“We Want to Be a Band for the Future”: A Conversation with Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Dabice

Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo
Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo
Mannequin Pussy’s frontperson Marisa Dabice discusses the making of new EP ‘Perfect’, giving up control, and the place of art in a pandemic.
Stream: “Perfect” – Mannequin Pussy




All of these ways that I felt most comfortable expressing myself, I always got the most pushback from. I’ve been breaking down a lot more of those experiences I’ve had, and I’m like, ‘No, I can really be whoever I want to be.’ And I WILL be whoever I want to be.

Life after 2020 will never be quite the same again—whether it is for better or for worse, however, remains unknown. While many of us have spent over a year quarantined at home, alone with our thoughts, our collective healing is just beginning. For Philly punks Mannequin Pussy, who were touring almost nonstop pre-COVID in support of their 2019 breakthrough LP Patience, it’s a bizarre reset. Overwhelmed by the weight of so much global tragedy and their own personal reflections in isolation, the three-piece (guitarist Thanasi Paul parted ways with the band last year) returned to the studio to process their anguish and rage.

Perfect - Mannequin Pussy
Perfect – Mannequin Pussy
Look in my eyes
Tell me I’m it
Tell me I’m beauty
Tell me I’m fit
Laugh at my face
Spit on my tits
Tell me I’m perfect
Tell me I’m it
Oh, don’t you think I’m perfect
The way I dance for you?

The resulting EP, Perfect, is a defiant rejection of pretending everything is okay when it is so clearly not. Written and recorded in a crunched session, the five seething tracks embody the visceral stages of grief that the members of Mannequin Pussy weathered as they watched a world ablaze spin further out of recognition.

Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo
Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo

Despite an unfamiliar time constraint, the grueling fight against police brutality, and incessant streams of information overload via the news and social media, they reignited their spark like never before. With a clearer head, vocalist Marisa Dabice, better known as Missy, is raring to move forward.

We need a balance of how we want our future to look and how we carve out those moments of joy for ourselves, because they have to exist simultaneously in order for us to get to the future that we want to have.

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:: stream/purchase Perfect here ::
Stream: ‘Perfect’ – Mannequin Pussy



A CONVERSATION WITH MANNEQUIN PUSSY

Perfect - Mannequin Pussy

Atwood Magazine: How has the pandemic been for you?“]

Missy Dabice: In a comparative sense, I would say pretty fine. I haven’t had housing or food insecurity, [I have] a really solid partner. But beyond that, mentally it has been really tough to wake up every day and be like, ‘What am I supposed to do with myself and with my life?’ And it’s been a lot of space and time to just think about every single thing that happens in my life and in other people’s lives. Like me, Kayleen, and Bear, we were talking about it a bunch yesterday at practice. It’s exacerbated every issue that we have in America and within capitalism, and it’s still feels like no one’s getting any closer to solving those problems. We’re just still talking about how we have the problems. It’s weird to know that [we’ve been in a pandemic] for a year.

Yeah, it feels a glitch in the simulation. In terms of your new EP, Mannequin Pussy worked with Will Yip again, which must have been a nice dose of familiarity since he also produced Patience. What did the continuation of that working relationship look like in the midst of a pandemic?

Missy Dabice: It’s really nice to be able to go into an already familiar environment, you kind of go in with a little bit more excitement, to see an old friend. It was also terrifying because we had one song written, which was “Control,” which I was on the fence about. But Will’s energy is so focused, infectious. He has this way about him, where he is your biggest hype man. I micro-focus on everything that’s wrong and what should be changed, and he has this macro focus of ‘No, what you’re doing is great and you’re in the right direction.’ In this case, we spent a day or two days writing three songs and we’re like, ‘Okay, this is the song. Now we figure out the rest.’ Like, this is the essence of it. And we’re going to chase that.

Perfect examines themes of power and control quite prominently. Can you speak on that a little bit more?

Missy Dabice: I think last year, my relationship to power, my relationship to control, kind of solidified itself in [that] the only thing I had power over is myself. I cannot change people, I cannot change situations, but I can try to change the way that I look at situations and people. It was all a lot of deep mental work, to just accept that these things are happening that are just completely outside the realm of my control. It’s weird to be on a stage performing for a few thousand people, and then everything changes and you’re like, ‘Oh God, that wasn’t really power, that wasn’t really control.’ That was just a collective art experience. You’re more of a conduit, you’re not really the power center.

The EP also explores identity, self-worth, and power dynamics in the contexts of love and lust. For me, it really evokes growing up, being socialized as a woman. I'd like to hear more about how you explored that, juxtaposing chaos and softness throughout.

Missy Dabice: I’ve always felt myself to be lots of chaos and energy. Throughout my life, I’ve been described as being more masculine, in the way that I asserted myself and have confidence in myself. It’s a weird thing to still have this idea that certain emotions are feminine and certain emotions are masculine. I started to have a lot of long, internal conversations and remembering certain things from my childhood and my teen years—all of these ways that I felt most comfortable expressing myself, I always got the most push back from. I’ve been breaking down a lot more of those experiences I’ve had, and I’m like, ‘No, I can really be whoever I want to be.’ And I will be whoever I want to be. And I have been whoever I want to be.

In terms of a capitalist system, you have to continue to participate in it in order to survive, so a lot of people don’t have the time and space, especially if they’ve been working since they were 15 or 16 years old, to really think about who they are. You don’t have the power over how other people perceive you, but you have the power over how you see yourself and how you accept yourself. That’s really the only kind of power and control we have, is ‘What do I think of my own body, how do I feel in it? How do I think I should live, and how should I treat others?’

When people are like, ‘Oh, things are going to go back to normal,’ I think ‘That’s cute that you think we’re not going to live with the scars of last year for the rest of our lives,’ and contextualize everything we went through. I’m so tired of hearing that, because the way that things were was so broken and fucked-up to begin with. For the first time in my life, I’m thinking more heavily about the future. When you’re a young cancer patient [like I was as a teenager], you can’t think of the future because you don’t know if you’ll get one. I realized that for so much of the last 10 years, I’d been so in the present that I’d stopped thinking about what we do to build what’s down the line. Now I can finally switch mentally into that place.

Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo
Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo

That’s really the only kind of power and control we have, is ‘What do I think of my own body, how do I feel in it? How do I think I should live, and how should I treat others?’

Definitely. You strive for a lot of growth in your personal life, and Mannequin Pussy are always trying to evolve with each new release, too. What do you think that you achieved with this one?

Missy Dabice: I learned that we can write quickly. I realized that our intuition is really strong with the way that we write and communicate with each other. We created our own language, how to discuss music, and how to create things, and going into a studio space where we quickly made something together was really beautiful. I have a lot of confidence in our ability just as artists and songwriters, and people who still have a lot that we want to say. We want to push it further and further. There’s something very archaic about rock music, and I say that knowing that I’m throwing salt in my own insecurities of being a rock band in 2021. Like, the technology is there to create so much, and we still choose to create music with the most Neanderthalic of today’s instruments. We’ve had a lot of conversations, too, of ‘What do we do from here? Is this where we’re going to continue to live creatively?’ And I don’t think so. The cool thing about our project is that we’ve always made whatever we wanted, and things don’t sound exactly the same.

I have a lot of confidence in our ability just as artists and songwriters, and people who still have a lot that we want to say. We want to push it further and further.

Is there anything in particular that you guys are looking forward to experimenting with next?

Missy Dabice:  Definitely. Employing more of the technology that’s available to us, and our ability to create new sounds and textures and make rock music a little bit more exciting. Like, what would rock music from the future sound like? I can’t believe that it would still sound like guitar, bass, and drums. It’s nice that people are reminded of a time where people loved rock bands and rock music in general, but we want to be a band for the future.

Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo
Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo

You recently posted on Instagram about directing Mannequin Pussy’s latest music videos. How does directing connect with your art as a musician?

Missy Dabice: There’s certain songs that you can’t help but see something to. [Music videos] have a way of showing emotion that maybe you didn’t get across in the song. I’ve described [my visual style] as hyper-realist fantasy—you could easily imagine yourself in the setting, but the things that are happening are just surrealist enough that it doesn’t feel like documentary. I realized in doing these two videos [for “Control” and “Perfect”], that this is what I want to do now. I want to direct, I wanna make videos. Coming up with ideas and seeing them come to life is such a magical feeling. What I love so much about being in a band is the collaboration of it; filmmaking is like being in a band, on acid. As the director, you have this idea and then you have to assemble a team of all these people who have all these individual talents that you don’t have, and they all have to see it so clearly. I think that’s what I missed so much last year, just getting in a group of people and everyone’s like, ‘Okay, what are we going to make today?’

And in terms of Mannequin Pussy, what do you look forward to?

Missy Dabice: In an ideal world, by the end of this year we’re back on tour having group screams with people again. That was my favorite thing on the Patience tour, ‘cause we were like, ‘We know why these people are here.’ We know why these people like Mannequin Pussy. They have a rage in them and they want to get it out, and there’s no safe place to scream, so we created one. I think we’re really gonna need it after this. We need a balance of how we want our future to look and how we carve out those moments of joy for ourselves, because they have to exist simultaneously in order for us to get to the future that we want to have.

Yeah. We really do deserve to get together and experience joy again and celebrate something.

Missy Dabice: I had a lot of moments last year where I’m like, ‘What does the world need?’ Like, what we’re doing, is this important to create? And then when I reflect on that year, I realize how much time I spent immersed in films and TV shows and video games and in these different worlds, trying to escape my own—that all came from another person’s creativity. That’s where we go to, to work out those feelings. And I’m hopeful that we will, and I’d like to work them out collectively.

Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo
Mannequin Pussy © Phobymo

Perfect is out now on Epitaph Records. Mannequin Pussy will support Japanese Breakfast on the East Coast this summer, followed by their own US tour with Angel Du$t and Pinkshift in the fall.

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I realized that for so much of the last 10 years, I’d been so in the present that I’d stopped thinking about what we do to build what’s down the line. Now I can finally switch mentally into that place.

:: stream/purchase Perfect here ::

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Perfect - Mannequin Pussy

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