Ally Einbinder, Phoebe Harris, Victoria Mandanas met at Smith, a women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts. Despite the fact that only one of them (Victoria, who plays drums) had a ton of musical experience, they decided to form a band. Then they Facebook-messaged Abby Weems, a high school student they knew from local punk shows, and asked if she wanted to learn how to play guitar. She did.
Since that fateful day in 2011, the foursome have been making fierce punk music that harkens back to the genre’s DIY roots in the 1970s, when bands like the Buzzcocks and the Vibrators were learning as they went along. They also played a killer set at the Rookie talent show/book release party in Brooklyn back in October, and briefly turned a bunch of shy-acting teenage girls into a raucous mosh pit.
The band’s first full-length album, Hell Bent, came out in the fall, and they’ve just made a video, directed by Faye Orlove, for “Black and Studs,” a song about honesty, authenticity, and rebellion—basically the holy trinity of punk-rock values—which they’re letting us premiere here today!
I recently talked to Abby and Ally about the new record, touring as a group of young women, and more.
PAULA MEJIA: Ally, you had been in a couple of bands before Potty Mouth. How is this band different from those earlier ones?
ALLY: In this band, Abby was new at her instrument, Phoebe was new at her instrument, and Victoria was my friend. It felt more like friends hanging together, in a low-pressure way. We [got together because] we all just wanted to learn an instrument. I went to a women’s college—Smith—and so did Victoria and Phoebe, and I’ve always believed in the power of all-women environments and how supportive they can be.
Who did you listen to growing up?
ABBY: I grew up listening to a lot of Green Day, and that has definitely taught me that songs don’t have to be that complicated. Also, the Beach Boys—I admire all of their lyrics. I wish I could write like that!
ALLY: One of the songs on Hell Bent, the first time I heard it, I asked Abby, “How did you write this?” and she was just like, “I was listening to the Beach Boys and was wondering, How did someone write a song this catchy? And I just tried to do it.” I think that’s what makes Abby so good at writing lyrics. She doesn’t let any self-doubt get in the way. She just tries to do something, and usually succeeds.
What Beach Boys song was it?
ABBY: I think it was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” That’s one of my favorite songs of all time.
Tell me about the record’s title, Hell Bent.
ALLY: Deciding a title for a record was a really long deliberation. We could not agree on a name for a while. Then Hell Bent came up, and we all liked it. It’s a really apt description of us, because it connotes a lot of determination or resilience in the face of adversity. Working in any group is a challenge, because you’re all different people and you have different styles of doing things. It’s not like we have some extremely concrete goals—we have definite ideas and we’re going to aim as high as we can, but it’s hard! It’s not easy to be a band. Being hell-bent is really about being resilient.
I know that it can be tough, especially touring.
ALLY: People speak from a certain set of assumptions all the time, unfortunately, and a lot of those assumptions about women in rock music are sexist and misogynistic. People are sexist a lot of times without realizing it. There’s also a certain degree of ageism too, where people are not only surprised that we’re good at our instruments and confident playing them, but, you know, that’s coupled with the fact that they infantilize us. Because we’re young—and I mean, we are young and we look young—that fact is always brought to the forefront when it should be really irrelevant. All these generalizations get made about how old we are, as if our entire group only has one age.
I’ve seen you guys compared to riot grrl, even though that was long ago. How do you deal with those comparisons?
ALLY: When it comes up, we say, we’re not a Riot Grrrl band, it’s a really lazy conflation. A lot of times it’s only being made because we’re all women and our band name is the same name as a Bratmobile album. If you listen to us side by side next to a Riot Grrrl band, there’s not a lot of similarities going on. It’s a gender and genre conflation to call us that.
ABBY: It just happened the other day, where someone was promoting a show online and saying, “Oh, if you like Bratmobile, go to this Potty Mouth show.” It just feels really insulting. Bratmobile sounds nothing like us, and it’s frustrating that someone cares that little about correctly representing a band.
ALLY: In music, so often the norm is white male. And so anything that exists outside that norm is usually remarked upon because it’s the unexpected category. I would just encourage writers—especially music writers, because they’re the tastemakers of the world—not to turn a blind eye to gender and race, but when you’re talking about artists’ music, really talk about their music. And try to keep in check this certain position you’re speaking from, how your position in the world affects your view of the world.
I hear a lot of all-male bands that sound a lot more like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill than we do. But those comparisons would never be made, because that cross-gender comparison seems unintelligible to people. I do feel like because we are a group of all women, if we ever played that style of stripped-down, really minimalist music, nobody would like us. We’d be criticized. But when a group of men do it, it’s revered for being a deliberate, artistic move. We live in such a highly gendered world, but it’s so important to realize where you’re coming from when you’re speaking about other people.
Any advice for girls looking to be involved with music?
ABBY: I would definitely say that it doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think it does. Music can be really simple and easy and still be catchy and fun.
ALLY: Also, don’t doubt yourself. Find friends who make you feel good and comfortable and play music with them. Don’t play music with people who don’t make you feel supported. ♦