Interview: Mane Talk Feminism and Musical Exploration on ‘Alpha Female’

We caught up with Mane to discuss their new record ‘Alpha Female’ and their upcoming record release show with King Woman and Plush on Saturday, August 5th, at GAMH.

Mane was formed a few years ago in the Bay Area as Chelsea, Maddie, and Lauren found each other at a time when they felt ready to pick up instruments, some for the first time, and create music. They spent months working on their upcoming full length record titled Alpha Female, a lengthy and challenging experience, but rewarding nonetheless. Equal contributions from all three members were essential in the construction of each song. The female-identifying group have mutual feelings towards the way music scenes have seemingly pushed female musicians to the outside, judging their music on the basis of their gender. Although they admit “it sucks,” they are more wrapped up in confronting what deflates them and recycling that negative energy into a fiercely haunting concoction of experimental post punk. 

The band writes complex and unapologetic lyrics, while constantly finding ways to reconstruct and collage musical patterns that pervade music today. Compared to earlier releases, experimentation was key; the grumbling bass lines, screeching guitar climbs, scuzzy industrial synth and the trio of unfaltering vocals makes the album a standout piece of work. Despite the hardworking nature of the band, Mane is hardly concerned with perfection or completion. Their unrelenting curiosity for experimenting with sounds and new gear has set them on a peculiar path, constantly trying to find the sweet spot where eerie meets lightness, and where grime meets beauty.

I met up with Chelsea and Maddie at their practice space in the Mission where we discussed the themes on Alpha Female, the challenges of creating their first record, and how their upcoming album release show at Great American Music Hall with King Woman (NY) and Plush (SF) came together. Our conversation began with them listing all the instruments they started to play within the band, in which I found out they play all the standard instruments you’d expect (guitar, drums, bass) plus many other musical devices. After their release show, they’ll be moving forward through the year as a duo until they find a new drummer.

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Woah, that’s a lot [of instruments]. Would you consider adding another person to the band or will you just stick to three members?

Maddie: We’re going down to two right now, actually. We’re going through a big reconfiguration. Lauren is playing this last upcoming show.

Chelsea: We’re actually going on a European tour September first, just us, like our friend Betsy from Gomme is going to play some drums with us. We’re cutting down to two and playing electric drums for a bit of the set.

M: We kind of want to get this record out there more before the end of the year since we’re releasing our record on August 5th. We’ve been working on this record for so long that we’re just like ready to move on from it. We really want to just play but we’re also going to start working on totally new stuff.

C: It could’ve taken long to finish it because we’re control freaks.

Is that why it took a long time to get your record together?

M: I think so…I mean, not in a bad way but we’re learning how to do everything basically for the first time. We experimented with so many different things! We actually opted to wait and retrace our steps and get it right before we moved on—which is part of why this took long, but it was also good too. After going through the recording process and working on an album, I could see it happening way faster.

So how did all of you meet each other and decide to start a band? 

C: I found out Lauren was friends with my friend John, and they play in this band called Rank/Xerox. So I kind of sought her out. And when I heard that she played drums, I was like, ‘let’s play music.’ 

M: I had moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then I went to Los Angeles. So I’d been gone for a few years, but then right when I moved back, I remember talking to you [Chelsea] and you were like ‘oh, you play bass? Me and John’s girlfriend [at the time] are playing together’ and I said I wanted to play. We were very…green at that time.

Green?

C: Very ripe!

Your album is coming out in a week on next Saturday. How did you come up with the title of the album, Alpha Female?

C: I think we all kind of realized that during discussions, maybe even heated discussions, and then Lauren was like, “we’re just a bunch of alpha females.”

M: I think I had said that too, but we had a commitment to not make decisions unless everybody was on board, trying to have everything be democratic. We made this because we were committed to doing things in this way and I feel really proud of it. And I mean, with three alpha females in a group things can get a little bloody. The record has a lot to do with feminism. Taking power back for ourselves, empowering ourselves. We weren’t twelve year old boys whose parents bought them guitars. I’ve gone on like a billion tours, before I even started playing music, with my friends who were mostly male. Some women, but mostly male. We are like twenty whatever and we’re just picking up instruments now, so that, too, played into Alpha Female. It’s about climbing—just being on top of your situation and owning it, you know?

C: I won’t say anything.

At times, I feel weird pointing out to female musicians that they’re female musicians, but for me, it’s coming from a place where I’m personally inspired by other woman playing music.

C: We’re trying to make music that’s interesting and we put a lot of thought into it,  so it’s diminishing our work into something basic if we’re just seen as a girl band. We’re three people in a band. I mean, it does matter because I do want young women to see more women in bands. That’s important. I just want to make bad bitches seem normal—every girl is bad bitch. Like, I can’t wait for the day that men are afraid of women.


Do those feelings of aggression translate through your music?

M: Oh yeah. Even just the physical act of being able to play and yell out all this shit feels really good. It’s not just about being a woman. It’s about a lot of our personal experiences, but then we realize everybody’s dealing with stuff and everything is crushing everybody. But then we’re also sexually harassed the second while getting into the practice space. So we’re trying to feel empowered by ourselves, but also feeling crushed and knowing that we’re not as crushed as others, it’s like ‘ahhhhh!‘ So channel that shit.

C: Yeah, those feelings were definitely translated into the record. I can’t wait for the day that men are afraid of women.

In the songwriting component, does one person write or do you sort of write collaboratively?

C: We sort of write our own songs and then bring it to everyone else. Or we ask ‘how does it sound? what about this verse?’ So I feel like the idea is there and then everyone puts their hand on it.

M: And with lyrics, it’s more like ‘I have these lyrics and I’m going to sing them in this way, so let’s build the song this way.’ All of us have a part in every song. It’s really fun sometimes, but then there’s almost like a weird pressure if not everybody feels the same. I have definitely go in on days where I’m like ‘I don’t feel creative, I feel depressed.’ But then the fun days are when you’re just all together and you try one thing, one time, and it ends up being like the best thing that you could have done.

So you all came into this band still somewhat new to playing. It seems like you weren’t hardwired to make music a certain way and you’ve all been really open-minded.

M: I just want to experiment with everything. I think before we had more limited tools. Before we were like struggling with how to play one thing, but now it’s like I can play this and mess with this. We want to work with drum machines and synthesizers and all kinds of different stuff, and try to write a bunch of different genres of music.

C: We used to think other types of music were out of this world and now we understand how other bands make their sounds.

Are there certain bands that like help inspired Mane, or even how you play?

C: Maddie’s would be Nine Inch Nails.

M: I feel like I didn’t start listening to them all crazy until like three years ago, but in high school, I listened to older goth bands like Bauhaus and Christian Death and I loved Marilyn Manson so much. I wasn’t really into NIN, and I thought Trent Reznor was a bitch, that came from fourteen year old me. So stupid. But then I went back to NIN because I thought it would be like funny or something, and like damn, some of this shit is awesome because it’s like pop industrial. I like that industrial music could be like really scary and repetitive. It was sort of inaccessible, and NIN in the 90s took things that sounded really cool like drum sounds and synthesizers and turned them into pop songs. That has definitely made me feel inspired to break beyond just like guitar, bass, drums, or guitar music. 

C: I love Lana del Rey and I love Grimes, Bjork…I like those lush, romantic singers. I’ve always really liked singing and I sang in choir as a kid. I was supposed to be voted most likely to be a pop singer or something like that. But I like really good singing over interesting music, and I like the dirtiness and grit of those things together, so I feel like that’s where Maddie and I meet up because I’m super drawn to pop. but I also like nasty feeling songs.

M: Like pop but it hurts; or it’s gross or scary, but there is a hook that keeps you listening. 

“The record has a lot to do with feminism. Taking power back for ourselves, empowering ourselves.”

Have any local bands motivated you to play music, or like encourage you to play music?

C: We love Grass Widow so much. They’re great musicians and they’re all women, they’re just really special to us.

M: We’re still in contact with them since they broke up and have done things with all of their offshoot bands. I had dated Mark from CCR Headcleaner a few years back and that’s definitely a band that I loved seeing. They just always kill it and they’re just good at what they do, like there’s all kinds of room for self-expression on stage so that’s definitely been an important band to me.

I was listening to your song “The Cage,” and I was intrigued by it because it kind of sounds like there are three different phases of the song. I liked that there wasn’t a straightforward verse, chorus, verse, chorus structure.

M: I hate verse, chorus…I mean,  I’m not better than verse-chorus. We just sort of do quilting in a way, in playing things together that could be from separate songs.

I also admire how you all sing together on most of the songs. It seems…difficult.

M: Lauren and Chelsea were working on a song called “Bloodstone” and we all sing at the same time and I remember all of us thinking that our voices altogether sounded haunting and you can’t tell the difference between any of our voices even though our voices are actually like very different. There was something about the union of the voices. We’re unified through the whole song and then at the very end of it we start splitting off. That ended up becoming a focus for most of the songs on the record.

C: I feel like we made the songs, then remade them again, and probably remade them a third time. Since then, the learning curve has definitely sped up.

M: It’s been many months getting the label and getting everything produced, that’s taken a while. But I’ve been listening to these finished recordings for a while now and I’m still like, ‘okay, these are great.’

C: On our 7″ there’s an obvious ex-boyfriend song. It’s like, ‘why did I do that?’ When we first started, I was doing things in ways where I was just like ‘I’m in a band, I should express myself in certain ways.’ Then I realized I don’t have to live by any of these rules, I can just make music about what I want to make it about.

M: Nothing’s wrong with that song. We know now what works and what doesn’t. I just remember thinking  ‘let’s not make songs like that anymore.’

You have a show coming up this weekend for the album release. How did that come together?

M: It came together because our good friend books for the Great American now and he also books for the Hemlock, so we asked if we could play the Hemlock for our album release show and he was like ‘no…but you can play The Great American Music Hall.’ We thought about King Woman playing and then we’re like, she lives in New York, it’s not gonna work…but then she said she’d do it!! We were like, ‘wouldn’t it be so awesome if we could just have a female-centric show, like a powerful night for the release of Alpha Female. Then our friend Erin is friends with Plush and she said they’d play. We can’t even believe this is happening.

C: We’re going to have some little surprises with production. We’re going all out. We’re really excited for it.

M: I haven’t even really been able to digest it, like it’s been an insane year and I haven’t even really been able to digest it.

C: For a second, things were looking really bad and we weren’t sure what was going to happen. We had pushed oursleves really hard…I mean, just with money stuff for making the record gets so expensive and then you work with some people and it doesn’t work out. I’m glad to know that at the end we tried really hard, and you at least get to see some kind of fruit from that labor.

M: There was a moment a few years ago where no one had ever approached us, or interviewed us, or written about us. Nobody’s given a shit. Then we were like, ‘we’ll make them give a shit.’ Not with changing our music but changing our approach to talking to people, committing to playing things we haven’t played before, and just getting outside of our comfort zone. There’s all this stuff that we hadn’t committed ourselves to before, and even though it’s like a million times more work, it has resulted in us being able to make connections that we had wanted to make for a long time.


Buy tickets to King Woman, Mane and Plush 8/5 @ Great American Music Hall here.

Pre-order ‘Alpha Female’ via Digital Regress (Oakland) here