From the magazine: ISSUE 89, December 2013/January 2014
The western Massachusetts four-piece Potty Mouth are in the middle of a 13-city tour, driving across state lines with Veruca Salt blasting from the van’s stereo, brushing off sexist jerks and performing scrappy pop-punk songs off their debut full-length, Hell Bent. “These songs are inspired by our day-to-day lives,” says singer and guitarist Abby Weems, on speakerphone from the parking lot of a used record store in Missouri. Weems was only a junior in high school when the band had its first practice in 2011, which makes her no-frills lyrics about shitty friends, small-town boredom and drinking too much feel especially heartfelt. “A lot of times if I’m feeling frustrated about something, I’ll write a song about it,” she says. Potty Mouth reminds you that sometimes tapping into your inner adolescent is all it takes.
Around the time the band formed, Weems was still listening to Dookie in her childhood bedroom in Amherst, and the rest of Potty Mouth was about 10 miles away, at Smith College, an all-women’s liberal arts school in Northampton. At the time, Ally Einbinder was playing bass in two different bands, and Victoria Mandanas was drumming with South Carolina garage punks Chemical Peel during school breaks; Phoebe Harris, a studio art major, had yet to pick up a guitar. After bonding over records and gender politics, the three spotted Weems hanging around at local house shows and brought her on board as a vocalist. “I knew Abby wanted to start a band,” says Harris, “and it was this spontaneous, kind of odd pairing, because we all didn’t know each other that well.”
Listening to Hell Bent’s smart, economical racket, it’s clear the members of Potty Mouth have spent some time getting acquainted. Weems is almost into her twenties now, but she still sings the kind of candid teenage poetry that doesn’t need to be analyzed. How real were you? she intones in her raw, monotone drawl on “Damage,” its jittery guitars and driving drums recalling the kind of gritty indie rock that the members of Potty Mouth aren’t quite old enough to be nostalgic for. “It wasn’t like, Oh yeah, we want to be a ’90s revivalist band,” Einbinder remembers. “Recently, we’ve been listening to a lot of Jawbreaker and Hole and hearing similarities, like, Oh, right, we kind of sound like that.” They struggle to otherwise pinpoint what they sound like collectively, but they’re quick to highlight each other’s personal strengths, particularly when explaining their collaborative songwriting process. “Phoebe’s leads almost function as a second vocal harmony,” Einbinder says proudly of Harris’ intuitive ear for guitar hooks. The riffs aren’t revolutionary, but they’re persistent in a way that’s tough to shake off. Hell Bent may charm with its unvarnished edges, but it also projects poise, a levelheaded confidence in the face of youth’s uncertainties. Look at me now/ My life’s alright/ Think I might have found what I was after, Weems deadpans on “The Gap,” the album’s ramshackle opener about her decision to put off college, for now. The rest of the band have received their diplomas, but the “gap year” is still an apt metaphor for the Potty Mouth spirit in general—that post-adolescent mentality of not knowing what’s coming next. For now, they’re content writing catchy songs and making up the rest as they go.