Potty Mouth

In the spring of 2011, I heard Ally Einbinder speak at a Ladyfest Easthampton panel on “Women In Punk And Hardcore.” Sitting in a circle of folding chairs in the showspace at the Western Mass community-centric venue Flywheel, Einbinder reflected on her frustrating experiences booking DIY shows in a male-dominated community, as well as playing bass in the punk bands Outdates and Honeysuck. After hearing Einbinder speak on that panel, I wasn’t too surprised when just a few months later I came across her new project, an all-female pop-leaning 4-piece called Potty Mouth.

“In the same way it was a deliberate decision for me to go to an all-women’s college, it was a deliberate desire for me to be in an all-women’s band,” she said earlier this year in an interview with the New Museum’s blog. “I had been in two other bands before Potty Mouth and they did not have entirely female members. In my other bands, I wasn’t doing any songwriting; I wasn’t growing as a bassist because I was just playing the parts someone else told me to play. Potty Mouth really enabled me to push myself and take more risks precisely because I felt more comfortable with Victoria, Abby, and Phoebe.”

Einbinder and her friend Phoebe Harris had the idea to start Potty Mouth while hanging out on a Smith College retreat, where they both attended and Einbinder now works. “Phoebe had never played guitar before and I had never attempted to write songs on my own before so it seemed unlikely at the time that we’d go anywhere with anything we tried to start, but we decided to give it a shot anyway,” says Einbinder. Soon they were joined by Victoria Mandanas, another Smith student and drummer for South Carolina punk 4-piece Chemical Peel, and Abby Weems, who was then a high school student but would come to shows at Phoebe’s apartment. “Abby had never really played guitar before, but she knew bass, so she figured she’d give guitar a try,” says Einbinder. By September 2011 they recorded a demo tape in Einbinder’s basement — four tacks of minimal punk-spirited pop songs with surfy post-punk guitar leads and girl-gang harmonized vocals. Last year, they headed to Dead Air Studios in Western Mass to record their debut 12-inch EP, Sun Damage, released as a three-way split by Brooklyn-based Puzzle Piece, Boston label Ride The Snake, and Northampton’s Feeble Minds Records. Both are well worth a listen; check out “Drip Dry” and “Dog Song” to start.

Now, after less than two years of playing relentlessly around the Northeast and beyond, Potty Mouth is getting ready to finally release their debut full-length, Hell Bent, out 9/17 via Old Flame in the US and Marshall Teller in the UK. The album was also recorded at Dead Air Studios, and includes their best songs yet; hear “Damage” and “The Spins” below. It’s a record I grew increasingly excited about last weekend, as I watched them close out the first night of Ladyfest Philadelphia, where they played to an enthusiastic crowd and sounded tighter than ever. At that show, I couldn’t help but think back to Ladyfest Easthampton, and about the ways in which bands like Potty Mouth are expanding the conversation about what it means to be a a forward-thinking feminist band: intentionally crafted but not outwardly political, in touch with the legacy of riot-grrrl but dismissive of lazy comparisons to it.

“Slapping the riot grrrl label on us just because we happen to be women playing a type of music that happens to be reminiscent of another era in time seems like a lazy conflation,” Einbinder says. “I think Potty Mouth’s music would be described very differently if people spoke about us using a similar degree of non-gendered language with which they speak about bands with all male members. In no way do I want to dis-identify with the politics of riot grrrl (indeed I think having a strong movement of women in the male-dominated culture of punk is still very important), it’s just that I would like to see people, especially music writers, push themselves more to describe our music through a non-gendered lens … GENDER DOES NOT EQUAL GENRE.”

Check out the first two singles from Hell Bent below.

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Comments (18)
  1. The whole “GENDER DOES NOT EQUAL GENRE” thing she drops at the end is a nice, pithy articulation of a problem a lot of music writers seem to have. I was just reading, for instance, a review of the Pharmakon album that included a slew of comparisons to only vaguely similar female artists. It’s at best the laziest thing a writer can do. At worst, it’s blindly sexist. In a lot of way this parallels the problem sportswriters have with race –– call it “Larry Bird syndrome” –– where athletes are almost always compared solely to other athletes that happen to share their skin tone (same could be said about athletes and gender, really). An endlessly infuriating tendency, that.

    Both of these tracks are great though. I’ll absolutely make a note of this.

    • It offends me more when music writers drop the “D” word in relation to today’s Western Mass bands, and by that, I mean the way every band who uses distortion pedals is compared to Dinosaur Jr. just because of locational proximity. Luckily, CTRL+F “Dinosaur Jr. ” and it’s not present in this article.

  2. “…booking DIY shows in a male-dominated community.”

    Is that in reference to Western Massachusetts or the DIY punk /hardcore music scene as a whole? I can’t imagine how anyone can say Western Mass is dominated by males when it has a huge lesbian population and is home to two of the country’s leading all-female colleges.

    • The problem with this, michael, is that a “huge lesbian population” and the presence of two women’s colleges does not mean that Western Mass, as a whole and as a scene, is a patriarchy-free paradise or whatever you seem to imagine it to be. Is Atlanta free of racism because it is home to a large black population and HBCs like Howard and Spelman…? Sure, two women’s colleges and a higher concentration of queers doesn’t hurt, and in many ways women and queers are probably better off in Western Mass than in a lot of other places, but you are sadly mistaken if you believe the area to be some kind of bastion of gender equality.

      • I wouldn’t know, I’ve just lived there for the past 30 years of my life…

      • To say that the Northampton / Easthampton / Amherst and surrounding five college scene doesn’t go beyond supporting the LGBT community and women is beyond ridiculous. Both legit venues like the IHEG and DIY collectives like the Flywheel consistently book and open their doors to female musicians and artists multiple times a week. I would actually wager to say that you’re more likely to see a feminist musician play in the area than a relatively known male-fronted hardcore band.

        Now, if you’re talking about other areas of WMass like say, the Springfield area, there’s just not even a music scene or an arts culture in general once you drive 20 minutes south of the college towns, so no one is really winning there.

        • I agree with a lot of this, but the fact that the area and scenes tend to be supportive of women and LGBT folks does not mean that they are not male-dominated, as you say.

          • I don’t understand feminism then anymore, then. I thought it was a plight for equality, but the more I read coverage about female DIY-ish punk bands, there’s this underlying accusatory stance against all men that seems to want men out of the picture entirely because apparently men are second class citizens now and we’re done with the art they create. Surely both sexes can be equally visible in the scene, no? I guess if women aren’t calling all of the shots, then all of it is wrong is what we’re aspiring for.

          • I really mean no offense by any of this. Just some food for thought. I think in terms of equality between female and male musicians, Western Massachusetts is much better in that regard than most other scenes and its blowing it a bit out of proportion up there. This, coming from a guy who actually left a Potty Mouth show before they even played partly because of how intimidated it was to be standing around them. I take that as a win for their feminist slant: http://www.awkwardsound.com/2013/01/potty-mouth.html

  3. Well this is awesome! I had been seeing Potty Mouth singles showing up on P4K and now this shows they’re really getting some exposure. I saw them play at Flywheel opening for Waxahatchee a few months ago and they were great. Really, the whole Western Mass punk scene is killing it right now. The dude who runs Dead Air (where Potty Mouth records there stuff) founded a couple seminal hardcore groups (including the still active and totally fucking awesome Ampere) and is also just a wonderfully nice guy. And the whole community of hardcore/punk musicians/fans in the area is, at least from my experiences, pretty open and inviting.

    • I’ve never seen you at a show.

      • I was one of the college kids (if you went to the Waxahatchee show in February, it’s possible you saw me there, though I guess it probably wouldn’t mean much to say I was one of the guys with a beard). Just graduated so I’m in a new place and it’ll probably be a while til I get out to another Northampton/Easthampton show.

        • I take it you’re either originally from the area and know that once college ends, it’s time to move on from these parts, or maybe you aren’t and know that the area serves its purpose best during the college years but isn’t so much a place you’d want to settle in the long term (or has many career opportunities, for that matter.) In reading and covering many of these Western Mass-centric bands, I find it interesting to learn that many of the band members are late-coming transplants who see something that a local natives don’t. All of my close friends haven’t returned since high school or college, and that was my plan, too, but a short stint in the unemployment line had other plans for me, and I’ve been looking for an exit ever since hah!

          There was an article Maria Sherman wrote where she spent a weekend in Western Mass with some of these bands, and I found it fascinating reading her amazed account over little things like pumpkins and the scene’s homelier sites, like it was so foreign to her big city eyes. Everyone always says they would move here, but they never take into account that aside from fall foliage season, I honestly don’t think they would be entertained to the level they expect to be.

    • The problem with WMass is WMass. I went to see one of the much-buzzed about bands not too long ago at the Flywheel. It was a weekend, which I figured would make for a nice showing. Instead, I stood in a wide open space with maybe 10 other people. This was when college was in session, too, so it wasn’t like that entire demo was missing from the picture. I figure a lot of these bands will leave for Boston or NYC as they get bigger (some have members which already have begun the transplant process to bigger valleys beyond the Pioneer.)

  4. It’s official. The Shaggs are better than the Beatles.

  5. Could not agree more with the whole “GENDER DOES NOT EQUAL GENRE” argument in the last paragraph there. While I think the band name “Potty Mouth” is kinda dumb, the music speaks for itself and I will very much be looking forward to this album.

  6. I think that the sentiment of “genre not gender” is totally valid in a larger sense, but maybe they shouldn’t name their band after a bratmobile album if they don’t want the riot grrl comparison? I mean, that’s like leading a camel to water then spanking it for having some.

    • When they called the riot grrrl comparison lazy I was thinking the same thing but the album’s influence goes beyond just the name. The comparison may be lazy but it’s influence is loud and obvious.

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