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July 2021
Feature

Mannequin Pussy: "What is the point of art, of creating things?"

Heading to the studio with one song and a bunch of anxiety, Mannequin Pussy’s new EP is the sound of a band in full flow.
Published: 10:22 am, May 20, 2021Words: Linsey Teggert.
Mannequin Pussy: "What is the point of art, of creating things?"

"I'm in control; that's what I tell myself when all the walls around me close in," sings Mannequin Pussy vocalist and guitarist Missy Dabice in the opening lines of 'Control', the killer first track of their new EP 'Perfect'. It's the only completed song that the Philadelphia-based trio brought to recording sessions, and having been written pre-pandemic, the lyrics take on a strange prescience after the last year.

"That was the only fully written song we had ready for the EP, and honestly, for me, that song was on thin ice; I was like, 'I don't fucking know...'" laughs Missy. "I thought we'd maybe give it the axe once we got into the studio, but once we were in the studio, we had our breakthrough with it."

The whole recording session for the 'Perfect' EP was something of a breakthrough, with the band approaching things in a way they had never done before, writing mainly on the fly with no preparation. This was all done under the expert eye of legendary emo producer Will Yip, who they had worked with on their hugely acclaimed third album, 2019's 'Patience'.

"It was so emotional going into the studio - there were all the feels," recalls bassist Colins 'Bear' Regisford. "There was a lot of anxiety because we literally walked in there with one completed song and nothing else, and there was so much going on with the world, we didn't even know if we had anything in us. But we walked in there, and all of a sudden, it was just coming out of us; it was too easy!"

"We really hit that magic point where we were all writing together in real-time," adds Missy. "It's been a while since I've been able to write like that, so it's good to know that we're not just capable of doing it, but capable of doing it well if I do say so myself!"

"A lot of it is down to Will; he's such a positive force," continues Missy. "He knows how to lift us all up as individuals, which is important to remember when you're involved with a band and looking at individual talents coming together to create something. He was able to get us in a space together and make us feel comfortable after so much time not playing together, to just come and unleash all these songs and ideas that have been pent up in us."

"I really wanted to do something we'd never done before"
Missy Dabice

The EP that has come from the release of those pent-up ideas is a kick-ass little gem that represents sonically just exactly what Mannequin Pussy are capable of. 'Control' is an explosive pop-punk banger, while 'Perfect' is a glorious short sharp blast of the thrashy chaos that the band do best: feral but perfectly executed.

Yet it's delicate EP closer 'Darling' that leaves the biggest impression, building on the quiet vulnerability explored in the heart-breaking 'High Horse' on previous record 'Patience'. At over four minutes, it's the longest track on the EP, and its shoegazey softness is breath-taking when compared to the EP's more riotous moments.

"I really wanted to do something we'd never done before as a band," says Missy. "We do the thrashy thing, we do the indie-punk thing, but we've never made a really soft, minimal song. 'Darling' was actually a demo I had from five years earlier and never did anything with, and I'm so grateful to Bear, and our drummer Kaleen for both being very open to making it a Mannequin Pussy song and show this other side of us."

One of the things that makes Mannequin Pussy so unforgettable is Missy's confessional and cathartic approach to lyric writing. While the bizarre reality of the last year has certainly been something to write about, the themes of 'Perfect' both embody and transcend the frustrations of lockdown.

"It's definitely hard to envision these songs as being just about the pandemic; a lot of these feelings are things that we all walk around with and are very present in our everyday lives, but they've just bubbled to surface under the situation that everyone was put in," states Missy.

"Whether it's a song like 'Perfect' about the idea that as artists we're seen as 'content creators' and not creative people, or 'Control', which is about not having control over what your life is. Or 'Darling', where you're in a room longing for someone else's touch that you can't have, or 'Pigs Is Pigs', which is about the experience of many Black Americans - all these things, these themes are always happening, and not just within the context of the pandemic. This is reality, and all these things continue to happen, so what do we do about them from here?"

For a band like Mannequin Pussy, live shows are crucial to exploring and confronting reality, allowing a release for both audience and band alike. After the release of 'Patience' afforded the band the opportunity to turn music into a full-time occupation, adapting to the new reality of pandemic life just as their career was lifting off has been strange, to say the least.

"Every musician has that issue where they're always trying to explain to their loved ones that this is what they do for a living, and they either go, 'ohhh, okayyy,' or 'wow, that's cool'," Bear muses. "I felt like we were finally doing something where my parents were going to feel comfortable talking about what I did! It truly felt like we were making some headway, and it was really hard to come to grips with what to do next, though we never lost the feeling that we simply had to figure out what to do next; we can't do absolutely nothing."

"It was so emotional going into the studio - there were all the feels" 
Colins 'Bear' Regisford

As cliched as it may sound, punk rock is definitely not about doing nothing. Despite the shit we've all been through, Mannequin Pussy are still strong believers that music can affect a positive change. "I've asked myself a lot over the past year: what is the point? What is the point of art, of creating things? What role does it play in our lives?" ponders Missy. "Then when I think about the things that have consoled me, whether that's movies or TV shows or graphic novels, that's all someone else's creativity. That's about connecting with other people through art, and that's where we do have the ability to ask the big questions and get people thinking about things."

"I feel like music can always be the answer," continues Bear. "Sometimes people just see a song as being too much or too aggressive, but often that aggression is necessary to speak to people who need to hear that. You sometimes have to give exactly what it is that people might hate, but you know that there are a whole bunch of people who are like 'I see you and you actually see me', and that's what's important about music."

Talking to Mannequin Pussy and listening to their new EP, one thing is more apparent than anything else: going to live shows again is going to be the most incredible feeling. Does anyone else want to take part in a group scream?

"There was a certain point on our 'Patience' tour where we conducted a group scream and invited the entire audience to just scream with us," recalls Missy. "Like, I know that's why you're here, I know that's why you like Mannequin Pussy! You have something inside of you that you are cathartically trying to understand and get out in some way. When you're in a room of 500 people all screaming together, it really feels like... 'woah'. I think we're going to need that." 

Taken from the June issue of Upset. Mannequin Pussy's EP 'Perfect' is out 21st May.

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