Potty Mouth kicks major ass at Death By Audio; talks with Death and Taxes
Photos by Michael Bleggi
When listening to a seemingly endless stream of punk rock music ebbing and flowing over the years, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of the carefree fun the genre invokes in its purest form. Enter Potty Mouth, the spunky quartet from Northampton Massachusetts that inject the free spirit and simplicity that made you buy a skateboard and race around with your friends in shopping carts in an abandoned parking lot. Not to say that the group’s songs are all fun and games – their debut album “Hell Bent” is filled with tracks with subject matter ranging from the pain of dealing with a mentally ill friend and the perils of stimulant peer pressure, the latter of which has been a point of contention in recent events.
Musically though, Potty Mouth are surely a band that catch the freewheeling recklessness of punk, which can best be experienced by witnessing their live show. Frontwoman Abby Weems frantically swishes her guitar back and forth while cocking her head and making faces one could imagine Nicki Minaj doing if she played punk rock. Meanwhile lead guitarist Phoebe Harris stands stage right plucky intently away at bing-bong hooks. To her opposite side is bassist Ally Einbinder whose instrument hangs low as she bashes away in a manner closely resembling the style of fellow Massachusetts rocker Lou Barlow. Mechanized precision would be the best way to describe the chops of drummer Victoria Mandanas, whose stick-work is, in a word, mesmerizing.
The band have played New York an innumerable amount of times since their 2011 formation (their favorite shows thus far have been primarily in Brooklyn). Having swung by again this past August for a show at Death By Audio alongside the venues owners A Place to Bury Strangers, as well as Bleeding Rainbow, and Shark?, they took a moment to chat about getting into punk and the influence of Bill Cosby.
How long have you guys been a band?
Ally: We’ve been a band for two years now. Since 2011.
How was it starting out? Did it click right away or did it take some time to really establish a musical rapport?
Ally: It was definitely a rough, bumpy start. We started in February 2011 and we knew there was a limit to how long we could practice because Victoria is originally from South Carolina and she was going home for the summer. So we started in February and wrote like four or five songs. They weren’t that great and we rushed to play our first show. We weren’t even called Potty Mouth, we were called Vacation. Then we found out about the other band named Vacation who are now our friends and who we love very much. We didn’t really know what to expect when she came back in the fall but we just started practicing again in September and that’s when things really started to click where we were like, “Oh wait, that song sucks, that song sucks, lets not play that song anymore.” And we just recorded a demo after that.
So now it’s two years later and the band is really coming along – of the shows you’ve played so far, what’s the biggest one you’ve done?
Abby: Summer screen at McCarren Park in Brooklyn – that’s our biggest show.
Ally: The McCarren Park show was the biggest turn out in terms of festivals we’ve played, but the biggest venues we’ve played have been The Middle East and shit like that.
What’s been the most exciting show you’ve done so far?
Abby: Well that was a really fun show but there was also a birthday party show at 285 Kent for Maria Sherman.
Oh yeah, I was at that show. The whole event was set up like prom night.
Ally: Yeah, that show was really awesome.
Abby, where would you say your frame of reference for the lyrics are and when in the songwriting process do they emerge?
Abby: It’s usually kind of simultaneous. I’ll come up with a riff and then words in the same time so they go together – sometimes I’ll have key words that I want to keep in mind for future songs and those sort of spread into a theme for a song.
A song like “The Spins” – is that about any particular incident?
Abby: Yes [laughs]. I don’t really want to [talk about it] because I’m not 21.
Ally, I had read once that you once spoke on a panel where you had described frustrations about booking shows in a male-dominated Massachusetts music scene…is that correct and if so, has it changed at all.
Ally: That was actually a weird thing that got misinterpreted. I don’t book shows, I’m not a booker. I’ve booked our tours but I’m not a local show booker, and if anything western Mass is very diverse and very accepting. Where I grew up was Albany, New York and it was much more unequal in terms of gender, but in western Mass, it’s like a college town. There’s all kinds of music and bands happening. There’s a huge noise scene and everyone’s super accepting of everything so yeah that was really taken out of context. And I got shit for that too! I spoke on a panel about women in art form but yeah I never booked shows.
On your Facebook, your sole influence is listed as Bill Cosby. Can you tell me why?
Abby: Well he lives in western Mass, but mainly because there’s this video of him where he’s a commentator at a baseball game and he brings a bag of bread to the other commentator from this place called the Hungry Ghost which is a bakery in Northampton, and it’s a really funny video.
The band’s name on the front cover looks like it’s spelled with Jell-O Jigglers. Was that also a Cosby tie-in?
Abby: That was Phoebe. She does all of our artwork.
Phoebe: Oh yeah, I did that. [Laughs] No, those are gummy letters. That was Abby’s idea.
What’s the first artist, genre or even song that switched you on to music?
Victoria: Maybe Unwound.
Ally: Well what got me into punk was when I was 13 years old in my mom’s minivan with my older brother and I was listening to some horrible rap CD like Ja Rule or something and he put on Black Flag and he said, “Listen to this!” and it was the song “White Minority.” I was like “Oh my God, what is this?” And that’s when I started getting really into punk.
Phoebe: I mean I have a lot of memories of high school driving around with my best friend and we only had three CDs that we rotated – “Can’t Slow Down” by Saves the Day, “Dear You” by Jawbreaker and a Dinosaur Jr. album — it’s the one I have in my car now – “You’re Living All Over Me.”
Abby: When I was in middle school, I had a lot of friends that were in bands and I would go to shows at Pearl Street, which is the big venue in North Hampton. So I think just having a lot of young friend musicians got me into it.
What’s your favorite new artist right now?
Ally: Their new album’s so good. We played their record release show in Cincinnati and listened to it a bunch after that.
Ally: I mean also there’s just so much good music out right now.
Phoebe and Ally: Speedy Ortiz.
Ally: They’re our neighbors.
Phoebe: The new Big Eyes album is really good. It’s called “Almost Famous.”
If you goys had a desert island album, what would it be?
Alley: I can answer this because it’s the last record I bought and it’s what I’ve been listening to non-stop which is “Script of the Bridge” by The Chameleons – it’s their first LP.
Phoebe: I think I’d be too scared to bring any records to a desert island. I think I would need something else. First off, what good is a record without a record player?
“Hell Bent” is out September 17 on Old Flame/Marshall Teller. Give it a listen over at NPR.