"I'll stretch beyond my reach," sings Potty Mouth frontwoman Abby Weems on "Cherry Picking," a surging, alt-rock throwback that kicks off the trio's 2015 self-titled EP. It's a line that could double as a mantra for the western Massachusetts-based crew.
"I'll stretch beyond my reach," sings Potty Mouth frontwoman Abby Weems on "Cherry Picking," a surging, alt-rock throwback that kicks off the trio's 2015 self-titled EP.
It's a line that could double as a mantra for the western Massachusetts-based crew, which has relentlessly pushed its sound forward since launching as a scrappy, lo-fi rock collective in 2011.
"I have this motto that I actually got from a fortune cookie, which is 'I learn by going where I need to go,' and I think that's pretty indicative of our band," Weems said. "We never expected to do any of the things we've done, but we … just keep rising to the challenge."
"We never set out to be a particular kind of band," said bassist Ally Einbender, who joined Weems and drummer Victoria Mandanas for a mid-February phone interview (the three musicians visit Café Bourbon Street for a concert on Sunday, Feb. 28). "We're constantly growing as musicians and friends. When we're not playing music we're talking about music and sharing music … and that helps refine your own direction in terms of things you want to do with your sound."
Prior to beginning work on Potty Mouth, for instance, the group members immersed themselves more fully in Juliana Hatfield's discography, which Weems admired for the musician's ability to balance sweet and sour.
"She just has a knack for dynamics," Weems said. "It's not a cute thing; it's just very melodic rock 'n' roll, which is what we go for."
Early Potty Mouth songs, in contrast, were far scrappier affairs, shaped in large part by the players' undeveloped skillsets - Weems, for one, picked up a guitar for the first time shortly before the group's formation - and a lack of access to higher-fidelity recording options.
"Our sound has definitely changed depending on our abilities and our access to different studios," Weems said. "We've gotten more [guitar effects] pedals since we first started, and all that stuff has definitely informed how our sound has progressed."
The band members' friendships have evolved in a similar manner. The three had only a passing familiarity with one another prior to starting Potty Mouth - a once tenuous bond that has hardened like cement as the members squirrelled away in various practice spaces and recording studios, in addition to the countless hours holed up together in a van on tour.
"The whole experience of being in a band is also an experience of building friendships and getting to know each other," Einbender said. "When you spend that much time with people … you learn how to treat each other and how to talk to each other. Communicating with each other and really figuring out everyone's individual personalities and triggers, that's hugely important, and it's something that's taken a lot of time to figure out."
When Potty Mouth first formed, the musicians never imagined investing this kind of time in the project, believing it would remain little more than a fun diversion for a couple years before Weems enrolled in college.
"Then all these things kept coming up that you might think would be expiration dates for the band, and it just kept going," Einbender said. "We kept making sacrifices in our personal lives that were all for the purpose of keeping the band together. Somehow we've been able to accommodate through changing circumstances."
A turning point arrived in the form of an early 2014 band meeting where the musicians discussed their long-term goals for the project - a leave-it-all-on-the-table affair that led to the departure of then-guitarist Phoebe Harris (Potty Mouth has functioned as a de facto trio since, though the group continues to tour with a rotating fourth member on second guitar).
"We all sat down and had this conversation that was like, 'We've all made these big sacrifices to keep the band going. Now who is down for the long haul?'" Weems said. "And [Harris] decided not to [continue]. That's when we decided to make this the main thing in all of our lives."
"The line between hobby and career path isn't always clear, and it is hard to turn a band into a money-making thing anyway. Not many people out there can just quit their job and put their life on hold to tour," said Einbender, who recently left a job she'd held for five-and-a-half years in order to dedicate more time to Potty Mouth. "It's a very specific, weird, almost unnatural set of circumstances you need to adopt in order for a band to thrive, but I think at that point it was becoming apparent this was the thing in our lives that was making us the most happy. We're all getting so much out of it, and I think that's how the three of us ended up on the same page."