the return of potty mouth's riotous pop-punk
Their new album 'SNAFU' tells of how they broke free from the music industry's ridiculous standards.
Photography Nazrin Massaro
This article originally appeared on i-D US.
“I thought it would be funny if Potty Mouth and the album name was an anagram for PMS,” explains guitarist/vocalist Abby Weems. That idea led her to search for a word beginning with "S" and to discover the term SNAFU, which itself is an anagram for “Situation Normal All Fucked Up.” It was suggested by a friend, and Abby tells i-D, “I really liked it because it resonated a lot with what our band has been through.”
Potty Mouth makes a type of mellifluous pop-punk music that once had the music industry in a spin. Green Day, L7, and Veruca Salt are all obvious references, as are other fierce feminist personalities that defined 90s pop culture, like Daria, Jenny McCarthy and Courtney Love. However, in the 2010s there are fewer reference points and Abby, Potty Mouth bassist Ally Einbinder and drummer Victoria Mandanas have had to stare down an industry that’s not only skeptical of rock music’s ability to rack up numbers (you’re only as good as your streaming stats these days, apparently), but one that still sees women making rock music as a novelty.
The four-year gap between their break-out 2015 self-titled EP and their forthcoming album SNAFU (out March 1) – a career-defining moment for the Massachusetts band – is the result of industry insiders trying to squeeze profit from a band that occupies space in an increasingly sidelined genre. In 2015, having already released two successful lo-fi records – 2012’s Sun Damage EP and 2013’s Hell Bent – the band inked a deal to record a second EP and then, all going well, another full-length album. But it didn’t quite go to plan. “We had a contingency contract with [a] label,” explains Abby. “They put out the EP and they wanted to see how it would do, and based on that, we would put out a record. But they also didn’t really invest anything, other than helping us record the EP, and you know, we’re an indie rock band, we weren’t going to be the next Haim with no budget. So [the EP] wasn’t what they were expecting, and they weren’t what we were expecting, so we parted ways and then it became this path of trying to rebuild our team and record new music.” It’s the perfect example of what Abby describes as a normal situation becoming all fucked up – a SNAFU. “You think the music industry is going to be one way, but it never is,” she says.
Potty Mouth formed in 2011 when Ally invited Abby, Victoria and the band’s former-guitarist Phoebe Harris over to her house for an impromptu practice. “It was very low pressure,” remembers Ally. “We were just, like, let’s see if we can write some songs together.” Ally and Victoria knew each other from college (both attended the women’s-only Smith College in Northampton, MA), while Phoebe knew Abby (who was still in high school) through mutual friends. None of them had played music together, but due to the intimate nature of the Western Massachusetts music scene they had seen each other around. “My first band played a show at the library that Abby’s mom works at, so I would see Abby around and I would be like, ‘who is that cool high schooler?’" says Ally. For Abby, joining Potty Mouth was an opportunity to finally be around people that embraced her creativity, and to be in a band where she wasn’t dismissed because of her gender. “I wanted to be in a band, but all of my friends who were in bands were guys who only played with each other,” she says. “It was the same six people who were in four different bands, and they never invited me to play with them.”
In 2016, Abby, Ally and Victoria decided to relocate to Los Angeles. “We literally drove in tandem across the country,” Ally says of the move out west. It afforded them the opportunity to rebuild and take their band to the next level after a frustrating final chapter in Massachusetts. They planned to record new songs and regain momentum, but again encountered a music industry that was all too willing to interfere in their affairs. Eventually they grew tired of trying to fulfil others’ expectations of what Potty Mouth should be, and concluded that the best way forward was to build their own empire.
The story of how they persisted and finally broke free from the industry’s ridiculous standards is detailed in a comic book that Abby has produced to accompany SNAFU. “The plot of the comic is our fun little way of explaining why it’s taken us so long to release our album,” she says. “It’s an easy way to let our fans in on how we’ve been feeling about this process without having to make a long, dramatic Facebook post about it.”
SNAFU speaks to the struggle of creating your own path in a physical and psychologically deranged world. It’s being released on Get Better Records, a label owned and operated by Ally and her partner Alex Lichtenauer, whose mantra is “for the queers, by the queers. No sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, apologist bullshit will be tolerated.” Album highlights include Liar, a grungy Nirvana-esque song about turning your back on dishonest dickheads, and Massachusetts, a contagious pop-punk anthem that addresses the fear of being trapped in your hometown forever. 22, however, is the song that Potty Mouth will be most remembered for. Abby, who is approximately half a decade younger than her bandmates, wrote the song on her 22nd birthday, and says it’s about being a young person in a punk band and feeling like a novelty act, then one day waking up and discovering that the pressure has suddenly disappeared.
“When I was approaching 22, I felt like, OK, now I’m not the kid in the scene anymore. Now I’m the same age as everyone else who is now graduating college,” she says. “When we would go on tour and I’d be, like, ‘I’m 20 or 21’, people would be, like, ‘oh, so you’re just doing music. You’re not even in school?’ After I turned 22 it took away that signal that I was doing music instead of other life things. I felt like less of a novelty, but I felt a lot more pressure to up my game since I didn’t have this crutch of being the cool kid.”
A key part of getting older is using your position to challenge your peers, even if it could compromise your own situation. In 2018 Potty Mouth performed on the male-dominated Vans Warped Tour (only 7% of bands on the 2018 lineup included women), and when they addressed the gender-imbalance situation on Twitter, the festival’s producer Kevin Lyman responded and kind of missed the point. His attempt to gaslight the situation by mentioning other areas of the festival where he does employ a lot of women was met with numerous eye-rolls. Abby, Ally and Victoria were later invited to visit The Recording Academy to partake in a program designed to “shift the way gender is represented in the music industry.” In a photo posted to Twitter of the band posing next to a Grammy logo, Abby is seen wearing a Vans: Off the Wall T-shirt. Whether it was deliberate or not, the subtle dig comes across loud and clear. That same defiant attitude is what makes SNAFU one of the year’s best pop-punk records.