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Live Music Review

Live Review and Q&A: Trophy Wife at The Mercury Lounge

As her name would suggest, the musical output of Trophy Wife—the solo project of 21-year-old Berklee student McKenzie Iazzetta—is inherently subversive. Her songwriting and her distinct vocal delivery constantly contradict one another, with lyrics where she leans into the role of the austere and unaffected “cool girl” trudging her way through the endlessly messy charade of daily life. Take songs like “Involved,” and “Knife Fight” for example, where Iazzetta wails through gritted teeth, “I didn’t mean to get excited, I didn’t mean to get involved,” and “I do not need it, you were only a test in the first place, try me, try me, try me.”

These lyrics function as a form of protection against ever being perceived as emotionally damaged or wounded, a similar technique employed by her contemporary indie predecessors like Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski, Snail Mail, and Japanese Breakfast. But don’t be fooled by the text. The strained cracks in her voice give her away every time. It is this naked vulnerability and juxtaposition of earnestness and defensiveness, hopefulness and despondence, infatuation and disgust, that makes her songwriting so compellingly sincere.

I caught Trophy Wife on Wednesday at The Mercury Lounge on a bill with Charles Irwin and Sub*T. She was the first of the three acts to take the stage, donning her best babydoll grunge getup while she attentively tinkered with the tuning pegs on her baby blue Fender Jazzmaster before leading her band through the opening number of their setlist, “Ask Me Anything.” 

Trophy Wife at The Mercury Lounge. Photo by Isabel Corp

Throughout her eight-song set, Trophy Wife performed every song on her latest EP Bruiser, as well as an unreleased song called “Baby’s Breath” and an enthralling cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ classic lovelorn ballad “Maps,” which she was quick to deem “the best song ever written.” It was a gorgeous tribute to the NYC garage rock legends that evoked the same visceral growing pains Karen O had to be feeling when she wrote the song close to Iazzetta’s age. 

One of the most enjoyable highlights of the performance was the undeniable chemistry between Iazzetta and her live band. Near the climactic end of their closing number, the seven-minute long opus “I’m Getting Better,” her guitarist Mario Perez shredded violently on his back while her drummer Michael Martelli continually thrashed his head wildly as he played, throwing his entire body into robust snare hits that would make you think he was chipping away at cement. But none of this detracted from the captivating pull Iazzetta had on the audience, her spellbinding croons and dreamy guitar strums grounding and centering the rest of the band in a divine form of dynamic synchronicity.

Trophy Wife at The Mercury Lounge (Christian Pace on bass, Michael Martelli on drums). Photo by Martin Garcia

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Iazzetta prior to her set at the Mercury Lounge to discuss the icky feelings of growing up that inspired Bruiser, her love of Liz Phair, and how re-recording a song she wrote at nineteen allowed her to forgive her younger self. 

You’re currently pursuing a degree at Berklee. How has it been balancing school life and the responsibilities of a working musician?

Luckily it’s easier if you go to music school. It’s a lot of time management but it normally works out well since most of the shows I book are on the weekends. 

If you could morph into any rock star, living or dead, who would it be? 

Probably Mitski. A close second would be Fiona Apple, but she’s got enough bullshit to deal with already. I wouldn’t exactly want to live through her particular circumstances. 

I understand that you grew up listening to several artists in the Lilith Fair lineup (Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Tori Amos). Who in that camp has influenced your writing the most? 

Definitely Liz Phair. I had the song “Johnny Feelgood,” in constant rotation as a child because my mom would always play it. She chronicled the trial-by-fire way of navigating life in a very blunt and tongue-in-cheek way that I really gravitate to as a songwriter. 

How did you go about writing and recording Bruiser?

I already had a batch of songs written and one of my roommates Micah said, “You should definitely record these.” Micah played drums on the record and got his friend who runs a studio to let us use the space. We had rehearsed the songs a bunch and showed up to the studio with a really fresh and open mind. It was all done in a weekend. 

My favorite track on the EP is “I’m Getting Better.” What did the process of bringing that song to life entail? 

I just sat down one day and thought “I really needed to write a longer song,” and it ended up being twice as long as I anticipated. That one came together the smoothest. All of the vocals were done in three takes before we layered them. We really just wanted it to sound like it was being delivered “through gritted teeth,” and for listeners to feel that tension and sort of hold their breath. 

What made you decide to re-record and repurpose “Knife Fight?” 

I just didn’t feel like it sounded like me anymore. The first one was recorded when I was nineteen. I was still figuring myself out when I first wrote it and didn’t think the song was as fully-realized as I wanted it to be. 

Do you still resonate with that song now? 

I wrote it a long time ago, so it’s not so much that I still resonate with it now, but more that I can better understand what I was feeling at that time. I can look back at that time with more perspective and this new version is sort of an ode to baby me. A way of forgiving my younger self.  

Trophy Wife at The Mercury Lounge. Photo by Isabel Corp

What has been the most interesting takeaway listeners have had from this EP? 

I think what’s been really cool is that listeners have made all these thematic connections between all the songs that I never noticed until they were pointed out to me. I was using a lot of sarcasm as a defense mechanism and deflecting blame in these songs, basically “cool girl”-ing my way through the trial-and-error situations of everyday life. 

You’ve received many comparisons to Phoebe Bridgers and Snail Mail. Does that ever put pressure on you? 

Not really. I have my own thing, but I think it would be pretty flamboyantly egotistical to claim, “No! I’m not influenced by that at all,” because that’s obviously not true. I can definitely see the parallels, because I make music that is a certain flavor of coming-of-age with a tinge of anger, which is very on brand for them. It’s certainly flattering that I’m even receiving those comparisons at all.

Finally, what’s the best thing to listen to to get hyped up before going onstage? 

Definitely Wednesday. They’re a shoegaze band from Asheville, NC and I’m obsessed with their latest album Twin Plagues


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Album Review Music

Pretty Sick Ventures Into Shoegaze Territory on New EP

Singer-songwriter, model, and bassist Sabrina Fuentes wears many hats. She started the NYC-based new age grunge band Pretty Sick when she was only thirteen, capturing the attention of audiences all around the globe with her darkly sardonic vocal range, dirty grunge-laced basslines, and songs about being caught up in toxic relationships, with heavy instrumental accompaniment from a multitude of rotating band members. This time she is joined by Wade Oates of the Virgins on guitar and Austin Williamson from Onyx Collective on drums.

Last year, Pretty Sick released their debut EP, Deep Divine, through the UK indie label Dirty Hit. Earlier this week, they released their follow-up EP, Come Down. And if Deep Divine was meant to encapsulate being caught up in the intoxicating rapture of self-destructive youth and toxic love, then Come Down represents the dreary hangover of the aftermath.

Fuentes’ uninhibited lead vocals, Wade Oates’ crisp, feedback-heavy guitar solos and Austin Williamson’s tom-heavy drum fills are guaranteed to grab every listener by the throat. Songs like “Bet My Blood” and “Devil in Me”—with their crunchy guitar solos and vocals that sound like they’ve been run through Courtney Love’s blender—are heavily contrasted with slower cuts where Fuentes emits these soft “ooohs” over pedal-heavy distortion.

“I have a real taste for pop music, and my songwriting style has a real pop music sensibility,” Fuentes said in a recent interview with Alternative Press. This is no more apparent than in the lead single, “Dumb,” an infectious earworm with a hook that is eerily similar to “Hanging Around” by the Cardigans.

Fuentes’ vocal range alternates between the airy, mystic coos of My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher on “Pillbug” and “Bare,” the unrestrained trills of Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland on “She,” and the grating screams of Mia Zapata from the Gits on “Self Control.” “Pillbug” could easily pass for a B-side off of My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything, which is the last thing I would have expected from a grunge band. And that only adds to the EP’s allure.

Come Down as a whole is an amalgamation of reflections on love lost, and what it’s like to grow up in New York—a laborious and emotionally-draining undertaking that both prepares you for the crushing weight of heartbreak and simultaneously leaves an even nastier bruise when a relationship doesn’t work out. And it sounds magnificent.

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