Mannequin Pussy on How Los Angeles, Mary Oliver, Park Chan-wook’s ‘Thirst’, and More Inspired Their New Album ‘I Got Heaven’

    Mannequin Pussy have always recognized the power wrought from contradictions. Vulnerability has been as much at the core of their identity as their punk roots, making their music feel uniquely resonant when snuck between moments of searing aggression. I Got Heaven, their first album since 2019’s Patience, is an ambitious step forward that’s eager to express all different sides of the band: as rageful as it is hopeful, intense yet inviting, and altogether marvelous. Part of the record’s dynamism comes down to the way it was made: singer Marisa “Missy” Dabice, bassist Colins “Bear” Regisford, drummer Kaleen Reading, and newly added guitarist and keyboardist Maxine Steen decamped to Los Angeles to work on the songs with producer John Congleton, creating a collaborative environment that allowed them to revel in the nuances of Dabice’s writing – the intersection of pleasure and pain, fear and desire, the body and the divine – by adding new layers to their already versatile sound. Punk can make fury at the state of the world feel like screaming into the void, and Mannequin Pussy remain beholden to it; yet they respond with such grace and determination, yearn so loudly and so softly, that it tumbles into a thing of extraordinary beauty: the emptiness, the screaming, and if you know where to look, maybe even the world.

    We caught up with Mannequin Pussy to talk about some of the inspirations behind I Got Heaven, including Los Angeles, Park Chan-wook’s Thirst, the poetry of Mary Oliver, and more.


    Los Angeles/Wi Spa

    Marisa Dabice: This is our first destination record. We’ve made our records in Philadelphia, and the way that we were making records in the past was very much like: you clock in at the studio, you clock out, you go back home at the end of the night – not really in the same “every single day, all being together all the time” way. We’ve also never really gone on a writing retreat to all write together in the past. Everyone was working multiple jobs, and our schedules were much more wild to be able to consolidate them to focus on the writing of a record. But this was a time where Epitaph was able to fly us out to Los Angeles to start honing in on the record and bringing together ideas that we had started working on in Philly, and we spent quite a lot of time in Los Angeles writing this record – in spread-out trips, like a month of time, just being there and focused on the writing of it. During some of those earlier trips, I discovered a 24-hour Korean Spa called Wi Spa that my friends introduced me to. While we were actually recording the record – I think I only went maybe three times in the 12 days that we were making the record, but we’d wrap around 6pm, and from 9pm to 2 in the morning I’d go to Wi Spa, sit in the sauna, eat soup, and finish writing my lyrics for the next day that we would be recording. And then I’d get back to our Airbnb, and at 10 in the morning we’d go back to the studio.

    Maxine Steen: It was funny, I would often fall asleep on the couch and Missy would float in at about like 2 in the morning from Wi Spa, and she would be so, like, [serenely] “Do you need anything? Are you warm?” It was like this floating goddess would just walk in. That girl loves the spa.

    MD: I love it so much. But you know, there was a lot of words to be written in this record, and I felt like I needed an appropriate space away from people to really focus in on it. I finished ‘I Got Heaven’ in there, and ‘Split Me Open’. A lot of songs got finished at Wi Spa.

    Park Chan-wook’s Thirst

    MD: I was watching it right before we went to record. Because there’s a lot of lust and longing and desire on this record, I found myself really gravitating more towards literature and films that also speak to that inherent lust that we have in us. I also watched The Handmaiden, and I watched My Own Private Idaho, but Thirst was particularly interesting to me because it’s about a Catholic priest who turns into a vampire after a failed medical experiment. He’s still a priest, but now he’s a vampire, so he’s all horned up and he falls in love with his childhood best friend, and then I think he turns her into a vampire, and they pretty much go on this ravenous adventure. There’s this really amazing scene where they’re both in a hospital room and they’re just trying to shove as much of each other’s bodies into their mouth as possible, shoving their hands and their feet, but in this way where there’s such a gratitude for presence of the body, and there’s such lust between them – the whole time knowing that he’s a Catholic priest who’s going against the very traditions that he’s signed up for – that, with a slight change of mindset, whether that’s becoming a vampire or just expanding your mind in a new way, you begin to expel and revolt against the traditions of the past.

    It also brings to mind ‘Nothing Like’, which you’ve said was initially inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the duality of a character like Angel, a vampire who’s cursed with a human soul.

    I think vampires really represent these very hedonistic tendencies of this piece of being a human that really lies dormant in us until there’s some sort of demonic activation or something. Vampires are all about this pursuit of pleasure, and the way that they’re represented in film and TV is that they’re just partying, they’re going out, all they wanna do is fuck and drink blood. It’s almost humorous that within all of us there’s this very dormant hedonistic quality, that all it takes is the inspiration of, I don’t know, the lust for another, or a slight change in your – you become more than human but less than a god, I guess is what demons and fantasy creatures are.

    Creative collaboration

    I’m curious how the collaborative process between the four of you evolved during that time, but also how it changed by bringing other people in, like producer John Congleton.

    Colins “Bear” Regisford: For me, Marisa, and Kaleen, we had been working together for years, and when we brought Maxine into the mix, I feel like we found that fourth heat that just made what we were already creating even better. We had already worked with a producer before, and I think it was just honing on the skills and then adapting this new player, who we already vibed with on a personal level, like, “Now let’s see what we can do artistically.” And truly, the first time, it felt almost as if we’ve been doing it forever with her. Once had the time to create – because so much of the time was just teaching her our catalog of songs, which is a lot; once we finally got to get in the kitchen and try to make something with the four of us, it was seamless. I couldn’t be any happier with the change and having her on board. And then with making this album, I think it made the process of making this album even easier for us, to have someone who could see us and also be as freaky as we needed someone to be, as Maxine can be.

    For years, we mostly just wrote in the basements of whoever’s house had the time or the room, but this time, we actually were able to go out on this destination album to just be the four of us. The first two times we went out there to write, just seeing how we all worked – like, we’d go record a track or something and go back to wherever we’re staying, and then seeing Maxine be like, “I’m just gonna go on the computer and keep making ideas.” I feel like this album is so much every member than any of the other ones before. It’s definitely us in there in all the other albums, but this, from start to finish, so much of it is just Mannequin Pussy.

    MD: As long as me, Bear, and Kaleen have been collaborating and creating together, Maxine and I were as well, just not in the context of this project. We’ve known each other for years, and just as friends, the way we would hang out is, like, smoke weed and make music together. Not for the consumption of anyone else, just for the practice and the fun of that’s what it meant to spend time together

    MS: It was purely to create something. It was such an artistic-based friendship. I love writing music with Missy because it’s such a fun, productive vibe. I think we’re very receptive of each other, all of us – we spend so much time together, and you start to really understand how each other feels and each other’s tastes. When you really get to know a person, it evolves your writing so much more. I feel like Missy and I have wild nonverbal communication, where we have a psychic read of each other artistically, and we both strengthen each other in maybe areas where we struggle a little bit more. It’s just always been an artistic, collaborative friendship. I’ll definitely say, this record is a lot more ethereal than a lot of the past Mannequin Pussy records in terms of, there’s a lot of synthesizers, and I’m super inspired by a lot of ambient music. I’m a huge Eno fan. I just love electronic music, like Sophie, Arca, more modern hyperpop or whatever you want to call it. I think was fun experimentation for both of us, and it continues to be that way in our working relationship.

    MD: Yeah, it has to be that way. That’s how you evolve, that’s how you learn how to experiment with new things. But I think being in a band is a very radical act. Especially under capitalism, and especially under American capitalism where everything you do is in the pursuit of the individual over the collective, I think to be a band is to honour just how sacred it is when a group of people come together to create something, and how much more powerful that can be than when you’re alone trying to do something. We live under a society that really enforces this idea of, “It’s you on that road fucking alone and you gotta pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, no one can do it for you,” in a way that then isolates us from each other and prevents from working in ways that actually would further our artistry and technology, every different facet of of life. But a band is a place where people are coming together to make something.

    Mary Oliver

    Was there something about her poetry that not only connected with you, but also illuminated some of the themes on the album, especially when it came to nature and the divine?

    MD: I love Mary Oliver so much. She holds nature to a place of idolatry, like nature is the only thing in the human world that we should actually idolize, and I really respond to that. I really connected with that manner of going through the world where so many things can cause you pause and disgust. Why would we hold anything above nature? The world gave us everything that we needed to survive, and it’s so unbelievably beautiful. Something as simple as, anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed, people tell you to go touch grass, right? Come back down to earth. Because there is this sacred connection of what it means to be a human being on a a living planet. What I love so much about Mary Oliver is that reverence she has for the intersection of her own human life and how it merges with the nature around her. She’s so in awe of the ordinary beauty that exists all around, and I’d like to think that’s a good way to live one’s life: to have a sense of awe, and to also take a pause to appreciate things just for being beautiful. Not everything has to be in the mode of making money or whatever it is. Some things just exist to be beautiful, and nature is absolutely one of those things.

    Solitude

    Tying this into the next thing you’ve cited, I was reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Loneliness’, where she begins by relating this universal experience of loneliness, but then turns it into another ode to nature, which provides endless comfort.

    MD: It wasn’t a conscious thing listing them in that way, but maybe that’s kind of the way Mary seeks to influence us as almost students of her work: Can you truly experience loneliness while you are with Mother Earth? I think what she says in that poem is just that the comfort of her natural surroundings is a solve to her in that solitude. I think a lot of artists really do understand loneliness and what it feels like to be misunderstood and rejected – it seems almost self-aggrandizing to say, but we’re weird people. We’re different people. We yearn for different things, very simply. So we’re also, then, in this mode of really wanting to be seen and understood for exactly who we are. And I think when you’re up against the things that society expects of you, it can make you feel very lonely because your desires are the very thing that make you feel lonely, because they’re not maybe in line with the desires that you are expected to have.

    There’s yearning for solitude as well, which almost clashes with those feelings of desire and lust that you were talking about. It feels significant that the last words on the album are begging for space,” kind of leaving things in the open.

    MD: Yeah, intentionally so. I do like to think that the last image is still of someone walking alone down a road, but maybe there’s someone just up on the horizon again. In terms of loneliness and solitude, in the world in which we all operate as artists, we’re not always alone. We spend the majority of our time together; when we’re touring, you know, you reach your arm out and you’re gonna hit one of us. There’s such closeness and togetherness that comes with being in a band that tours, and so very often, you are having to carve out your own time to be alone, to kind of reset. Because I think that’s definitely how a lot of us operate in this band, we only get to recharge through our alone time. It’s not spending time with people that’s keeping our batteries filled. Actually, we require a moment to ourselves in order to be able to come back.

    Traditionalism vs. Modernity

    I feel like that is one of the greatest battles of modern times, our modernity as a society coming up against this traditionalist grasp that’s instructed the way that we are supposed to live and work and love and fuck; all these expectations of the way that a person is supposed to be coming up against what it means to live in a modern world, challenging a lot of those expectations of the self, the ways in which we’re not seen as being, I don’t know, the right type of human being. I think that’s something we all deal with in this band in very different ways. We’re different types of people than maybe our parents or elders or society expected us to be, an yet we’re finding a lot of power in the way that we carve out our space in a world that expects us to be that one way. It’s somewhat difficult to explain, but it’s a clash of thinking, really; it’s a clash of freedom versus the past. It feels like a monumental clash of everything in a modern world.

    How does everyone else see and experience that conflict?

    CG: I agree very much with what Missy was saying. Being American, it’s kind of easy to fall into the idea of tradition just because we’re such a traditionalist country. But most importantly, there needs to be an actual understanding that the things that used to happen before may not reflect how we are now. There was a point where there was the right to bear arms, but they probably didn’t think we’d be having machine guns or assault rifles. Shen it comes to how you’re supposed to love, what you’re supposed to love, and so on, it’s easy to think, when there’s only so many people on earth and so little information about each person, that you can be like, “Oh, yeah, love is only between a man and a woman” and all that shit. Like, maybe it worked for you all then, but sorry, it’s 2024, we’re moving on, and we can’t just assume that one way is the only way that the world is gonna be able to work going into the future. That doesn’t really make any sense, it’s not really conducive to making a better society. If anything, it’s kind of making us more infantile and causes a lot of problems and violence. The only tradition I think we need to hold is that we need to change. [laughs] We need to change as things are going forward. That’s probably the only tradition I’m willing to sign up for, because a lot of it is just made only to make people in power stay in power and make money, and people who they don’t see fit to be a part of whatever their idea of the future is like, keep them in a small place and never allow them to grow. And to that, I say: Fuck that.


    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Mannequin Pussy’s I Got Heaven is out now via Epitaph.

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