When you hear a Mannequin Pussy song, you know exactly who it is. The energy is high, there's a distinct grind in the guitar, the bass is prominent, and bandleader Marisa Dabice's voice growls and croons all at once. The band has been a fixture in the Philly punk scene since the release of Romantic, their sophomore full–length album capping off at 17 minutes, full of irreplaceable hooks and sheer malice in every lick. Their latest album, Patience, combines their hardcore roots with classic rock and pop tropes that only dig their claws even deeper into your heart.  

I spoke to the band, including singer/guitarist Dabice, guitarist Thanasi Paul, bassist Colins "Bear" Regisford, and drummer Kaleen Reading, ahead of their headlining set at the First Unitarian Church. The show, their first in Philly since the release of their record, coincided with Dabice's birthday, and was also their last with openers Ellis and Destroy Boys. We met in the green room of the basement venue, a repurposed classroom, complete with maps of America on the walls and paper cutouts hanging from the ceiling. 

Photo: Sudeep Bhargava

34th Street: Marisa, I wanted to start out talking about the video for “Drunk II.” You directed it, correct? Where did you film that?

Marisa Dabice: At Foto Club. It’s in Philadelphia. What’s that neighborhood? Harrowgate. It’s past Port Richmond, in Philly.

Street: What was the inspiration for the idea behind it?

MD: Since the song itself is such a narrative, it lended itself well to the story being told in the context of a music video. Once the song was recorded and we started talking about music videos, I had this idea that I’d been workshopping for months, this concept of going out every night, repeating these nights, meeting someone new, but still breaking down in tears every night. No matter how much you drink or how beautiful the people are you meet, you can’t stop thinking about the past. I wanted to blend that surrealist aspect where, when you’re out and really unhappy, it seems like everyone around you is in love. 

Street: How did you convince a bunch of people to be extras to make out around you?

Thanasi Paul: It was so much easier than we expected.

MD: Yeah, it was really easy.

TP: And those poor bastards had to stay there for like 12 hours.

MD: Yeah being an extra is definitely not fun. 

Colins “Bear” Regisford: I wouldn’t have done it.

Street: I can imagine, too, if you have to retake a shot, you’re constantly making out then diving back in.

MD: Well it was easier because I think all the extras were real couples. Like, we didn’t match them up with a stranger. We asked specifically for couples to come and make out with their beloved or their friend or whoever. But yeah, it was very easy, one Twitter call and an Instagram post and we had like 50 people. 

Photo: Sudeep Bhargava

Street: You worked with Adam Kolodny of House of Nod, who’s also worked with Japanese Breakfast and Diet Cig. How was that?

MD: Adam’s a genius. He’s just an incredibly hardworking and talented person. He’s very good at listening and seeing your vision through and giving constructive criticism when necessary. Working on a first project with him, I feel like I learned so much in one 14–hour shoot that maybe it would take a person going through film school to.

Street: Was that your guys’ first music video?

MD: No, but like, kinda. It was the first music video that we had complete control over.

TP: The first one we had a real budget, which is probably more important. 

Street: “Drunk II” has been referred to by some as the “song of the summer,” specifically by Jason Mantzoukas (of the podcast How Did This Get Made?). Did you set out to write an anthem?

MD: I don’t know if we set out to do anything.

TP: I feel like when the song was done, I thought this was gonna be the song of the record. I know I felt this way from pretty close to the beginning. Like, even when we were playing on the Stove tour, I was like, ‘this one’s definitely working.’ But I don’t know. I guess I can’t imagine you’re like, “alright, I’m gonna write a hit song now,” I guess unless you’re working for Motown. 

Photo: Sudeep Bhargava

Street: It’s also very stylistically distinct from a lot of the other stuff you write. What inspired that departure?

MD: Admittedly, when I first wrote it, I was very hesitant to bring it to the band, because I was like, “I don’t know if this is a Mannequin Pussy song.” But the first time I felt that way about a song was when we recorded “Romantic,” and obviously that ended up being one of our most popular songs. So, I’ve realized it’s very limiting and just kinda plain stupid to say “Oh, this isn’t a Mannequin Pussy song," because the way that we all work together and the way that everyone brings their talents to a song, we can make anything a Mannequin Pussy song. We haven’t cornered ourselves into one particular style. And that I think is a very happy accident for our band. 

Street: You guys re–recorded your whole album—you had a working version which you scrapped and started over. I was wondering what was behind that decision?

TP: We did record almost the entire thing, I think all we were missing was some overdubs. I was definitely super hesitant to shelf that, because we spent so much time and money. But our budget ended up becoming much bigger, and I think we were not totally satisfied with how things turned out, and we got an opportunity to work with Will Yip [who has previously worked with La Dispute and The Menzingers]. We met with him, and then we came in and demoed some stuff with him. And after hearing what we did for the second time, it was pretty obvious, this is gonna be pretty stupid to not re–do the whole thing, even though it made me really frustrated at the time, it was totally the right call.

Street: About how long after that did it take you to finally get done with the album?

TP: We spent, I think it was, 14, or less than 20 days with Will. (MD: “Not consecutively") It went faster than I thought it was going to, honestly. He was very easy to work with, super knowledgeable dude with a very good ear. And that definitely made it easier, and plus the fact that we had already recorded everything.

Street: I can imagine that already having a template set out, you just go from there.

MD: It’s like having expensive demos.

Photo: Sudeep Bhargava

Street: Also talking about the different sounds that come out on Patience, there are a few more pop songs than Romantic. Do you think you’ll lean into that sound more on the next album or do you think you’ll go in a different direction completely?

MD: Hard to tell. We’ve talked about putting out a hardcore EP, of just straight hardcore songs. Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what we write.

TP: Impossible to predict that.

Street: Your songs typically are two minutes or less. Any particular reason you avoid a typical song structure of three or four minutes?

TP: I feel like we just have short attention spans, at least I do. That’s probably the only thing that’s stayed consistent with the band since the beginning, is short, to-the-point songs. Just seems stupid to do something more than you need to.

MD: I mean, for me, I don’t like the idea of feeling like you’re beholden to a formula that someone else has set for you. If we’re part of a new generation of music, why wouldn’t we make our own standard? This can be the standard that we set for ourselves and how we write songs. [We] don’t need anyone telling us “this is how a song’s supposed to be.”

Street: It’s also a sign of the technology. A lot of songs are getting shorter and shorter because it works better for streaming. 

TP: Tierra Whack’s album, perfect example of that.

Street: Do you guys think about that when you’re recording?

MD: I don’t think we’ve really been paying attention to trends.

TP: But we also don’t really pay attention to the length of the songs. It usually becomes obvious when it’s done. If it happens to be a minute and a half, then so be it. If it happens to be four and a half minutes, then that’s how long it took. 

Street: Marisa, you have a side project somewhere, remind me what it’s called?

MD: It’s called Rosie Thorn. I think that’s what we’ve called it. It’s with two of my friends, Zach Sewall and Max Stein. It’s just a project we’ve been working on for probably three years, and everyone’s schedules are pretty fucking crazy, so when we’re able to get together to make music it’s really fun. I kinda feel like working in that project too has made me a better writer for Mannequin Pussy stuff too. Any collaborative thing that you’re doing gives you a good sense of how to work with people better, and how to communicate your ideas better. I hope we’ll get to put out a record one day with that project, but Mannequin Pussy is definitely the main driver right now.

Photo: Sudeep Bhargava

Street: Marisa, there was an article in the Dallas Observer where you called for fans to attend shows alone. What do you do to try to create a comfortable environment for all of your fans?

MD: I don’t really know what we do other than be ourselves and bring bands with us that have the same ethos of kindness and acceptance.

TP: Our fans are also super nice people.

MD: I think our fans are a really cool, diverse group of people. There’s really no one kind of person. So, I think our shows tend to have this different energy than people might be used to at different kinds of punk shows. And that’s something that I think we have worked hard to cultivate, is that we want to have that kind of acceptance and comfortability at our shows. I get a lot of messages about people, who, their friends aren’t into Mannequin Pussy, and only they are and they wanna go, but they don’t wanna go to a show alone. So, once I started seeing that again and again, I was like, you know, it’s actually kind of awesome to go to a show alone. You’re not trying to talk to anyone over loud fucking music, you’re just there having your own experience. You don’t have to check in with anyone, leave whenever you want to. I like doing a lot of stuff alone, though, so it’s easier for me to say “Oh, just do this” cuz it’s easy for me.

TP: I don’t like going to shows alone, makes me super uncomfortable. 

Street: What does “F.U.C.A.W.” stand for?

MD: We’re not telling you. It’s an inner–band pettiness that’s just for us.

Street: You called for fans on Twitter to sing backup for your songs at concerts, has that been working out for you?

MD: I don’t know, I think most people have been taking the lead vocal. 

TP: Yes, everyone has, but they’re making an effort.

MD: That’s the fun thing about studio magic. I don’t think we’re the kind of band that’s ever gonna sound exactly like we do in the studio, because there’s the thing that you create that exists on records, and then there’s the live performance. I certainly don’t think it’s a worse performance, but it’s a different experience. 

TP: I personally never like when I go see a show and it sounds just like the record. It seems somehow disingenuous to me? Like, you have to be like, like either you’re trying way too hard or you’re doing a lot of trickery behind the scenes. I mean, you can do it if you want, I just think it’s cooler to go out as the band that made the record, and just do your thing on stage, instead of trying meticulously to recreate every detail of the album.

MD: There are some aspects, after doing this tour, I think I’d like to figure out how we could translate that from the record to live, but, it’s kind of nice that it’s just the four of us still. 

Photo: Sudeep Bhargava

Street: Marisa, on Patience, you address abuse in relationships, like in “Fear /+/ Desire” or “High Horse.” What’s it been like singing those songs night after night?

MD: Well, we’re only performing “High Horse.” I don’t think “Fear /+/ Desire” is a song I had any desire to perform yet. It was the most difficult song for me to record, and I don’t really—it doesn’t make me feel good and it’s not a song I like to listen to. But I’ve had a lot of people who’ve come and talk to me about their shared experiences, and it’s uh—I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about. But I know that there’s no such thing as a completely unique experience. Like, the things I’ve been through other people have been through, too. So like, adding that into the web of catharsis and power that can come from transforming that pain into something beautiful is something that I’ve seen really resonating with people. And seeing those songs have a positive effect on people who have been through similar things has been really rewarding and easier to deal with. 

Street: Do you ever regret putting “Fear /+/ Desire” out there?

MD: No, I don’t have very many regrets.

Street: What do you guys love about Philly?

Bear: There’s a lot of great bands.

MD: I used to like about Philly that it was really cheap, so if I have to really move again I’m kind of fucked. But I love this dirty-ass fucking city.

TP: It’s definitely been very kind to us from the very beginning, which I’m super thankful for. 

'Patience' is available everywhere now via Epitaph Records. Mannequin Pussy are on tour to the end of the year. More info is available at https://mannequinpussy.bandcamp.com/ 


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