Tom Gallo

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Tom Gallo is the host of Look At My Records! on Radio Free Brooklyn.

Mean Siders are a brash Brooklyn trio aiming to shatter your expectations.  

Since their formation in the mid-2010s, the band has gone through their share of lineup changes and alterations to their sound, culminating in their latest EP, All Of Us. The six-song EP puts their considerable stylistic evolution and growth on prominent display, as it’s packed to the brim with bold, garage rock and riot grrrl influenced songs that convey vital critiques of female body standards and the normalization of sexually inappropriate behavior, to name a few. On All Of Us, Mean Siders takes no prisoners, confronting these issues head-on and unapologetically, like a dormant volcano finally exploding and destroying everything in its path.

In the process, the band also scaled down from a four-piece to a trio of core members: guitarist Katie Ortiz, drummer Shannon Minor, and bassist Nicky Johnson. I caught up with Mean Siders to chat all about the band’s journey and their new EP: 

Congrats on the release of your new EP! Tell us about the story of Mean Siders. How’d the project start and how’d the band get to the point?

Katie: So, it’s funny because the Mean Siders is now very, very different from its original incarnation. The project has gone through line-up changes, ideological changes and changes in style and genre. It started as my songwriting project and I feel like once Shannon and Nicky and I were all working together then it became much more collaborative. In the beginning, it was more about playing loud. I used to be a folk singer-songwriter prior to Mean Siders, but I kind of just got really, really sick of it, and one day I just said… “Fuck it,” and picked up my guitar electric guitar, which I hadn’t really played much before and tried writing stuff that was harsher and bigger sounding. I just really didn’t like being the girl with the guitar at a gig making pretty sounds. Mean Siders started out trying to be loud and big, but I think over the years, we have developed more of an idea and a purpose behind it. Now, the band has an identity and a purpose.

The band originally formed as a four-piece, and there are four members listed in the liner notes of All Of Us, but you’re a trio now. What’s the current lineup of Mean Siders and how’d it come together? 

Katie: Yeah, so we’ve been a four-piece for a while and over the past year or so, I’d say we kind of just narrowed it down to this core three.  We do all of the writing and creative stuff as well as management and administration with the band. We had other people come in and play with us on the record. We had Sam Gelernter, who plays in Plaid Dracula, collaborate with us on some of these songs to just give them that extra umph behind them. We were experimenting with playing as a three-piece, but for a lot of the material that’s on this record, we’ve been performing it as a four-piece. When we perform as a three-piece, we change it up a little bit to flesh it out.

What’s that transition like, taking songs that you wrote and recorded as a four-piece and performing it live as a trio?

Katie: I think there’s a lot more room and space to work with. Nicky, our bass player, does a lot more.

Nicky: Yeah, basically what I do is, I put even more fills, and then I just turned the bass up a lot more. Typically, when we’re playing as a four-piece, I play in the mid-range and becomes pretty close to the same sort of frequencies as guitars. When we’re playing live as three-piece, I drop down the bass to fill the room more and it fills the space between the missing guitar. 

Katie: One of the things that I’ve always really liked about Nicky’s playing is that she plays the bass like a lead instrument. So, even on a lot of our old songs, like on our EP Seltzer, which is pretty straightforward, punky sing-along songs – the bass parts are still pretty insane because that’s how she writes. And I think the three of us on stage together is also just very dynamic. We play off of each other very well. That energy also does a lot to take up space. It doesn’t feel empty when we play as a three-piece. In some ways, the music and message comes across more clearly because the three of us on stage together are a really powerful team.

You talked earlier about developing the identity of Mean Siders. Listening to this EP, you can definitely hear some overarching themes that appear to play into the identity of the band. Was there a turning point where you felt the identity of the group really came together?

Nicky: Most of the songs are based off of actual things that happened.

Katie: It’s very true. I think the shift initially happened when Shannon joined the band. She and I shared a really big love of riot grrrl elements. Shannon was one of the first people that I could get together and talk about this stuff with who didn’t think that I was being dramatic, or too much. She understood. We talked a lot about the shit we had to deal with, not only as women in the music scene, but just existing in life. Yeah, and Shannon had a feminist reading club called the Dead Succulents club, where we’d sit around a table and talk about all of this shit.

Shannon: Yeah, I would agree with that. It felt cool to have a partner in crime so to speak to talk about these issues. Katie’s really intelligent and can articulate herself very well. It’s nice to talk about it with someone who shares those experiences. We formed our voices together and shared a lot of the same anger. We went through a lot of the same cycles of emotions that you go through throughout life.

Katie: Also, when the band started, we weren’t as close as we are now. Nicky left the band and then came back. Once that happened, it sparked something and we began talking about all of these issues. Specifically, a lot happened in the past year or two that inspired the material on this EP. It’s based on very real experiences. Every song is rooted in real life, and to be able to come together and be there for each other, it kind of opened up the creative floodgates. There was a lot more collaborative writing because I think we all collectively had something important to say.

You can hear that the topics that you address in your lyrics are intensely personal. What was it like writing about and sharing with the world some of these very personal experiences through your music? Was there any apprehension at first or were you all ready to put it out there?

Katie: I think both. For instance, “Weatherman,” which is the first single,  was just such a celebratory fuck you to the system. It felt really big and fun. We were on tour when that song came out, too, where we were meeting all of these new people and feeling a contagious energy in response to that song. Then “Friends For Lunch” came out a few weeks later, which is a little darker of a song for me. It’s personal and feels very powerful when I perform it. After recording it and then releasing it, I was caught off guard by the strong emotional reaction that I had to it. It was a very important song for me, and I also think releasing it and not knowing how people would react – all of that hit me once it came out. It’s a powerful song, but it’s also vulnerable. It was a moment of reckoning, realizing that releasing all of this stuff is exciting and big, but it’s also sharing a part of me, which is what makes it both powerful and scary. 

Nicky: A lot of these songs were written when I wasn’t in the band, but I did help with “Known Better.” That song is like my baby, so it was lovely to finally see it out in the world. I don’t think I had quite a strong reaction to the release of this EP because a lot of it isn’t necessarily my story, even if I  have been friends with Katie and Shannon for a long time. I feel like the next album will be the most collaborative amongst the three of us with the most sincere, collaborative message.

Shannon: Yeah, I think this was kind of a stepping stone to that.

What was the recording process like for this EP? Did you do anything different when compared with prior releases?

Shannon: Yeah, this process was a lot different than what we had done before. We spent about two months before going into the studio practicing twice a week to get super tight. We worked with John Meredith at Mollusk Studios. He was amazing and wonderful to work with. He’s a great person with a great studio and a great ear. We kind of just went to the studio and banged it out quickly. It was a lot of fun.

Nicky: We only had two days in the studio because that was all we could afford. We knocked out six songs, one of which we’d only ever played together once. It was a little scary, but the preparation was essential because I don’t think we did more than three takes on any song. 

Who are some local artists that you’d recommend to Bushwick Daily readers?

True Dreams for sure. We love them. Also, Bad Kiss.

I really like the album art for All Of Us. What was the inspiration behind it?

Nicky: It’s a sculpture that I created. It’s a large hanging sculpture. It hangs in three tiers. It’s tough to describe my process because it’s very chaotic. But, I just see it as reflecting the album title, All Of Us. It’s these extremely differing faces, but they’re all very closely knit together, and they all kind of look at you in an accusatory way, which I appreciate. It represents the power that we have together.

All Of Us is out now via Good How Are You Records. You can purchase the EP via Bandcamp. The album is also available to stream on all streaming services, including Spotify.

Mean Siders next show is at Alphaville on Saturday, February 1st with Glass Slipper, Tetchy, and A Very Special Episode.

Mean Siders also provided a previously unreleased track, “Marco Polo.alt,” to the first compilation tape from local collective Dim Things.  The cassette also includes tracks from Top Nachos, Groupie, Pom Pom Squad, Bad Kiss, True Dreams, eCOCOBOYS, and more. You can purchase the limited edition cassette via Bandcamp.  All proceeds from sales of the tape benefit RAICES.

All photos courtesy of Mean Siders.

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