Mannequin Pussy's latest album, Romantic, was the product of conversations the band was having about the nature of romance — and the parallels between the modern era and the tumultuous Romantic era of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Like today, the Romantic period was a time of great change and creative ferment. The French Revolution of 1789 and the slave-led Haitian Revolution of 1791 were much more populist and radical than the earlier American Revolution, and thinkers and artists of the time were revolutionizing what one could express in art, including the critique of the harmful effects of the Industrial Revolution and early capitalism on the lives of common people. (With any luck, we won't see the equivalent of The Terror in revolutionary France manifest in our own time.)
The music on Romantic is varied, and imbued with a furious energy that has gotten it lumped in with punk even though it has more in common with the urgent end of noisy '90s rock. Mannequin Pussy pairs the ferociousness of Babes in Toyland with introspective and imaginative guitar pop, a perfect vehicle for expressing the zeitgeist in terms of social and political turmoil as well as heightened emotional states.
“It seems almost like romance of twenty years ago was of the courting variety — what a man did for a woman — but now I feel like there's a much looser interpretation of the way we experience romance and the way that we can feel romantic about things,” says singer Marisa Dabice. “I recently said I feel the most romantic when I feel excitement for things. I get caught up in that overwhelming emotion of those things that are beautiful and things that are tragic. I really did see a lot of parallels between the Romantic era and what we're experiencing now.”
Dabice attended CU Boulder and lived in the Goss House, whose inhabitants hosted shows, including an early Colleen Green show — a connection that ultimately led Dabice to pursue music, after she was recruited as Green's bassist for a 2011 tour. Prior to that gig, Dabice had briefly dabbled with guitar as a teenager. Following the tour with Green, Dabice asked her old friend Thanasi Paul to make some music with her, and Mannequin Pussy was born.While at CU, Dabice studied political science and international relations, a knowledge set that had a direct impact on Romantic.
“As a student of political science, I studied politics of every era,” says Dabice. “When we were making the record, I was reading a lot of Keats and generally reading about the Romantic era. We were Bernie Sanders [supporters] throughout this [campaign], and we felt this idea of this sophisticated revolution that was happening. During the Romantic era, the French Revolution happened, resisting the oligarchy and plutocracy. Now we're having our own resistance to that again, just consciousness awakening. People are realizing we've been aggressively dumbed down and distracted as a society, and there's this push against the technology that's very embedded in our lives.”
These ideas inform the songwriting on Romantic, but Mannequin Pussy also ties that social transformation to a personal transformation through an examination of self-destructive behavior and how it impacts interpersonal relations. That reflection is something that Dabice has certainly taken time to clarify in her own life.
“I think you first see [self-destructive behaviors] in the people that you love, and recognize them as such,” says Dabice. “And upon reflection, you start to recognize them in yourself, as well. There's a line on the record that says, 'Everyone that I love, loves self-harm more.' There are people for whom that phase of life becomes their way of life. It's startling when you become aware of your own tendencies and you start to aggressively attack them in whatever way, and you see people around you not keep up in that way. Music has been the only way that I've dealt with things. I talk out loud to myself when I try to deal with a problem and become my own therapist. I can be very critical of the people that I love because I want them to become better versions of themselves. But that's something you have to rein in and have a little more compassion than criticism.”
Mannequin Pussy performs with Male Blonding, The Corner Girls and Kill Pueblo Kill, Wednesday, November 23, 9 p.m., hi-dive, 303-733-0230, 18+.