Becca Mancari’s sophomore LP, The Greatest Part, is a letter to our younger selves, highlighting both the process of grief and the joy of living.
Stream: “Hunter” – Becca Mancari
“I wrote this record, I feel in my heart, to our younger selves,” says Becca Mancari of her upcoming sophomore LP, The Greatest Part. It’s a record that makes its way through a grieving process surrounding her younger years growing up queer in a religious environment, but it’s also a record that acknowledges grief and joy are two sides of the same coin, and a record that sounds like freedom.
In 2017, Nashville-based Mancari released her debut LP, Good Woman, a widely successful Americana masterpiece. This time around though, working together with close friend, Zac Farro (Paramore, Halfnoise), Mancari adapted a new way of making music: writing in the mornings and freely experimenting in the studio in the afternoons, where only one rule was set: to have fun. And listening to The Greatest Part, you can tell fun was had. All eleven tracks are as fun as they are sincere, and while the sound is slightly different, Mancari’s token songwriting shines brightly through.
The story told on The Greatest Part is both concise and conversational, and reminiscent of heaviness and pain. But in light of all of it, Mancari believes “the greatest part of life is actually living it,” and that “you [always] find your way out” of the darkness. We talk about that in our conversation below, along with what it’s like to collaborate with your best friend, the importance of good stage banter, and the ins and outs of making The Greatest Part, out June 26 on Captured Tracks.
A CONVERSATION WITH BECCA MANCARI
Atwood Magazine: First of all, congrats on “The Greatest Part!” I know there’s that trope about second albums having to come together much more quickly and differently than first albums — did you find that to be true while making The Greatest Part?
Becca Mancari: Yeah, your debut record you have your whole lifetime to write, as they say. But this one came in kind of two months, which is really quick for me as a songwriter! I was writing without knowing the ending of songs, which is different for me too, but they kept coming together every morning before going into the studio. I had gone through so much touring on “A Good Woman,” and so much pain. I had let go of my manager during that time and it was a really heavy time for me. I had gotten to a place of being burnt out, and I know a lot of artists feel that after their first big release.
I was gone most of 2018 and got home and was spent, and I think it was finally after being so broken down that I was able to write I think—I know—the most personal and honest music I’ve ever made. And couple that with working with my best friend, Zac Farro, I had never felt better going into a studio than I did working with him. He had this policy: if it’s not fun, we’re going to stop for the day. We will make a record that, if you listen to it, you can tell two people had fun while they were making it. It’s how it feels when I listen to it, because I remember having that fun. On the last record, which was also amazing and fun, I used my live band. But this time, Zac and I tracked the songs in the studio from the ground up, which felt really organic and fresh. We had such an energy flow, and I knew he was in that flow which is why I decided to work with him. His energy was so right, and I knew we were going to do something brilliant together. And that feels good to say! I’m pretty reserved in what I think about my music sometimes, but I’m just so proud of this record.
That's exciting! What you described about having fun, I can hear that when I listen to the record, and I feel like each song feels really concise and centralized on one theme, in a good way. And each of those moments feels pretty heavy and personal. What was the writing process like exploring those things?
Becca Mancari: It was so painful, if I’m being honest. I think I was grieving for the first time in ten years from really coming out, and I don’t think I had ever done that. To survive, especially as a queer kid, was to just keep going, and keep living. I’ll be honest, when I was young when I came out, I almost did die. I almost did lose my hope, but I remember pushing through that and thankfully didn’t make that choice. But I had to put it away, because I wasn’t ready to deal with it until a lot later. When I was touring so much, I met so many fans who came from similar backgrounds and would come up to me at the merch table with tears in their eyes saying, “your record helped me come out to my parents” or would tell me that my Instagram even “helped them know they could have normal, beautiful lives, and could be ok too.”
After that, I think I finally got to the place where I realized I hadn’t grieved or really told my story. It was hard—I think I have a lot of voice memos of me crying through the songs, but it was incredible because it’s almost like the record is stages of grief. Like “I’m Sorry” is in the middle, saying, “I’m not ready to forgive you. I’m not ready to let it go.” And then the last song, “Forgiveness” is pretty self-explanatory. It’s still a process, and I think I’m still learning how to forgive. But this [record] is my letter to my young self to say “you have to grieve it, you have to learn how to love again, you have to love your family, because they are the ones who brought you into this chaotically beautiful world we live in together.”
It sounds like it was a cathartic experience to walk through that step-by-step. In contrast to song subjects, the title, The Greatest Part, invokes a feeling of optimism in light of the heaviness. How did you come up with the title?
Becca Mancari: It’s funny actually, we had a few different title options and I couldn’t stick with one. I kept doubting myself, and a lot of it was that I felt like the titles I’d originally come up with were too heavy. But I was talking to my partner and she asked me about some of the lyrics in the song “Forgiveness” where it says, “forgiveness is the hardest part.” And she said, “What’s the greatest part though?” And I thought, “oh wow that’s it.” The greatest part of life is actually living it, and being able to have joy and grief holding your hand at the same time and living through it, and loving your family still. It hit me so hard, and in context, that is the idea behind the record: the greatest part is that you find your way out, you find out how to be a person in a really hard world. And I don’t know about you, but I feel that everyday right now, with what’s going on. So that’s how the title came.
I love the title — I'd heard some of the songs before I knew the title, and then seeing the title made so much sense.
Becca Mancari: Ah thank you so much for saying that. I’m always so shy about titles in general, so I’m glad it felt good when you read that.
Of course! In sound, this record is a bit of a departure from your first record. Were there any specific places, songs, or experiences that influenced the shift in sound?
Becca Mancari: 100% my beautiful Zac Farro. My angel, Italian baby boy. We’re the perfect match, because melodically we’re very similar in the way we hear things. And rhythmically, he’s just one of the best drummers in world, I think. He just brought it so hard with my songs. The conversation we had when we started working together was “ok, what kind of record do you want to make?” And I told him I wanted to make sad pop music, with the lyrics as heavy as they can be, but you still feel so good when you listen. So we definitely went to a place where we kept the organic-ness of it. It is very different, but I am still there. He said, “this can’t be a record that changes who you are; you’re good because of your writing and your melodies, but I’m just going to bring in a different melody you maybe wouldn’t have thought of.”
Even keys – I barely had any keys on my last record, but this time we did so much synth work. I played synth, for goodness sake, and I don’t play keys! The whole philosophy is also about creating a sound where two people who didn’t even play certain instruments played them, because we thought we should try it first since we know what we want. And if we really can’t get it, we’ll bring in some of the superstars we brought in. But mostly we brought the sound from just the two of us. Zac played the bass on a lot of the songs, and because he’s a drummer, the bass lines are so perfect and unique. A lot of people who have listened to the record have said they can tell a drummer played guitar and bass. If you listen back, think it about it like that—it’s fun!
It's funny; because I'm not a musician I don't listen to records that way first. But being around musicians, listening to a specific record together, it's interesting to see what people pull from it. So I've tried to train my ear a bit more to experience it like that.
Becca Mancari: Yes! I’m still training my ears in that way too, so I get it.
Yes totally. And I can definitely hear the chemistry you and Zac have together when listening back. I'd actually forgotten about this until recently, I saw you play at that Halfnoise show on Mother's Day a few years back, and I remember you and Zac having such a good time on stage.
Becca Mancari: Oh yeah! We had our arms around each other, right?
I think so! I just remember the whole experience was so fun. This is a tough question, but I always love to ask: do you have a song on the record you’re most proud of?
Becca Mancari: I’m so proud of all my babies; it is hard! I think the core of [the record] would probably be “First Time.” I know that’s the obvious one, but it’s the hardest one and the scariest one. I still haven’t talked to my family yet about the record and the words, and it’s going to be hard. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s so sad, because it’s not meant to be hateful at all, but it’s meant to tell a story I think needs to be told for other kids and other parents. And maybe mine will never come around, but maybe some others will. And I am proud of that. That I stuck to my guns even though it was really scary.
I love “First Time” a lot, and I think when listened to, especially in full context, the record tells such a beautiful story. I know in the past you've toured in different iterations, from full band to solo sets. I know the touring landscape is a bit uncertain right now, but what are you envisioning or planning as far as live shows go?
Becca Mancari: Yeah, we have done so much work as a four-piece band to make these songs work. Including my drummer, who’s using drum pads and has never done that before! But it’s been amazing, and we’ve worked really hard to make a great show, especially for a supporting slot where we have thirty minutes. But ideally, I’ll have that fifth synth player and all around track master to really bring the songs to life the way that they deserve. I’m going to work my ass off to make that happen, and the guys are excited.
What you just said about Halfnoise and Zac, those shows are just so fun and I want my shows to be fun still. One thing I’ve realized about myself that my partner even has mentioned, when she first started watching me play, I used to be very quiet and didn’t speak a lot during the set. I thought it was cool to just go in and blaze through the songs and say goodnight, you know? But she told me, “you’re a funny person, Becca. You’re good at talking and connecting with people and you should do that in your shows.” And so, I speak to people! Maybe that’s not a very rock star thing to do, but for some reason that’s my path. I want people to feel like they don’t feel alone, they feel connected, get to listen to great music, and feel like they really get to know the person that’s in front of them.
Yeah, I have a thing for good stage banter. It's fun sometimes! I have one last question: once The Greatest Part is out in the world, what’s something you hope listeners feel or experience when they hear it in full?
Becca Mancari: Whew. I hope they feel like they’re not alone too. I wrote this record, I feel in my heart, to our younger selves. I hope listeners discover a part of themselves again, and I hope they feel free again. I hope the record makes them feel like their child selves, in a way.
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📸 © Zac Farro
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