I had a chance to chat with the band about their punk roots, their inspiration, and the challenges of starting a female rock band in a male-dominated scene. The trio, made up of guitarist and lead vocalist Abby Weems, drummer Victoria Mandanas, and bassist Ally Einbinder, hails from Northampton in western Massachusetts, an area that’s famously spit out groups like Dinosaur, Jr. and the Pixies. Nowadays, the scene is bubbling over with upstart acts, punk and otherwise, a result, Abby speculates, of the number of colleges around. With a constant turnover of young people flowing through, there’s no lack of audience for bands in the area, and the ease of booking venues makes starting a band feel surprisingly doable. And out of that scene and the do-it-yourself ethic of punk, Potty Mouth was born.
“When we first started, we didn’t have any plan of who would play what or who would sing, so it was really experimental and just--if somebody wrote a part, we would just work around it,” says Abby, discussing the band’s early days. With Abby and Ally both new to their instruments, there was a lot of room to play and grow together. Of the experience, and with regard to meeting Abby, Victoria and former bandmate, Phoebe, Ally says, “I really found that supportive environment that I was looking for once I moved to Massachusetts and started playing music in this really low-pressure way.” Having been introduced to the punk scene by her older brother, Ally was drawn to the ethos of subversion and resistance punk rock offered. But it wasn’t until she started attending Smith, an all-women's college, that she found the confidence to start playing music. “I was definitely seeking out other women to play music with. Where I grew up, there weren’t many women who went to shows, and there was also a lot of relational aggression and competition among women. There weren’t even many women who were friends.”
The band have since codified their creative process, with Abby taking on lyrical duties and working out demos in her basement, which she then shares with Ally and Victoria, and together they flesh out the songs. While their influences are readily apparent in their sound--almost strictly ‘90s punk and alternative rock, including bands like Veruca Salt, Hole, Nirvana, Joanna Hatfield, &c.--they look many places for inspiration. Victoria, for example, who’s been playing drums since she was 7 or 8, took her early musical cues from pop-punk. Speaking on her personal musical evolution, she says, “I was into pop-punk a lot, like Sum 41 and things like that that were coming out in the early 2000s. I guess that kind of opened the door to other music and I started going to shows and things, and it progressed from there.” Abby, alternatively, finds her inspiration in pop music. “I personally love pop music in general,” she tells me. “Like, I love that new Carly Rae Jepsen record that came out, and I love Charlie XCX, and we all love Sky Ferreira and Haim.” She even conjures the abilities of her pop idols when she needs a boost in her own performances: “Sometimes when I have a hard time singing or I need to get into a mindset for singing, I pretend that I’m Hayley Williams, because she has such a great voice and sometimes you just have to get in the right mindset where you’re like, okay, I need to hit this note, so I think about her for a second.”
Ally looks to musical history for her inspiration, finding assurance in the kindred experiences of women in punk and rock, stating “I firmly believe there’s this invisible history of women making music that hasn’t been documented in the same way that all the revered, male classic rock bands have been documented and preserved in history.” Working in a culture--the culture of punk--that’s historically and actively what Ally calls “a male-dominated, male-controlled cultural sphere,” Potty Mouth has had to work twice as hard to be heard and judged for their music and not their female-ness. And just gaining the confidence to start as a female within that culture took a lot. “I just read Viv Albertine from the Slits’ memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, and I was totally inspired by that book. It brought tears to my eyes when I was reading it, because it reminded me so much of Potty Mouth’s early days and our practices. The part about the first Slits practice and her walking in and saying to the band, ‘I don’t really know how to jam,’ and her bandmates were just like, ‘Don’t worry, we don’t know how to jam either, let’s just do it.’ Just throwing all self-doubt aside. That part really moved me, because it made me realize, wow, other people have had this experience, I’m not alone in this experience.”
And here’s to hoping that inspiration continues to fuel the band for many years to come. Of what to expect next, Abby says, “It will definitely sound like the Potty Mouth EP, just bigger--bigger and better.”