to the band, is there anything about that attention that you hate? But I think you just answered it.
Yes, that is absolutely the thing we hate the most. We want attention, and we want press, but we don’t want the press to make us cry. But all those comments really did was make us all feel more confident about the band. Now the band is much stronger.
Potty Mouth play Thursday night with Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Waxahatchee, Swearin’ and Weed Hands at 285 Kent, 8 p.m. On Friday, Potty Mouth plays with Aye Nako at the New Museum, 7 p.m.