Punk Band Potty Mouth on Why It's Not DIY, Masculinity in Punk, and Trump
Having recently ditched the quaint academic haven of Western Massachusetts for the sunny shores of Southern Cal ifornia, the members of Potty Mouth are in a transitional phase. They're halfway finished recording their sophomore album, re-evaluating how to incorporate political activism into their work and preparing to hit the road in order to remind people that they're still alive. It's been a while, after all, since their last EP, 2015's Potty Mouth. It's been even longer since their debut album, 2013's Hell Bent.
The good news? The four odd years between Hell Bent and now haven't dimmed their spirits, their attitude (they coined the motto "Gender does not equal genre," then stamped it on a bunch of their merch), or their punchy, ’90s-inspired pop punk in the slightest. After spending 2016 playing support for Scottish synth-pop trio CHVRCHES and radical punk rockers Against Me!, the newly minted Angelenos are out to make 2017 the year of Potty Mouth. And we caught up with frontwoman Abby Weems and bassist Ally Einbinder just before they set out to do exactly that.
Westword: You just moved from Western Massachusetts to Los Angeles. How was the transition? How do you like it so far?
Abby Weems: It’s been awesome. I love it out here, because I am definitely affected by the weather. Growing up in Massachusetts, it feels like you can only get things done for six months out of the year, when the weather is nice. When it’s not, you’re just freezing your ass off inside. Out here it’s always beautiful and there are always things happening. It’s a good place to cultivate our band and our career.
How did coming from Western Massachusetts and Smith College – which is known as a haven of progressive academic feminism – impact your band?
Weems: Western Massachusetts is a really interesting place to start a band because there’s so much music history there. Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies and Sonic Youth all came from there. There are a lot of women, and the region is very feminist-leaning. Most bands have women and queer people in them.
Ally Einbinder: It’s a really small [place] made up of colleges. A lot of people are college age, and there’s a DIY scene with house shows and volunteer-run collectives. It feels very accessible, because you’re not in a huge city like New York, where I imagine it can feel hard to break in at all. In Western Massachusetts, it’s not that inconvenient to start a band and get a show for yourself, because it’s something that people do all of the time.
Your roots are in DIY. What’s your relationship to that scene and ethos now?
Weems: We started off as a DIY band, but we don’t really call ourselves that anymore because our band is now our career. We have people working for us. We don’t want to seem like we’re co-opting DIY culture when we talk about it. It’s important for us to talk about it as part of the way that we started and not how we are as a band now.
Einbinder: We have to talk about it this way because everyone is so quick to throw their arms up when they see a band that is no longer truly DIY because maybe they have an agent, maybe they have a manager. Honestly, I think DIY versus not-DIY as a dichotomy isn’t useful for working musicians today. It’s extremely hard to be a working musician. What is DIY? It’s doing things yourself. We are still doing a lot ourselves. To undermine the work that we put into this band by relegating it to the false dichotomy of "are you in a DIY band or are you not in a DIY band" is just insulting.
What did you grow up listening to?
Weems: My parents didn’t even listen to music when I was growing up. Once I got into high school, I had friends burn CDs for me. It was all the Jesus and Mary Chain and shit like that. They were trying to show me what they thought was cool. It’s funny looking back now, because it’s all so basic.
Einbinder: I listened to a lot of punk music. I heard Anti-Flag for the first time when I was in eighth or ninth grade, and then I started going to punk shows and hanging out with punk people and listening to punk and hardcore.
Do those hardcore roots have much of an influence on the music you’re making now?
Einbinder: The idea of forming a punk band was. The idea to start Potty Mouth, the idea of like, “Who cares? Let’s do this, let’s play a basement, whatever” was. I don’t listen to hardcore anymore. A lot of it makes me roll my eyes a lot because it’s hypermasculine performance art. Or a performance of hypermasculinity.
Does punk’s own history of hypermasculinity affect your approach to the punk you're writing and playing?
Einbinder: I don’t think it influences how I’m playing. Now I’m able to look back and realize that the things my male peers were doing when I was a teenager were things I thought I couldn’t do. It seemed like a skill I didn’t have. Now when I look back at those bands they were in, I’m like, “Wow, they were playing really easy stuff.” All the crazy moves, but they were barely even hitting the notes! It was so overly impressive at the time that I just assumed that it was beyond me.
Throughout your career, you’ve resisted being labeled a riot grrl band without disavowing the politics that go along with that movement. Why is that?
Weems: It comes from how we’re not a riot grrl band. We don’t draw inspiration from that movement or that type of music. The only reason people say that is because we’re all women playing punk-sounding music. It’s important that people listen to our music and make comparisons based off of that rather than our gender and our political orientation.
As long as we’re talking political orientations, do you think Trump’s presidency and the current political mess we’re in will influence your songwriting?
Weems: We talk about politics all the time, but it’s not really involved in our music. I don’t know if it will affect my songwriting. I don’t think it has yet.
Einbinder: It’s not necessarily [as much] about changing the lyrical content of our songs as it is changing the way we use our band as a platform. I don’t want to be an apolitical band. I don’t want to be an apathetic band. I don’t think that’s even an option anymore.
Weems: I think everyone is becoming more involved now. I look at Facebook every day and people are talking about stuff. I’m just glad people aren’t being apathetic.
Einbinder: Under the Obama administration, there was a lot of navel-gazing going on – myself included. And that’s me speaking as a white cis woman. Things didn’t feel as fraught, but they’ve always been fraught. It bothered me when people were saying, “This is going to be a great time for punk music!” First of all, that’s shitty to say when people’s actual lives are at stake. Second of all, we shouldn’t have to rely on political tragedy for art to become meaningful and productive.
Did you attend the Women's March?
Einbinder: I went to the one in Los Angeles. It was huge. It was inspiring to see that level of collective resistance. I think that's just the start. We can't let resistance fatigue kick in. That was day one of this long, uphill battle.
So what’s the endgame for Potty Mouth?
Weems: Now that this band is our career, we definitely want to be able to fully support ourselves off of our music and touring. That’s the least that we want out of this. We want to be a huge band, but if we can just have a comfortable lifestyle, then that’s our first goal.
Potty Mouth will play at 8 p.m. Sunday, February 19, at Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street; tickets are $10. For more information, call 303-291-1007.
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