The Nashville musician turning her trauma into hopeful and uplifting indie pop
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY ZAC FARRO
If you haven’t already heard of Becca Mancari from the supergroup Bermuda Triangle or from her recent work with the likes of Hayley Williams and Julien Baker, it’s time you got to know her. Her second album marks a significant sonic and emotional evolution from her earlier music, and has elevated her to true queer icon status. Through liberation and balancing joy alongside her pain, she’s created an album that is bursting with hope for the LGBTQI community.
Even though she came out years ago, Becca’s never really told her story. Now she’s found peace and acceptance from her former life, she’s ready to share the lessons she’s learned from growing up gay within a fundamentalist community. After wrestling with issues of identity, belonging and coming to terms with her sexuality, these topics all add fuel to the blazing fire of forgiveness in her music.
Part of a thriving music scene in Nashville, Becca is dreaming up strikingly raw lyrics that are accompanied by sonically upbeat melodies and instrumentals.
Talking to Becca over Zoom feels like catching up with an old friend and I openly admit to her that I’m ashamed to say I’m pretty late to the Becca Mancari party. When I listened to The Greatest Part, which came out in June, all I could think was “Why didn’t I listen sooner?” Her story is a heavy one, but it’s one many queer individuals can relate to. Lyrics such as “I remember the first time my dad didn’t hug me back” had me on the verge of tears, but filled me with assurance that an artist finally had the guts to proclaim something so honest. I couldn’t wait to get to know her better.
DIVA: We’re six months down the line from the release of your second album, what does a day in the life look like for you right now?
BECCA MANCARI: It’s been really interesting. So much of your life into goes into the record release. After that is supposed to be the time where you’re touring and seeing the results of all that work. Not having that has been quite difficult. I believe this record is going to do the work for years to come and it’s going to reach the right people. I’ve just opened myself up to what the universe has for me and it’s been amazing.
Nashville is where a lot of musicians live and we’ve all been in the same place for the longest we ever have been, so I’ve gotten to do things with my friend Julien Baker and I’ve gotten to play lead guitar for Hayley Williams from Paramore. All of us get tested [for Covid-19] all the time and we’re doing our best to be safe while we do things, but we’ve just been making music together in an old school way. We started playing music in the first place because we liked playing music with our friends, and that’s been the philosophy that’s started happening here. It’s almost like a musical Renaissance here in Nashville right now.
How does it feel not being able to do those live shows?
It’s almost like withdrawal from a drug. We’re all addicted to it. I didn’t know how to be home. I haven’t been home like this for years. My poor girlfriend has been having me dig ditches because I’m just wandering the house.
What initially sparked your interest in music?
My dad was a pastor and I was raised Christian. I think for kids who grow up in church, music is one of the things you look forward to the most, at least for me it was. I grew up listening to hymns and they’re actually so complicated and beautiful. I think it’s what sparked in me this idea and desire to be a composer.
I started sneaking a radio into my room and listening to actual rock and roll to learn about song writing. I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve done a lot of weird, random stuff and I found myself thinking I could actually do this when I moved to Nashville. But the business side of it is definitely brutal. I definitely didn’t know what I was signing up for in the beginning and now I’m in the thick of it I’m so thankful to have a job, but you have to be really careful not to lose yourself or lose your love of music. I think I’m getting my love of music back right now.
Did you go into the writing process knowing that you would explore your coming out in this much depth?
I started writing The Greatest Part in 2018, I had just gotten back from Europe opening up for Julien Baker. I came back and went through a really big shift in my career. I let go of my manager at the time and I didn’t have a label. I knew that I was either going to disappear from music or pull out something that was from the truest parts of me. When I started writing this record, the songs were just coming to me. Even in my sleep I was receiving songs and melodies. It was pretty amazing. I did the record with my friend Zac Farro and he is so immediate, his energy is so exciting. He just wants to work quickly so it really clicked – we pretty much put out a song a day.
Do you think you had boundaries in place or did you just want to be as open as possible?
When I look back I’m like: “Wow, you had no boundaries.” I do think that there was an element where I was writing about forgiveness before I knew how to forgive. I think that’s something I realise now looking back. I was writing to my family and it’s not a hateful letter, it’s saying “Please see me.” I didn’t even know I was still asking for that. I knew that I couldn’t guard the language or put a boundary around it anymore.
It’s a complicated story for me now, because I do have to be careful, but my parents still are not able to receive my girlfriend and me to their home and I don’t know if that’ll ever change. Having to be okay with that is just part of being a queer person. Sometimes we don’t get the happy ending. As I write about my story, hopefully other people can see themselves in it too. That’s why we decided to make the record sound joyful; I didn’t want there to just be sadness in our stories. I know that we’re not just sad broken people. We’re vibrant, beautiful, strong and powerful and our art should depict that, as well as our pain.
I really found that came across in I’m Sorry. Did you find it cathartic or painful to write so personally?
That’s definitely one of my favourites on the record. People have reached out to me about that song in particular and I did feel when I was writing this song that I wanted to hold onto this anger, but it was hurting me. Anybody that’s been dealing with trauma as they grow up knows we have to learn how to repair ourselves. Julien Baker sang on the song with me and I asked her to sing it like she was hurting. I think she really did that. Her backing vocals are so powerful. I wanted us to feel strong but still with that sadness. It’s a process of grief. I remember the night I came out I thought I was going to disappear and I wasn’t going to make it. I survived for a really long time not even taking care of myself. Now that I’m able to do that I can reflect on it and grieve safely. I know that it’s important for us as queer people to be able to do that and it takes time.
To go through that and 10 years later still be holding on to all of that emotion and convey it so well says a lot about what queer people have to go through.
Now that I really think about it, that’s so true. There’s older generations of queer people that have gone through so much, even the younger queer generations are still going through it, that’s why we’re still making this music. I want to see a world where we can be who we are and not always have to tell these stories. We’ve still gotta keep fighting, and I’m in the fight.
Why do you think it’s so important for people to have queer artists like you to look up to?
I wanna be the artist that I wish I had growing up. For me, it would have helped so much if I had a girlfriend in high school or middle school. It would have been amazing to play music from that perspective at that age. I was writing music at that age but I didn’t know who I was and didn’t even have the language back then.
I love that I have King Princess and all these pop stars that are queer now. The importance comes in showing that you can do anything, any genre. You can go to the top anywhere now. I just want to do that in my little place in the world and hopefully encourage people to pick up guitars still. I feel really joyful and excited about where things are headed. Obviously there’s still so much more representation that we need with our reckoning with racial justice. I think it’s going to come from artists lifting up other artists and understanding where music comes from, but I’m feeling hopeful for the first time.
What song or album has saved your 2020?
The first one at the very beginning of the pandemic was Dua Lipa’s latest album, Future Nostalgia. It gave me so much of what I needed which was just to feel good. On a deeper level, it was a lot of my friends’ music. Hayley Williams’ new record Petals For Armor and the song Pure Love – I don’t think people realise how beautiful and how complicated it is. I wasn’t actually a Paramore fan before I met Hayley, I didn’t grow up listening to them, but after this record I’m a big fan of Hayley’s music.
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