Potty Mouth The Pop Punk Revival

Potty Mouth The Pop Punk Revival
Photo: S.C. Atkinson
There's no denying that internet hype gives a young band a leg up. But it was North Hampton, MA band Potty Mouth's willingness to hit the road, playing whatever dive bar or DIY basement show would have them, that fuelled the anticipation for the all-female quartet's full-length debut, Hell Bent. "When [people] see us live they realize that these girls actually play their instruments," says the band's singer and guitarist Abby Weems. "And we jump around and have fun while doing it."

You got a lot of attention in the press quite quickly. Have you been surprised at the reception that the band has received?
Abby Weems (lead vocals, guitar): I'm extremely surprised. All we have is our demo tape and a six-song EP. It's really surprising that we've gotten this far with just having that. I think it mostly comes from when people see us live. They get what we're all about. It's much more exciting to see us live. I'm excited of the record to come out so that it feels like we've had a real debut.
Ally Einbinder (bass): This is new to all of us. This is the first band any of us have been in that's got this much attention. Part of that is that now we're on a label that's paying for a publicist so of course that's going to help things. But even before, we got a track review on Pitchfork and something in Bitch magazine. It was always funny because back when stuff like that was happening mean people on the internet would be like, "Oh, I wish I could have this band's publicist." But we didn't even have one at that point.
Weems: We didn't have a publicist until a month ago.

And just having a publicist doesn't mean you'll get any attention.
Einbinder: Yeah, other people are making the call.

What is it about the live show that allows people to "get" the band?
Weems: When people listen to us they expect that we spent tons of money paying for recording session that make us sound better than we are because a lot of people do that. But I think when they see us live they realize that these girls actually play their instruments and jump around and have fun while doing it.
Einbinder: You can listen to the recordings and think whatever you want to think. But we've definitely gotten a lot more confident in the past six months and gotten better at our live performance and stage presence in general. Abby makes a lot of funny faces and we all move around a lot and dance. When you're giving off energy, when you're having fun that translates to the audience. You think about watching a band that's just standing there looking down, it doesn't feel exciting.

When was Hell Bent recorded?
Weems: We recorded last December. In the spring of 2012 we had made a goal for ourselves to have ten new songs, so we've pretty much been playing all of those songs for a year now.
Einbinder: Abby pretty much has another full-length record written.
Weems: Now that the record is coming out we're going to be really busy but we're hoping to take some downtime in the fall to learn a bunch of new stuff and hopefully get back into the studio by the spring.

And it was recorded live off the floor?
Einbinder: We recorded it live with all of us playing at once like we'd do at a live show. Abby overdubbed another guitar track just to make it sound bigger, something we didn't do on our EP. We overdubbed vocals and that was about it.

Why did you want to record that way? It seems like bands are spending longer and longer in the studio whereas Potty Mouth did the opposite.
Weems: We all have really crazy work schedules so it's hard to schedule enough time to do anything like that. And you capture a certain energy when you record together. You've practiced like that and it has more of an attitude to it. I started reading this book Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman. He says that any band that takes more than five or six days to record, you know their record is going to suck. You're going to spend every second overthinking everyone and overanalyzing and make it sound way too produced.

You've often referred to yourselves as a pop punk band, while conceding that the term doesn't have the best connotations these days.
Einbinder: When I think about pop-infused punk music, what I want people to think about when they hear us isn't all the early 2000s crap like Blink-182, New Found Glory and shit like that, even though some of it is kind of good. What I hear, and this is something that we just figured out quite recently, we were in the van listening to Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and I was like, "Huh. Our riffs aren't really that different from what's going on in these songs." So all that early '90s Bay-area stuff like Jawbreaker and early Green Day, that's what we mean when we say pop punk.

How did the definition of pop punk become so narrow?
Einbinder: I think pop punk became this really corporate rock. It became really commodified by the industry in the way that you can walk into Hot Topic and buy sweatbands for your wrists (laughs). And it became a very male thing — you think pop punk, you think dudes.
Weems: Like Fall Out Boy.
Einbinder: I think like anything in the music industry it happened in this great big wave, people recognized it and they wanted to capitalize on it. The same as boy bands when they were a thing. Backstreet Boys, and *NSync, it's all the same stuff. Bands pop up all at the same time and they're kind of carbon copies of each other.

A lot of the pop punk bands started looking like the boy bands, just minus the dance moves.
Einbinder: Exactly.

There are a growing number of bands that are sort of taking the term back in a way. Are people keen to bring pop punk back to its roots?
Weems: There's definitely a movement of "pop punk" and DIY stuff because music is so much more accessible these days. People can easily start a band. That starts off with a lot local things happening but when a band like that get bigger, they seem more personable because they started from where you started. I feel like there's definitely a movement going on where people are appreciating more underground music.
Weems: I don't know if it's even limited to pop punk. I think it's more a crossover in general of what we've been calling "indie rock" becoming more and more Pitchfork approved. It's an umbrella term, but I see more and more harsh noise things, like Pharmakon, like harsh electronic noise... I can't imagine that being as accepted by the mainstream indie rock culture, but it is. A lot of write ups about bands like us and Waxahatchee, when they were first being written about, it was "These are the bands that started out in basements, or playing in your living room and look at them now." And that's true, that's all of our backgrounds, basement shows, house shows. We still play them and we love them. But like Abby said, music being more accessible in general and being able to start bands, record and share stuff on the internet makes it a lot easier for the types of bands that didn't previously get attention to start getting attention.

How would you feel if all of a sudden you could buy a Potty Mouth T-shirt at Hot Topic?
Weems: It would be bizarre.
Einbinder: I actually walked into a Hot Topic recently in a mall and I hadn't been to one for seven or eight years. I was like, "What do they even sell now?" Because nobody buys CDs. And it was all T-shirts. There were a couple of CDs… I honestly don't know what that would even mean. Like, would we make any money off of that? If we had it our way I don't think we'd want to sell our T-shifts in Hot Topic. But when you get to a certain point, you can't pretend that you're always and forever a DIY band. We understand that you can't live outside the industry and all the corporate stuff all the time. Especially if you're heading in the direction where it's more of a full-time thing in your life and you want to make money off of it. We started as a DIY band, but now we have a booking agent and all of this other stuff. But Hot Topic forever seems like it will be a thing for angsty teenaged boys and girls.

I think a lot of people would agree with you that there are concessions to be made as you climb the latter of success. But is there a way to do it without selling your soul?
Einbinder: Yeah. Where we're at right now, and where we want to always be, is to be able to make all of our own decisions and still feel like we retain that autonomy. We would never agree to do something that would compromise our very strong ideals. We've been asked to do things that we're not comfortable with and we've said no. I won't get into specifics, but there are certain clothing companies that we don't feel are reflective of us we say no to. Or if I think some kind of magazine is sexist or problematic. We're not looking for press for the sake of getting press. We want to keep our creative control. This is just us. A lot of bands become industry ready. Their image is created for them by whatever publicity agent they have. They're told to do certain things or wear certain things. We want to keep being us. We're all very different people, but it's what makes Potty Mouth, Potty Mouth.

Are there any bands who you feel have successful y navigated that field?
Einbinder: I don't even know. When I see a band like Savages, and the fact that they're all wearing black and they have an image to uphold as a band and everything they do, I think "How real is that? Did they all start wearing black together? Or was that something that they were advised to do?" I don't even know if that's true. This is all so new to us at this point that we don't even know bands to look to as a model for how to proceed.

All your write-ups seem to inevitably mention riot grrrl or other prominent female rock figures from the '90s. I've certainly been guilty of this in the past, but why do music journalists always fall back to the same handful of female musicians when cross referencing new female artists?
Einbinder: I guess what we wonder about is that when you cross-reference bands, why does the gender have to be held constant in it? Why is it hard for people to hear a band like ours and eliminate our gender from the equation and compare us to a band that isn't actually a band with all women? 90 percent of the comparisons we get are to other all-female bands. But there's no real reason for that when you're talking about sound or music. It's not like we're mad at people for it. It's hard for me too. I think that's just how our brains are wired to work.

Outside of music, talking about professions, if I say the word nurse to you, do you think of a man or a woman? You think of a woman. If there is a male nurse it's usually specified by saying "male nurse." All these categories that don't inherently have anything to do with gender are still gendered. Rock music is heavily gendered because the history of rock music is a very male history. That's why when people talk about us they often bring up our gender, to qualify and specify. It's not a bad thing to do. But I would challenge people, including myself, to hear music for what it is, not just the people behind it, by using words that aren't just gender words. When we talk about it I don't want people to think we're reprimanding everyone. Like, "Not another riot grrrl comparison!" Those similarities do exist. We don't even want people to be gender blind to us. The fact that we are an all-female band is part of our identity. We don't want it to be the defining point by which people are able to hear and talk about our music.