Is the all-female punk band political? That depends.
What is Potty Mouth? At its simplest, it's an all-female outfit with retro overtones composed of guitarist/lead vocalist Abby Weems, bassist Ally Einbinder, and drummer Victoria Mandanas. The pop-and-twang punk sensibility of the sound is redolent of a more DIY punk aesthetic of the 1970s (re: The Buzzcocks).
Though steeped in musical legacy, Potty Mouth is frequently a paradox. The band, which plays Friday at Gasa Gasa, has quickly gained a reputation for its jaunty approach to salient cultural and institutional criticism.
“Black and Studs,” a single from their debut album Hell Bent (2013), is a playful lambast of the punk music scene. The chorus is a barely-veiled indictment of punk rock posturing: “What happened to you / to make me wear black and studs? / What happened to me / to wear them just because?”
According to Einbinder, it’s an arbitrary superficiality that is often “limiting.”
“I come from the punk scene in Boston, and there’s, like, 15 different ways people describe their hardcore punk bands. But when it comes down to it, they’re just hardcore punk band whether you call it a ‘grindcore,’ ‘power violence,’ ‘thrash’ band. It doesn’t seem to really matter.”
The punk scene-and its misogyny-is ostensibly why, while students at Smith College, Einbinder and Phoebe Harris (no longer in the band) set out to form an all-female group. The name “Potty Mouth” was taken from the title of an album by riot grrrl group Bratmobile. The band, however, is hesitant to call itself feminist.
“A lot of times we get questions about being a riot grrrl band, and it’s a cycle that perpetuates itself,” says Weems. “If we answer it, that’s all people all going to read about us. That’s all people are going to think we represent as a band. So we do try to get away from that sometimes.”
The group’s reluctant, even aggressive, stance against self-identifying as “political” now constitutes its own gestalt. The band has previously been described as “stuck between the unoriginality of its rebellion and the questionable authenticity of its dissatisfaction.” The result is songs that, lyrically, are dually apathetic and anarchistic. “Damage,” another track from Hell Bent, is a reflection on Potty Mouth’s search for authenticity. Again, it’s a chorus with a lot of critical gravity, and Weems’ loop of “How real were you?” seems to be directed outward, but it could be heard as self-critical as well.
“I still find that people see four women playing music and automatically think that we are political,” says Weems. “I guess that in 2014, four women being in a rock band together is somehow still inherently political. It’s four women making music and putting themselves out there in this way that is still so heavily dominated by men.”
“Because we are, as females, a minority in music, people expect us to utilize that to be political and have an opinion about that,” says Einbinder. “But we didn’t start this band for that reason.”
Weems continues: “I’m involved in more projects that are more overtly political. That’s always in the back of my mind, but Potty Mouth isn’t an overtly political band with political bearings.”
Hell Bent, like the frenetic Interference Fits of tour-mates Perfect Pussy, is an example in purposeful spontaneity. According to Weems, the band recorded the album in less than three days. Hell Bent serves as a mirror for the band’s politics, or lack thereof: DIY, a little disordered, but personal and refreshing.