Interview: Potty Mouth

By Ethan Swan

On Friday March 1, the bands Aye Nako and Potty Mouth will perform at the New Museum in conjunction with the exhibition “NYC 1993.” This performance is a part of the Museum’s monthly new music series, Get Weird, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. As the programmer of this series for the past four years, I would like to go on record to say that I have never considered this series subversive or some kind of infiltration of the museum. While many of the artists that have performed as a part of Get Weird primarily exist in spaces far removed from the Museum, I’ve always felt that their voices belong in the same dialogue as the artists shown in the galleries. 

That said, if I did want to perpetuate some act of transgression via Get Weird, it would be through these two bands playing at the New Museum. In different but very complementary ways, both Potty Mouth and Aye Nako articulate everyday experiences that are largely absent from dominant discourses. These songs address frustration and boredom and love and youth, but with a propulsive, anthemic energy that reflects the good parts and resists the bad. It’s a negotiation that’s been too rare in music over the past years, recalling Fifteen, The Frumpies, and Tiger Trap, bands that helped define the underground sound of 1993.

With this relationship in mind, I spoke with the members of Potty Mouth: Abby (guitar), Ally (bass), Phoebe (guitar), and Victoria (drums). Our conversation began with their impressions of 1993, but led into a much more complicated exploration of the nature of playing music, the expectations laid upon their band, and the stakes of their resistance.

What stands out to you about 1993? Are there movies, songs, events, or memories that jump out when you think of that year?

Ally: I was five in 1993, so I don’t think it would be honest for me to say that I remembered anything vividly from 1993. I think of a lot of music that was on the radio. Like “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms came out that year and for some reason that is one of my favorite songs.

Abby: I think about Nickelodeon a lot. I think about Ren & Stimpy and Rugrats.

Phoebe: I can’t really think of a specific event or specific memory from 1993 because I was so young, but I agree with Ally and I feel like a lot of my associations with 1993 lie in music.

What are the sounds or ideas that signify ’90s music to you? What are the qualities of ’90s music that are specific to that decade?

Abby: I’d say heavier pop/rock kind of stuff and more grungy vocals a lot of the time. Specifically thinking of Nirvana here, that’s what stands out for me.

Phoebe: A lot of really catchy stuff. I feel like a lot of the music I listen to from the ’90s is pop-heavy. It’s a little bit fuller and it’s got a lot of nostalgia packed into it.

Ally: Like Abby said, I think of grunge and the whole idea of alternative rock and college rock. Also punk revival bands like Green Day. I hate the phrase “pop punk” but that’s kind of what it is. Punk music that is more poppy.

Abby: It was more straight-up.

Through your interest in these gestures, do you feel at all separate from the interests of other musicians your age who lean more towards electronic music or hip hop?

Abby: Everybody learns how to play guitar at one point or another. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden it was one of those things that you did, you played soccer and you learned guitar. I definitely wasn’t one of those kids. I wanted to learn guitar, my brother plays guitar, we have guitars around the house, but I never thought about it seriously until I was asked to be in Potty Mouth.

Ally: I grew up going to punk shows and watching as all of my male friends started bands, put out records, and went on tour. I never had the opportunity to do the same and it wasn’t until I was in my junior year of college that I thought, “Why not? Fuck it, I’ll learn bass (even though that is the instrument women tend to dominate in rock bands). I just want to do something so I’ll start here.”

Abby: I actually tried making beats before and electronic music before and it wasn’t as fun or interesting as learning something on guitar. But I did make this one sick beat out of “Blown a Wish,” that’s a really good one.

Phoebe: I wanted to learn to play an instrument but I never actually thought it would be possible, I thought it was going to be really hard. It just didn’t feel accessible to me. I met Ally in college, she started playing bass and I realized I could do that too; if I wanted to play an instrument, I could play an instrument. So I just bought a guitar. I’m more drawn to guitar-driven music anyway, so even though I’ve grown up in a generation where electronic music has evolved and a lot of people make music with their computers, I was more interested in the idea of being in a band.

So I know you’ve said that Potty Mouth is not a political band, but considering the obstacles you’ve just described, do you feel that being in an all-female band is a political act?

Abby: We didn’t form an all-girl band as a political statement. We were all sort of inexperienced, but were all interested in playing music. I think it worked out for the best that we’re all girls because it totally made the experience of becoming a band a lot easier. But when we formed, I didn’t think, “Yeah, screw all those guys, we’re girls and we’re going to do it that way.”

Phoebe: I grew up in a punk scene where no women played instruments, ever. So I had never even seen that in real life until I moved to Northampton. Because of the world we live in, being an all-girl band is automatically a political statement, because women aren’t equal to men. The nature of our band (and the music that we play) is really lighthearted and fun. We don’t censor the content of our band around that political statement. It’s pretty much ingrained in me and going to a women’s college really re-energized me—that’s when I realized, I can play music. It was really a big deal for me because I’ve always felt in the back of my mind, “Nope, I will never be able to do that.” There was absolutely no support where I grew up for women playing music. It was really scary to do that. Suddenly, I was in an all-woman environment and I felt extremely powerful. And I could do anything.

Abby: I always forget that that’s why I don’t feel this is directly a political thing because I grew up here and I was constantly being encouraged to be involved in music.

Ally: I appreciate the way you asked the question because I think that’s the right way to ask. Are we a political band or are we not a political band, that’s a little bit less interesting than is what we’re doing a political act, for us? And I think it is, because I try as much as I can, and I’m not perfect by any means, but I’d like to practice my ideas in my everyday life. Part of that, for me, is allowing myself to exist in the kinds of spaces that are empowering for me. 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. 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.

Victoria: I agree with Phoebe and Ally, I think it is a really political thing but at the same time that’s not really the main reason why I play music.

Ally: My experience of being in a band has really impacted the way I think about this, obviously because now I’m experiencing it firsthand. That whole awful Brooklyn Vegan comments section happened and we were talking to people about it. Phoebe posted it on her Facebook page and someone commented on it being like, “You should use being in a band as an opportunity to get on a platform and educate others about gender issues in punk” and my reaction to that is that it’s not our fucking job to teach you. It should not be the job of the marginalized group to teach the privileged what it’s like to deal with the bullshit that we deal with on a regular basis. It’s not our job. If anything, I wish more of the white males in punk would use their bands as a platform to get up and talk about what it means to be a feminist ally. But I never hear that. I don’t ever hear men in their spare time talk about how we can be better feminist allies in punk. That’s why I don’t ever want to say we are a political band, content-wise, because we’re not. It is just not our job to educate people.

Potty Mouth and Aye Nako perform at the New Museum on Friday March 1 at 7 p.m.

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