Lots of bands with outlandish names never waver in their focus on that quirky sense of novelty. That does not describe Mannequin Pussy, whose brand of garage punk skews fierce, loud, and insistent. But it’s also melodic, towering, and emotionally mature, a fact driven home by the title of their upcoming sophomore full-length: Romantic.
Folio Weekly Magazine chatted with childhood friends and core Mannequin Pussy duo Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul about constant evolution, moving from New York to Philly, and ghost stories that involve dachshund tattoos. That’s what’s up.
Folio Weekly Magazine: What’s different about Romantic compared to, say, the genre-hopping Gypsy Pervert?
Thanasi Paul: The process was completely different. The album was written over the course of several years, and once [bassist] Bear [Regisford] joined the band, things started to come together in a more cohesive way. Usually Marisa or I will have a riff or a chord progression or a fully written song and then we all put our special touches on it. But [drummer] Kaleen [Reading] and Bear have made it so much easier for me as a guitarist and as a songwriter — I’m sure Marisa feels the same way. We are truly blessed to have Kaleen and Bear in the band.
Marisa Dabice: Seriously. So blessed. I think transcending genres tends to happen when you’re writing songs over a long period of time. It’s impossible to capture one feeling when they come out of so many different experiences instead of a singular one.
There’s a great line from new single “Kiss”: “I am not ashamed to be lonely/but I’m afraid to feel it so deeply.” Is it more or less difficult to embrace that kind of emotion as you get older?
M.D.: Both? I spent a lot of my life not knowing how to talk about things. There are still things I’m learning how to talk about. Ask again later?
T.P.: I only deal with my emotions through music, which is kind of a problem. But when we’re playing a show and I see people rocking the fuck out, that’s the only peace in my life that I ever really get. As long as people enjoy listening to our music, I’ll die a happy man.
M.D.: I second that. Thanasi and I making music really came out of needing to both avoid and redirect emotional energy. I wish I could be more communicative about my emotions — it might make me feel like less of a maniac. I’m trying to have conversations with people in my life who are reciprocally willing to express how they’re feeling and being affected by things. The more open you are, the more you come to find that you’re rarely alone in what you’re hiding.
The band moved to Philly a few years ago. Do you miss your old New York stomping grounds?
M.D.: I don’t miss New York at all. I’m happier in Philly. Without moving here, I would have never been able to figure out a work/creative balance.
T.P.: I miss New York so much. I completely understand why Marisa hated it, and I hated it for a lot of reasons. However, I left a lot of things I really loved when I moved to Philadelphia. Je ne regrets, though — Philadelphia is an amazing city that has welcomed me with open arms. Playing music here is way better and we have sick crowds all the time.
Is it weird to no longer identify as a “New York band”?
M.D.: I don’t think that a city should give a band its “identity” — maybe people thinking it does explains why there are so many shitty bands in New York. I don’t want to be a total hater, though — we had inspiring friends we loved. But there wasn’t much to make me want to stay there. New York is a truly chaotic, problematic, and corrupt place. I recognize the greatness of it, but I think way too critically about everything, so for me it illuminated every problem we have in this country on one tiny island.
Mannequin Pussy has long been hailed as an exhilarating live band. Is it hard to maintain that momentum night after night?
M.D.: Some nights, you were just in a car for eight hours and haven’t eaten and you’re so tired setting up your instrument, thinking, “Where the fuck am I gonna get this energy for this?” But then as soon as you start playing, you enter the stream and blackout for 20 minutes. I like to think we’re getting better every time we play. Every show feels different.
T.P.: There’s never anything to worry about as long as it’s loud and not boring.
Mannequin Pussy played St. Augustine before this show, right?
M.D.: We played in St. Augustine on our first tour ever! It was actually the only time I’ve experienced a ghost. All I remember is this kid who had a fresh tattoo of a dachshund on his butt (Shout out to that kid — come to the show!), and the house where we were sleeping had a strange energy to it. I woke up in the middle of the night to the front door getting blown open by the wind and feeling a presence on my chest. It was probably just my first experience with sleep paralysis, but also maybe it was supernatural?
Where do you see Mannequin Pussy going, especially after the hype that will surround the October release of Romantic?
T.P.: I see MP as being in a constant state of evolution. Where we started is not where we are now, and right now is probably not where we’ll be in a year. Our only goal is to get better at what we do. I want each song we write to be more complicated, more beautiful, and better than the last one. I’d love to play bigger venues for the PA systems, but I’m also content to keep sweating on some kid’s basement floor. We’ve never rushed MP. We just let it go at its own pace.
M.D.: And we’re not some trendy bullshit band that’s gonna make two records and call it a career.