Becca Mancari Is Carving Her Own Space In Country Music

Becca Mancari doesn't make country music. Or does she? Mancari herself is hesitant to use the label, although her fans are happy to slap that term on her music. And she has fans in high places — NPR gave her debut album Good Woman a glowing review, and in December, Rolling Stone named it number 19 among the 40 best country albums of 2017. Mancari is part of country's newest generation, a Nashville-based blob that's not so keen on taking country's strict back roads.
"It's funny because I understand this — Nashville is automatically considered country," Mancari says over the phone from a Starbucks somewhere on the West Coast. She's currently on an eight-day tour with her "side project" band, an all-women trio called Bermuda Triangle. Mancari's solo music is too busy luxuriating in sound to classify itself. In "Dirty Dishes," the refrain slingshots like a country song, but the scoring wanders like classic rock. Mancari sings about dishes as a metaphor for lingering on a past relationship — "I can't face myself," she sings, admitting that the chore is a handy form of emotional escape.
Mancari's first video for "Dirty Dishes," which you can watch below, is an exercise in watching sound wander. A live music video, Mancari and her band recorded it all in one take at Trace Horse Studios in Nashville. Consider it a peek into a Mancari jam session. To coincide with the release of the "Dirty Dishes" live video, Refinery29 spoke with her about the coziness of studios, streaming services, and the brave new world of country music.
Refinery29: Why did you decide to make an in-studio video for this song? What is it you like about live music videos?
Becca Mancari: "Trace Horse Studios is such great friends of ours. They're a Nashville-based studio, and they're the ones that came to us and said, 'You know, we really want to do this,' and what's so important and beautiful about live is that was one take. It's all pre-taped, which is so beautiful happening in the moment. It just expresses something that is pretty powerful and feels really different. It's seeing our energy, and I feel like that video gave a lot of energy. It's one of my favorite live videos we've ever done."
It feels more intimate, almost.
"A hundred percent. I feel like with that video you get to know my personality more than almost anything we've done. It gives you a sense of a person and the energy we exude. That song is all about feeling. It's more about the music than the words at times. It's not very complicated, but it has a lot of emotion in it."
Is there a reason "Dirty Dishes" specifically got the live music video treatment?
"I think because it is so up close. To me, it's the most emotional song on the record. It's the most introspective song I have. And I like the fact that [the video] is very up close to me and to my band. And I think that's something that's important for the song. You know, there's the line that keeps going over and over again, saying, 'I can't face myself, I can't face myself.' I wanted to be the one leading the charge on that."
You also play in a three-woman band called Bermuda Triangle with Brittany Howard and Jess Lasfer. How does your solo persona differ from your Bermuda Triangle persona?
"I love that question. I am the biggest hype girl for Bermuda Triangle. It's just the three of us up on stage — I'm actually on the road with them right now. We're in the middle of an eight-day tour. We were in San Diego last night, and it was so much fun. The audience gets to see Brittany [Howard, of the Alabama Shakes] in a different way. They're still getting to know Jesse [Lafser] and I. Obviously, Brittany's a superstar, and it's really amazing to have this intimate night with us that's also hilarious. I feel like we're also comedians at this point on the stage. It's been such a nice break for my shows that I do. There nothing like my own shows with my band. But with this band Bermuda Triangle, it's just, I don't know. We don't take ourselves too seriously. And that's kind of a beautiful release. Nobody's trying to be cool."
Good Woman went almost directly to streaming. What do you see as the advantage of streaming these days?
"To me — none of us get paid the money we should be getting paid for streaming. We all know that. But, we're also, I know for a lot of independent bands, Spotify has also changed people's careers because if you get a hit on Spotify, then you have all these new people listening to you all over the world. It does make a difference. We're all trying to figure out the music business. It's always an uphill battle to figure out."
You're pretty steeped in the world of country/Americana, which is in flux right now. What do see as the future of country genre?
"It's funny because I understand this — Nashville is automatically considered country. [But] my roots have never been in country. It's funny. I'm really working to figure out how to accept labels and then also just do what I do. I feel like for me, because I have a little bit of a different background. I grew up in the North, I'm Italian-Puerto Rican. I listened to the Beatles when I was a kid, not country music. I feel like it's new to me. I'm kind of learning as I go. If anything, this kind of labelling is a blessing in disguise. Being an openly queer artist in [Nashville] still matters. It matters to talk openly about a woman in my song. Or, like even the fact that 'Summertime Mama,' one of my songs from the record, is played heavily on the radio in Nashville is a big deal, because it talks about me having a crush on another woman. It's amazing how small changes like that can make a difference, but hopefully that's what the purpose is.
I think country music — again, I feel like I can't speak too heavily on it — I feel like there are lot of people doing important work right now, crossing the barriers of what it even means to be an Americana artist."
But it seems important that you do classify yourself as 'country,' just because it might broaden the genre's definition.
"We're gonna get called country no matter what, so if we're different, that's okay. Because maybe it can open up doors for other people."
Music’s in a weird adolescence right now as it grapples with #MeToo and Time’s Up. What do you think needs to happen in order to make music a more welcoming place for women?
"So many things. It's amazing to me because I was just in [Los Angeles] playing the Troubadour with Bermuda Triangle, and I ran into this band called The Wild Breeze. They're from LA, and they're really amazing. Three women, a rock and roll band. And we were just talking, and I was saying, you know, these past two years, not on purpose, every band in every genre that I'm listening to right now are women-based, women-fronted. And I didn't even do that on purpose. I just think that women are making better music right now. And I think that it's crazy that we're still fighting these battles. It's a place where we kind of have come together in Nashville, and even across the country, where women are saying, 'We know that forever we've been pitted against each other.'
Forever we've been told, 'Two women can't be on a bill. Two women can't be celebrated at the same time. There can't be two country stars. There can't be two rock and roll women. Women don't get on the radio.' We're all coming together, and that's the most powerful thing in general."
Cause I've had crazy things happen with industry people, saying, 'Oh, we can't have more women on the roster. We can't do this.' And I'm like, 'No, we're going to keep doing it, and we're going to prove you wrong.'"
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Watch the full video for "Dirty Dishes," below.
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