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Look Out, Greta Van Fleet: Mannequin Pussy Is ‘Coming For You’

Epitaph

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Times are good for Mannequin Pussy. On Friday, the Philadelphia fourpiece will release Patience, its debut on Epitaph Records and third album overall. The highlight is “Drunk II,” a boozy breakup anthem that’s emerged as the punk-rock song of the summer. Next month, the band will embark on its first headlining tour.

“Yeah, I’m f*cking anxious,” the band’s singer-songwriter Marisa Dabice said when I reached her by phone in Philly last week. “We’ve been the proverbial bridesmaid on every tour we’ve done for the last two years, supporting another band. And this is our turn to take bands out with us and I just really want everyone to have a really good time.”

For Dabice, the build-up to Patience — which gooses the furious energy of past releases with slick and shiny big-time rock production — has been a long time coming. Formed in the early ’10s by Dabice and guitarist Thanasi Paul, Mannequin Pussy is her first band. She didn’t actually start playing guitar until she was 24. In her teen years, she had cancer, which temporarily grounded her dreams of starting a band. “I’m 31 now, so this really has been my longest relationship,” Dabice said of Mannequin Pussy.

The band’s propulsive second album, 2016’s Romantic, helped to give them a national following. With 11 songs clocking in at just 17 minutes, Romantic still made a big impression thanks to Dabice’s articulate songwriting and expressive, pitch-perfect howl. (Think Courtney Love with the power of Pat Benatar.) The progression on Patience recalls the leap that Nirvana made from Bleach to Nevermind — the sound is more muscular, and the songs are much sharper and more assured.

That confidence also comes across when you talk to Dabice. In this interview, she talks about making (and re-making) Patience, overcoming childhood cancer, and why she’s “coming for” Greta Van Fleet.

This is the worst question in music journalism, but I am genuinely curious so I’ll ask it anyway: How did you come up with your band name? `

When I was living in Colorado, I had this punk house before I started playing music. One night on the porch where people were drinking too much, we were talking about ridiculous band names. And this friend said “Mannequin Pussy” and I was just like, damn, that’s a f*cking crazy name. That’s really funny.

Initially when we were going to name ourselves, I was like, “We should name ourselves The Nuns.” And then I was texting with a friend from Colorado. They’re like, “You need to name your band Mannequin Pussy. The Nuns? That’s a terrible name!”

Now that the band has some notoriety, do you have any regret about a name like Mannequin Pussy limiting your career?

Yeah, I feel that sometimes. It’s hard not to. But I don’t think that anyone was so turned off as to never listen to us is necessarily someone that I would vibe with anyway in real life. I see our band as being, like, this portal to connect us to other weirdos like us.

But I definitely have those moments where I wish that we had like a more radio-friendly name. Because you see a band like Greta Van Fleet, which is the epitome of mimicry, winning a Grammy. And I’m like, yeah, I’m coming for you. But I don’t know if we can because of our name.

I love this! We need more band rivalries right now. I will do what I can to get a feud going between your band and Greta Van Fleet.

I don’t have any ill will for them or anything. I’m just saying, if it’s a battle of the bands, we would destroy them.

This is also kind of a facile question, but I think it’s pertinent: “Drunk II” is about four and a half minutes long, which is an epic by Mannequin Pussy standards. I’m wondering if that was a conscious move on your part, to be a little more “rock” this time.

I really wanted to make a big-sounding rock record. I love where we’ve come from and our other records, but I really believe in artistic progression and being able to challenge yourself. Especially if you’re able to capture the raw energy that is the natural essence of a band, but then still have this high production value. And I think that we did it. I really wanted to make something that just sounded great. Like it could be on the radio, even if it never will be.

You worked with Will Yip, who has produced bands like Title Fight and Turnstile and always gets these beautiful, shiny guitar tones. He’s basically your Butch Vig on this record. How did you get hooked up with him?

There’s kind of a mythology a little bit surrounding him. Some people who obsessively love his work and other people who seem to have a … different opinion on it. I had listened to that Turnstile record and looked up who recorded it. When I saw it was Will, I was like, “Wow, that’s a fucking great-sounding hardcore record.”

We [originally] recorded the record with the same people that did Romantic and then we were like, “Oh no, this sounds pretty similar to Romantic. This needs to feel like a leap. So let’s shelve this, just sleep on this record for a minute and think about how we really feel.” And then we did a tour supporting Turnover, who also had recorded with Will. And I had been talking to Austin from that band about doing this record and my concerns. And he was like, you should really meet Will.

What was about it the original version of Patience that seemed too similar to Romantic?

We recorded it in the same studio that we did Romantic, so it ended up having a lot of the same guitar tones and just the general vibe. I really don’t want to make a record that sounds exactly like other things that we’ve done.

Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

Definitely, yes. I spend a lot of time rewriting songs. There are two ways it goes for me. One, you have this possession experience, where you’re possessed by this idea and you bring it out into the world in one sitting. That’s how writing “Drunk II” was for me. And then the other half of the time, you’re beating your head against something, trying to get out the right words.

Tell me how you wrote “Drunk II.” That song feels so alive. It sounds like you’re writing it as you’re singing it.

I was going out a lot at this time that I was a very heartbroken. Just going out and getting drunk. I was hanging out with people I didn’t really care about, just trying to pretend like I was fine. But as it turns out for me, drinking is not something that’s helped me in any way. I have a one in four chance of having a good time when I drink. The others are: I will get sad, I will get tired, or I will get angry.

I came home, I was kind of drunk and I had been working on these major seventh chord progressions. And I just started writing the song and it just poured out of me. I was listening back to the original demo of it that I did at four in the morning. And it’s kind of fun, because you can hear the birds chirping in the back of it and you just have a sense of the sadness that I felt. But not a single line changed in the first verse and in the first half of the chorus. It was just exactly what I wanted to say at the time and there was nothing to be changed

How did having cancer in high school affect your perspective on life?

I think for a while, it kind of gave me the lack of empathy for other people, where I felt like what was happening to me was so colossal in my young mind that I was just unable to really sympathize with the things that others were going through because they weren’t what I was going through. I really just shut down emotionally from the world around me for a long time.

By the time I was 20, I really realized that I had just grown cold towards things. And that wasn’t true to who I was before, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of person that I wanted to be. So I think once I made it through that emotional block, I just had years of crying to catch up on. I didn’t cry for years and I didn’t really allow myself to feel things for years. Then once that started flooding in, I tried revisiting these old desires and things that I didn’t do. And I think learning an instrument and having a band was clearly one of the things at the top of that list about it.

Patience is out on June 21 via Epitaph. Get it here.

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