“We’ve learned to be really resourceful,” Abby Weems says about her band Potty Mouth. “Part of it is having these really limited budgets.”
The singer-guitarist, 25, is talking about the superheroine-themed video for “Liar,” a key track from the L.A. punk-pop band’s new album, SNAFU. But she could also be describing the overall ethos of Potty Mouth, who are booked to play with Spare Parts for Broken Hearts at the Hi Hat on Thursday, March 21.
In the video directed by Matt Enlow, Weems and bandmates Ally Einbinder (bass) and Victoria Mandanas (drums) are cast as superheroes called in to save the day when an experiment goes awry. The band appear at first as white-coated scientists working in a lab, distracted by a meddling man who interferes with their experiment and causes an accident in which he is transformed into a colossal villain. As the giant man wreaks havoc in fictional Smithinian City, Potty Mouth fly into action as costumed, bewigged superheroes. Mandanas, wearing an eye patch, wields a whip as a purple-clad warrior named Whipslash. Einbinder, meanwhile, is decked out in a fiery orange dress, clutching two Thor-like hammers as Heatstorm. Weems brandishes a pickax and sports yellow go-go boots and a black-and-yellow outfit as Phazerbeam.
“The eye patch? My mom loved it,” Mandanas, 29, recalls in a group interview by phone.
“It’s more about channeling the superhero energy,” Einbinder, 30, adds about the video. “I felt like an idiot, but it was also very liberating” acting up as a person with superpowers. “We came up with our own costumes, and we did our own shopping, but Abby was really impressive.”
Weems had to become her own hero and improvise when the outfit she ordered online didn’t show up in time for the filming. “Pretty much my entire costume didn’t come, so I went to Target and bought a lot of yellow and black stuff and layered it all together,” she explains.
According to Einbinder, director Enlow approached the group about making a video long before the recording of SNAFU was even finished. “He said, ‘I’d like to make a video for you guys,’” she says. “It was a very long process. He came up with the names of the characters.” It was the musicians who decided to have the individual costumes in yellow, orange and purple to match the color scheme of the album’s cover art.
“That video is the benefit of living in Los Angeles, where there are all these creative connections,” Einbinder says about Potty Mouth, who initially got together in 2011, when the musicians met at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The group originally included another guitarist, Phoebe Harris, but morphed into a trio after she left the band.
“That’s why we moved out here, to take the band to the next level,” Weems says. “In Massachusetts, there’s only so far you can go playing the same venues.”
“I’m moving out, it’s now or never,” Weems declares with determination among the surging grunge chords of “Massachusetts,” a bittersweet ode to the singer’s home state on SNAFU. “It is complicated,” she explains. “I grew up in Massachusetts. I do love my hometown. It’s quaint and cute but it gets small very fast. In a band, you come to resent the place.”
Weems is in the process of moving from Highland Park to Eagle Rock. Einbinder lives in El Sereno, while Mandanas resides in Highland Park. “I’ve biked to shows there,” Weems says about the Hi Hat in Highland Park, “before my bike got stolen.”
“We need to make more friends here,” Einbinder says. “Los Angeles is such a huge city. There are so many bands. We’ve been here almost three years.”
“We had come out here a few times,” Weems says. “But moving was definitely a whole new experience. On the East Coast, everyone has a basement,” which makes it easier to rehearse, host shows and create a scene. “There’s less of a hanging-out component to being in a band in L.A.”
Potty Mouth released a debut EP, Sun Damage, in 2012, followed by their first album, Hell Bent, in 2013. A self-titled EP came out in 2015. On all their recordings, the group have mixed punk and grunge energy with melodic choruses. “I love pop music,” Weems says when asked about “Starry Eyes,” one of the more overtly poppy and dreamily jangling tunes on SNAFU. “I love anything that has a catchy hook to it. We always do end up sounding like a pop band, but we like songs with more dynamics to them than a straightforward punk song.”
“Smash Hit” is another song from the new album that has an infectious melody, but it’s charged with more of a punk-rock drive. “We started off as a punk band and eventually had interest from labels,” Weems explains. But she became frustrated when the same labels that were drawn to Potty Mouth kept pressuring the group for a mainstream pop hit. “They wanted something like Elastica or Nirvana,” she says in attempting to specify the label representatives’ vague demands. “It was frustrating to feel like we’re not good enough in this capacity for them. It makes you feel insecure because of it.”
So Weems responded with “Smash Hit,” a song that is instantly memorable enough to indeed become a pop-punk hit even as her sarcastic lyrics ask, “You want a smash hit/Do you know what’s in fashion?” She teases about the label reps’ requests when she continues, “Super, extra, ultra-special, fantastic/Modern dazzle from a time-capsule smash hit.” The fact that the melody is both rocking and immediately catchy just ups the ante even further.
Potty Mouth’s individual mix of influences is one of the reasons the trio can maintain punk credibility while also showing a pop side. “I love Dave Grohl,” Mandanas says about one of her early inspirations as a drummer. “I also listened to a lot of Unwound, playing along in high school.”
“I really love Bootsy Collins, the way he talks about finding the groove,” Einbinder says. “I also like all the women bassists out there, like Kim Gordon and Tina Weymouth.”
A limited-edition version of SNAFU on blue vinyl comes with Potty Mouth: Situation Normal All Fucked Up, a comic book about the band written and illustrated by Weems. “I posted some cartoony drawings on Instagram, and Potty Mouth fans started asking for Potty Mouth drawings and comics,” Weems says. “So I made a personalized message to our fans about how our band works.”
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“Abby is an amazing artist,” Mandanas says.
“I love it,” Einbinder agrees. “Abby did a good job of capturing our older selves, since the story begins with us in the future [performing onstage in the year 2092]. There are a lot of Easter eggs throughout the comic book.”
“It’s a day in the life of Potty Mouth,” Weems says.
Potty Mouth perform with Spare Parts for Broken Hearts and Dancing Tongues at the Hi Hat, 5043 York Blvd., Highland Park; Thu., March 21, 8 p.m.; free. (323) 258-4427, hihat.la.