Boston-based duo Mediocre are one week away from releasing their second EP To Know You’re Screwed. The EP finds the band leaning further into their power pop and garage rock side as they kick out five outstanding songs that explore all aspects of screwedness and highlight the evolution of their songwriting. This EP also marks the first time in years that guitarist Piper Torrison and bassist Keely Martin are back in the same city again after going to college on opposite sides of the country. To Know You’re Screwed will be out everywhere on April 7 via Dangerbird Records.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Piper Torrison over Zoom to talk about the new EP, the modes of screwedness, moving from California to Boston, the power of friendship, and so much more. Read the interview below!
Your upcoming EP To Know You’re Screwed sees you moving in a more power-pop and garage rock driven direction than your first EP, Emotion Sickness. What inspired this new direction?
I think just our listening habits, they’ve been geared more towards garage rock lately. In 2021 when we put out our three singles with Dangerbird Records one of the singles we wrote was called “Mattress Bitch” and that was a new sounding song for us. We were excited about it and I think it made us want to lean harder into that direction.
What were you listening to during the writing and recording process?
Keely’s and my listening habits differ pretty drastically but they converge where it’s important with Mediocre. [laughs] A lot of Metric and CSS, I’d say. We always reference The Hives somehow, especially for guitar tones we’re finding. A lot of classics.
Joe Reinhart of Hop Along and Algernon Cadwallader produced, engineered, and mixed this EP. How did you decide to work with him? What was that process like?
We knew a time frame we wanted to record in and we were trying to figure out someone who would be a good fit and we were introduced to Joe through the label. We’re stoked on his work and stoked to have the opportunity to work with him. I think it all worked out for the best. It was a great time.
Also on this EP, Jake Pavilca of LA-based grunge band Street Play plays drums and this marks your first time working with an outside drummer. What was it like to record as a trio?
It was really fun! Keely was playing drums on everything before this EP and she was really excited to not have to play drums because it’s not her first instrument and it’s not always where she wants to be. Jake is a long-term friend and has been amazing. I’ve always loved seeing him play. It was so exciting to work with him, I think he really brought the songs to life in a whole new way. It was great hearing an outside perspective too because Keely and I are so locked into the duo dynamic that it’s easy to forget that more input can be had.
When you play live will you be playing as a duo or will you be playing as a trio?
We’ll be playing as a trio.
Will you have Jake playing with you or are there going to be alternating drummers?
We currently have a different drummer we found out here in Boston that we’re playing with but our hope is to play with Jake more. [laughs]
You and Keely started Mediocre when you were both in high school. How do you feel like the band has evolved since then?
I think we’re just a lot more tapped in and more decisive. I think a lot of that is because we’re not high school aged people anymore. [laughs] But it’s been really lovely growing with Keely and being able to express ourselves to each other more clearly and therefore have more a concise and thought-through piece of work.
You are both also back in the same city again after being separated for a bit due to college. How does it feel to be in the same city again? How has the move to Boston affected the dynamic of the band?
It feels great! I love it, I’m so happy. [laughs] I now live like a 5-10 minute walk from Keely, so it’s a lot more ideal than being across the country for all things music, which has been really fun. I moved to Boston in October when Keely had a couple months of school left still but now we’re both out of school and focused on all things Mediocre. It’s just been a real big change of pace gong from college to having all my energy to fully focus on this and being in Boston.
What helped you keep your friendship strong during your time apart?
Mediocre did. We were always talking about making music, Keely is always the first person I want to share anything with. But yeah, we just love each other. She’s great, she’s my best friend. It’s not hard to stay in touch and stay close.
You moved from California to Boston. What is the biggest difference between being on the west coast and being on the east coast?
Weather. [laughs] I moved in the middle of winter. I haven’t been here very long so I’m excited to experience all that Boston has to offer. Did you have trouble with the time zones when you moved?
Not really when I moved but weirdly it had an effect in college when I was in California and Keely was in Boston. 3 hours somehow catches up to you. [laughs]
It’s deceptive that way.
It shouldn’t feel that way. It shouldn’t actually interrupt schedules the way it does.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
I think it’s kind of a mixed bag depending on how the idea starts. Everything’s changing now that we’re together again too because we did a lot of songwriting when we weren’t together. That was done mainly through voice memos and sharing ideas and picking up the other person’s ideas virtually. I try to stop whatever songs I write alone as quickly as possible so that I can create it with Keely. [laughs] I feel like it becomes a whole other thing when we flesh the idea out from start to finish together instead of if I’m like, “Here’s a song Keely. Let’s try to do something with it”. There are also songs that we come to each other with that are a little more complete but I think my favourites are the ones we create together. We start with nothing and where once there was no song, now there’s a song. [laughs]
Do you have something that you keep going back to like a well of inspiration or do you wait for the creativity to strike on its own?
Yes and no. We always share playlists and keep each other pretty updated with what we’re listening to at the moment so I feel like that could be seen as our well of inspiration. But I think it really just strikes when it strikes.
Yeah, you can’t force creativity. You’ve mentioned that each of the songs on the EP represent one of the “modes of screwedness”. How do you describe these modes?
It’s funny because this wasn’t very intentional. It was looking back after we had this finished body of work and being like, “Wait, this is all kinda related in a way”. [laughs] We were just thinking that each song references some aspect of being a little fucked up. “To Know You’re Screwed Is To Know A Lot” is all self-inflicted like, “I’ve procrastinated too much. I’m creating all my own chaos”. “Pop Song Baby” is a little bit more like, “Oh we’re screwed on this systemic viewpoint of things”. On “Wash The Paint” it’s like here are these relational issues that are occurring and on “Tiny Toad” there’s a missing toad so that’s some chaos, someone’s screwed there. [laughs] Then the screwed forces coalesce into “Together Together”. We wanted to end the EP on a good note because it was a little sour. We can be positive, let’s practise that. [laughs]
How do you know that you’re screwed?
[sighs] I mean, life lets you know. [laughs]
Life finds a way.
It does, it’s persistent in that way.
Early on your career you talked about feeling tokenized because of your gender and “Pop Song Baby” explores the pressures that femme musicians face in the music industry. What changes would you like to see made within the music industry to make it a better place?
I think some of the main frustrations that we were pulling from or referencing was the feeling of being pigeon-holed or just any assumption of what you’re going to do or how good you’re going to perform because of how you look. It’s hard to talk about but I think that’s something that I would change. I feel like there’s a finite number of archetypes that we create for boxes to put people in and you have to work way harder to get yourself out of the box of what people are perceiving you as. They put you in there on sight, immediately you’re assumed to fill one of these roles and you’re like, “Wait, I never said I wanted to do that or to sound like that or look like that!” So that instinct I would wanna change.
Erase all of the boxes, just be like this is who we are, this is what we’re doing, we don’t have to prove anything to you.
Do you think that’s gotten a little better or worse or stayed the same since you started the band?
I think it’s hard to track especially being really young. I want to be careful talking about my experience in high school because it’s hard to differentiate what was just being really young and naive and not really having a developed perspective on the world yet, I’m still very much developing that. I wouldn’t trust my opinion from then very much. I’d say it’s changed but it’s hard to recognize if the needle has really moved or if my perspective and the scope with which I’m looking at things is a little more formed.
Your video for “To Know You’re Screwed Is to Know A Lot” pays tribute to the Beastie Boy’s video for “Sabotage”. What impact have the Beastie Boys had on you?
A decent amount. They’re just fucking fun. [laughs] I fall very easily into depressing listening traps, I like feeling music and music that makes me feel things. Not that the Beastie Boys don’t, they definitely make you feel things, but they break me out of the cycle of listening to songs that I’m crying to a lot of the time. I’ll go over to Keely’s and she’s always playing a Beastie Boys album and I know we’re going to have a good time. It also reminds me of my mom every time I listen to the Beastie Boys. It’s just fun, it’s just good.
Did she introduce you to the band?
Yeah, she did. She bought me Paul’s Boutique on vinyl when I was in high school and that was my first introduction to the Beastie Boys. That was really fun. I have a memory of moving in high school and the first thing we set up in our new house was the record player so we could listen to some music as we were unpacking and that was the first thing she put on. In the delirium of moving, the Beastie Boys were playing in the background. [laughs]
How would you describe the music scene in Boston from what you’ve seen so far?
It’s fun, I like it. It’s scrappy and full of insanely talented people. It’s dense, there’s a lot of bands to go around. [laughs] I’m excited to tap into it a bit more too. I’m pretty new. Keely’s been here for the last four years, she went to school here, so it’s kinda fun for her to have bands that she’s been going to see and it’s fun for me to be stepping more into her world that she’s already created for herself out here.
She can introduce you to all the bands and go to all the different shows.
Yeah. Find out about all the good basements. [laughs]
You tell the quality of the place by the basements. Are they good, are they not? If they’re not, you have to leave. Find somewhere else.
Yeah. [laughs] Like the radiator’s a little too hot here, gotta go.
Have you noticed a difference between the music scene in California and here?
Yes, probably. I don’t have a very updated, informed take on that. We played a decent amount around when we were in high school but I feel like we were such a different band then then we went to college for four years and didn’t play live. We’ve played a couple random shows here and there but that’s about it. I haven’t really been tapped into a scene in California for enough time to compare it to.
Do you have a favourite local band now?
I always have so much love for Street Play in LA, that’s Jake’s band. And Faetooth, out of LA who were in a similar scene that we were playing in. They’re doomy expansive insanity and I fucking love them. I’m stoked to see them and what they’re doing. They’re our friends too. Those are both LA bands. [laughs] I’m sure I’ll have some Boston bands in there soon.
What are you listening to now?
I’ve been listening to so much Tegan and Sara.
The new album?
I haven’t listened to the new album yet. I’ve just been going back through the archives because I think I discovered them in the “Closer” era - I love that song - but I never went backwards. I always kinda had this view of them as way more pure pop than what some their older stuff is. Their album The Con is just so good. I’ve been re-listening to that constantly. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Prince Daddy and The Hyena. I have their latest album on repeat, it’s so good. Anything Keely shows me, I always want to tap into her music. We’re always on our Spotify blended playlist. [laughs]
How would you describe the differences in your musical tastes?
It’s funny because it translates directly to our writing style. [laughs] Keely skews a lot more pop, she listens to a lot of pure pop music. I listen to a lot more folky, country vibes. That’s where it diverges. A lot of it is very similar. That’s the primary difference.
What’s next for Mediocre?
This EP comes out April 7, it’s crazy how soon that is. [laughs] We’re trying to play live and get back into that. We have a couple shows around Boston coming up and we’re just trying to take that as far as possible. We’ve been doing a lot of writing. I don’t know any timeline for new music after this but we’re always making things.We’re just trying to play and write whenever possible and have fun being friends in the same city, capitalise on that. It’s really exciting.