There's a new wave of bands emerging, young kids who've been deeply shaped by a formative love of late-90s pop-punk. Hell Bent, the first record from Northampton, Massachusetts, punks Potty Mouth should shoot them to the top of that list. The band's reach has been small, so far. Their free time's been dictated by the school vacation schedule of college-age members, leaving them only able to tour in towns that were a quick drive or easy sleep-over away. Now though, with members gradually graduating and a sharp, melodic debut in shops starting today, the band seems perched on the cusp of a breakout year.
We talked with Potty Mouth's youngest member singer/guitarist Abby Weems, a 2012 high-school graduate, about how tricky it is to make an original punk statement in 2013, the comfort an all-female band can bring to female musicians just starting out, and the generation gap that tragically keeps her from enjoying The Gin Blossoms.
Since rock music has become—at least in the mass popular culture—pretty marginal these days, I’m wondering how the band members all initially came to it?
Abby Weems: Well, where we are in Massachusetts, there are so many schools around here. There are 5 colleges in our area, so it feels like there are so many young people here starting bands all the time. It feels really easy to do that here. I do get that with the Internet and everything, you can make electronic music and just put it out there right away, also. Where we are there’s a really devoted DIY community, where everyone’s really supportive of a more classic “rock” formation of a band.
So, would you say it came more from existing in physical spaces and talking to people there, as opposed to going online and realizing that there are other people out there somewhere who are still very into punk rock?
I think it’s both. I think because of the Internet its much easier to find people and go on tour. You can just email somebody from another city and they’ll set up a show for you. So, that’s really awesome, but it also sort of has to do with getting direct support from people you’re around.
In your song, “Black and Studs”, I was interested in the idea of punk rock as something that “happens” to you, versus something that you choose. “What happened to you to make you wear black and studs? What happened to me to wear them just because?”
Well, that song is just about how I’ve noticed people that sort of morph into this person, they become quote unquote “punk,” and they start wearing leather and all black. It’s just a comment on how you think that you are opposing the mainstream by doing this, but punk now has like a mainstream in itself. When you conform to that image you’re conforming to that mainstream. So, it’s just like a funny comment on how people think they are doing something original, but nothing is ever really that original.
Is there no way to be an original punk these days?
(Laughs) Honestly, I don’t think so. When I think of original punk, I think of 70s punks, the people in that scene who were really rebellious. I think it’s really hard to have that for an image now. There are so many more repercussions to being openly rebellious in the world. And even people who like to put on that image, at the end of the day they’re still working in a coffee shop or in an office. I feel like nowadays you can’t be truly “punk” because even if you have the ideals, we’re not in the 70s anymore. You have to sort of conform to the lifestyle now.
So, you think its an economic issue?
I guess so. I don’t want to generalize, but that’s how it seems.
Apart from the fashion aspect of it, focusing more on the sound of guitar-based punk bands these days...how does your band go about making music that sounds new, in a form that’s become sort of old at this point?
Well, I’m definitely influenced by 90s pop-punk, Bay Area stuff like early Green Day and Jawbreaker. That’s how I’m influenced by earlier generations. But when we come together to make music, everyone writes their own parts. I know Phoebe is more inspired by Beat Happening. I know Victoria loves Unwound. We all have different styles that develop. I don’t know if we are exactly creating something “new,” because we do evoke a lot of 90s-styled stuff. But I do think that it is kind of different because we are mixing those different styles.
Would you say that the band members tastes and interests mostly overlap, or are there big bones of contention between you, bands that some of you love but some of you can’t get into?
We all enjoy listening to pretty much the same kind of stuff, but it definitely feels like there is a generation gap just because I am four to five years younger than everyone else in the band. They turn to a lot more 80s stuff, and I’m into a lot more 90s stuff. In that way I feel like we all have our own personal stepping stones, but there’s never an issue...except when Ally puts on The Gin Blossoms. I’m never really into that.
Are you already working out new material, or is the record more or less the set you have at this point?
It’s hard because, we wrote all of the songs for Hell Bent over a year ago, so it feels weird that it’s just coming out now. We’ve been playing these songs for the last year. Since then, I’ve already written 10 new songs. We’ve only been able to learn one of them, because we’ve been really busy. I’m going to write a few more and we’ll hopefully be able to record in the spring.
Has all the touring, and the increased ability as a band to execute ideas that comes with it, made you more ambitious in what you are trying to pull off when writing new songs?
Yeah. When I really started in Potty Mouth, both Phoebe and I didn’t know how to play guitar. I think as we’ve gone along in the process we’ve both just gotten better at our instruments. I think every song that we write becomes more complicated, every time. I think its just more of a progression of our skill that will come out in our songs.
When you write a song yourself, what form does it take? Since its a collaborative process, do you just have ideas for how they are going to go? Are they in a really loose demo form?
I’ll usually just write my part, and then I’ll put the video of it on our secret Facebook page. (laughs) Everyone will watch it and they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t like this lyric” or “ this part should go on longer,” or something like that. Then we’ll bring it to practice. It always starts with me writing the bare bones of the song, and then everyone else brings it together.
I read an interview with Ally, where she said that the point behind having an all-female band was mostly about the comfort level within band members while you figured out what you wanted to do, and then during the creative process, bringing ideas out. Would you agree?
Yeah, when we started the band, Ally had just graduated from Smith and Phoebe and Victoria were still there. I think they were definitely in the mindset of being in an all-female environment, because it’s an all-girl school. I think that also came from Ally being in other bands that had male members. I think she felt that since it was more male-dominated, she wasn’t really able to bring in her own parts. I think she just felt more comfortable reaching out to some of her close female friends, and writing something where she’d be able to learn in a more female-friendly environment.
How is the DIY scene in Massachusetts in that respect? Even though there are many female musicians, and women working in the smaller DIY clubs in Brooklyn, the big club bookers and the people working tech at many venus still seem predominantly male. Is it the same there?
I think Massachusetts is pretty diverse, but it's pretty hard to escape the “male gaze” that people talk about. Men will look at you and think, “Oh Whoa, that girl can play guitar.” Why does it have to be “Oh whoa?” You want to feel like you are being appreciated as a musician, and not because it's only validated by your gender.