Latest and Greatest: an interview with Becca Mancari
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It's only July, but rest assured that 'The Greatest Part' (Captured Tracks), the breathtaking second album by out singer/songwriter Becca Mancari, will not be forgotten when folks assemble their end-of-the-year, best of 2020 albums lists.
'The Greatest Part,' available in a limited-edition clear-pink vinyl LP version, is a sonic departure from Mancari's Americana-laced 2017 debut 'Good Woman.' Working with musician/producer Zac Farro (of Paramore fame), Mancari has created a forward-thinking audio landscape for her deeply personal lyrics, some of which deal with being raised in and surviving a strict religious background.
Songs such as "Hunter," "Stay With Me," "First Time," "Like This" and "Tear Us Apart" deal with heavy subject matter, but the unique musical settings have the ability to transport the listener to another place altogether. Becca was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new album.
Gregg Shapiro: With 'The Greatest Part' you've made the seamless transition from the modern Americana artist we heard on Good Woman to cutting edge electro folk pop, taking your place alongside people such as Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen and Mitski. At what point in the songwriting process did you realize that the songs on 'The Greatest Part' weren't going to sound like the songs on your debut album 'Good Woman?'
Becca Mancari: Pretty immediately. I knew it because I knew I didn't want to make another record that sounded the same. I knew that I wanted it to not live in this idea of making it in one city, even, and making a sound that only lives in really one city, truly. It was very on purpose to move forward as an artist. As soon as I started working on the new songs, the first song that I decided to work with Zac Farro on the whole entire record was the song that we did called "Hunter." That was the first song we demoed. I was like, "Yeah, I'm never going back. This is what I want to do."
I'm so glad you mentioned "Hunter" because one of the most fascinating aspects of the songs on 'The Greatest Part' is the juxtaposition of these vivid musical arrangements and the dark lyric content with album opener "Hunter" being a perfect example.
When we decided to do this record together, Zac asked me, "What kind of record do you want to make?" I said, "I want make sad pop music. Similar to the old school style of The Beach Boys, where Brian Wilson talks about his father and really painful things and they're these beautiful, fun to listen to songs, but there's a lot of depth there."
I feel that. I get it. But I don't want to bum people out. Why would I want to do that as an artist? I want people to be moving and feeling good when they're at my shows. It's really important to me. I am tired of feeling bad. It was very much, "OK, let's go there with the lyrics, all the way there, but feel good while we do it." I'm really glad we did it. A lot of people have been like, "Why did you do that?" I'm like, "Do you feel good?" They're like, "Yeah." That's the point. To address painful things with feelings that are uplifting.
"First Time" opens with the line, "I remember the first time my dad didn't hug me back" which is as personal as a journal entry, and yet something to which so many LGBTQ people can relate.
That was a real story. It's interesting, my little sister just sent me a photo of that back porch where I did come out. It was really emotional. She was at our old apartment (where) we used to live together when I came out and all hell broke loose. They made her move out and I was not allowed to be around my brother alone. It was painful. I remember that feeling of physically not being touched back by my own parents. I knew that it was going to change my life to write that lyric, but I also knew that my life has already been changed by being queer. I said, "I hope maybe it will help other people's lives." If it doesn't mine, it will at least help others. And I think it is!
I've already had parents write to me or come up to me at shows before COVID and say, "I need to do better. I don't want my child to feel that way. I don't know how to have a trans daughter, but I know I want to learn, I want to accept her." That stuff is like, "Oh, that's why I make music." It's the most important thing for me to realize like I want to be the kind of artist that I wish I would have had. We still need those kinds of artists. We're still in a place where we're fighting for people in countries where you could be killed for being gay. If that's the reality that we're in, which we are, then I'm not going to stop.
"Bad" is a recurring theme, in "Like This" for example, when you sing about "bad things" happening "to good people all the time," as well as in the song "Bad Feeling." Do you think any good can come from the bad?
Oh, yes. Words are so futile at times and vocabulary is so loaded, but for me that feeling of life is all about people without voices. People who are in this country of immigrants and can't really speak up for themselves. I have to believe that for me the music and the way I write music is the hope that even with all this horrible stuff that's happened to me personally, and people around me, there's power in freedom from those things. Yes, I do think that good is coming. I have to believe that or else I would be hopeless.
"Tear Us Apart" retains some of the acoustic sound we heard on 'Good Woman.' Was it important to include a song in that vein for your fans?
I think so. Honestly, that's the oldest song on the record. I wrote that in 2016 and it's had many different iterations. It's so cool to see it become the song that it is. I used to play that song in (the trio) Bermuda Triangle. Brittany (Howard) would be on the upright bass. We'd do these great harmonies with that song. That song, in particular, was a one-take. I played the classical guitar and did the vocals in the room. There is no click track to it. It was a really beautiful moment on the record. The whole record is me. It's not like, "Oh, that's not Becca Mancari anymore." Oh, yes, I absolutely am there. I think it's a really good anchor and I'm glad that you feel that way too. We were proud of it. There's no like shame in being multiple things. I don't understand limiting yourself.
To my ears, it sounds like 'The Greatest Part' ends on a hopeful, if haunting note with "Forgiveness." Am I on the right track, and if so, how important was it for you to do that?
It was everything and it was the last song that we did for the record. It took a lot for me to write that song. I was very much by myself. I kept telling Zac, "I have one more song, I have one more song." I think he was exhausted from all the work that we did. He said, "All right, let's do it if we're going to do it. You got the song, Becca?" That night, I'll never forget, he was sitting in the room with me when we recorded that song. That was another song that we did in one take.
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