Interview with Ally from Potty mouth
New England trio Potty Mouth, have recently completed a run of tours with the Screaming Females, as well as their own headlining tour in support of their latest EP. On August 21, 2015, the band released a five-song self-titled EP under their own imprint, Planet Whatever Records. Produced by John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Blonde Redhead, Bikini Kill) at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, the new EP shows off a new level of both songwriting and production for the trio. While Abby was hung up in Sweden working on some new songs for Potty Mouth’s next full-length, Ally took the time to tell me about their new direction and what’s to come in the new year.
Sean Carlin: Hey! So are you in Mass right now?
Ally: Yeah, I am in Northampton, Mass right now (and so is Victoria), Abby’s in Sweden though.
Sean Carlin: Is that for a side project, or is Abby there just visiting?
Ally: She’s doing Potty Mouth business. She’s doing some demoing there with different people.
Sean Carlin: So you just finished your touring circuit for your EP, right?
Ally: Yeah, we just finished our tour with Screaming Females, we got back a few days ago and before that we were touring the west coast.
Sean Carlin: How was that? How were some of the songs from the latest EP received?
Ally: Oh, really well. Every show we played all five songs from the EP and so for the west coast run those were headlining dates and so people who came out for the shows were generally coming out for us and it was really cool to see people singing along to the words, and that’s always really satisfying. But for the Screaming Females dates we were supporting them and that was kind of interesting because all those shows were super packed, a bunch of were sold out and because Screaming Females headlining people generally came for them, but a thing was that people would come for them but then they would be into us and then they would buy an EP.
Sean Carlin: Do you have any crazy touring stories about that tour start the interview off with?
Ally: Yeah, definitely. So the coolest thing to happen on the Screaming Females tour was…So we had never really met them in person before. I had seen them live a couple of times but we weren’t friends, but we quickly became friends with them. I think it was the very first night, Marissa from Screaming Females suggested that we all do a Veruca Salt cover together and play it on the last night of tour in New York. So throughout our days together we would like fifteen minutes with our guitars out in our green room just practicing “Volcano Girls” by Varuca Salt. The only time we played together, all plugged in, live with drums and amps and everything was during sound check of our New York show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, we played through it twice and then when we played our set, halfway through our set we just invited Marissa up on stage and played it and it was so awesome. Everyone freaked out, people were dancing. It was like a really cool surprise element of that set.
Sean Carlin: For some of our readers who may not know, when did you decide to start making music together, and what musical background did you guys have?
Ally: Well we all met together, and had our first practice together in 2011. Victoria and I went to the same school, so we knew each other from school. Neither of us had ever met Abby before actually, we were just kind of connecting with her through musical friends and the idea was like, “oh let’s jam on some songs.” There was zero expectations or goals. We didn’t even know what we wanted to sound like. We didn’t even have a singer picked out. We were all like, “oh maybe we’ll all try singing a little bit.” It’s what you do in your free time here if you’re a person who’s into music, and DIY and punk, people just start bands all the time. It was just a regular attempt to start a band with very little pressure and uptake, but then we just kept doing it and doing it and then four-and-a-half, almost five years later now we’re still together, and I never ever expected it to get to this point. My background is I have only been playing bass for a year or so before Potty Mouth, I taught myself bass with a couple bands, and Abby had never really played guitar at all. Victoria had been playing drums since she was in second grade so she was amazing right from the get go, which definitely helped having a solid drummer, but Abby and I were relatively new to our instruments.
Sean Carlin: Tell me about some of the stuff you first made together, was that far from what Potty Mouth is now? Does it speak to your musical roots?
Ally: I think it was just a matter of time and growing as musicians and feeling more certain in our identity than we were when we started. I mean, like I said when we started the band we didn’t even know who was gonna sing or what we wanted to sound like, but now we definitely have solidified our sound and direction and we know what we want to sound like and the songwriting is just the product of time and hard work and I think just a lot of time together messing around and writing songs. The earlier songs were just very loose and more open because we didn’t really have a solid direction, but the stuff we’re writing now is definitely more cohesive and it’s also affected by what we’re listening to at the time. I mean, Abby does most of the songwriting, and Hell Bent was very much like her when she was still listening to a lot of Green Day, whereas the new EP is all of us in a van together listening to Varuca Salt and Hole and Garbage and Juliana Hatfield and stuff like that
Sean Carlin: Is there a story to your band name choice?
Ally: There really is no crazy story. We were originally called Vacation, like that was what we decided to call the band and then after a few months we found out that there was another band called Vacation that was too close, too similar. They were a punk band from Ohio. Coincidently enough we have become friends with that Vacation band, and played a bunch of shows with them, we played one of our record releases with them. We’re definitely friends now, but after we found out there was another Vacation we were like, “okay we have to change our name.” I think we spent the entire summer of 2011 just going back and forth, throwing out ideas and we couldn’t decide on anything, and then one of our original guitarists who’s not in the band anymore said, “what about Potty Mouth?” and I said, “that’s pretty cool.” It’s also the name of a Bratmobile album and so in that sense it’s not a direct reference to the Bratmobile album. We all liked it and that’s why we decided to stick with it.
Sean Carlin: There seems to be a greater deal of production that went into the EP this time around. Did you have a vision in mind going into the EP, and did you know that it was going to turn out the way it did?
Ally: Oh yeah, definitely. Yes to a vision, and yes to it turning out how we had hoped it would turn out. It was the first time working with a “producer” which really just means in addition to engineering the record, John Goodmanson who we worked with spent the first couple days with us in the studio just listening to us play the songs over and over again, not recording anything just playing it live. He’d giving feedback about arrangement like cutting a chorus in half, or cutting a verse or whatever and we’d take in that feedback and then we’d experiment with it. But for every song on that EP we pretty much had a reference in mind for John. We’d like tell him this is like a Varuca Salt song, this is like a Hole song, and we’d have very specific sounds in mind that we really wanted to channel in every song. We wouldn’t even have to say many words, like he would just understand by the references we offered. So in terms of production I mean it was just like we’ve never had that much time to work on any material we’ve ever released. Like we were in the studio for two weeks and I know bands take longer than that to record stuff, but the fact that we were in the studio for two weeks felt like a luxury to record five songs. So we had a lot of time to get them to where we wanted them to be.
Sean Carlin: Could you tell me about one of your favourite tracks from the EP or one that showcases your growth as a musician and tell me a little about it?
Ally: Yeah, I would say…I think we’d all agree that “Cherry Picking” is really the standout song on that EP, I mean it’s the single, or the first single but it’s also a really good example of our maturity in songwriting because the dynamics of that song are really interesting because there’s a chant that runs throughout the song. The fresh, cool…. I’m going to mess it up now [laughs] the fresh, sweet, cool, sleek. You know, you have that chant running throughout the song and I really think Abby had that in mind like, “oh we should have a song where it gives it a more anthemic quality” because it’s a chant that really sticks out. But in terms of the verses, when I think about what interests me about the song, is my bass line is such a heavy bass line that’s really driving the verses and Abby and I are essentially playing the same thing but that bass line is really driving it and that vocal chant kind of weaves in and out of that. Having a song like that is a good example of where we are now versus where we were five years ago
Sean Carlin: Where did you decision come about to include the dog on the EP, it’s got this Sublime-esque feel to it. Is it part of the band insignia now?
Ally: yeah, it’s not any direct reference to Sublime, but the idea was to create a logo that was just overall bold and interesting. It was really important for us not to have a logo that looked too weak or fragile, that’s why the lettering is super bold and as for the dog we all really like dogs and we’ve always kind of had a dog as a logo. Our original dog logo is a line illustration that our original guitarist Phoebe did and for a while we were printing that on our t-shirts and we still print it on our pillow cases. But you know Phoebe isn’t in the band anymore so we wanted something simple enough that you could make a tattoo of it or an embroider patch of it, so that’s how we came up with it – classic looking Dalmatian in a circle with the Potty Mouth in the bold lettering.
Sean Carlin: Your music has been described as “indie pop meets punk,” which objectively seems marry two unlikely genres. How do you think this works to your benefit? Do you find that this sets you apart from other acts, in some ways?
Ally: Indie pop meets punk….I don’t know if that sets us apart so much. I think what sets us apart is that we really do have an “old” sound. I think when you hear the new songs, the songs on the EP if you had no context for the sounds, if you didn’t know who we were I could easily see someone thinking that those songs were from 1995. That I think is really cool because it’s really hard to create music that has that reminiscent and nostalgic quality without being completely derivative or an exact copy of something that has already been made. I think our songs sound new and old at the same time and that’s a really hard balance to strike so I think that’s a really cool quality about the direction we’re going in.
Sean Carlin: Just a few more questions to finish up, what did you take out of the process of writing and recording your forthcoming record? What do you hope people take out of the album?
Ally: I hope that people see were still the same band. I think that people can sometimes have this kneejerk reaction like, “oh, whoa it’s so much more produced and fleshed out than their last album was, they’re becoming a different band.” I don’t even know, maybe no one thinks that, but what I would like to remind people is that there were two full years that went by between the release of our last album Hell Bent and the release of our EP. In those two years we did a lot of growing, we were working really, really, really hard. This band is our lives and so it makes sense that you spend two years working on your next release, which is a five-song EP. Yeah, hopefully it’s gonna be a step up from where you were last. I mean I don’t think bands should ever be expected to plateau and stay the same and always adhere to the same production quality or standards or the same sound standards. So we’re really proud of those songs and we’re really proud of all progress that we made in the last couple of years. I’d say it was hard not to release anything. We definitely got antsy. I also think sometimes a band will rush to release their next album or body of material because they’re worried people will forget about them and that’s a feeling we definitely had to fight. We definitely ended up choosing patience over rushing anything. We really wanted to be patient because we wanted to release songs that we were proud of and I’m glad that we did that.
Sean Carlin: I guess that worked into the decision to make an EP rather than a full-blown LP?
Ally: The thing is at this point we have so much new material that we haven’t release. We have songs that will probably never see the light of day but then we have songs that will be on the next full-length. We were very selective with the five songs that we put on the EP, we actually recorded seven songs in total during that session that we had in Seattle with John Goodmanson, and we ultimately chose five of them. The other two are possible contenders for a different release. We really wanted to do an EP because we knew this was going to sound different enough from our last album that we thought it made more sense to have an EP of this more polished sound to sort of act as the bridge between our last full-length and our next full-length so that people won’t be caught off guard when they hear the full-length which will pretty much sound a lot like the EP but still in a different vain than our earlier material.
Sean Carlin: What plans do you have for the rest of the year? Any plans to write some new music?
Ally: Abby’s in Sweden right now doing songwriting so she’s gonna come back with a bunch more new songs that we’re gonna have to figure out. The loose plan is, play shows when we can between now and March. March is our goal month to record the full-length, and have the full-length release in the summer of 2016. That’s the goal.
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