“I remember the first time my dad didn’t hug me back/ under the porch lights with my sister’s old cigarettes.”
This image is the opening line of Becca Mancari’s “First Time,” a somber song that takes an intimate look at the true story of Mancari’s coming out to her parents. Powerful and explicit, yet warm and nuanced, the song is an excellent encapsulation of the record it’s from: Mancari’s sophomore album, The Greatest Part, which dropped on June 26 via Captured Tracks. Recorded with producer Zac Farro (of Paramore fame) at The Fatherland Studio in Nashville, the record is a tremendously beautiful, intimate and expressive personification of Mancari’s artistry as a whole.
Mancari first splashed onto the indie scene as a solo artist in 2017 with the release of her debut record, Good Woman. At the same time, she was a member of Bermuda Triangle, a supergroup featuring Mancari along with Jesse Lafser and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. At that point in time, Mancari was going hard and fast — she was doing a ton of touring and was fighting a seemingly uphill battle trying to sustain her career. Eventually, she reached a breaking point of sorts.
After that rough patch, however, she rose from the ashes like a phoenix. Using songwriting as a method to unpack her psyche and address long-lasting trauma and insecurities, Mancari not only pulled herself out of the rut she was in but actually reached a phenomenal period of personal and creative growth. This period merited The Greatest Part.
Yet, despite the heavy subject matter that this record tackles, it’s not a drag to listen to… not even close. Instead, The Greatest Part is more of an exercise in joyous catharsis. The meaningful lyrics are expertly juxtaposed by charmingly catchy melodies and ethereal indie rock dreamscapes. In short, if you listened to this record without paying too close of attention to the lyrics, you’d make it halfway to the beach with your convertible top down before you realized just how powerful of a story was being told. For Mancari, the opportunity to make this record was the doorway to healing — for listeners, this record is a doorway to knowing that they are not alone in their suffering. Last month, American Songwriter caught up with Mancari and discussed the amazing journey she went on to make The Greatest Part.
Set the scene — when did you start working on this record?
I feel like I was a broken person. I was at this point in my life where I had gone through a lot of personal and vocational changes. I had been doing so much touring for both my first record, Good Woman, and for Bermuda Triangle. I was actually on the road with Bermuda Triangle the day that Good Woman came out in 2017. So, I was double-teaming my career, doing both things at the same time. It was amazing, but it was also exhausting. I feel like I understand now what the ‘burnout’ feeling is.
So, I had just gotten back from opening up for Julien Baker in 12 countries all over Europe. They were amazing shows, but at the time I didn’t have a tour manager — I still don’t have a tour manager. So, I came back from that and I was having trouble with where I was. I needed to make some changes and it was really hard. I went back to Europe without management and did my first headlining tour ever. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I remember thinking ‘I’m going to die out here.’ It’s the privilege of my life to be able to tour like that, but at the time I was so exhausted.
I give that backstory because I think it comes down to the exhaustion. I felt heartbroken. I was heartbroken about my manager, I was heartbroken about what I thought was maybe the end of my career’s momentum. I was thinking ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ But, I think that all opened me up in a way I hadn’t ever opened up before in my music. I had a long backstory before I started making music professionally, I had a whole life before this. I think because of that, when I reached this breaking point songs just started coming.
So, I returned home from Europe. I had already started writing a little bit. That’s when Zac and I started working on the single “Hunter.” It just started coming out of me, it was like I had begun writing songs in my sleep. It tapped into all this pent up truth of life, this real truth. I love all the songs from Good Woman, but it was almost like they were just scratching the surface. I think I had a guard up. This time around I said ‘no, this is my real story.’ This is what it really is to be a queer person with a family who can’t accept this. This is what it really is to be an angry person, or a bitter person, and this is what happens to your body. It started in that way. I think I was sobbing the entire time I was writing these songs.
You mentioned that by the time you got back from your headlining tour in Europe that you had already begun writing — when you started these songs, were you writing them specifically for a release or were you writing for yourself?
I had put a lot of expectations on myself. From where I was, I didn’t know where to go. I was like ‘this is it, I have to make this record, I have to make it as honest as I can, I have to go there.’ I was on my own, I didn’t have a manager at the time. I didn’t have a label, I didn’t have anything. I felt like I was drowning. But, I knew I had to push myself — it was on me this time, there was nobody else to blame. I said ‘I cannot stop, I will not go down without a fight.’ It was a survival instinct almost.
When you get really used to something, it’s hard to let it go. It was hard to become an artist without all those things again. I feel for my friends who are artists just out there doing it by themselves, they are amazing. I know how hard that is. My intention was ‘you have to go for this all the way, Becca.’ I put a lot of pressure on myself.
But the perfect antidote for me ended up being Zac Farro. He’s one of the bright lights of this world. He just has this way about him. When we recorded together I had the most fun I’ve ever had. He would say ‘we have to do as much of this by ourselves as we can before we bring other people in.’ Musically, we were doing things together that we’ve never done before.
Tell me more about that creative relationship with Zac Farro — when did he join this project?
When Zac and I started working together we realized that we had a special connection. When we demoed ‘Hunter,’ it felt so fucking right. I could feel Zac tap into this creative zone that was so unique. I hadn’t heard anyone else do something like what he was doing. He comes to music as a drummer, whereas I come to music as a melody-maker. We hit a perfect stride together. He took my songs, which were all just solo songs in the beginning, and he said ‘okay, let’s play it like this.’
We were at Inglewood Lounge getting a drink — he and I always have heartful discussions when we’re drinking; the Italian in us manifests and we shake hands after a few cocktails — and he was like ‘listen, we’ve got to do this.’ He knew it and I knew it too. He asked ‘what kind of record do you want to make?’ I said ‘I just want to tell the hardest stories of my life, and I want to tell them in a way that when you listen to it, it makes you feel good.’ I’m getting older and I feel like I want to listen to positive music. I listened to Dua Lipa’s record and I was like ‘thank God. I don’t know if these lyrics are changing my life, but the music is.’ As I grow older, I want to feel good when I listen to music and I want my music to reflect that, but I still want to say something that’s really heavy.
Do you feel that having such a fun time recording these songs allowed you to reach a certain sense of resolution in regards to their difficult subject matter?
100%. It makes it so much more palatable to me. Writing a song like ‘First Time’ — it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I actually tried to not write it, because I know that it’s exposing to myself and my family. But, when I hear it in the context of this album — when I hear Zac’s drum parts on it — I can’t believe it. There’s a freedom of expression that I think came across. It makes me feel excited that people can not only listen to this record without being bummed out, but can also maybe listen to it and have moments where they say ‘ugh, I feel that too. At least I don’t feel alone anymore.’ I think that’s the main thing in my life: I don’t want people to feel alone in their pain.
How much of the writing was done on your own and how much of it was done in the studio?
That’s a good question. ‘Like This’ on the record feels a little throwback-y, kinda disco-y. That song was written in the studio. Zac and I had just hit the place where I didn’t have anything else to bring to the table and it was like ‘okay, well let’s not waste the day, let’s just keep going and have fun.’ We threw off all the usual guidelines for how I make a song and we just laid down drums, bass and a guitar lick. We did that for like an hour and then Zac said to me: ‘you’re going to put on these headphones and sing. Let’s write the song right now, let’s go.’ That ended up being one of my favorite songs on the record. The melody is from the guts, it was the first thing that came to me and it’s what the song is now. And the lyrics are still heavy — they’re about the people in my life who feel that they have no voice. A lot of this record is about people who are isolated without a voice.
I’ve never done anything like that. My usual process is me at home overthinking things, lots of asking ‘is this good enough?’ But, in that moment in the studio, I felt the melody inside of me. That process is new to me. It was really an amazing process.
You address your younger self several times throughout this record — what can you tell me about that? Is that a natural form of narrative for you to write?
I think it’s because I was grieving something that had happened around 10 years ago. When I came out to my parents, I was a lot younger. I don’t think I ever really grieved it. There’s a lot of us in the queer community that when we came out, we had to suffocate the feeling. It was a matter of survival. I know the feeling of when my parents left me on the porch and my father didn’t hug me back — ‘First Time’ is a true story. I remember feeling like ‘okay, I have nothing. I can’t survive this.’ I felt that the only way out was to go away, to disappear. I had this real feeling that I was going to die. But, something came to me saying ‘keep going.’
In that ‘keep going,’ there was a lot of using alcohol, using sex, using things to numb that pain. As an older person now, I think I’ve realized that I have to face those things to fully get through. It’s like that sense of having an inner-child — you have to grow up to be an adult, but there’s still a child inside of you. So, I think that’s why I spoke to her on this record. It was like ‘we have to do this together to fully heal.’
Do you feel that this record was a big breakthrough for you in that regard?
Absolutely. Now that I’ve finished it, I truly realize that. The last song on the record is ‘Forgiveness’ — you know what it’s about. The whole record is about learning how to forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive years of anger and abusing yourself, because you don’t feel worthy or you’ve had love taken from you. This is my hope for myself. This is my hope for people who listen to it too, that they will be kind to themselves and realize that this is not an easy process. You don’t have to be queer either. You can be straight and know the pain of losing family, or the feeling of not being good enough for others or yourself. I see the shift in myself, but I know that it’s a process. I guess that’s what it is to be an artist.
Listen to “Hunter” from Becca Mancari’s new record The Greatest Part below: