March 6, 2013

Interview: Mannequin Pussy

Marisa and Thanasi are self-described childhood friends turned degenerates and we talked to them about their new album, turning a duo into a three piece, and their favorite top 40 hits. 

This piece is a long time in the making. Back when we first started the blog, Diana wrote about a Mannequin Pussy and Slutever show that took place in April. In June, Marisa invited us to see them at Death by Audio but Diana and I were too lazy to walk the ten blocks from our apartment and spent all night regretting it. I finally got a chance to see them in July with Tacocat and Slutever and was delightfully impressed with their thrashing sound and restrained but electric stage presence. The first time we interviewed Thanasi and Marisa took place in the later in July in a Chinatown park filled with elderly people after we all got off work. It was too hot, there were a million mosquitoes biting us, and rats were scurrying underfoot but we still talked for around an hour about Mannequin Pussy's beginnings, going through Phish phases, and the label of 'girl band'. We didn't get a chance to see them again that summer but Diana and I spent much of the fall listening to the demos they had available on bandcamp. Since then, Marisa and Thanasi have recorded their first full length album (that we at THE LE SIGH are more than excited to hear) and expanded to a three piece. I got a chance to email the two about the new record, their initial meeting as toddlers, and where they would want to play if Mannequin Pussy blows up.

TLS: You and Thanasi go back quite a bit of time – when did you first meet and when did you decide to start a band? 

Marisa: Thanasi and I go way back. We've known each other since we were in a "Tumbling Tots" class together at the YMCA. We started the band almost 18 years later in October of 2010. During this time there was, to put it mildly, a lot going on in my life that I didn't know how to respond to. I was writing all these songs as a way to expel this built up emotional residue. I wanted to play with someone and Thanasi was the only person I knew who I felt comfortable asking to play with me.

Thanasi: I had been living in the city for around a year when Marisa approached me about starting a band. I knew she was having a rough time, so I was glad to play some music with her and see if we could do something cool. We've known each other forever so playing together came very naturally.

TLS: What were both of your progressions into playing music? 

Thanasi: I got a guitar when I was about 13 and joined my first band the next year. I taught myself how to play drums a few years later, out of necessity, and I've been playing either guitar or drums in bands since then. Playing music is really the only honest form of personal expression that I'm capable of, so it's pretty important for my mental health that I keep playing.

Marisa: I started playing music because I was very desperate to have a release from my life at the time. I had written a majority of these songs as a reaction to my situation and playing music was, sorry to be cliche, like sucking out all the poison. Too many people make music because they can but I was making music because I had to. I still feel that way. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Personally, I'm more drawn to songs where you listen and just instinctively know that the song originated in a very honest place. I think of Gram Parsons or Amy Winehouse. There is something about the delivery of songs like theirs, that grit and sadness in their voice, that just slays my heart every time I listen.

TLS: Mannequin Pussy primarily plays in New York – where are your favorite places to play and who are your favorite people to play with? Where would you be most excited to play if you could go anywhere?

Marisa: Death by Audio, no doubt. Edan has been super supportive of us since the beginning - our second show ever was at Death by Audio with Slutever and since then, Edan has always kept an eye out for bills he thinks we would be a good match for. That's what I love and respect so much about DBA, they don't just throw shows, they curate shows. Every now and then, I'll dig an eclectic bill but personally, I feel the most inspired when I'm seeing or playing a show where the sounds all fit together.

Thanasi: Playing DBA is always awesome. Like Marisa said, Edan has been extraordinarily cool to us since we started out. Shea Stadium has also been great every time we've played there.

Marisa: My favorite people to play with are our soul sisters Nicole & Rachel from Slutever. We just get each other. I don't know if I can put it any other way.

Thanasi: I agree, they're my favorites.

Marisa: Uhhhhh, maybe Bonnaroo? I would love to play a big dumb festival where everyone in the audience is on a ton of psychedelics.

Thanasi: Ehhhhh, I don't know about that. Festivals stress me out. I'd most like to play MSG, obviously.

TLS: After a few demos you're finally putting out the first full length by Mannequin Pussy. What was that process like and how does it feel now? What can we look forward to on this release?

Thanasi: We've been sitting on these tracks for a while now, some of them for almost three years, so it feels great to finally be putting them to tape. All the songs have definitely changed over time, especially since Drew joined us on the drums and I moved over to playing guitar. Sometimes it's impossible to play songs the way they're meant to be played until you have sufficient time to reflect on them and the experiences that you've had since they were written.

Marisa: Ha! Finally is the operative word. For the last two years, I've been having internal debates as to whether or not I felt ready to record them. I wasn't ready until Drew joined the band and Thanasi and I both started playing guitar. Our sound morphed into something stronger than the demos. I'm most looking forward for people to hear it – I got chills listening to the rough instrumental tracks last week. It's going to be an impressively short release – our 10 favorite songs from the demos, clocking in around 18 minutes. I've never been in a rush to put anything out because the great thing about music is that there is kind of no bad time to put out a record - people are always looking for something new to love or hate.

TS: MP recently added a third member – what's it like playing as a three piece instead of just two? 

Marisa: It fucking rules. It feels so good not to be bound to a two piece anymore. I was starting to feel very helpless with the band. I've always had a much larger vision for the songs than what was on the demos because I thought those demos were total shit. When you suffer from sonic hallucinations and aren't able to achieve the sound you want, it's really frustrating. I think I was at the point where I was ready to walk away from the whole project and music in general. Like, why am I making music if I'm not making it the way I want to? If I can't make it the way I want to? Drew came out of nowhere and is, I think, the heart of the band. To have someone you don't know come up to you and tell you that he believes in your music and wants to be a part of it, I had never experienced that. I wasn't flattered so much as I was truly grateful for a chance to make the music that I kept hearing in my head. The other thing I love about being a three piece is that it's easier to get away with making mistakes: I'm a very sloppy musician so I kind of need to hide behind the sound of others sometimes. I'm working on that though, practice everyday kids!

Thanasi: Being a two piece was great for a lot of reasons, but it is infinitely better now that we have Drew with us. Especially because no one has to hear my sub-par drumming anymore. All the songs sound fresh and fully fleshed out since we expanded, and now we'll never be able to go back. TLS: What's in the future for Mannequin Pussy after the record comes out?

Marisa: No clue.

Thanasi: We all want to go on tour at some point relatively soon, so that'll happen if I can get enough time off of work.

TLS: This question is specifically for you Marisa since you're touring with Colleen Green in the spring – How did that happen and what's it like playing and touring with a different band versus your own? 

Marisa: I love learning to play music that isn't my own because for one, I rarely do it - the only songs I know on guitar are songs I've written and "Wild Thing" and two, it makes me a better musician. Colleen took a huge chance in asking me to tour and play bass for her March 2011 tour, we barely knew each other and (sorry if you read this Colleen!) I kinda lied to her. She sent me a message that was more or less "Hey! This is out of the blue but I'm going on tour and need someone to play bass and I'm pretty sure you're musical, will you come?" And at the time, I was not musical. I had been playing guitar for like, two months maybe? And, more importantly, I had never even touched a bass. Anyway, I told her: "Yes! I would love to go on tour with you and yes, I can play bass." I bought a plane ticket to LA and immediately after thought: FUCK, I have no idea how to play bass and I have just a month or so to learn it. I holed myself up where I was living at the time and didn't emerge until I had learned how to play all the songs. I played along to all the tracks like 50 times a day. All in all it worked out really well and now I'm touring with her again. There is a different type of pressure that I feel when playing in a band that isn't my own. I really believe in and love Colleen's music and as a result, I take each show very seriously. I think of it as a job. I'm there to help bring her vision for the music to a live setting and if I fail to learn the songs or hit the notes, I feel like I'm failing my friend who believed in me. That may seem too heavy for the reality that going on tour and playing music every night is the best and super fun but I'm multi-talented that way. I know when and how to have a really good time but I also know when and how to take things seriously and act like a professional. 

TLS: What is Mannequin Pussy's favorite Top 40 song right now? 

Thanasi: I'm just gonna assume that by Top 40 you mean current pop music, because I'm way too lazy to look up the charts right now. I listen to a lot of 96.3 and 97.9, so every Prince Royce single of the past 3 years is basically my favorite. Especially "Mi Ultima Carta" and "Las Cosas Pequenas". I also unapologetically love "I'm Different" by 2 Chainz.

Marisa: Definitely Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," although I could live without that music video. What are those stupid voice overs in the beginning? What's with the one at the end?! The whole concept is just so pathetic and Twilight-y. But the song, man the SONG... is solid pop gold.

Listen to Mannequin Pussy on bandcamp. Photo by Lucia Arias.

Written by Emily Thompson