Potty Mouth Talk Fighting Sexist Labels, Recording Debut ‘Hell Bent’ + More
The members of Potty Mouth may have set out to create a strong female presence with their music, but their gynocentrism and driving punk sound doesn’t make them riot grrrls. The foursome — whose debut record, ‘Hell Bent,’ is out now — formed when bassist Ally Einbender wanted to start an all-female band as a reaction to the under-representation of women in punk. Einbender enlisted her fellow Smith College students Phoebe Harris and Abby Weems to play guitar, as well as drummer Victoria Mandanas, who’s also a member of Chemical Peel.
Checking in from Smith, where the band is based, Potty Mouth chatted with Diffuser.fm about ‘Hell Bent,’ supporting women in music and fighting sexist labels from the media.
Most of you attended Smith College together, but how did you come together to start playing?
AW: Ally, Phoebe, and Victoria all attended Smith College together, and I grew up in Amherst, which is about 25 minutes away. I met Phoebe through a friend, so that’s how I we all met.
Why did you guys set out to specifically form an all-female band?
AW: I think we were just in the mindset of creating things with other women. Abby and Phoebe were also pretty new at their instruments, and I was still learning bass. We all wanted to challenge ourselves but also be a part of a supportive environment at that stage. We also wanted to encourage each other while making each other better. I think it made a huge difference, because every time we wanted to try something, we felt comfortable going with it.
Were there unique challenges to playing with men previously that made you want that all-female environment?
AE: I had played in two previous bands before Potty Mouth. One band had two male members, and the other bad just one. I think a lot of times for women playing in rock bands, they’re seen sort of as the token members of the group. Especially being a female bassist, it can have a stigma attached to it. Compared to other instruments, women disproportionately play bass more. There are also all these classic examples of female bassists to go along with that, like Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, Tina Weymouth. If anything, in that first band, I was seen more as a token female bass player. When you play in an all-female band, though, people have a really hard time ignoring that you’re all female. That comes with a slew of other presumptions and projections, as well as misogyny and sexism.
Why do you think that happens to women in music? The media doesn’t shy to attach riot grrrl and other unfitting labels to you guys.
AW: I think it’s part laziness from writer, but I also think that people aren’t used to making gender crossover comparisons. We don’t get compared to male bands ever, and also, male bands don’t get compared to a lot of female bands. I think people don’t have an awareness to make cross-gender comparisons.
AE: It’s hard to separate all the music from an entire gender category, especially when you’re talking about women playing punk music. And I do think it is part laziness, also. When people see us, they just think, “All girls playing punk music: It must be riot grrl.” But there are more specific elements to those types of bands.
Also, being based in Western Massachusetts, how do you find your voice in a smaller music scene?
AW: It’s actually nice be in this area. We’re close to Boston, we’re close to New York, we’re close to Providence. Even though we’re not located in a big city, we have so many major cities around us, so we can do a weekend tour, going down to New York or Philly, no problem. Especially with Boston next to us, we get asked to play there a lot. It’s the biggest city in our state, and they have a great music scene there. I think we’re lucky to live in this part of the country for that reason.
Where did you record ‘Hell Bent’?
AE: We recorded ‘Hell Bent’ at Dead Air Studios, which is in Leverett, Mass. It’s about a half an hour from here, and we got to record with Will Killingsworth, who is a friend of ours and who also recorded our EP.
Is there a principle songwriter, or do you break up the writing?
AW: We started off pretty collaborative, because we were learning how to write together. Now I mostly do the writing, so it starts of with me working out verses and choruses. I’ll usually play it to the rest of the band, and we’ll figure out how long to play certain parts, how many times to repeat lines. From there, everybody else will write their own parts.
Even if you do most of the songwriting now, it’s great that you have had such a collaborative vibe, right from the beginning.
AW: Ally had already been for about a year, and Victoria had been playing drums since pre-school. It was our first time, though, to do all that collaborative writing.
How has it been taking ‘Hell Bent’ on the road?
AE: Most of us have day jobs, so we had to wait to find the time to go out. It’s easy to do East Cost shows, but we want to get out more to the Midwest and the West Coast this winter. We actually just had a lot of fun in Ohio playing in Columbus and Cincinnati. There is some really good music there right now. We got to see this band Katherine, which is just two girls named Katherine on drums and bass. It was great that this drummer was really driving all the songs. You don’t get to see it too much.
People sometimes don’t give the Midwest enough credit for having great venues and great bands.
AE: Once we found out how cheap rent was in Ohio, we thought about moving there. [Laughs]