Interview: Mandy Clinton

Mandy Clinton brings her solo project, Pearl Crush, to Galveston on January 9th at the VFW. In addition to the "unabashed pop" of Pearl Crush, Mandy fronts the Lories and works with the Houston-based booking collective DAMN GXRL, which was recently awarded a grant through Idea Fund along with Wake the Zine. Photo: Daniela Galindo.

Lauren:  When I first met you, you were balancing two projects: playing lead guitar for Rose Ette and fronting the Lories. You mentioned that Rose Ette was your first opportunity playing lead guitar in a band. How did that come about?

Mandy:  It came about kind of randomly actually. Basically, I just offered to play lead even though I hadn’t done that band role before (I had always been the songwriter and front person), but it seemed to work out. I got really positive feedback about what I was doing and grew a lot as a musician.

I’m really glad I just jumped in, no fear. I was a super cautious young person—like it was a little debilitating—so I think now sometimes I’ll make a quick decision as a way to push myself out of my comfort zone. Then I’m left to kind of figure it out as I go along. Playing lead in Rose Ette gave me confidence to go out on my own and start Pearl Crush because I knew I’d be able to write other complementary melodic parts and arrangements and stuff.

For Pearl Crush, did you intentionally set out to write a new set of songs, or did some of it come out of your writing for the Lories?

I set out to write songs specifically with Pearl Crush in mind. With Pearl Crush, I’m really beginning to explore pop unabashedly. The Lories is pop, but it has pretty deep alternative influences like shoegaze, dream pop and even a little grunge.

You mentioned that there were four songs in the catalog at this point. Will you be potentially adding more for an EP or a full length?

YES, definitely more songs! I’m having so much fun with Pearl Crush. I’m learning recording, engineering, and producing as I go along with each release—so it hasn’t been an incredibly prolific project so far, but I’m building the catalog slowly.

I work a 9-to-5, I have two bands, I’m interning at a recording studio, and I’m organizing a feminist booking collective; so I’ve got a lot on my plate. I don’t want to give anything up though. It’s all so important to me, so I am just doing what I can with the little time I have outside of working and sleeping. But, yes!! I do intend to release an EP in the second half of 2017.

It’s been very intense following the news and observing ongoing challenges in our society. How do you choose to balance social consciousness with you work? Does it ever bleed into lyrics or the songwriting process?

I would say that my reactions to social and political issues and my feelings about them play a large part in my writing process. I’ve always had a really strong sense of justice and am very aware of power dynamics (micro and macro). I think that informs everything I do and every relationship I have. Indignation is an emotion that I’ve always been in touch with, and especially recently.

I think it’s important for people to see women, especially women of color, be angry, and I’m conscious of that when I perform. There are so many white-authored narratives that depict women of color as being angry and crazy. It’s dehumanizing. There’s certainly plenty for us to be angry about, which is, in part, the point of being deliberate and explicit with our anger, even when it might not be comfortable or familiar for the witness (or the voyeur). It’s a way for us to take control of our own narratives. It’s not the only emotion I want to convey on stage or with my music, but I’ll never be ashamed of that emotion. It’s as human and important as any other, and to be in touch with it allows me to feel more and care more for other people. At its core, that’s what music has always been for me: a deliberate expression of my emotions and experiences with the hope others can relate and maybe feel comfort in that shared experience when they might otherwise feel alone. And in a time when your aesthetic, your production, and your musical imprint can be so easily co-opted by someone else, your experiences and your perspective remain one of the only things that can’t be taken away from you. So, yes, as a social and political being, social consciousness will always inform my music.

For this 7-inch, you recorded it yourself, had it mastered, and then self-released the vinyl. Was the process easier or more difficult than you anticipated? Would you do it the same way next time?

I’d say that the process was mostly easier [than anticipated]. “First Blush” and “Semiprecious Stone” were the first two songs I ever recorded, and I would say that before I began that process I thought it would be impossible. There’s a lot of myth and obfuscation surrounding engineering. I mean it’s definitely a skill—or an art or whatever you want to call it—but, like many things in the music industry, it’s still very much a space reserved for men. Women are so underrepresented.

Pearl Crush is partially a reaction to that. I wanted to learn it and do it myself instead of having to rely on some guy to do it for me. Until you take that leap, recording is a black box. I still have a lot to learn, but right now self-recording is the way I’m getting shit done.

I would do it the same [way] again for sure. Being in control of everything is so, so fun. The cover art was maybe the most challenging part of the process for me, but I had a great photographer and the direction of a couple of encouraging designer friends who helped me to turn the ideas in my head into something real and palpable.

I also had help from my label co-owner, Kirke. He handled all of the vendor communications, which was hugely helpful. It’s a lot of time and energy to take a DIY approach, but it’s always worth it for the artistic control and the experience.

Your primary instrument is guitar, but you laid down some really cool keyboards on the Pearl Crush tracks. What kind of keyboard did you use? Is that new territory for you?

Oh, thanks so much! I used a Roland JUNO-G on both songs on the 7-inch. It is new territory. I’ve dipped like one toe in, really. I have no plans of becoming a synthesis nerd, but I’m learning what I need to know to enhance my songs and challenge myself as a songwriter. Most of the synths I use are analog modeling with lots of presets that I can then manipulate or send through effects to get the texture or create the mood I want.

My intent is for every noise, melody, and tone I put on a track to be in service to the emotional core of the song: the vocal melody and lyric idea. I’m super melody-driven, but I’m also really into making beats right now. It’s one of the things I’m probably worst at, but it’s one of my favorite parts of producing.

After many people came forward about a man who booked for several venues in Houston, you organized a workshop called “Book Yr Own Shows” for women and LGBT members of the music community. It has since evolved into a booking collective. What has the group been up to since the workshop?

DAMN GXRL is a feminist collective comprised of Houston-based musicians, artists and community advocates committed to making Houston area venues and art spaces safer and more inclusive for women, gender diverse, and other marginalized communities. We’ll have an education and advocacy arm, but we mostly we want to change the makeup of the scene by diversifying it in every area. Period.

We’re not in the business of having well-intentioned, white cis-males make the scene safer and more inclusive for us. We believe the only way to achieve our goals is by having more equal representation in the scene, so we’re going to book our own shows, organize our own events, and provide skills and support to women and other marginalized people who are wanting to do the same.

We’re getting ready to go live, so we’ve been honing in on our mission and values, and also the scope of the collective. We’re planning another skill share workshop for early 2017. Like Wake the Zine, we were recently awarded a grant from the Idea Fund, so be on the look out for us next year. We’ll be organizing a big “HEY HOUSTON, WE’RE HERE” event. Sorry, I can’t be any more specific than that!!

Early on, there was some criticism about the workshop “excluding” cis-gender men, although a lot of men in the scene were incredibly supportive after the incident. How did you handle the stray complaint or two?

There will always be people that don’t understand what you’re doing, but the goal is always more important than pleasing everyone. The line had to be drawn somewhere with that workshop, and Anna Garza [of Girls Rock Camp Houston] and I made the decision to exclude cis males from our event because we thought it would best serve the goal of the workshop and make for a more positive experience for the attendees.

The music scene is a cis male dominated space and always has been. We’re trying to change that, and sometimes that means not giving cis males every single opportunity.

Did you grow up in Houston? What do you most enjoy about the city itself?

I mostly grew up in the upper middle class suburbs of Houston, and as a teenager I was terrified of driving on the freeway, so I was hardly even in Houston proper. I really value and appreciate Houston’s cultural diversity. Montrose or the music scene doesn’t always feel incredibly diverse, but if you ever go to a huge event, like a Rockets game or the Rodeo or something, you’re reminded how diverse Houston is. Houston has its problems, but I would hate having to live somewhere where there’s no diversity. That’s like my biggest nightmare!!!

Which local bands are you most excited about right now?

Oohh, hmmm…Birthday Club! Stephen [Wells] is a great songwriter, and the band is really energetic and lush. EL LAGO!!! Y’all are so polished and dreamy, and I love the vocal melodies you come up with. Also, Giant Kitty, Buoyant Spirit, Fat Tony (though he’s not a ‘band’ technically). I guess I’m all over the map!

Does the music scene in Houston seem to be changing?

I don’t really know how much it’s changed to be honest. I’ve only been playing in it a couple of years. I guess I just know how I’d like it to change.

What’s in store for the Lories in 2017? Your live set has really evolved over the year and is really amazing right now! Any plans to take that into the studio?

Oh, thank you!! We are in a really good place as far as band vibe and members for the first time, and I think that really comes through in our live performance.

Recording is still kind of up in the air. Part of us wants to do it ourselves, but Alex [the lead guitarist for the Lories] and I are perfectionists, so we could really benefit from going into a studio and having someone trained be like, “No, that take was good. Let’s move on.”

We’re mostly focused right now on writing new stuff, so that will likely inform the recording route we take.

Thank you for taking the time to answer. Looking forward to your show on the 9th!

Pearl Crush: Bandcamp | FacebookInstagram

The Lories: Bandcamp | FacebookInstagram

Experience: January 9th, 2017 with Camp Howard and Astragal at VFW Post 880 | Facebook Event Page