Interview with Monster Pussy: There’s never been a mosh pit at our shows. By Billups Allen

Geographically, Tucson, Arizona is not positioned to entice a large influx of touring bands. Those who do come through know it as a hotbed for DIY culture. Art space is cheap, and for a small population, the city’s artists and punks maintain an unbelievable number of show spaces and recurring house parties. If there is a band with members who can draw a map to all of them, it is a minimalist three-piece called Monster Pussy: a group that plays a mix of raw, riot grrrl-inspired punk with a dose of improv noise guitar. The band is fronted by a skinny nomad named Mullarkey. Mullarkey spends a large part of the year traveling the country in his much-adored white Subaru station wagon. But he adamantly calls Tucson home, and when he is home, he spends much of his free time setting up shows and standing in the front row of every band he sees. He is unchallenged in being one of Tucson’s primary go-to guys. The other two band members are Marie (drummer) and Steve (guitar), both involved in arts-related non-profits. Monster Pussy play high-energy punk without a bass player. It’s rare that I like bands without a bass player, but this is easily the first band I ever liked with the word “pussy” in the name.

Mullarkey: vocals
Marie: drums
Steve: guitar

Billups: How did the name Monster Pussy come about?
Mullarkey: I blatantly took it from the name of a song from one of my favorite bands. From the song “Monsterpussy” from The Vaselines. And I really like cats.
Billups: The name leaves room or interpretation as a double entendre.
Mullarkey: It’s one hundred percent about cats.
Marie: My friends still refuse to believe that’s the case.
Billups: So there is really no other intention?
Mullarkey: We sort of assumed this would happen. To me, it just achieves a goal that most people want to assume the worst; assume the sluttiest, nastiest definition of anything. I tend to default to the sweet and innocent first, which also gets me in trouble sometimes in life.
Billups: The only problem I have is it evokes the idea of bands I don’t like that use that word in the name.
Mullarkey: Like Nashville Pussy.
Billups: Yeah.
Steve: The Vaseline’s song is actually about a monster cat, but there is sort of a weird sexual undertone to the song.

Billups: Your decision to play without a bass player seems to have happened rather organically. You even have a song called “Four-String No-Show.”
Mullarkey: It’s a meta-song about not having a bass player. We never started out saying we will never have a bass player. The thing we also knew was we didn’t have to have a bass player: to default to the idea that every band must have bass, drums, guitar. It was about the fourth or fifth song we wrote was a joke. “Let’s make up a story about not having a bass player.”
Billups: So she doesn’t exist?
Mullarkey: No. She’s entirely fictional.
Billups: Really?
Mullarkey: Yeah, that song is about a fictional character.
Billups: More and more bands are trying unconventional lineups.
Steve: There’s a band from Flagstaff that has six bass players and a drummer.
Mullarkey: I saw a band in Austin called Terror At Ten Thousand Feet with three bass players and a drummer. I know people in Tucson are threatening to start a band like that, so stay tuned.
Billups: I know you would know that. You have a reputation around Tucson for going to a lot of shows. Sometimes more than one a day. At what point did you decide to point the experience in the other direction?
Mullarkey: I’ve been going to shows for a very long time. Because I didn’t play an instrument, I was never really aggressive about starting a band., I figured I had to convince people that I was a good enough singer, songwriter, or lyricist to warrant starting a band when  I wasn’t going to be playing any instrument. So it happened very slowly.
Billups: There is something important about that to me: the idea that no matter where you feel you are musically, you can still start a band. Have both of you been in bands in Tucson as well?
Marie: I’ve been in a few things, nothing in this genre.
Billups: Always as a drummer?
Marie: Singing and guitar.
Billups: Is this your first band drumming?
Marie: Yes.

Billups: You have a pretty unconventional drum setup. All of your drums are standing. How did that come about?
Marie: I was playing the drums for about a month before we had a sort of mutual audition for each other. When I started, it was sort of just a stripped-down set. I was a sit down drummer. And then I had a sciatic nerve injury. So we needed to change the way I did it or give up the drums.
Billups: I love the idea of making the instrumentation work regardless of what people bring to the table. I also like that you guys play all the collectives and house shows supporting the bands coming through Tucson.
Marie: We typically play the anti-venue.
Mullarkey: There are bars in town that are supportive of us, but, in general, I feel like bars now are pretty anti-music.
Steve: We started typically wanting to do the all-ages shows and play specifically for the kids.
Marie: Our favorite shows are all about the energy. There is definitely a pop element, but what makes it have energy is that it could fall apart at any minute. There is this energy that happens with a receptive audience.
Billups:Tucson seems like a pretty insular scene. If you want to play, it seems there is a wider range of house shows and odd venues.
Mullarkey: There are only a few bars in town that would even let us play. There is almost no limit to the all-ages venues we can play. There are three or four solid ones. There are those that close, and open, and relocate.
Marie: It’s a very thriving artistic and music scene. I’m on my bike all the time. If you are a band in Tucson, there are three or four bars you can play. Once you’ve played them, you’ve played them. There is more underground culture.
Steve: It feels more precious out here to me. The music, the galleries, the smaller venues that are all around for only a few years.
Billups: Does the desert affect the art and music that comes out of here?
Mullarkey: Oh, yeah. We’re as much of a desert rock band as any other band here that gets labeled as such. No one will ever think of us that way because we don’t have the mariachis and the horns. All that stuff is fine, not to be disrespectful. “Private Party” is a song about going out to the desert by myself. Even the guitar riff seems to have a western kind of scronk to it.
Steve: Well, the sound is very minimal.
Billups: That is interesting because I would not think of a punk band as having a desert sound, but one of the first bands that came to mind when I first saw you was The Urinals. They are not a desert band, but I think they were a beach band. I’m not sure I even fully understand what the “desert sound” is, but the minimalism makes sense to me.
Steve: Stripped down. The sun washed everything out. I feel like our songs are monochromatic. They are a little bleached out and crunchy. To me, it is what the desert sounds like.
Mullarkey: There is not too much stuff in the way, which is what I like about both our music and the desert. We are not in some dense forest.
Billups: Do you see a sort of stream-of-consciousness/confessional quality in your lyrics also being a product of the desert?
Mullarkey: I write songs as stories, whereas a lot of lyrics are impressions or extended metaphors. I’m pretty literal: narrative stories based on true-life experience.
Marie: I noticed when we went to tour in California, we were playing for other audiences. It really struck me where we’re from, the energy of where we’re from, and the lyrics being so desert-based.

Billups: What was your impression of California from the perspective of an outside artist?
Marie: I think every place has its own very unique artistic, cultural scene. We played in Los Angeles and we played in San Diego. You could have struck on any scene there. Bigger cities definitely incorporate a lot more. It made me realize that we are from a really specific place.
Billups: I feel as though you are pretty unique here in the punk scene, particularly due to the positivity that seems to follow your shows. There is so much negativity in punk rock, particularly in the lyrics. What keeps you from being pessimistic?
Steve: I think the positivity comes from various passions. Mullarkey’s passionate about going to shows. I think we just want to share that sort of thing.
Marie: I’m sort of out in the community working in the arts, helping organizations do their best to expand. There’s an event I do called Every Woman that serves women in the arts, promotes entrepreneurship.
Billups: What sort of bands do you collectively model yourselves after?
Steve: We always cite the Northwestern bands, the K and Kill Rock Stars bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s. I don’t know if the scenes were similar.
Billups: I don’t know for sure either, but it has struck me the same way when I watch you play—at least in that there must have been a small pool of bands gathering to support a small pool of bands traveling.
Steve: I think there are similarities; it’s kind of a model. All those bands have minimal set up, sharing of spaces. It’s somewhat similar to here.
Mullarkey: At least on my part, I’m definitely drawing from that and from poppy, punk bands like The Buzzcocks and The Undertones and ‘90s pop punk bands like J Church, Jawbreaker. Being unabashed about the pop side of punk rock, which, for me, was the best side of it.
Billups: Are those bands a meeting point for all of you?
Mullarkey: Some of them might just be where I’m getting my melodic cues.
Steve: Musically, I’m more into the avant-garde, noise punk rock.
Billups: I can see that in the guitar playing.
Steve: The structure we have right now is perfect because I can [a loud train whistle overpowers his voice on the tape recorder. Ironically, he is talking about how he is free to explore being noisy.]
Marie: The set is pretty much different every time.
Billups: Is it?
Steve: There is improv. We always follow a structure, but there is some variation. We rework songs on a regular basis, but there is a basic structure. We never play the same set the same way.
Mullarkey: We vary the order every show. We have really short songs.
Billups: In the song “Socialist Butterfly,” the song begins with the lyrics, “Hey you, venture capitalist boy/cruising the clubs like you are on Wall Street.” What does this refer to?
Mullarkey: It’s my image of a lady who is a free spirit. She goes out to enjoy dancing and these totally disgusting guys, like disgusting, CEO-capitalist guys I despise are trying to own her. It’s definitely from the point of view of a feminist boy. It’s definitely my feminist anthem. An anti-capitalist rant also.
Billups: The immediate humor in a song entitled “Invite Me! (To Your All Girl Party!)” Is apparent, but the song seems to be about machismo attitudes at live shows. Is that something you encounter going to shows as often as you do?
Mullarkey: I’m not a fan of the machismo. In some ways, I feel like our band has achieved the goal of that song. If you go to our shows, typically the people up front who are most excited are the girls. You see the guys in the back [makes a sour face and crosses his arms] waiting for the next band. There’s never been a mosh pit at our shows.

Billups: I feel like the dynamic of punk rock and underground music being something of a boys club has changed a lot. Do you see a change in that?
Marie: I wonder why there are so many male musicians and less female ones. I think there are packets of lots of interesting stuff and there are tremendous women artists out there, but music in general is sort of a boy’s club, especially when you get into something that has the sort of energy where there might be a mosh pit or sweating, or rocking really hard. It’s not your traditional women’s role. But expressing through high energy—the energy that makes people excited to come and watch shows—there is more to that than just the male/young angst sort of vibe. When you cross over those lines, it can be as rockin’ as it can possibly be. It is not going to be a boy’s club.
Billups: There is a lot of danceable energy at your shows. Do you feed off the audience much?
Mullarkey: Yeah, in fact, this one place we play has this sort of default lighting so that you can’t see the audience. The soundman, Dana, is accommodating towards my prima donna requests to turn these Christmas lights on and turn the other lights out, because if I can’t make eye contact with the audience, I can’t even do it. That is the opposite of the shoe gazer, eyes closed thing. I actually like to make eye contact with the audience, not pretending to make eye contact and looking at a point in the back of someone’s head, creating an illusion, but actually singing right into people’s eyes.
Steve: Yeah, you’re very confrontational. Which is amazing, because Marie and I have that thing we are doing in the background. It’s good to have him out there. Another thing is that, when we have a choice, we’ll play on the floor. It adds another connection with the audience. We feed off of the energy more.
Billups: Where do you feel the confrontation comes from?
Mullarkey: It’s not confrontational in a negative way. It’s having a connection between band and audience and breaking down that wall, making the audience feel a part of it. The band is doing their thing and the audience is doing their thing. Like with the whole moshing thing—why it is so annoying to me when it happens—is because it feels like when people are moshing, it’s not connected to the music. They’re not watching the band anymore; they’re hitting each other. They’re not even hitting each other to the beat of the music.
Billups: You touched on your West Coast tour earlier. Do you have any other thoughts about what it was like taking your act out of Tucson?
Mullarkey: It was life changing.
Billups: Are you being serious? Really life changing?
Mullarkey: Yes.
Billups: Is it the first time you performed in other cities?
Steve: Well, we go to Flagstaff.
Mullarkey: And Phoenix.
Steve: California was our first out-of-state performances. It’s such a romantic idea to go on tour. To go and travel. Being explorers.
Billups: I’ve talked to a lot of people who are just putting out their first 7” and beginning to play more out-of-state shows and that bubble can burst pretty quickly.
Steve: There has to be a lot of communication. There are moments where the littlest thing can bug the hell out of you. I think it’s worth it just because you get to that point where you have that awesome show and all that washes away. It’s all about the music at that point.
Marie: I think it is doubly interesting because we have a name that can, even in town here, be misinterpreted, especially going somewhere totally different where no one really knows what to expect.
Billups: Do you have people who totally misunderstand where you are coming from, due to the name?
Steve: There are people who have gotten the reference.
Mullarkey: I have spoken to maybe two random people where I told them that I am really into cats and they were like “Yeah, right,” and I know they’re wrong. And if you think about it, “Large Vagina” doesn’t make sense. What does that mean?
Billups: And you put cats on all your flyers, don’t you?
Steve: Yeah, it’s pretty obvious. Our 7” has a cat on it.
Mullarkey: Even the packaging and art match the minimalist approach. It’s a nice way to hammer a point home. After a hundred flyers and every one of them has a cat on it, not a vagina, even the naysayers will realize it is about cats.
Billups: That is pretty optimistic to me. That is a lot of processing to expect people to do. Mullarkey, you personally travel quite a bit. How does that affect the band?
Mullarkey: We take a lot of breaks. I came back last year and, suddenly, we were playing our songs a lot faster than we had before.
Billups: I feel like a lot of people go headlong into bands and projects and burn out quickly.
Steve: I think we would burn out. Plus, we don’t want to burn out. We don’t want to oversaturate Tucson.
Billups: You are embarking on another road trip shortly. When you get back, what is in store for the band?
Mullarkey: The 7” sounds exactly like we want it to. We want to do a full length and build on that. Maybe add a twelve-piece horn section.
Billups: And a mariachi band?
Mullarkey: Yes.
Billups: And you started to say something about the album being somewhat conceptual? Are you trying to get your lyrics out of Tucson a little?
Mullarkey: One side will be about wandering and one side will be about home. About Tucson.
Billups: What’s behind the wanderlust? Are you just a natural traveler?
Mullarkey: My dad has quoted me as saying at four years old: “Someday I’m going to buy my own car and drive really far away.” And I did. It’s in “My Subaru.” We have a song about it. I just like going to different cities and wandering around.
Billups: Do you see your writing as stream-of-consciousness?
Mullarkey: It is, but just because it is the only way I know how to think.