interview: Mannequin Pussy

This year, Mannequin Pussy released Romantic11 tracks of pure, blissful punk. It's an album that's begging to be heard, earnestly capturing the anguish of anxiety and the emotional rollercoaster that comes with grief. We spoke with vocalist and guitarist, Marisa Dabice on the album's creation, the addition of two new members and behind the songs below. 

 Photo: Jess Flynn

Photo: Jess Flynn

The Grey Estates: For this record you added two new members to become a foursome. How did that change the dynamic of your sound and what made you feel like you the band could benefit from additional members?

Mannequin Pussy: We got to be the band we always wanted to be. Becoming a four piece filled out the missing piece. Thanasi and I always heard these songs as a 4 piece, we just had to wait to get there.  I would love to go back and re-record GP with Kaleen & Bear. It would be so interesting to see how those songs would evolve from where they were when they were recorded to what they would become with the 4 of us. It’d be a really weird experiment that everyone would probably fight me on but maybe I can convince them to do it. 

 Photo: Jess Flynn

Photo: Jess Flynn

TGE: I really like the song "Romantic" because it's seemingly really soft at first but then it's not at all. And the lyrics of "I get along with everyone I meet, I'm so sweet," really resonate with me for some reason. I think because so often you meet people who aren't like that and it weighs on your kindness. What inspired that song and could you talk a little more about it?

MP: You know the golden rule, right? It’s just to treat other people how you want to be treated. I care both about the people that are in my life because I’m close to them and the people that just generally surround it. I try to consciously be kind to everyone I meet. I hope for it in return. I’m very sensitive to how other people treat each other and a lot of the time people are so wrapped up in their own issues that they take it out on the people closest to them because they feel that comfort to be the worst version of their self. But the people you’re closest to are the people you have to show the most compassion and be the most patient with. Romantic is a song about painful separations, patience in love and the hope that one day you’ll experience that love again. 

TGE: A lot of the material on this feels cathartic and really quickly packs a punch and emotion. What's the writing and recording process like? Do you come together with ideas? And what in particular inspired your material for this album?

MP: I’m not a prolific writer, I only write as I experience things and I can’t force experiences to happen. I just wait for them and write about them as they come. I think the album is an even split between songs I wrote and songs where Thanasi wrote the initial guitar parts and then we work together to finalize the structure. Sometimes a song is done in 15 minutes, and other times it will take us almost a year to figure out exactly how we’re going to play it or for me to figure out what I want the melody or lyrics to be. The record was written over a two year period so there are a lot of different experiences and inspirations represented on it. Personal relationships, both of the romantic and platonic, and in that the abusive and the beautiful. American systems of power and oppression. Distractions and technology. There’s a lot being said on this record. 

 Photo: CJ Harvey

Photo: CJ Harvey

TGE: You spoke that "Beside Yourself" is so unlike anything you ever done and it definitely is. How did that song come about?

MP: That was a song where Thanasi had a finished idea for our guitar parts and an idea for one of the drum sections and we all worked together to finalize the structure and feeling of the song. When he brought it to practice it was the first melody that popped into my head.It was exciting because we’ve never all sung together on a song and it's something I hope to do more of in the future. I heard it as the album closer because it feels so hopeful but lyrically is about knowing when to burn down what’s not working around you and realizing it’s time to start over. When someone is “beside themselves” it means they’re inconsolable and filled with anger and worry and holding onto everything that’s happened without processing and moving on from it. You have to burn away those negative emotions to make way for something more productive.

TGE: Is there any track in particular that you really feel epitomizes the album or has an interesting backstory to it?

MP: Romantic was a song I wrote two weeks before we started recording the album and it ended up influencing a lot of lyrical themes on other songs that had yet to be finalized. When I write lyrics it sometimes really comes down to the last possible moment. Songs like Ten and Hey, Steven were continuations of what I felt on Romantic but didn’t have enough time to say. Without that song coming together I don’t think the album would feel as cohesive. 

TGE: As a whole the album really feels different from GP and I like how different the sounds are from beginning to end.. there's so much there to unpack. In listening it feels like we're walking through some many varied emotions and ideas. Is that intentional and how do the addition of two new members help to change up the sound?

MP: I feel like I attempted to unpack all the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) into one album. Every song fits into a particular stagewith Beside Yourself being the eventual acceptance and peace you feel when you finally work through something. So, yes, it’s intentional.

TGE: In speaking with Bandcamp, you were very open about the insecurities and anxieties that formed the album. I've always admired people who can openly speak about mental illness and anxiety, and it's something I've often been open about dealing with. Is it ever hard to be that open and to present that part of yourself whether on record or when performing live?

MP: It’s not hard to be that open or present to yourself on a record or in a performance because those feel like safe places for me to work through those emotions. It’s in the non-creative places, our interpersonal relationships, that can make it hard to communicate insecurities, anxiety, and depression because we’re scared of showing people the less than glittery parts of ourselves. But the more open you are the more you feel connected to other people. Be real with people, tell them how you feel - you don’t need to put on an act for anyone but be kind to everyone. I’m preaching it now but trust that it took a very long time for me practice it.