The first sounds you hear on Piggity Pink, the new EP from experimental Philly three-piece Old Maybe, are the atonal moans of loose electric guitar strings slapping to and fro, then being shakily snapped into place with a tremolo bar. A bass enters, measured drums, and then the squalor of “Dianetics” gives way to “Ugly Love Me,” a swift and sweaty post-punk style dance song guided by Jazz Adam’s frenzied vocal delivery. It’s a moment of quick accessibility, but it’s not too much longer till we’re in the dissonant zone of “Pink Pigging.”
This five minute run is, in a nutshell, is the tightrope Old Maybe walks: lively askew pop on the one side, punishing abrasion on the other, and Adam doesn’t see any other way the band could be.
“They wouldn’t admit to this, but I think a lot of musicians fear loss of control,” she says. “Being a trained musician in any genre, even in metal, is like a place where a lot of musicians in their life feel control. They have their instrument, they’ve spent so many hours and logged so much time being perfectionists.”
Adam gets it, but that approach doesn’t make sense with the way she writes. “I do not feel like I had the control that I wanted at the get go of writing, at the end there’s still no control, but that’s what I love about it and that’s what my bandmates love about it. That gives [our music] a lot of room to change overtime. And I think relinquishing control and being ok with that, just like letting things happen, that is the reason why it comes out so unique.”
Adam fronts Old Maybe on guitar and vocals; Nina Ryser joins on drums, and Ricardo Balmaseda on bass. They all have numerous other pursuits and commitments — Ryser juggles Palberta, Shimmer, Data and work as a solo artist; Ricardo is in the new project Weather with Nicki Duval of All Mutable, the booking collective that Adam is part of. Suffice it to say, it all keeps the bandmates quite busy.
“I kinda wake up in the morning to a barrage of e-mails and Facebook messages and texts, sometimes for Old Maybe and sometimes for All Mutable, it’s a combination of the two.” Luckily, she says, the different creative pursuits kind of go hand in hand, but she also tries to keep them separate — using All Mutable to book bands other than her own, and getting Old Maybe in front of crowds outside her network.
The band has been around for a year and a half, though Adam has a theater background stretching back 15 years into her childhood. She says it helped inform the visual aesthetic of Old Maybe’s live shows, as well as her comfort in front of a roomful of spectators. “It really did help me lose control in front of people,” she says. “That’s a very powerful experience for me and hopefully a powerful experience for people watching, to see me actually be totally present on stage. That’s something you definitely learn in theater.”
She first picked up guitar, unsuccessfully, at age nine — she took it up again in her twenties. In the meantime, she was a voracious listener. “I have a very specific way of consuming music, and I think high school was very formative for me,” Adam says. “I had a very radio oriented ear. Like, I would listen to the radio in the turn of the 2000s, and it’s like Creed comes on and then Ludacris comes on. This was a time when pop music was like, everything sounded very different. So I think that my taste is very schizophrenic.”
Fold into that the influence of heavier-leaning bands like Primus that frequented her headphones when she started learning guitar, and you’ll arrive at the abrasive pop of the band’s Oblio cassette in 2016. Working with Ryser and Balmaseda gave her the freedom and confidence to explore the more dissonant side of her interests. “Even though I didn’t have the roadmap to do it, I think they, as experienced musicians, were really good at letting me follow my instincts,” she says.
You can hear that in the Piggity Pink EP — which you can get a first listen to above, and grab a pre-order of here. Some moments of it remind me of The Raincoats, others of Sonic Youth’s early 80s work. Adam appreciates the comparisons when I mention them, but as a general rule, it tells her there’s still lots of work to be done.
“We embrace the lack of control. And that includes sounding like X or sounding like Y,” she says. “That’s something that I really try to steer away from. Like, the moment we get told ‘oh, you sound like this person, you sound like that person,’ I’m like ‘okay, time to change!'”
Old Maybe releases Piggity Pink this Friday, April 14th, via Ramp Local; the band plays All Night Diner with Flashlight O, Emily Yacina and MS Saint on Saturday, April 22nd; more information on the show can be found here, via Facebook. The band also opens Spirit of the Beehive’s album release party on April 28th; more information on that can be found here.
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