While the tides have turned considerably and the current sociopolitical climate has helped to amplify the voices of all-girl rock bands, the world looked a little different six years ago when Potty Mouth was formed. At the time, two of the band’s current members were attending Smith College, a private independent women’s liberal arts school in Northampton, Massachusetts. Bassist Ally Einbeinder and drummer Victoria Mandanas created the group initially, prior to the eventual addition of guitarist Abby Weems. It is hardly a surprise that the highly socially liberal environment of a college town nicknamed “Lesbianville, USA,” due to its high percentage of same-sex residents, fostered the musical ambition of a group of countercultural punks.
According to Ally, the band had no initial “lofty goals or expectations. Northampton was just a small punk community where people started bands all the time,” and their group was formed out of “that main ethic.”
On the other hand, she had experienced firsthand the difficulties of booking punk shows in a male-dominated scene, and had become increasingly frustrated with the way female artists were treated. Playing in punk bands such as Honeysuck and Outdated in the early 2010s had already helped her establish herself as a credible bassist, but she had yet to figure out how to navigate the patriarchal DIY scene.
Three months after Potty Mouth’s formation, the band played their first show. It was in “the basement of a punk house,” Ally remembers, and it set them on the path to establishing themselves as a unique entity amongst the masses of young, rebellious college kids trying to do the same thing. What’s more, they were an all-female band, sharing the lived experience of being women musicians in punk. While there is consistently a lot of support surrounding new bands in the community where Potty Mouth rose to fame, they still faced the obstacle of being a group full of women writing and performing music in a mostly male genre.
Ally is quick to point out that, while every scene has its own dynamics, the punk scene of Western Mass is mostly encouraging. “When you start a new band, people are generally excited because it’s such a small area, so there’s not a whole lot of stuff going on. When a band starts, they instantly get booked on shows,” she continues.
Ally acknowledges another intriguing factor about their band’s formation that contributed to their rise in notoriety in their local scene: all the girls were relatively new to playing in formal bands. Abby had never played in a band before. Slightly younger than the other members, she had only recently graduated high school when she joined Potty Mouth. Victoria, similarly, had little live performance experience.
The very ethos of punk is that sort of “newness,” initially succeeding due to, and not in spite of, the unapologetically raw spirit it encouraged. Punk artists are not necessarily formally trained musicians, but, nonetheless, they have something important to say. It may be encouraging to jaded older music fans to know that the frustration of the working-class anarchists of the 1970s is still driving today’s up-and-coming bands.
Potty Mouth, having battled gender discrimination and emerging relatively unscathed, soon found themselves confronted with a new challenge. The band started receiving considerable notoriety in their local community, and, before long, they were booking enough gigs to start “taking it seriously,” Abby divulges.
“We were never trying to go from zero to one hundred,” Ally admits. They had started the band “just for fun,” mainly as a means of expressing themselves creatively. Still, they didn’t mind seeing where it would go.
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PHOTOS: LORI GUTMAN
WORDS: CARLY BUSH