About The Record
On the spellbinding new EP Juniata, Nashville singer-songwriter Becca Mancari shines a new, softer light on several songs from her 2020 sea change album The Greatest Part, which marked a turn from the arid folk-rock sound of her earlier work, often classified as Americana, to indie pop. She also carves an entirely new musical path with the widescreen bliss of the previously unreleased song “Annie.” A stunning vulnerability comes through loud and clear in the new arrangements, most of which are considerably leaner than the Technicolor treatment the material received on The Greatest Part.
“Annie,” Juniata‘s lone new song, was originally performed live by Bermuda Triangle, an amiably loose acoustic trio featuring Mancari, Jesse Lafser and Brittany Howard. Howard took a classical guitar solo in the original band version of the song; in the album version, that sonic space is filled with swooning, old Hollywood-style strings, arranged by Jordan Lehning.
Mancari credits producer Zac Farro (Paramore, HALFNOISE) for helping nudge the sound of The Greatest Part closer to the indie rock she fell in love with as a teen. Farro proves equally adept at helping her achieve the gentler tones of Juniata.
On the Record: A Q&A With Becca Mancari
Adam Culver: You recently moved from the emotional labor of making music to manual labor. Can you walk us through what that looks like for you?
Becca Mancari: Yeah, I think it started because my girlfriend was being driven mad by my just not playing music and going on tour. So she has me out here doing manual labor in Madison, Tennessee, some kind of queer farming, as we call i
AC: Have you allowed yourself to envision what playing live versions of songs from The Greatest Part and the new
EP: will feel like?
BM: Yeah, I have. There is something that we’re going to announce pretty soon, which is exciting and it’s a little overwhelming. I ran into my friend Courtney Marie Andrews yesterday and she was saying the same thing about playing shows. I think it’s like the saying about riding a bike. I do think it is similar, but there has been a lot of change in the actual instrumentation of this new record. So adding a synth player, adding some keys, that’s going to be crucial to really explain this in the right way. So that’s going to be different for me. The live experience is going to be a different show than I think a lot of people have seen me do the in the recent past.
AC: Have you gotten a chance to feel the power of amplifiers and a full live drum kit behind you as you sing these songs?
BM: We’ve only done it once where we played at the Mercy Lounge, and it was amazing. I mean, we all came out of that show with a high. There’s nothing like playing in a real venue with those subwoofers underneath. I’m excited to actually experience it fully.
AC: The Greatest Part has a lot of power in it sonically, while the Juniata EP is more intimate, acoustic, even featuring some string arrangements. How do you view those two works as being in conversation of with each other?
BM: I just love the idea that when a song is good, it can be done in different ways. That’s always the marker. If they can live different lives and they don’t need all this production around it to really speak. So I kind of want to play around with not knowing what kind of version you’ll get at a live Becca Mancari show. We really want to push ourselves to be more intimate in a live setting. And it’s always a hard thing to do, to pull off live. But when it happens, it’s one of the most incredible experiences to have.
AC: Can you fathom what it’ll feel like to have first person coming up to the merch table to talk to you once shows are happening again?
BM: Actually, I played “First Time” and I had my first experience where I introduced the song and multiple people came up to me at the merch table and it was emotional, more emotional than I even bargained for. So spending this year really working on my own process has been important, to be ready to experience other people’s stories, which is a really important part of what my music is. It could be overwhelming if not taken with care.
AC: It sounds to me like your music and your personal interactions are approached with openheartedness. That’s one the things that struck me listening to the EP and the album: that you’re talking about tough and often painful things, but I just don’t hear venom coming from you towards anybody else. Was that intentional or is that something you had to get at through rewrites?
BM: I feel like sometimes music is actually kind of channeled through you. When I was writing the songs, there wasn’t a lot of rewriting. That was just kind of where I was at. And I think even with Juniata it’s been interesting, because I have spent a lot of time working through some of my own emotions about forgiveness. And that’s a really difficult, hard work. You have to take time to actually mean it, I think. I wasn’t ever wanting to be hateful, and that’s something I don’t support on any of my platforms either. If you’ve seen anything I post, it’s like, “This place is not for hate; it is for love and it is for conversation.” So that’s what I always hope my music kind of does in the world.
AC: The strings are one of the main things that set the EP apart, like on “Annie,” an absolute stunner of a song. Even though I’ve never watched old Hollywood movies, I felt like I had a big connection to the sweeping orchestral arrangements on those soundtracks through you.
BM: It’s funny, because I was just watching the Audrey Hepburn documentary on Netflix, and I realized I’ve watched almost every movie she’s ever made. When I wrote “Annie,” I was kind of referencing “Moon River,” and in particular Audrey Hepburn’s scene where she’s playing classical guitar. It’s such a warm, waltzing kind of lullaby. And I remember just being like, “I want to write a song like that. How can I write that song?” She really fought for that song to be in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, because it was going to get cut. And she was like, “No, this song is going to resonate with people.” So it’s kind of an homage to “Moon River,” and this classic sound that you can borderline cheat, so you have to be careful. It has really resonated with people. People came back to me and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that I wanted to listen to music like this,” or “I didn’t know that an indie songwriter could make something like this and I would like it still.” I’ve always wanted to never be in one genre. I’m an artist and a musician that wants to try everything.
AC: Did you find yourself feeling pigeonholed after Good Woman in 2017? Listening to The Greatest Part, it could almost have been from a different artist, at least to my ears.
BC: I think it’s a natural progression of figuring out your own identity. As a queer person, I’ve had to learn how to embrace my full self. When I first moved to Nashville, and this is nothing against the city, I mean, I loved the John Prine, the Gillian Welch, the great American songwriters. I mean, that has made me a better songwriter by falling in love with some of the greatest. But if I’m being honest, I grew up on the East Coast and I listened to indie rock since I was a kid. That was the music that I listened to, not really folk music, in my early youth. So I think it’s just becoming who I fully am, and they’re all parts of that. I don’t regret Good Woman at all. I’m so proud of that record. But I do think, for me, especially as a person of color, and as a queer person, as now identifying as predominantly non-binary, I had to shift for my audience sake, even for my sake, even how I was playing, who I was playing for and who was coming to my shows. And that shift has been really drastic and dramatic. I can see it on all my socials and people who follow me, and I think I’ll see that in my shows to come. And I want everybody to be welcome there, by the way. But there’s a big shift and it really does feel like myself finally.
AC: Do you feel like you had to make this record in this way and present these things in such an unvarnished light in order to get to your next stage of life?
BM: Yes, I think so.
I actually feel this sense of, not like the chapter’s fully closed, because I think healing takes a really long time. Maybe it’s a life lifelong thing that we go through. But it does feel like I’m able to speak and think about different things, which feels amazing. Who knows what I want to say next? That’s the first time I’ve ever felt that way, you know.