State Theatre presents

Mannequin Pussy

with Ovlov

Tue, July 30, 2024

Portland House of Music and Events

Doors: 7:00pm - Show: 8:00pm - all ages

$25 advance
$30 day of show


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Mannequin Pussy

Mannequin Pussy’s music feels like a resilient and galvanizing shout that demands to be heard. Across four albums, the Philadelphia rock band that consists of Colins “Bear” Regisford (bass, vocals), Kaleen Reading (drums, percussion), Maxine Steen (guitar, synths), and Marisa Dabice (guitar, vocals) has made cathartic tunes about despairing times. “There’s just so much constantly going on that feels intentionally evil that trying to make something beautiful feels like a radical act ,” says Dabice. “The ethos of this band has always been to bring people together.” Their latest I Got Heaven, which is out March 1 via Epitaph Records, is the band’s most fully realized LP yet. Over 10 ambitious tracks which abruptly turn from searing punk to inviting pop, the album is deeply concerned with desire, the power in being alone, and how to live in an unfeeling and unkind world. It’s a document of a band doubling down on their unshakable bond to make something furious, thrilling, and wholly alive.

Following the 2019 release of their critically acclaimed third album Patience, Mannequin Pussy returned in 2021 for their EP Perfect. They toured that release relentlessly and added guitarist Maxine Steen to the band’s official lineup. Where the band members’ personal lives were in transition with breakups, changing living situations, and periods of self-reevaluation, their time together on the road was a grounding and clarifying force. “There was so much going on in our lives that it was the perfect opportunity to recalibrate who we were as people and musicians,” says Regisford. The band changed their entire formula, choosing to write together in Los Angeles with producer John Congleton over slowly crafting tracks at home. “When I’ve written songs, it’s usually a very solitary process,” says Dabice. “So this was shedding a lot of those hermit-like qualities to do something intensively collaborative. Your best work comes when you allow other people into it.”

By December 2022, the band had 17 new songs written with Congleton in Los Angeles. “Everyone felt empowered to speak up about their own ideas to make this thing the best it could possibly be,” says Regisford. New member Maxine Steen, who has made music with Dabice for years including their side project Rosie Thorne, was especially essential to the writing sessions. The album opener “I Got Heaven” initially started as one of Steen’s demos. “When she showed it to me I knew it was going to be fun because the verses have this hard-hitting and aggressive approach but the chorus allows for a really soaring melody,” says Dabice. The result is electric. Over walloping guitar riffs, Dabice defiantly yells, “And what if I’m an angel? Oh what if I’m a bore? And what if I was confident would you just hate me more?

The song with its righteous lyrical blending of the sacred and profane is an unapologetic look at Christian hypocrisy. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything in need of a spiritual revolution more than modern-day Christianity,” says Dabice. “It sickens me the way that people use it as a way to do the worst things imaginable, say the worst things imaginable, and pass the worst imaginable legislation that directly harms people.” Instead of judgment, greed, and avarice, the songs on I Got Heaven ask what it really means to genuinely care about the people around you and help your communities in ways you can. “The world that we live in is heaven,” says Dabice. “We live on the most beautiful planet in the solar system, just by a chance and we are continuingly destroying it.”

This sentiment is mirrored by the album’s cover art: a figure and a pig in nature. There’s an intentional ambiguity there that makes you wonder if this person is leading the animal to slaughter or its protector. “We should really be the shepherds and the protectors of everything that we have and the world we live in,” says Dabice. I Got Heaven is an album that understands the stakes of its message: there are countless references to fire, hunger, and holiness. Here, teeth gnash and bodies are temples that ache with desire. On the yearning single “Nothing Like,” which is anchored by a dancey, shuffling drum beat from Reading, Dabice’s voice eventually morphs from a coo to a roar as she sings, “Oh what’s wrong with dreaming of burning this all down?”

Even when the songs on I Got Heaven don’t deal with fundamental human questions about how to live, Mannequin Pussy still finds ways to add urgency and resonance. Just take the buoyant and playful single “I Don’t Know You,” which slowly builds to a hair-raising peak with Reading’s brushed percussion, Steen’s enveloping synths, and a thoughtful groove from Regisford. “On that song, I changed the tuning last minute which transformed the song but everyone instinctively knew what to do,” says Dabice. “It was really cool to watch a song come alive in real-time. It’s such a gift to meet other people who are creatively on the same wavelength as you, where there’s no judgment in sharing ideas.”

The lightness of this track pairs perfectly with the rest of the tracklist, even when it’s snarling rock like “Loud Bark” or punishing hardcore punk with Regisford sharing lead vocal duties on “OK? OK! OK? OK!” “If you’re a Mannequin Pussy fan, you know that we’re going to have some rippers,” says Regisford. “We’re gonna have something that’s going to be in your face. But we’re also going to give you something that’s going to be light to the touch with its own version of aggression.” The loud and uncompromising single “Of Her,” finds Dabice screaming, “I was born / Of her fire / Of sacrifices That were made / So I could make it.” It’s a song about living life without regrets and understanding the sacrifices that you and your parents, especially your mother, made to allow you to live the life you want.

I Got Heaven is a visceral and stunning album for people who aren’t content with the status quo, made by people who challenged themselves and got out of their comfort zone. ”We’re supposed to be living in the freest era ever so what it means to be a young person in this society is the freedom to challenge these systems that have been put on to us,” says Dabice. “It makes sense to ask, what ultimately am I living for? What is it that makes me want to live?”

Ovlov

Since 2009, Ovlov’s transmissions have been sporadic, but they’ve always been impactful. The band’s early run of EPs established the Connecticut four-piece as a modern update on a certain strain of northeastern indie-rock. By the time the band’s debut album Am was released in 2013, Ovlov was getting comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh tossed in their direction, and while those elements were certainly present in their sound, Ovlov always let catchy pop hooks slip into the mix too. On their third album, Buds, those pop elements are more pronounced than they’ve ever been before.

“I would like to think that the songs on this album are all pop songs at the core,” says Steve Hartlett, the band’s songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. On first blush, Buds won’t shock longtime Ovlov fans, but on repeat listens, those fuzzy, crushing guitars start to feel less like the central focus and more of a delivery system for Hartlett’s grander ambitions. “For the past few years, the number of rock bands I’ve been listening to has grown smaller and smaller,” says Hartlett. “Unfortunately, it’s the only genre and style I’ve ever really felt comfortable writing. That’s probably mostly because I write everything on a guitar. Don’t get me wrong, I love rock music—there’s nothing more satisfying than playing an E chord through a Big muff as loud as the amp will go—I just want to slowly progress into writing the most perfectly poppy of pop songs.”

Recorded with the same producer and engineer who has handled every Ovlov album, Michael John Thomas III at his Black Lodge Studio in Brooklyn, Buds is the latest document of Ovlov’s slow and sturdy evolution. But this time, the band’s become even more of a family affair. Though Steve’s long been riffing alongside guitarist Morgan Luzzi, the band was started with Steve’s younger brother Theo on drums. This time around, their older brother Jon joined them on bass—and their dad, Ted, even stops in to rip a sax solo on “Cheer Up, Chihiro!” Considering the Hartlett brothers learned how to play music together, it’s a full circle moment as they all come together in service of making Ovlov’s most fully realized statement yet.

Opening with “Baby Shea,” Hartlett lovingly reflecting on the bond’s formed at the beloved Brooklyn venue Shea Stadium, the album starts on a note of bittersweet appreciation. “Just as the majority of my songs are about the loss of either life or love, I think the majority of the songs on this album are as well,” says Hartlett. With a pounding backbeat and thick layers of guitar fuzz, Ovlov show they’ve lost none of their vigor in the years since TRU. But while loss permeates the record, there are moments of celebration, like “Cheer Up, Chihiro!” which sees Hartlett finally finishing the Spirited Away-inspired song he’s had kicking around since the Am days but could never get just right. “It’s always been one of my favorite songs that I’ve written, most likely because I can’t help but picture scenes from Spirited Away whenever I play or hear it.”

For Buds, Ovlov once again turned to Jordyn Blakely of Stove and Smile Machine to add additional vocals to the composition. But a couple chance meetings also brought a couple new voices to the fold. After meeting at Shea Stadium, Hartlett became close with Erin McGrath from Dig Nitty and invited her to sing on two of the album’s tracks, and a random Instagram message from Alex Gehring of shoegaze icons Ringo Deathstarr culminated in her contributing backing vocals to three songs as well. The result of this communal effort is a record that’s harmonious and powerful, as Ovlov work through a heavy few years with some heavy riffing and hearty hooks. Buds is dense and dark, but Hartlett’s assertion is dead-on: these are just big, bold pop songs. It’s still Ovlov, but a more assured version, one that isn’t so shy about putting their ambitions on full display.