Band To Watch: Mediocre
Despite playing music together for the better part of a decade, Piper Torrison and Keely Martin, aka Los Angeles bedroom-rock duo Mediocre, are finally on the verge of national recognition. This year they were signed to Dangerbird Records, home to indie legends like Grandaddy and Sebadoh. The irony? At a time when the breakthrough they’ve been working toward since adolescence feels so close, the members have 3,000 miles between them.
Torrison is a senior at UC Santa Cruz, and Martin will finish school the following semester in Boston. After that, they fully intend to reunite — not in their hometown of Culver City, but ideally in New York City, following generations of scrappy DIY upstarts with lofty ambitions in a city bustling with dreamers.
When most high school friends head off to college, they run a high likelihood of losing touch, especially if they land on opposite coasts. Not Martin and Torrison: The duo never lost sight of what they were doing with Mediocre, which they originally founded in middle school after bonding over their shared tastes in alternative rock, particularly Alex Turner-led outfits like Arctic Monkeys and the Last Shadow Puppets (“‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor’ was like the best song I ever heard in my life,” laughs Martin). “We saw a bunch of our friends that were upperclassmen start playing in bands and we were like, ‘We could do that. Are we idolizing these random people?'” says Torrison, who is back in LA for the holidays with Martin.
Even the pandemic has been something of a blessing in disguise for Mediocre, whose name is indicative of Martin and Torrison’s lighthearted nature and winking sense of humor. As their classmates dispersed, forced to leave campus as the country went into lockdown, the members of Mediocre looked at their time back in LA as a chance to write songs and get themselves into a studio. They have yet to release a full-length album, but what’s already out there — 2020’s Emotion Sickness EP and a smattering of singles, like the lo-fi shout-along anthem “Mattress Bitch” — show immense promise.
In the early days, Mediocre functioned as a three-piece band, with the trio gigging local shows around LA and Southern California. Inevitably, they matriculated with local scenes — including the now-disgraced indie/garage-rock incubator Burger Records — something Torrison and Martin look back on with clear unease, recalling times they felt “tokenized” as the one all-female band on a bill stacked with male musicians. “One of our first shows was in Silver Lake, at the Lyric Hyperion,” Torrison recalls. “We were 15 playing with men anywhere from 17 to 27. The audiences range that age too. A lot of experiences [like that were] disturbing and gross. So it’s been a year of self-reflection.”
Torrison continues, “It felt like a lot of time it was like, oh, we can’t only have men here, so let’s get Mediocre on. It’s very hard to look back and be like, what was for the music? What was us being tokenized? [Were we booked] ‘cause we were attractive young women?”
As Mediocre prepared to leave for college, they siphoned the lineup down to a duo, with Torrison on guitar and Martin on bass, and kept writing songs whenever possible. In 2020, they released their aforementioned Emotion Sickness EP, a six-track project featuring songs ranging from heartfelt (the stripped-back “Share A Drink”) to rollicking and high-energy (the Hives-inspired “Cloud 9”).
After the EP release, Dangerbird took notice of what the duo were doing and offered them an opportunity to participate in the label’s “Microdose” series, allowing Mediocre to slow-drip-release a few songs with the intention of eventually putting out a lengthier project. So they set about releasing three songs: the upbeat, White Stripes-esque jam “Waiting For Your Heart,” the echoing ballad “Give In,” and the deadpan “Mattress Bitch,” which features the duo’s trademark jocular humor. “I am a mattress,” Torrison opens, adding, “You can get on top of me if you want to. And I want to.”
Adding to Mediocre’s appeal are their highly watchable music videos, which look professionally produced, thanks to Martin’s film expertise, and adopt a playful, girls-just-wanna-have-fun tone. In “Mattress Bitch,” the pair throw on Catholic schoolgirl outfits and rock out in a warehouse that also happens to house a church. The video, Martin says, was an opportunity to poke fun at themselves as “naive little figure[s],” while the song’s lyrics look at the band’s “self-destructive tendencies.” And then, there’s the levity, which shows up in everything Mediocre do. “We’re like, let’s make this as awkward and frumpy as possible,” Martin says, while Torrison adds they wanted to give the clip “Freaks And Geeks energy.”
Meanwhile, their pastel-colored video for “Waiting For Your Heart” has the duo in ‘60s-inspired attire surrounded by midcentury set pieces and flamingo lawn ornaments. “‘Waiting For Your Heart’ we shot at the height of the pandemic, just Keely and I in my mom’s house,” Torrison says. “We were kind of like, what did we have access to? And what can we make work?
“I am [an] obsessive vintage clothing collector,” she adds. And especially throughout the pandemic, I just spent so much time on eBay looking at all these beautiful sets. And so I had a lot of ’60s-era clothes at my disposal.”
Despite the Dangerbird deal, Martin and Torrison remark at how strange it is to not have performed live yet as a duo, but they have a lot of ideas around what makes a strong, engaging show. “I feel like a lot of music is persona-based,” Torrison says. “Like, who am I gonna be on stage? Who am I gonna be to these people? How am I gonna make this fun? And I feel like it’s most genuinely captivating when you see none of that. You’re like, here’s a person doing what they love to do.”
As they plot out Mediocre’s future, Torrison and Martin are currently working on writing and eventually recording another EP (they trade voice notes when they can’t be in the same place), which will likely be released this spring. Wrapping up school is a priority, but they have a lot of excitement and optimism around what’s waiting for them post-graduation. “Even though I’m studying film at college, I definitely want that to be part of something I do for the rest of my life,” Martin says. “I see an opportunity for us to make the most out of this time, and I really want to put all my energy into it if I can.”