Dana Yurcisin

Makin Waves with Little Hag: ‘Brutal Is Not a Phase’

Makin Waves’ 2018 Female Artist of the Year Avery Mandeville continues to thrive on Hoboken-based Bar/None Records as Little Hag, which is both her stage and band names. The Jersey Shore indie songstress recently released her latest LP on Bar/None, which has worked with such legendary acts as Rage To Live, The Feelies, They Might Be Giants, Yo La Tengo, Mary Lee’s Corvette, Freedy Johnston, Richard Barone, and Shore faves The Front Bottoms. The LP, Leash, follows a single, EP, and compilation of previously released and unreleased tracks.

Produced by Asbury studio whiz Erik Kase Romero (The Front Bottoms, Deal Casino), Leash is a sarcastic, cynical soundtrack for the dropouts and disappointments who relive every shortcoming and mistake the moment their head hits the pillow. The album calls out abusive men, social media stalkers, and reckless drivers. Tethered to a misanthropic perspective, Little Hag grieves: men are disgusting, women are beautiful, fear is paralyzing, and death is imminent. Time to face it, she rocks!  

While men may be disgusting, for the LP and Little Hag’s live show, Avery’s band remains intact from the days when they were known as the backing unit the Man Devils. They are guitarist Matt Fernicola, drummer Owen Flanagan, bassist Chris Dubrow, and keyboardist Noah Rauchwerk. They next will perform on November 18 opening for beloved Asbury two-piece Brick + Mortar. For more, check out Little Hag’s website after you enjoy the following chat.  

Is Little Hag Avery Mandeville’s stage name, band name or both?

Both! Sometimes I’m Little Hag solo, but mostly we’re doing full band gigs these days. It’s nice to have some separation between my given name and my public/artistic one.

Why did you change from Avery Mandeville and the Man Devils to Little Hag? What was the significance of that change?

Avery Mandeville and the Man Devils was definitely a fun name, coined by guitarist Matt Fernicola, but it was sort of a mouthful and eventually lost its luster. Little Hag was a random name I picked while going through a phase of changing my Instagram handle every day, and it just felt like the right representation of our style and humor.

While the band name changed, the lineup has stayed the same. What do you like most about each of your band mates?

I’ll kick it off with my favorite hag, Mr. Owen Flanagan of supergroup trio Beauty and beach rockers Smooch. He’s the most highly sought-after drummer in New Jersey whose talent and gracious heart improve my life immensely. Everyone in his circle feels lucky just to know the guy. 

Matt Fernicola has been the backbone of Little Hag since I recorded my first solo EP in 2016. He’s one of the most motivating forces in my life, from patiently arranging songs and taking my nonsense notes to showing up on my doorstep to drag me to the gym. (And then when I refuse, he’ll sit down and watch TV with me.)

Chris Dubrow makes me think that I don’t care about the bass, but that’s because he plays it so well that I never have a reason to complain. This leaves me so much room to complain about his personality instead. 

Lastly, my sweet baby best friend Noah Rauchwerk plays keys and amps up our sound so dramatically when he’s not on tour drumming for Samia or working on his solo project Wormy. He has the unique ability to make me feel better in seconds with a few choice words or by doing nothing at all.

Has your musical sound and style changed from 2018’s ‘Happy Birthday, Avery Jane’ to the new release, Leash? If so, how and why?

We had a very different songwriting approach on Leash. I’ve always been the band’s songwriter, and formerly, I would write something and approach the band with it at practice, where the decisions get made and the sound comes together. Due to COVID, we recorded a lot of demos for Leash remotely for the first time. I would record guitar/vocals and send it to Owen, who would add drums and send it to Chris, who would give a couple different bass options and send it to Fern, and then on down the line until we had a complete arrangement. It’s such a simple process but having space to sit with something and come up with ideas separately of each other vastly changed how the songs developed and gave us really solid footing to record with our engineer and friend Erik Kase Romero.

What do you like most about working with Bar/None Records?

The guidance and patience of the fine folks at Bar/None Records has been such a positive force in my life. Working with a respected indie label that released some of my favorite records, like Day of The Dog by Ezra Furman and of Montreal’s early stuff, is truly insane and inspiring. I have to give a shout out and endless thanks to the team for taking a chance on the kid: Glenn Morrow, Mark Lipsitz, Mike Sansevere, and Emmy Black without whom none of this is possible!

Your first album for them, Whatever Happened to Avery Jane?, combines previously released songs with unreleased ones. Were all the album’s songs new recordings, and was that the case with this year’s Little Hag release of “Blood”?

The re-released material was mostly the original recordings, though some, like “Get Real!” were re-mixed. The team really believes in the power of tracks like “Blood” and wanted them to be heard by anyone who wasn’t provoked or offended the first time around.

“Blood” is part of a bodily function song cycle that includes Piss” and “Cum,” which were released together earlier this year on the Breakfast EP. How and why do “Piss” and “Cum” complete that trilogy?

Breakfast began, like most things I do, as a joke that I didn’t expect to actually come to fruition. I was on the phone with Glenn this past spring and said, “Why don’t I write a song called ‘Piss,’ we can put it out with ‘Blood’ and ‘Cum,’ and call it Breakfast?” A few weeks later Glenn called to see how “Piss” was coming along, so I stopped procrastinating and wrote the damn thing. 

The songs are three stories from three very different times in my life that capture the absurd and profane occurrences of being a woman. A pregnancy scare, a nasty old pervert, and a sexist, broken healthcare system are fodder for us to laugh through the pain until we make the pain our bitch.

Why were “Piss” and “Cum” released as an EP separate from the Leash LP, which includes “Blood”?

“Cum” was a b-side from the Leash sessions that felt more fitting with “Piss” and “Blood” than with the record, despite their sonic differences. I wanted Breakfast to encapsulate the many sides of Little Hag, as each track offers a very different sound. “Cum” is a drinking song that I’d shout with my acoustic from the corner of your favorite dive, “Blood” is an alt-rock banger that always brings the girls screaming to the front of the stage, and “Piss” has a bright, electronic nineties pop influence courtesy of producer and boyfriend extraordinaire Dana Yurcisin. For a crash course in Little Hag, look no further than Breakfast.

What do you like most about Leash?

This batch of songs are just particularly heavy and fucked up. My favorites right now are “Schlub” and “Brass Knuckle Keychain.” We went into the studio with these really solid demos, so we got to sit with ideas and tones and arrangements in a way we never had before. I’m a ‘four chords and a story’ sort of girl, so being able to hone in on the nuances of our sound was very exciting and special for me.

What is the theme of the album and why?

I’m always inspired by the fucked-up true stories of my actual life. Dating, depression, drinking, disappointment, cops, stalkers, other sickos, traffic, and townie culture always keep me inspired and on my toes. As long as weird shit keeps happening, I’ll keep writing.

What video, touring and other plans do you and Bar/None have for Leash?

We’ve got videos for “Get Real!” and “Cherry” out now, as well as for other 2021/2020 releases “Piss,” “Encore,” and “Tetris,” with one forthcoming for “Leash.” We’re headed out west in late February and are excited to see some friends and fans old and new on that run. Follow us on Instagram (@littlehag) for all the latest.

Before you signed with Bar/None, you took an early 2019 break from music. At the time, it seemed like you weren’t sure if you were going to continue, yet within a few months, you recommitted with a vengeance performing frequently and landing a deal with an internationally respected and distributed indie label. What lured you back other than rest and recuperation, especially during a pandemic, and how do you feel now that it all worked out?

I often find myself disheartened and burnt out, as I, like so many artists, have to balance music with work, school, health, and other obligations. Most of the time, I don’t feel I’ll ever have the financial stability that’s required to remain in the game. I don’t have daddy’s money to siphon. It’s tough for me to stay motivated in an industry that’s so competitive and saturated. I don’t return by logic or ‘choice’ but by some innate pull that keeps me writing. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be doing music. Whether I’ll ever be able to quit my day job is another question.

You paid your dues struggling in coffeehouses for many years as an acoustic solo artist before working with a label, band, and sizable following. What would you say now to the younger you – or young women coming up now who were like you back then – that would help sustain a career in music?

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a career in music if you’re not born wealthy or well connected. Full stop. “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life” is a capitalist myth. We’ve all been sold a lie that it’s feasible to survive off of talent and dreams if you want it bad enough. So at this point, I’m jaded as hell and don’t know what’s next. I would love to be able to keep devoting my time, energy, and limited funds to this pursuit, but I can’t do it forever. So if you have the safety net, go for it. If you don’t, find an industry that has yet to be fully defunded. Be a doctor or a lawyer like your parents told you.

Photo by Dana Yurcisin

What do you like most about working with your sibling, Kylie, who often appears in your videos and social media promo? And what do you plan to do with them next?

Kylie has always been my biggest inspiration and supporter, and I feel really lucky that they’re also my best friend forever. Their fearless approach to life and unpredictable, wicked humor are a breath of fresh air. Both Kylie and my brother, Jack, are huge influences, and I’ll always include them however I can in art and life. Kylie in particular makes it easy because they’re so fucking funny and strange.

What impact do you hope your music has and why?

I want people to feel brave enough to do scary things, like telling those in power to fuck off. I have a hard time standing up for myself, so I try to do it through writing. I combat fear and pain with humor. I hope every person has an outlet that does for them what music does for me. It’s essentially free therapy… except please go to real therapy.

Did the physical pain and lack of quality care for it that inspired ‘Piss’ get resolved?

No. I live with varying degrees of pain. We reside in a hell where only the most privileged can have their needs met.

Do you plan on directing and editing any more of your own videos? If so, what and when?

I really like making my own videos. My visual art skills are limited, but it’s fun to do what you can with what you’ve got. There’s so much freedom in that. I don’t have anything concrete planned, but whatever I make will probably be silly and raunchy, because that’s what feels good these days.

What did you like most about working with Erik Kase Romero, and did his involvement in one-time Bar/None recording act The Front Bottoms help you land your deal and how?

Erik has this beautiful patience and ability to know when to hold them and when to fold them. He gives the space you need to flesh out an idea without pressure, but also knows when to move on. He elevates with subtlety, adding another layer of an instrument or changing a single note that adds so much by doing so little. I really admire him as a producer and engineer but also as a person. 

His relationship with The Front Bottoms, Bar/None Records, and me are all happy coincidences. I think that’s what comes from being the go-to guy for NJ-based acts and beyond.

Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment? 

A quick apology to my parents, who continue to love me despite my lyrics and public image, neither of which are fit to print. Also sorry to Bar/None Records for the same reason. Being brutal is not a phase.