Sometimes I ask myself the unhealthy, horribly dismal question of ‘what the fuck is point?’
I’m not talking the hole shebang, but you know, the other fate worse than death: turning myself into a yuppie, that sort of shit. I’d vote for Biden, get as my mom so eloquently puts it, a ‘real’ job, a Nissan Leaf, and you know, stop wasting all my time on art, and chasing a dream.
That is a fate perhaps similar to death.
So when every so often, something, a ‘distraction’ crops up that takes away mundanity that is out of the ordinary, I must make sense of it. This time it is Pregnancy Mask’s debut EP Playing the Victim. The reasons for this appeal are numerous.
Though they may not be the reasons you would expect off first or second listen.
Pregnancy Mask is a project from Boston, Ma comprised of Fen Rotstein, Alex Marlowe, Erik Thorstenn, & Erin Kangas. They describe themselves as ‘crap-core’ but generally play what you would call grunge or alt-rock. I know, I know, grunge. Grunge.
I’ve been thinking lately that Nirvana killed the genre just by making grunge too good. I don’t think this fact is too far-fetched given how shallow the genre, at least over the radio, is perceived to be (Shouts to Failure fans). Because in retrospect, no band from that era could even hold a torch to Nirvana at their peak. Pearl Jam? Alice in Chains? Creed? Give me a break.
If Pregnancy Mask are deserving of coverage, it is for this reason: they are musicians brave enough to take on a genre past its prime and compromised by the likes of what we could colloquially call ‘butt-rock’ and reclaim it into a highly emotive art that makes us forget what was so sad about WAAF closing in the first place.
I unlike you, have a strange twisted relationship with radio music, particularly among the noted stations that could some times play good music, I have a soft spot for: WFNX, WBCN, WZLX, and lastly, WAAF.
I say this to not only assert the complexity with which people approach music, but also to say that people just like bad music. This is a part of the reason why this website exists, and why I do what I do: explore the reasons why people like and make the music they make.
Yet whatever your conscription and guilty pleasures, Pregnancy Mask operate in the reality of the Boston music mess. Lead songwriter for Pregnancy Mask, vocalist, guitarist, Berklee grad, and DIY champion Fen Rotstein (she/her/hers) navigates this mess with style and intensity.
Somewhere in the specular metaphoric trickiness laden in Pregnancy Mask’s mission, one that may be imprecisely defined, there exists a reality in spite of trauma that can be said in a leftish sphere, reified into reality against an ill fate.
The push and pull of meaning and entendre in this music push complexity to the same heights as rock songs you’d hear on the radio. That interplay, given Pregnancy Mask’s DIY status, is as hedonistic as their own attitudes toward their music that they describe jokingly as ‘crapcore’ and ‘pornogrind’
Check out our interview below we had with Fen Rotstein and drummer Alex Marlowe and don’t miss Pregnancy Mask’s debut EP, ‘Playing the Victim’ out now on bandcamp and Spotify.
Pregnancy Mask on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/7Idra8oWwBVT2aMK2VBfSa?si=lbNA6hiHTHCBtfuz-njjLA
Boston Hassle: What about the genre of crap-core?
Fen Rotstein: (laughs) Well crap-core goes by a lot of fucking names these days. We definitely make some variant of that.
Alex Marlowe: Buttrock!
FR: We absolutely make butt-rock. Porno-grind is absolutely a form of butt-rock all the way, no hesitation. Take the L, I don’t give a fuck, we make awful music.
AM: We talk shit about ourselves more than anyone.
FR: Also I think we’re really supportive people, mostly. I don’t like porno-grind because of the heavily ingrained sexism in the genre.
AM: And it’s trying too hard.
FR: With Mudfuck and Pregnancy Mask, we’re trying too hard, but to be on the left side of the political spectrum, which at least is a noble effort, right? There is nothing wrong with being ‘not good’ at your instrument. Everyone is capable of making noise with that shit and if you are able to harness your ability to express yourself in some way then you communicate to someone else, if you’re not wild.
AM: I’ve had that conversation with people about an opener whose song’s suck. And they’re like ‘people like that shouldn’t play live.’ And I’m like why not? Why shouldn’t they not be able to express themselves musically just because they are technically not good. Everyone should be able to play in a public space and make their shot. A lot of people are way too dismissive of people who aren’t technically good.
FR: What is good? I mean, we all have our own ideas about what sounds nice. How do I put it? I fucking love The Shaggs unironically. It is music that makes me genuinely feel happy. Like I listen to Led Zeppelin I All the Time. People be like ‘yo this is mad butt-rocky’ but if you like the music, that’s the only thing that matters. And if you’re making the music and you like the music, then that is really the only thing that matters.
AM: It’s so commodified. You are expected to have some level of success to have made it as a musician.
FR: Concepts of instrumental proficiency are so disparate and fucked, it is all over the place. There is just no point in using objective terms to describe music like that, it is really proscriptive it is really damaging and untrue to what music has been historically, and also facets of classism and folk music etc. so much goes into it, it is just sad that people can’t just say, ‘I don’t like this.’
You can always find a reason, if you want to find to explore why you don’t like something you’re free to do so, but so many people need to have this immediate reasonable justification for why they don’t like something, and as such, anything that doesn’t fit this standard of quality, they are like ‘fuck this.’ You don’t have to listen to it, for you to be negative in a non-constructive way speaks more about your insecurity as a musician than about that persons inferiority.
The overarching point here is that the rush to find a justification that will validate your feelings of disgust and hatred is so pointless.
BH: Would you say this is where the mindset where Pregnancy Mask comes into being?
FR: I think you or Eric said at one, ’these songs are like all the best parts of Distuberd, and Staind and Five Finger Death Punch and all these shitty awful bands.
AM: That may have been Erik actually. There’s so much value in stuff you don’t like, you can kind of take inspiration from things you don’t find good. That’s how we made this project because it is definitely not good.
FR: For sure, we wanted to sound not good, and we found the sound. (laughter)
AM: It’s so hard to know if you’re making good music.
FR: That’s an aspect of this project we haven’t had time to analyze. We kind of just hit the ground running. We went through like —
AM: 30 people.
FR: Easily six. Shouts to Spencer Mudock, Paige Gulley, Ava, Guy, Bean Chiodo, & Vanessa Hail. We just had three months of —
AM: scrambling to get a set list together for a show. And then we were like fuck it, let’s record it and make an album.
FR: Exactly, but even more frustrating as a band for us: we struggled a few months to get a band together, but once we got together, we need to be getting ready for this gig in three weeks.
BH: Why did you cover Nirvana’s Drain You last night at The Midway?
FR: Well, I don’t know if you can tell but I have awful taste so I just stan the most normal people in the world, namely Kurt Cobain. I really like Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and you know, feminist activist, weird rocky, grungey.
AM: I feel like he really had the image and sound we are trying to go for.
FR: For sure, and the political views. We’re like the sloppiness of Nirvana but with the complete front facing, unabashed politics of Rage Against the Machine and Black Flag lmao.
Nirvana is a solid influence. Drain You is one of those songs I personally knew well. I recorded a cover of Drain You just to see how far I could push my own production skills. And then I thought it worked well with the band and the sound. It’s hard to be objective about a song’s meaning, but from my understanding, the lyrics are a bizarre look at relationships in relation to other relationships. It is almost like the imagery denotes the inherent and constant trauma that surrounds and decorates an otherwise comforting relationship. I think people think of Drain You as a song about fucked up relationships but it is actually relatively positive.
BH: So why did you choose the title of the EP ‘Playing the Victim’?
FR: I think that is definitely part of it. I thought it was an effective title given the content of the songs. All the songs are about abuse and trauma and relationships and gaslighting and that kind of stuff. And unhealthy interpretations about connections with human beings. I remember writing down the phrase ‘Playing the Victim’ and it was a really emotionally charged phrase for me and it actually worked well.
My hope is for people to see the album title and the art and get an idea of that what is being portrayed here is the idea of playing the victim and what it means in the context of actual victimhood. You have people who are abused who are told by people abusing them that you’re ‘playing the victim’. Then at the same time you have people who are abusers using the process of playing the victim to harm other people. I wanted to take all these different feelings and smash them all together because I feel that that is a response illicited by that phrase and I personally think that that is an important thing to think about. I’ve hurt a lot of people by my rampant, unnoticed, reckless victimhood a la Bojack Horseman, but I’ve also been really hurt by people and been told ‘you’re just playing the victim, don’t worry about.’
That’s what the word means, I’m not trying to be a baby about it. The third element here is the confusion that you have after being an abused person. Abusers have been abused, abused people often abuse, just as a product of the system of psychological abuse and the lack of mental health assistance in this country and our society. I don’t want to make it politically charged, that is just within my own experience.
BH: So why rock music as an outlet?
AM: It’s loud.
FR: So I atleast use to, make a lot of music. I still kind of do, but I’ve gotten busier. I had this really severe concussion last year during the summer of 2019. It was like really minor but my brain still feels kind of fucked in a way. It is frustrating, I have experienced a lot of memory issues. For a while, a few weeks, I would just look at my computer and wonder if I could make music. I don’t know if I have inspiration as a thing or if I am just too confused to make music in any functionally meaningful way. I was really really concerned. So I just produced demos for three songs, six hours at a time for one week. I suddenly had three songs. What triggered the move was that this was the first time I really tried to write something from scratch with the guitar. The fourth song on the EP ‘Leave You’ was a song I wrote a while ago that I thought was thematically relevant, that through the songs, it was a crescendo of intesity, a narrative, just a line that it follows.
AM: For me, I have always played rock since I started. It was mostly rock, then I moved to progressive then to metal, which is where I am now. Fen asked me to play drums for her and I was like ok.
FR: You’re so great. We’re so lucky that everyone whose been in the band has been such a good and close friend. Like Vanessa and Ava and Spencer.
AM: And Erik and Erin, the people who are in the band.
FR: But the people who have been with the band long term, if I had a beverage I would be pouring it out for you. So when Alex joined, Erik also joined and Erik and Alex are both in this band Mudfuck which is metal.
AM: Definitely Metal, Thrashy, Death-core, just really loud and in your face. Ava just left the band and we were like fuck, how can we find a guitarist? Erik definitely contributed to our rock sound. Erik is a rocking boy
FR: Our stage energy is 50% his ass.
AM: I haven’t seen him play guitar in a while because he is the vocalist for Mudfuck. Normally he has the mic.
FR: Erin is just a legend, she is THE metal bassist, all her rigs are loud and screamy and it’s great.
BH: What other primary influences does your band have?
FR: I was listening to a shit-ton of Japanese Breakfast and The Garden and the most recent Nine Inch Nails album, that sonically have very little to do with anything. But it is just elements from their projects that really push me to a really fat, overdriven sound. That was the mental image we are coming from.
AM: For this project I got inspiration from pop-punk bands that are more on the punk side, like Joyce Manor and PUP, but also surf bands like The Growlers. I hadn’t played in a band in a few years so I had to get back to basics.
BH: Do you have any plans for this year?
FR: Playing more gigs, and we are going to try to put out another release by the end of the year. But a lot more shows, thinking about different locations. We’re going to start putting our feelers out for tours in the future. And also getting our live sound down. That is always a big priority. It always nice to have greater exposure and play larger shows.
Also in the tracking process, We had Spencer Murdock play bass and tracked on the album. We miss him and big props. And also please leave your comments to the questions on this interview please, Spencer. Every one reading this, go down to the comments section and read Spencer’s thoughts.
Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.