By Michael Tedder
Punk is an elastic concept, spanning poppy odes to crushes, angry screeds against oppression, and every experimental rumination in between. The paradox of punk is that, within reason, sometimes doing the least punk thing is the most punk move of all.
So when you’re the Philadelphia punk group Mannequin Pussy, and you’ve made your name with brash anthems such as “Meat Slave 2” and you crammed 11 noisy songs into 17 joyful minutes on your 2016 breakout, Romantic, the most contrary move you could make would be to take a breath. Patience is an unexpected title for Mannequin Pussy’s highly-anticipated third album and an altogether un-punk concept for a sound based around “go, go, go.” But learning to take a beat was an idea that singer-guitarist Marisa Dabice had to learn to embrace. Whether she wanted to or not.
“I am so fucking impatient, but I am trying to change. If I have an idea, I immediately want to spring into action, no matter what it is,” she tells MTV News. “I heard something once that shook me, about the whole concept of a ‘genius’ being bullshit because true ideas just float around searching for a host body to bring them out into the world. So if you have an idea and don’t do anything, the idea will leave you and go search for someone who can bring it out. So if I’m at home and sitting around smoking weed and suddenly my brain starts going off on a weird pair of earrings I want to make or a t-shirt or whatever, I just go out, get the materials and do it, I don’t wait for anyone to catch onto my idea. I just go it alone.”
Of course, Mannequin Pussy is no solo project. After reconnecting with childhood friend Athanasios Paul, the two formed the band in 2010, and released a flurry of homemade EPs. They went through some line-up changes, eventually settling into their current configuration, which includes bassist Colins “Bear” Regisford and drummer Kaleen Reading (Paul switched from drums to guitar) and cut their first two albums (Romantic and their 2013 debut Gypsy Pervert) at marathon speed. “We spent two days in the studio on our first record, two or three weeks on Romantic,” she says, “and fucking forever on Patience.”
Part of Dabice’s frustration with having to wait is that, in a way, she’s been making up for lost time since she was a teenager. Born in the Bronx, but raised in Connecticut, hers was not an idyllic childhood.
“I was a kid with a childhood cancer, so it gave me this kind of twisted worldview,” she says. “To be 15 and think you might die and still have to go to school every day and study for the SATs… I don’t know, there’s something kind of hilarious about that to me now… Life is intense and shitty most of the time, so if you don’t find ways to laugh at your own misfortune then I just feel sorry for you.”
That experience, she says, in a way stunted her emotional growth, and she didn’t begin playing music until she was 24 when, after her mother had suffered a stroke, she moved from Colorado back to New York to take care of her. She soon found herself writing songs with Paul in her downtime as an outlet. After her mother stabilized and she grew tired of New York’s nonstop grind (which, because musicians are too busy trying to make astronomical rent than music, she thinks makes for “lazy artists”) the band decamped from New York to the more affordable Philadelphia, America’s most vibrant rock-music city, one full of “incredibly talented weirdos,” she says. She often sees Kurt Vile and Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan just kinda hanging around.
Making Patience, Dabice had to slow things down for two reasons. The first was a label concern: Mannequin Pussy’s first two albums were released by the Carolina-based indie label Tiny Engines, best known for shepherding The Hotelier and Beach Slang into the world. The band had a “handshake deal” for two more albums, she says, but no real formal contract. Four months after Romantic was released to rave reviews (Stereogum named it Album of the Week and Rolling Stone called the title track one of the best songs of the year), they were approached by Epitaph Records, the largest independent punk label in the world.
When Mannequin Pussy first met with the label, they learned that when its founder Brett Gurewitz first heard their name, he said, “I’m glad not all the good band names are taken.” (Gurewitz is also a long-time member of Bad Religion, so he knows of what he speaks.) They decided to sign with Epitaph. The ensuing legal process of changing labels was drawn out, and not really a topic Dabice likes discussing that much: “I understand why feelings were hurt,” she says. Nevertheless, she felt it was a good opportunity for them to get more exposure and support, saying the label offered them complete freedom, and promised they “wouldn’t change a thing about our band.”
But even if their label didn’t want them to change, Mannequin Pussy did — or at least, grow. That’s the second reason: Mannequin Pussy recorded the album that eventually became Patience a few years ago, but eventually decided to throw that version out and try again.
“We first recorded Patience in the same studio as we did Romantic. And I love Romantic deeply, there isn’t a thing I would change on it. But we didn’t want to be stuck there,” Dabice says. “That studio is in this huge warehouse with a lot of memories for me personally, and this time around it just felt so hard to concentrate there, to not be sucked into the past in a detrimental way.”
Eventually, she accepted it was time to move on.
“We wanted a new challenge, a new perspective,” she says. “The decision to re-record was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever made as a band. It still makes me feel strange and like I let people I care about down. But in the end, this band is me, Thanasi, Kaleen, and Bear. The four of us need to feel inspired by what we make together and know it’s our best possible work.”
So they started again, this time with Will Yip, the Philadelphia-based producer known for giving ambitious punk groups like Title Fight and Turnstile just enough of a polish. Since their label situation was still unresolved, Yip agreed to do the recording on spec; Dabice says he just got paid two months ago. “He’s a weirdo Aquarius with an insane work ethic, which is like my favorite combination of a person,” she says. “I wanted it to still sound and feel like us, but a graduated version of us.”
Patience is a perfect summertime rock album, one that finds the room for wistful, heartbroken indie pop gems such as “Fear/+/Desire” and surging, sing-a-long anthems like “Who Are You,” while also throwing down screaming firebombs such as “Clams” and “Cream,” which burn with the fury of prime riot grrrl cuts, but with an added heft. THe album is hooky enough to not leave your head all summer, and hard enough to cut any detractors off at the path.
“I’m not really a huge fan of shit that sounds too clean, or too perfect, but I am a fan of making something that sounds like it could be on the radio, even if it never will be,” Dabice says. She calls Yip a nurturing presence in the studio, one who helped draw new sides out of the band. “I never saw myself as a singer until this record. A wild banshee, sure. But a singer? No. Not until now.”
The album’s lead single, and the uncontested Song of the Summer in some circles, is “Drunk II,” a bittersweet ode to not-getting-over-it that combines a chiming riff, classic-rock solo, and the year’s most hilarious verse: “And do you remember the nights I called you up? / I was so fucked up / I forgot we were broken up / I still love you, you stupid fuck.”
It’s already the band’s most popular song, and one they’ve been playing live for years. It was originally written for Romantic, but she knew it wouldn’t be ready in time, so they kept workshopping it live.
“It was really this song in particular that made me feel like we had to re-record the album. We just didn’t capture it in the way I had been dreaming about for so long. I had very high expectations that had to be met to get it there,” she says.
Taking the time to get it right for Patience required, well, you can probably guess — as well as faith that her great ideas wouldn’t find some other vessel. “For almost three years, I’ve been terrified that some other heartbroken bitch also wrote ‘Drunk II’ and then I’d have nothing to show for that depressive episode except a bunch of sad memories,” she says.
But for a band that doesn’t shy away from the idea of a radio-friendly hit, and, along with “Drunk II,” potentially has a few in their quiver, it does beg one question: Is their attention-getting name good for business? Dabice, who concedes that it’s “pretty divisive,” considers it part of a long tradition of oppressed people appropriating the slurs used against them.
“You have the people on the internet who say we have the worst band name ever, and then other people who think it’s the best. People who tell us they only listened to us because of the band name and people who say they will never listen to us because of it,” Dabice says. “I do wish people wouldn’t censor us or it made people feel ‘awkward’ to say, but isn’t that also kind of the fun of rock and roll?”