Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) Interviews Potty Mouth
Pop-punk trio Potty Mouth recently dropped the first single, “Do It Again,” from their as-yet untitled sophomore album. To celebrate, we set up a call between the band and riot grrrl icon, Allison Wolfe, whose band Bratmobile released their debut album, Pottymouth, back in 1993.
As you will discover, the band was not, in fact, named after Wolfe’s album, but the women — who all reside in Los Angeles — certainly became friends after the chat, planning to go out for pizza in the not-so-distant future. Read on for Wolfe’s interview, which includes more on the name, new music and wannabe Facebook feminists.
Allison: So how did you name the band?
Ally: We actually were originally called Vacation and we played one show under that name. And then we found out that there was another band called Vacation from Ohio — a punk band. And then, it’s funny, because they actually became friends of ours and ended up playing our first record release show. We realized that we had to change our name after that and we spent a whole summer debating names.
Finally, our original guitarist [Phoebe Harris] came up with Potty Mouth. She was on the toilet when she thought of it. Like, ‘Haha, what about Potty Mouth?’ That’s when I said, ‘Oh yeah, like the Bratmobile album. Even though we say we’re not named after Bratmobile, it’s still sort of a nod to Bratmobile.
Allison: Cool! Well, I was flattered. To be honest, I didn’t even name our album Pottymouth. I had never used that word before. I think probably Erin Smith, the guitarist, named it. She probably was a little freaked out by how much I swear. That’s happened in a few bands I’ve been in. People are like, ‘You swear too much.’ But the word ‘pottymouth,’ I never would have thought of or used before.
Ally: There’s a whole Facebook page called ‘Mommy Has a Pottymouth’ and it’s just totally a Facebook page for moms to post mom memes. Like, ‘When mommy freaks out, mommy gets a pottymouth!’
Allison: I wanted to know for each of you, how were you all raised? What were some acts of rebellion for you, personally? And also, how did you get into punk?
Ally: I grew up in Albany, New York, and that’s where I got into punk music. I got into punk when I was probably fourteen; my brother played me Anti-Flag and then he played me Black Flag. I had never heard anything like that before. I only really listened to music on the radio. I thought it was very cool. I went to my first show shortly after that; I was just walking around on the street somewhere and someone gave me a flier. That was in 2002 and it turns out that that show I went to was a very early Fall Out Boy show. So it was crazy. It was in a very small club in Albany.
And then after that I just kept going to shows — and all my friends were people that went to shows. I didn’t actually have that many friends in my high school. All my boyfriends were punk guys that played in bands, but I never played an instrument. I always wanted to, because I just kept getting into punk music. It just seemed so crazy to me that you could just play guitar and start a band and play shows and tour the country and put out records. Watching [the punk guys] do it, it just seemed so easy for them. So, by the time I got to college [at Smith], I started teaching myself how to play bass.
As for acts of rebellion, when I was a teenager in Albany, all my friends were punks and we would just constantly break into places. There was this one huge abandoned warehouse in Albany called the Freezer Warehouse, because it was a warehouse where they would store freezers and refrigerators and things like that. We would break in and go all the way to the top and hang out on the roof. You could see the whole city. We’d just throw shit off and be stupid.
Abby: I grew up in Massachusetts, in Amherst, and it’s sort of the same thing for me. My parents are very sweet, polite, great people, but I had friends who were in bands and I always wanted to go to shows and I think my parents had this idea that punk shows were full of harmful, drug-dealing, scary people. So they really didn’t like the idea of me going out with my friends, but I still would, anyway.
My friends in high school, their parents were really into music and had been in bands, so any time I went to their house, they were always showing me new music and letting their kids play music and play at house shows, even though we were, like, in ninth grade.
I met Ally through people in that scene. Eventually, I would just hang out with Ally and her friends, even though I was just this random high school kid and they were all in college or out of college.
Allison: So how did you guys actually get into playing music? From being an audience participant to being on stage and all that? What made you feel like you could do it? Was there something to the ‘Cherry Picking’ video that kind of shows how that happened?
Abby: That video, we definitely wanted to put it in a nutshell, like, ‘You can do this, too. It’s not that hard. Just put on a guitar and jam out.’ That was definitely my experience with music. I was in high school and I just randomly got asked to play with Ally and [drummer] Victoria [Mandanas] even though I had never been in a band before. It was very spontaneous — just for fun. It felt like we were all on the same page about it, so it wasn’t intimidating and it didn’t feel like we had to write the best songs. We just sort of wrote whatever came to us. It made it a good first experience playing music.
Ally: I specifically went to Smith College, a women’s college, because felt like I didn’t have that many powerful female friendships. I was hanging out with a lot of dudes, because the punk scene in Albany was really male-dominated. I had really sort of grown into a feminist consciousness at that point.
[After being asked by a friend to play bass for his project], I bought my first bass from my ex-boyfriend’s little brother. I just started teaching myself the songs on the tape that he gave me, and then eventually we became a band with a drummer and started playing shows. That was my first band.
After that band, I really felt, ‘OK, I understand this now. I understand how this works.’ That’s when I really wanted to start a band of my own — and I really wanted it to be all women. So that’s where the idea for Potty Mouth came from.
Allison: That leads beautifully into my next question, which is: what were your intentions with starting this band? And that could be what you wanted it to sound like, or be like or maybe the lyrical content?
Abby: When we started the band we didn’t really have any kind of idea of who would play lead guitar or who would even sing, it was all very open-ended. Eventually it all took form through our writing process.
Allison: I think the idea of using the tools that you have… and I don’t want to generalize too much, but sometimes, with women playing music who haven’t been super encouraged early in life, sometimes you just use the tools you have and you make noise and put your words out however you know how. It often does come out in a different way.
Ally: It took a lot for me to have any sort of confidence that I knew what I was doing. And I still question myself all the time. But I always think, like, ‘Fuck it.’ I love the approach that the [Girls Rock camp takes]. It’s like, ‘What is tone?’ ‘Well, tone can mean this, this and this, but really, who cares? Because there’s no right or wrong way to sound.’
Allison: I don’t even want to go into the whole ‘girl band, girl music, girl whatever’ thing too much, because I’m sure you get asked that all the time, as have I — although I usually just take it head-on. But that leads into, what challenges have you faced in the music industry?
Abby: Well, one thing that we were just talking about recently was a Facebook post that we’d been tagged in where this guy saw us play… I don’t really know what his thought process was for writing a four-paragraph Facebook post, but it was all about how we were dressed, like, sexily and how he thought that we felt obligated to dress this way when we’re on stage because that’s how we’ll get people’s attention and then that’s how they’ll actually pay attention to our music. This guy felt like he was having this epiphany about being a band of all women and how it must be so different for us to play music.
Ally: He totally thought he was having his big feminist ‘aha!’ moment. He thought he was illuminating some sexist double standard. I mean, he was, in a way, but he was totally projecting in this case. What if we actually like what we were wearing? It’s fun to look interesting. He was claiming in the post that he didn’t recognize me after I put a sweatshirt on, because I didn’t have my little holographic halter-top. But, I mean… I’m a small girl with bright green hair, what do you mean you don’t recognize me if I put on a jacket?
Allison: Looking at now and the future, you have a new album. Are there any special songs on your new record that have a special meaning to you?
Abby: Well, there’s a song called ‘22’ that’s going to be premiered on Carson Daly a few weeks from now. At least for me, it represents the feeling of getting older and not being the novelty kid in the punk scene. How it’s weird to come into being an adult while playing music. It’s funny because it’s coming out like a year after I wrote that song, so I’m twenty-three now. That’s something that feels a little bit like a time capsule for me.
Allison: So, the album. I don’t know if you’ve named it yet. Maybe you can run some names by me and we’ll vote on it.
Ally: We can call it Bratmobile!
Allison: That would be awesome!
( Photo credit: Hailey Parker, Chris Gualano)
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