editor-in-chief lori gutman
art director lori gutman
connect ffocuszine i focuszine tfocuszine
writers alexa frankovitch, carly bush, colleen casey, elizabeth loo, emily gordon, jake lahah, kelly fadden, leah dickerman
for any inquiries email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
photographers alexa frankovitch, ana massard, jake lahah, jason cox, jess diaz, kayla surico, leah dickerman, lori gutman, maggie london, zac mahrouche inside cover photo kayla surico graphic illustrations jake lahah
THANK YOU potty mouth tasya swisko, press here publicity against the current amy laudicano, atlantic records edison becky kovach, big picture media canâ€™t swim austin griswold, secret service pr vali kim davis, the purple agency marie miller maria gironas, reybee
sykes mike cubillos, earshot media
+ vans warped tour, jordyn beschel, christina isaicu, sara feigin, alyson coletta, anam merchant, and all of our wonderful readers
CONTENTS 6 8 14 18 24 30 36 40 48
editorâ€™s note against the current sykes edison marie miller canâ€™t swim vali potty mouth gallery
Unfortunately, in 2017, itâ€™s still rare to go to a show and see a lot of women on stage.
Despite how it may seem at first glance, there are plenty of amazing, talented women making music and rocking out. With this issue, we wanted to highlight bands and artists that would showcase a range of badass lady musicians, including, but not limited to, vocalists, guitarists, and drummers. You may have heard of some of them, or you may have heard of none of them... Whatever the case may be, you wonâ€™t forget them anytime soon.
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 7
“THE WORLD AROUND US INSPIRES US. WE WRITE ABOUT WHAT WE KNOW. IT’S USUALLY JUST US REACTING TO THE WORLD AND OUR EXPERIENCES. WE NEVER REALLY GO IN WITH A PLAN BECAUSE THAT’S LIMITING. WE JUST WANT TO LET THE CREATIVITY FLOW AND TAKE ITS COURSE.” Vocalist Chrissy Costanza, guitarist Dan Gow and drummer Will Ferri of Against The Current have a collaborative workflow. Bringing forth different moments and thoughts to the table, they join efforts when writing music. After Chrissy handles the lyrics and vocals, the guys contribute their feedback, and the trio goes from there. “We’ve always had a good dynamic naturally. We all have areas that we individually excel in, and we fill in each other’s blanks,” Chrissy details. In May of 2016, they released their first full-length album, In Our Bones. With this effort, Against The Current continue to bring new sounds to their audiences while elevating their music to the next level. “Our fans are awesome, and because a lot of them have been with us for a while now, they’ve learned to never really know what to expect from us,” Chrissy begins. “Although this is risky in the sense that there might not be a sound that is very distinctly ATC, the album came as close to that as it could, and our fans gave us awesome feedback on it. It’s definitely the reaction we had hoped for, so we’re really excited,” she expresses.
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 9
Like their band name suggests, the band is constantly looking for new ways to change up their music and keep listeners on their toes. Whether they’re switching up lyrics or altering a song’s vibe, the trio aims to make their music the best it can be. “Honestly, we just like to experiment with any genre,” Chrissy acknowledges. “It sounds weird to say that, but even if a song is inspired by one genre, we can still adapt it to fit Against The Current. ‘Forget Me Now’ started as an R&B song, even though it sounds absolutely nothing like it now. We’re always open to trying different things,” she states. Overall, Against The Current fully involved themselves in this record, both mentally and physically. “We put little pieces of our souls into every song, so every one of them is a part of us in some way,” Chrissy reflects. “For me, ‘Wasteland’ is the one I feel the most connected to. It’s an analogy for the music industry and very indicative of my personality. It has this dreamy feeling, but there’s something wrong at the same time, and I love that,” she discloses. Looking over every last detail and checking for ways to improve, the band had trouble “knowing when to let go,” Chrissy laughs. “We’re such perfectionists that we could’ve worked on In Our Bones for the rest of our lives, but we had to know when to take our hands off and say, ‘Okay, this is it now,’” she admits. Evidently, it’s no surprise that the members of Against The Current grew up loving music. Chrissy, for one, started singing before she even knew what music was. “There wasn’t an obvious moment in time that sparked my love of music. Before I could even talk, I sang little songs in complete baby talk gibberish, and, since then, I’ve been singing,” she reminisces. “I started writing my own songs when I got my first guitar at age nine, but my love of music had already been ignited,” she adds. Dan and Will, on the other hand, were motivated to play in bands from a young age. “Dan and Will had been in bands since they were ten years old, so their families were already used to the idea of them pursuing music as a career,” Chrissy
tells us. “I had to do some convincing with my parents because Dan and Will lived an hour and a half away, and, at fifteen years old, I couldn’t drive myself to them on my own. My mom had to caravan me back and forth,” she remembers. In their early years, the members of Against The Current observed Poughkeepsie’s local music scene, which had an impact on them and taught them how to be a part of a music community. “We would go to shows at The Chance Theater all the time and see tons of the bands that we now either tour with or that are no longer even together,” Chrissy details. “Watching bands helped us learn the ropes so we knew what to do upon entering the scene,” she points out. Fast forward to today, and Against The Current has long since broken out of the local scene and joined the ranks of bands touring not just America but overseas as well. In 2016, they even joined the festival circuit and completed their first stint on Vans Warped Tour. Being involved for two months on the nationwide tour proved to be a great learning experience for the trio. “I think we just became a better live band,” Chrissy reflects. “There are so many shows packed into that tour and hardly any days off, so we had a lot of time to really hone in our skills when it comes to playing live,” she comments. Knowing friends who have previously been on Warped Tour helped prepare them for the endeavor, which can often be a challenging experience for both first-time bands and veterans of the tour. “Warped Tour is an extremely unique tour; there’s truly nothing else like it,” Chrissy exclaims. “We’re lucky to have a lot of friends who had done the tour before, so we knew exactly what we were getting into with it. Thankfully, we didn’t have any major surprises,” she remarks. All of these touring opportunities stem from the dedication they have for the music they create. Still, their successes didn’t come overnight, and the trio originally relied on the Internet to get their music heard. When the band first started out, they turned to YouTube as a means of sharing both their covers and their original tracks.
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 11
Through time, YouTube became a platform for them to share their content with listeners all around the world. Furthermore, the site also put them in touch with other artists and paved the road for collaborations. “Through YouTube, we quickly developed not only a local fan base, but also a global one,” Chrissy confirms. “We’ve been able to tour around the world many times because of the way YouTube allowed us to connect with fans in other countries. And, in terms of other artists, collaborations brought us together with quite a few people,” she explains. Since that time in the band’s career, Against The Current has witnessed the presence of more and more artists on YouTube. With an increase in the number of people producing content, it becomes harder to project oneself. “It’s much more saturated now,” Chrissy notes. “People are obsessed with going viral and will do anything for it. There were a lot fewer YouTube musicians when we started, and they were all doing it because of their love of music. They weren’t necessarily trying to go viral. It’s still an important platform to utilize as a budding musician, but it’s harder to stand out because there are so many people fighting for their spotlight,” she clarifies. Rather than focusing on the potential fame, Chrissy believes that aspiring musicians should focus on making music that represents their true selves. “It sounds cheesy, but, really, people should just follow their heart,” Chrissy reflects. “Everyone has their own personality and something that makes them stand out, and they just have to let that shine through. So many people miss out on themselves because they’re trying so hard to just be something. You don’t have to be anything but you to be unique,” she continues. After taking on tours in Europe, Asia, and North America, Against The Current plan to go with the flow of creating music, with the hopes of being inspired by their experiences and the fans they meet along the way. “Our goals have always been to make the music we love and to bring it to as many people as possible. We still believe in that today,” Chrissy emphasizes.
PHOTOS LORI GUTMAN INTERVIEW + STORY ELIZABETH LOO
Although males continue to dominate the music industry, an incredible female-fronted band called SYKES is one act that is tipping the scales. Hailing from across the pond in London, England, the three-piece electropop rock band consists of Julia, Will, and Kristian. Upon spending a summer on the Vans Warped Tour in 2016 and releasing the Younger Mind EP, the group has been making moves in the US market over the past year and a half. Garnering their style from a number of influences, they have found that bigger pop songs and songs with huge melodies and guitar riffs help them develop their eclectic sound. “We grew up listening to everything from The Beatles and Queen, to Radiohead and The White Stripes,” reveals Julia. Before SYKES formed, the trio met in university while spending their days pursuing majors that had nothing to do with music. Instead of continuing with their degrees upon graduation, they took a different approach—the group instead moved to London to further their musical careers, and they don’t regret this decision for a second. A year ago, SYKES released their latest EP, Younger Mind, and it’s clear that their sound and direction have changed and their songwriting improved since Out of Your Hands four years ago. With this latest effort, teamwork and collaboration were instrumental in making the new songs what they are. “We love getting in a room all together and throwing ideas around,” Julia explains. “We normally start with a guitar riff, a chord sequence, or a vibey synth sound. It varies for every song though. Sometimes, you also need to just live with a song by yourself for a while before putting it out there for everyone else. But it doesn’t really become a SYKES song until we’ve all touched it,” she continues. It’s not uncommon for some musicians to have a different musical setup between the studio versions of their songs and the ways that they interpret those songs in a live setting. But for their Younger Mind EP, the band actually drew inspiration from their live performances. “We wanted to inject the energy from our live set into this record, so we spent a lot of time perfecting the balance between live drums and programmed drums and the way the songs would flow in a live environment,” Kristian describes. “We are so happy with the sound we achieved,” he adds.
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 15
Evidently, SYKES aren’t the only ones satisfied with the finished product; fans are ecstatic about the direction their sound is headed, and the band has received tremendous feedback in response. To the band’s surprise, they were even selling out of physical copies—both old and new— while on tour, proving that the age of music isn’t just digital. As many bands soon discover, touring is the tried and true way to score new fans, even when performing alongside bands outside of their genre. This has definitely been the case for SYKES. An accomplishment in the trio’s career, and also a challenge, was surviving their first time on the Vans Warped Tour in 2016, a festival with punk and hardcore roots. Initially, the band was nervous about doing the two-month tour overseas, but, by the end, they were completely happy with how everything panned out. Kristian gives more insight into their experience, detailing, “We were a little apprehensive going into the tour, as the music we make is quite different to a lot of the other Warped bands. [But] after our first show, we knew it was going to be the most amazing summer. The crowds were big, and the new fans we made throughout the tour were so open to hearing new music and supporting the band.” Aside from being away from home for so long, the biggest obstacle was really just preparing for the tour. “Preparing for Warped Tour [was a challenge]. We wanted to make sure every aspect was successful, so we spent a lot of time on our set, designing all the merch, and preparing ourselves for the crazy hot weather. All the hard work definitely paid off,” Will shares. On top of touring, SYKES find that radio plays and festival performances have been a huge help and accomplishment for them in boosting their careers forward. “We have a lot of support from BBC London and the BBC Introducing team. They have certainly been instrumental in helping us grow as a band, considering we playlisted our single, ‘Best Thing,’ on BBC Radio 1 and secured a major festival spot at T in the Park last year,” Kristian confirms. Reflecting on their experiences thus far, the band highly recommends that any British bands starting out put their music up on the BBC Introducing site, because it’s a quick and easy thing to do that can ultimately have a tremendous effect. Upon releasing the Glimmer Remix EP, the band hopes to continue on with making music that connects with people all over the world and also provides positive vibes. With this in mind, their main goal is to keep writing songs that they personally love without worrying about what audiences will or won’t want to hear. “The chances are that if you write songs that you love, other people will love them too,” Julia affirms. At this point in SYKES’ career, she’s not wrong.
PHOTOS LORI GUTMAN STORY COLLEEN CASEY INTERVIEW MICHELLE BALZER
“MY HEART IS SPRINKLED ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AFTER SO MUCH TOURING,” VOCALIST SARAH SLATON LAUGHS. Edison, a three-part indie folk band from Denver, Colorado, has a timeless sound and an impressive work ethic. After forming in late 2014 in what was initially a collaborative effort between singersongwriter Sarah Slaton and multiinstrumentalist Dustin Morris, the band has been touring relentlessly. Pouring dedication into their craft, Edison has put in more time over the last six months than some bands do in years. After releasing their debut LP, Familiar Spirit, in September of 2016, the band wasted no time in making the rounds all across the United States. They toured every corner of the country all throughout the fall and winter months, finally finishing in early April after making considerable sacrifices, including putting all of their belongings into storage units. As a consequence, none of the members of Edison have permanent residences, but that’s partly to do with the fact that they consider their best selves to come out on the road. “It was that leap of faith that we all took,” Dustin says. “We just believed in one another so strongly.” Still, before Edison became Edison, Dustin was playing in another band, while Sarah was pursuing a solo career. “She was doing her solo stuff before that, and [my] band and I, we backed her up,” Dustin recalls.
Sarah went to music business college, but hadn’t considered a career in music until her older sister went away to college. She fondly remembers abandoning her passion for athletics for the old Taylor guitar left behind by her sister, and how quickly she ended up changing paths. When her humble beginnings in the music scene intersected with Dustin’s, the pair realized they had something great to offer each other. They decided to do a tour together, switching opening slots on different nights and gaining familiarity with one another’s musical styles. They soon discovered that they worked well together creatively, and Dustin suggested they join forces in a more permanent, serious way. “I was like, ‘Wow, we should play together!’ And in early 2015, we started getting really serious about it—a really cool new idea for a band called Edison. We kind of dropped everything we were doing. We got really into it. Played a lot of shows around Denver, did some recording… and then we ended up going to South by Southwest.” It was there, in Austin, Texas, that Sarah and Dustin were introduced to Maxwell Hughes, a former member of The Lumineers. At the time, Maxwell and Edison were each other’s supporting acts at SXSW, and they met up during their off-time.
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 19
SXSW became, according to Sarah, a bit of “an anchor for our formation.” And the festival, in its magical and vibrant way, continued to provide. Though the band had originally formed in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, it was in the Texas heat, on the way to 2016’s SXSW the following year, that they signed a record deal. With consistent writing, seemingly nonstop touring, and a new record deal, the band developed a strategy for co-writing that seems to work for them. Sarah typically “brings lyrics or a part of a song, and the guys kind of build a sonic landscape around that.” Other times, instrumentals come first, and Sarah’s vocals round out the track. While Maxwell and Dustin record instrumentals in the studio, Sarah can usually be found recording vocals in a separate room. However, how the songs are technically constructed is perhaps less important than how they are born in the first place. Many of the songs on Familiar Spirit were written in strange and unlikely places on the road, as they toured in order to network the old-fashioned way. One song came alive on a dock by the Chesapeake Bay. Another was written in a cabin below the Rockies. Still another was penned in the Arizona desert. Knowing that most of the tracks were written in vastly different geographic locations across America may make the album sound different to discerning ears. Still, it never loses its coherency, even though, according to Sarah, the album is “two different versions of us.” This might have something to do with the fact that it was recorded in a very brief window of time—remarkably, only one week—with the first half highly edited and produced, and the second half made up of nothing but live takes. Understandably so, Sarah does most of her writing on impulse, chasing inspiration wherever it appears. “I don’t believe in sitting down to write a song for writing a song’s sake. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing,” she details. The songs are pulled from what she calls a “very raw place,” and she can’t name a single song on their album that was written for the sake of money or marketability.
For further insight into Edison’s influences and experiences throughout the Familiar Spirit touring cycle, look no further than their personal blog. After the band’s ambitious cross-country tour finished this spring, each member detailed their feelings in short blog entries on the band’s official website. These posts offer a brief yet intimate look into the lives of a group that has managed to remain grounded, seeking joy in the small moments and finding calm in the chaos amidst a relentless, grueling schedule. After all that, Maxwell is convinced that the band has grown closer together, and their vulnerability and fear amongst each other has faded over time. “When we mess up, we mess up together,” he muses. Still, any and all mistakes can lead to future growth and successes. At present, they are cautious to celebrate those victories, such as their record deal and a recent tour with Iron & Wine, since they are “always looking forward.” Evidently, humility seems to be the cornerstone on which Edison’s success has been built. Whether they are speaking face-to-face with a war veteran who has been impacted by their music, or cultivating new friendships with other musicians, their hearts are wide open. “When someone comes up to us and tells us that we’ve helped them through a hard part in their lives,” Dustin says, “we’ve already made it.”
PHOTOS LORI GUTMAN STORY CARLY BUSH INTERVIEW MICHELLE BALZER
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 23
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 25
“I’VE SLOWLY COME TO REALIZE THAT MUSIC IS A GIFT, AND THE LISTENERS ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE ARTIST.”
With a positive mentality and an old soul, multi-instrumentalist Marie Miller believes in the power behind community, and this translates into the work she creates. Through her music, she aims to incorporate the idea of interpersonal connections while sharing the deepest parts of her life with her listeners. Marie Miller grew up surrounded by family members who always encouraged her to do what she loves. With room to be both independent and social with nine other siblings, she soon found a passion for music at the age of seven. “[My family] were the ones that showed me a lot of my favorite artists at the time,” Marie acknowledges. Marie’s musical talents led her to a deal with Curb Records at sixteen, a performance for Pope Francis, a tour with Kris Allen, and an opening slot for the Backstreet Boys at Disney World. At the same time, being a teenager in a more professional setting also had its cons. After these experiences, she decided to move back in with her family in Virginia and go to college, which helped her clear her head and figure things out. “I loved being in Nashville; it just wasn’t the easiest time when I was there for various reasons—some personal, some musical,” Marie recalls. “I needed to go home and be home with the people that love me the most, like a little renewal,” she clarifies. Thinking back on those late teenage years, Marie brings up a point that many people struggle with: self-confidence and standing up for what they believe in. “As a teenage girl, I wasn’t confident in my success and in myself,” Marie admits. “I want young women to know—you are far greater than you think you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We all have it in us to be Katniss or these other great characters who weren’t afraid to believe that,” she emphasizes. Back in the present, Marie reflects on the most recent year she’s had, which was full of necessary sacrifices. “2016 was a series of goodbyes for relationships and friendships, and I had to let go of some dreams,” Marie shares. “It seems devastating, but you still wake up and you’re still here. I think I’m learning how to say goodbye and move forward,” she muses. Moving on from past memories and experiences with no remorse led to her newest album, Letterbox. The stylistic concept behind the record was inspired by that ‘special drawer’ everyone had as a kid: full of ticket stubs, old pictures, birthday cards, letters. “A lot of it consists of radically relational and community-based, real-life stories, so Letterbox is a bunch of letters to different people,” Marie describes. By presenting the record as a series of letters, Marie hopes to inspire people to change the way they communicate in the digital age. “I’d like to encourage people to have slow, organic relationships, rather than solely communicating through emails and texts. I’m really into loose leaf tea, and that’s something that
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 27
takes time to make… It’s the same thing with deep conversations and getting to know someone. Growing up in the country in a counter-cultural way, I’m trying to encourage people to do that. Meet in person and talk face-to-face, and have a meal,” she enlightens. The inspiration behind this has to do with Marie’s beliefs that everyone’s lives are intertwined. “It’s always been a huge part of my life: this idea that in this world, what we see is not part of the whole story. We’re all connected in one way or another,” she explains. This idea finds it way into a lot of Marie’s work, most recently “Stones You Throw” on Letterbox. “It’s about how every move we make has ripples, and they affect each other. So a smile can make someone’s day a little better, and being rude can make someone’s day a little worse. And it goes from there. That person’s day being better can make another person’s day better, and so on. We love to think of ourselves as totally individuals, like ‘if I do it, it doesn’t affect you.’ But actually, we affect each other with every move we make,” she describes. While the driving force behind the release, at first, was simply the need for new music, Marie quickly realized how much the record truly means to her. “This album is very much what 2011 through 2015 were for me. The heartbreaks, the relationships, the things that I dealt with in regards to friends and family. Good things, bad things. I really think it captures what my life was like,” she details. Although it is centered around a significant portion of her personal life, the topics she touches on are universal ones that most people can relate to in some capacity. Because of this, a lot of the tracks are therapeutic enough to establish a connection between Marie and her fans. “You’re talking about the deepest things, and they get to hear it. I love how a lot of times, we can have conversations after shows or through social media, and they either tell me their stories or thank me for sharing mine because they relate to it. It’s an incredible experience.” With Letterbox, Marie aims to serve the audience by speaking to their emotions. “Music can be very healing, and it can give you a rest from things that you’ve been going through that day or that year,” Marie explains. “But it’s not just about me, me, me and how great I am. I’ve slowly come to realize that music is a gift, and the listeners are just as important as the artist.” PHOTOS LORI GUTMAN INTERVIEW + STORY ELIZABETH LOO
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 29
Getting a foot in the music industry is something many musicians spend years of their careers doing, all the while putting out music, playing shows, and trying to cultivate a following. For Can’t Swim, however, that journey wasn’t a lengthy one, as their seemingly natural transition into music was actually quite unorthodox. With no records, no EPs, no singles, and no tours, the band was signed to Pure Noise Records just a few months after their formation. Although this may seem intimidating, vocalist Chris LoPorto, guitarist Mike Sanchez, guitarist Danny Rico, bassist Greg McDevitt, and, eventually, drummer Andrea Morgan have taken the music industry by storm. “Can’t Swim was something I was just doing as a joke. I never played guitar, or sang, or anything,” Chris admits. “I started goofing around on my laptop, tried to learn some chords, and threw a couple of songs together. Long story short, I got a record deal kinda by myself, and then I called up three of my best friends and asked them to join me in a band. It was all very fast and bizarre,” he continues. Over the past few months, Can’t Swim have been praised for the introduction of drummer Andrea Morgan, although it wasn’t their goal to gain attention due to a lineup change. During the creation of Fail You Again, Danny, the drummer at the time, got very involved in the recording process, and, on top of recording all the songs, he had a lot to do with the guitar work. As the band prepared for tour, they realized that a good portion of the album contained three guitar parts and plenty of harmonies, and they came to the conclusion that the band needed a third guitarist. “From the back of the van, Danny, half-asleep, said, ‘I wanna be that guy,’” Chris discloses, “so then we needed a new drummer.” Soon after, Chris ran into Andrea, a familiar face and someone who he had always thought was a talented drummer. Five minutes after bringing her in and having her play with the band, Chris recalls thinking, “This is a perfect fit. She completely gets our vibe.” Thus, Andrea became the fifth and final piece to Can’t Swim. Including a female in a “male-dominated game” wasn’t something the band thought much about, but fans who took notice have been applauding the group and looking up to Andrea. While adding Andrea to the group for publicity wasn’t Can’t Swim’s intention, they hope that it can ultimately have a positive effect on the scene. “If seeing Andrea performing gives someone more initiative to start a band, then that’s probably the coolest thing that Can’t Swim would ever do. I think the possibility of that is amazing,” Chris exclaims. “It’s an incredible thing to do for girls— giving them that encouragement—and, if Andrea can do that, that would be awesome,” he adds. “She’s one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met. She’s an incredible singer with an incredible sound, and she can do crazy stuff with the keyboard, so the fact that she’s a woman comes secondary. If a girl is holding herself back because she thinks this is a male-dominated game, I’d think that’s very silly, because they can clearly shred. I would love for people to pick up on that. I’m crossing my fingers,” he continues.
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 31
“IF SEEING ANDREA PERFORMING GIVES SOMEONE MORE INITIATIVE TO START A BAND, THEN THAT’S PROBABLY THE COOLEST THING THAT CAN’T SWIM WOULD EVER DO.”
After a lineup change, live performances and new recordings are bound to sound at least a little bit different. Compared to the Death Deserves a Name EP, Fail You Again is a lot more heavy, raw, and aggressive. Still, this shift in sound wasn’t a conscious effort, as the band doesn’t “get too caught up in trying to write certain types of songs,” Chris explains. “We’re lucky enough to write one song we like, so we don’t really try to write slow-tempo songs just because we don’t have any, for example. When a riff or an idea comes to us, we follow it down that path.” “I think we write songs rather than records, and we try to write the best song each and every time,” he continues. “The fact that ‘Quitting’ worked better as a ballad, a slower song, was just the way it came out. We just cater to whatever the song needs, and that one was a little bit slower and softer so we went with it. It wasn’t intentional.” The new dynamic brought on by the new lineup translates to the stage as well, as everyone brings unique talents and perspectives into the mix. “Danny has a completely different perspective than Mike and I have on guitar; he’s able to do a lot with pedals and freaky sounds. On top of that, he’s a beautiful singer, and he’s added a lot of harmonies to our live performances,” Chris details. “Andrea too, she’s a very different drummer than Danny and I. She has a very aggressive sound, she can play double bass pedal, and she hits really hard,” he adds. Although Chris believes they sound like the same group, he notes that there is definitely a fresh energy amongst them. With what could be potentially risky for a band resulted flawlessly with this group—rather than dividing or disagreeing, the sounds now come together even better than before. The fact that everything worked out as well as it possibly could’ve has a lot to do with the members themselves, and how seamlessly they’re able to work together in order to pursue their dreams. “Honestly, I feel very privileged. I’ve been in tons of bands where, dynamically, it was really hard. It was like being married four ways... And being stuck in a car with your argumentative spouse is probably not the best idea. But we all get along famously. I think it comes from all of us really believing in this band and really enjoying it,” Chris finishes.
“I THINK THAT IF YOU DON’T LOVE YOURSELF, YOU’LL ALWAYS BE CHASING AFTER PEOPLE WHO DON’T LOVE YOU EITHER. AND THAT’S SOMETHING THAT I HOLD ONTO, BECAUSE YOU ATTRACT WHAT YOU GIVE, YOU KNOW. YOU HAVE TO LOVE YOURSELF. EVEN IF THERE ARE THINGS THAT YOU DON’T LOVE ABOUT YOURSELF, YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO ACCEPT THEM, BECAUSE OTHERWISE NO ONE AROUND YOU IS GOING TO ACCEPT THEM EITHER.” VALI’s opinion on the importance of self-love shows through the way she carries herself as an artist. Even in her music, she encourages others to take charge of their lives. In her eyes, there’s nothing to gain from looking at situations in a negative light and treating oneself as unworthy. “Sometimes you meet people, and you can tell that they’re judging you or they’re not accepting of you,” Vali explains. “In the past, I had been in relationships where I allowed that to happen. Now, I don’t even let that in my circle. As long as you have that love for yourself and set the bar, then anything and anyone that doesn’t fit it just doesn’t fit it. You have to be able to let those people go,” she admits. Not long ago, these ideals that Vali stands by turned into the song “Ain’t No Friend of Mine,” a collaboration between herself and producer T-Baby. “We were bouncing thoughts off of each other as far as what we didn’t like—friends who are shady and situations that are shady—but we also focused on the fact that we were gonna rise above it all,” Vali shares. “And that’s why the line, ‘every morning I feel summertime,’ comes in,” she describes. At first, the meaning of the track was quite literal, but she slowly realized that it wasn’t just about people; it could be applied to situations and events as well. “Even cyberbullying and politics,” Vali lists. “That’s where I ended up taking the record. After performing it so many times, I realized that, more broadly, it’s against all kinds of hate,” she emphasizes. A prime example would be the entertainment world itself: Vali hopes that artists can see each other as fellow members of the industry rather than as competition, and she believes that recognizing each other as equals would be an important milestone. “If you look at the top musicians in our industry, they’re all black,” Vali references. “I think that says a lot. You know, Beyoncé. It doesn’t get bigger than Beyoncé. What Rihanna has done with the fashion industry. What Viola Davis has done with acting. Unfortunately, I feel like there’s a divide in entertainment because we make it divided. But if you look at the grand picture, everyone is just as talented as everybody else. I think it’s important for us to come together and stop the separating, because that’s all coming from within the industry,” she reflects. Finding new meanings in the song, Vali sees “Ain’t No Friend of Mine” as part of a movement in which people can feel empowered to revolt against negativity. Her main goal with music is to help everyone to feel like they’re part of a community and part of something bigger and more positive. “I think music has changed a lot, and that it used to be more a community,” she voices. “A lot of artists used to join together. They
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 37
used to do more collaborations with people they actually wanted to do them with, or with people whose movements they believed in. Nowadays, it seems very selfish, as opposed to people coming together and creating a movement within the music. That’s one of my goals: to make a community” she affirms. In the future, Vali aims to release music that fits under the umbrella of the “Ain’t No Friend of Mine” agenda. With her musical style, she has the room to create sonically fun songs while still addressing important topics at the same time. “As much as we like to turn up and get lit at the club, it’s also nice to have music that you can turn to when you’re going through something,” Vali expounds. “Music has been so therapeutic for me, especially when I connect with an artist and their music uplifts me. Michael Jackson was really good at that—at having a message behind a song that felt so good to listen to,” she mentions. Coming from a background in classical piano and musical theater performances, it’s no wonder why Vali’s EPs have a theatrical vibe to them. Growing up in a musical family, she loved participating in music, dance, and theater extracurriculars, and the combination of these experiences is what drives her work ethic now. “Doing classical and theater was the training that I needed to have,” she confirms. “The success I’m having now, and even just the discipline required in order to learn and grow as an artist... My mom making me practice for an hour a day before I ate, or going to rehearsals for eight hours a day before a show that was maybe only running for two months... It all built discipline, just like going to school. So, for me, it really all set into each other to get me to where I’m at now,” she points out. Taking on jazz will be her next musical challenge. “To me, jazz is the hardest
because it’s so freeing, and it’s not about structure. Classical music is all about structure, and jazz is more focused on emotions and feelings,” Vali remarks. “I’m learning this piece right now by John Coltrane, called “Giant Steps.” I’ve been playing with the recording, and there’s that scene in La La Land where Ryan Gosling plays a song over and over and over again to get the intro. That has literally been me, every single day. I’ve been trying to capture the rhythm,” she continues. Vali’s determination and musical discipline contribute to the patience she has for spreading her music around. Understanding that there are so many people to reach, she keeps a positive attitude towards getting her music out there. “That’s the slow grind of it, you know. Once you already have your following, it’s a lot easier to reach the maximum amount of people,” Vali states. “But as you’re growing and building, you just have to keep on the ground. We’ve been running from club to club and meeting all the DJs. I’ve been to every gay club in LA at this point, and we’ve just been hustling. That’s been the hardest part, but the best part too,” she details. Looking towards the rest of 2017, Vali aspires to play her music as often and to as many people as possible, especially in festival scenes. “People who go to music festivals—for a lot of them, it’s about everybody and the experience, and not as much about individual artists,” Vali expresses. “I think that’s what’s missing in the industry right now. Everyone’s fighting to have more followers, or fighting to be the best and the hottest, when we should be focused on how can we all come together and make the world better through our music.” INTERVIEW + STORY ELIZABETH LOO PHOTOS PROVIDED
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 39
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 41
WHILE THE TIDES HAVE TURNED CONSIDERABLY AND THE CURRENT SOCIOPOLITICAL CLIMATE HAS HELPED TO AMPLIFY THE VOICES OF ALL-GIRL ROCK BANDS, THE WORLD LOOKED A LITTLE DIFFERENT SIX YEARS AGO WHEN POTTY MOUTH WAS FORMED. AT THE TIME, TWO OF THE BAND’S CURRENT MEMBERS WERE ATTENDING SMITH COLLEGE, A PRIVATE, INDEPENDENT WOMEN’S LIBERAL ARTS SCHOOL IN NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS. BASSIST ALLY EINBEINDER AND DRUMMER VICTORIA MANDANAS CREATED THE GROUP INITIALLY, PRIOR TO THE ADDITION OF GUITARIST ABBY WEEMS. IT IS HARDLY A SURPRISE THAT THE HIGHLY SOCIALLY LIBERAL ENVIRONMENT OF A COLLEGE TOWN NICKNAMED “LESBIANVILLE, USA,” DUE TO ITS HIGH PERCENTAGE OF SAME-SEX RESIDENTS, FOSTERED THE MUSICAL AMBITION OF A GROUP OF COUNTERCULTURAL PUNKS. FOCUS MAGAZINE // 43
According to Ally, the band had no initial “lofty goals or expectations. Northampton was just a small punk community where people started bands all the time,” and their group was formed out of “that main ethic.” On the other hand, she had experienced firsthand the difficulties of booking punk shows in a male-dominated scene, and had become increasingly frustrated with the way female artists were treated. Playing in punk bands such as Honeysuck and Outdated in the early 2010s had already helped her establish herself as a credible bassist, but she had yet to figure out how to navigate the patriarchal DIY scene. Three months after Potty Mouth’s formation, the band played their first show. It was in “the basement of a punk house,” Ally remembers, and it set them on the path to establishing themselves as a unique entity amongst the masses of young, rebellious college kids trying to accomplish the same thing. What’s more, they were an all-female band, sharing the lived experience of being women musicians in punk. While there is consistently a lot of support surrounding new bands in the community where Potty Mouth rose to fame, they still faced the obstacle of being a group full of women writing and performing music in a mostly male genre. Ally is quick to point out that, while every scene has its own dynamics, the punk scene of Western Mass is mostly encouraging. “When you start a new band, people are generally excited because it’s such a small area, so there’s not a whole lot of stuff going on. When a band starts, they instantly get booked on shows,” she continues. Ally acknowledges another intriguing factor about their band’s formation that contributed to their rise in notoriety in their local scene: all the girls were relatively new to playing in formal bands. Abby had never played in a band before. Slightly younger than the other members, she had only recently graduated high school when she joined Potty Mouth. Victoria, similarly, had little live performance experience.
The very ethos of punk is that sort of “newness,” initially succeeding due to, and not in spite of, the unapologetically raw spirit it encouraged. Punk artists are not necessarily formally trained musicians, but, nonetheless, they have something important to say. It may be encouraging to jaded older music fans to know that the frustration of the working-class anarchists of the 1970s is still driving today’s up-andcoming bands. Potty Mouth, having battled gender discrimination and emerging relatively unscathed, soon found themselves confronted with a new challenge. The band started receiving considerable notoriety in their local community, and, before long, they were booking enough gigs to start “taking it seriously,” Abby divulges. “We were never trying to go from zero to one hundred,” Ally admits. They had started the band “just for fun,” mainly as a means of expressing themselves creatively. Still, they didn’t mind seeing where it would go. To their surprise, once they took the first step, their just-for-fun side project resonated with enough people, and the rest fell into place easily enough. The realization that they could record music fairly quickly and cheaply, at least in the DIY music scene they belonged to, encouraged them to press on and reach for increasingly ambitious goals as time passed. First came a demo tape, thrown together messily with all the crude rawness of true punk music. Next came a full-length album. Then another. And, eventually, a series of tours. Flash forward a few years, and the band’s aspirations are significantly higher. “We’re now trying to make this our full-time job,” Abby declares. “We moved out to LA just to pursue music, so it’s pretty much the center focus of our lives,” she adds. The decision to move to the West Coast coincided with a slight, noticeable shift in the band’s musical style. Now older, wiser, and more business-oriented, the young
women have chosen to be more intentional about their song selection whilst also taking their songwriting more seriously. The songwriting process has remained consistently collaborative, but the experience of being in a band for over half a decade has offered Abby a new outlook on many things, and the lyrics she writes are proof of her growth as a songwriter. She penned “Long Haul” about the experience of being on tour and making friends with people in other cities, while “The Bomb” was written as a retrospective look back on the days of being stuck in a small town where few of her friends and relatives believed that “the music thing” could ever work out. Mid-conversation, Abby and Ally pause for a moment to reminisce again over the last six years, coinciding with the six-year anniversary of that first show, which took place in May of 2011. The girls, barely out of their teens and playing in a small, grungy basement, never could have dreamed that, someday, they would open for one of the largest synth-pop groups in the world. Soon after releasing the Potty Mouth EP, the group was invited to play several dates on CHVRCHES’ US tour. This changed the game for them in a variety of ways, most notably due to the fact that it quickly took Potty Mouth from hometown nobodies to stars on the rise. The DIY scene is, essentially, a community of friends and of equals, resembling something more similar to an artist collective than a world divided between fans and artists. Understandably so, one of the most surreal transitions for Abby was the very idea of having fans. Performing with CHVRCHES inevitably widened their audience, and the development of a distinct Potty Mouth fanbase seems to have left Abby mildly in disbelief. “It’s so awesome,” Abby exclaims, “but it’s hard to wrap my head around.” The band is not signed to a label, although they have been courted by several, including Atlantic Records. While releasing music independently allows Potty Mouth to be the band they want to be, rather than the contrived, ready-made rock band that labels might wish to turn them into, that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to release anything, just for the sake of doing it. “We still hold ourselves to a high standard. We want to write good songs,” Ally points out. As of now, they’re still waiting for the right label to come along—one that will recognize their strengths, their values, and their sound. Their refusal to conform is admirable, even though their choice to remain independent means that they have to pay out of pocket for studio time, tours, and marketing. In the meantime, though, Potty Mouth are sticking to their guns and continuing to get their message across through music that is “catchy and feel-good,” and gaining fans worldwide along the way. Although they have yet to tour Europe, one longtime fan from Germany has become one of their close friends. With this in mind, it’s apparent that their fanbase is continuously growing no matter what they do, and, with all things considered, they seem to be doing okay. PHOTOS + INTERVIEW LORI GUTMAN LIVE PHOTO JORDYN BESCHEL STORY CARLY BUSH
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 47
FOCUS MAGAZINE // 49
kiley lotz of petal by kayla surico
by kayla surico
julien baker by kayla surico
christen b by kayla surico
of a brilliant lie by kayla surico
nandi rose plunkett of pinegrove + half waif
by kayla surico
christie dupree danielle puckett
sherri bemis of eisley by kayla surico
jess abbott of tancred by kayla surico
of fight fall
by kayla surico