Categories
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


KEEP UP TO DATE WITH TROPHY WIFE

Website

Spotify

Instagram

Facebook


LISTEN

Categories
Music

Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher” Album Review

Phoebe Bridgers is the poetic and sarcastic indie folk musician whose songwriting abilities have garnered comparisons to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Her debut album “Stranger in the Alps” was dubbed “an emo-folk masterpiece” by Rolling Stone in 2018, and her sophomore album “Punisher” is an instant bleak and fatalistic classic.

“Punisher” was originally slated to be released on June 19, but Bridgers decided to put it out a day early, stating on her Instagram that she wouldn’t be postponing the release. With the fragile state of the world with COVID-19 and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, having music and art as a release is incredibly necessary, and this album is a smorgasbord of sorrowful, sarcastic tunes with Bridgers attempting to make sense of the dark future that it feels like this generation is headed towards.

Bridgers’ enlists the help of frequent collaborators and bandmates from side projects on this album including Conor Oberst of Better Oblivion Community Center, and Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker of boygenius. Bridgers’ songwriting on this record was influenced lyrically by Joan Didion, and sonically by Elliott Smith and Jackson Browne. The sound on the album conjures up visceral pangs with lo-fi production on tracks like “Garden Song,” and heavy instrumentation on the track “Kyoto,” complete with mellotron, autoharp, twelve-string guitars and synthesizers.

Bridgers’ dejected and cynical lyrical overtones are the most transparent on dystopian folk-pop tracks like “Halloween” a song about an ill-fated romance that closes out with a duet between Bridgers’ and Conor Oberst repeating the same couplets as they sing of inevitable doom (“Baby it’s Halloween/I’ll be whatever you want”). “Chinese Satellite” is about her nihilistic view of life and a lack of faith in the world or in herself (“I want to believe/Instead, I look at the sky and I feel nothing/You know I hate to be alone/I want to be wrong”).

“Punisher,” “Moon Song,” and “Savior Complex” all find Bridgers dealing with her nurturing instincts getting the best of her as she grapples with the pain of caring too much for somebody with self-destructive tendencies and low self-esteem who cannot reciprocate, which ends up draining her of all her energy. The lilting, emotional folk track “Graceland Too” contains a banjo, a fiddle, and ethereal background vocals by Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus.

The album comes to a close with “I Know the End,” with Bridgers making peace with the uncertainty of her future and the world coming to an end (“A slaughterhouse, an outlet mall/Slot machines, fear of God/Windows down, heater on/Big bolts of lightning hanging low”). The final instrumentation mirrors the album’s intro and builds until it reaches an orchestral climax with strings, primal animalistic hissing and guttural screaming reminiscent of an apocalyptic horror film score.

“Punisher” is an amalgamation of emotional highs and lows and dry lyrical wisecracks that paint a picture of a world in decay. What’s even more impressive is that Bridgers manages to make the listener laugh at the same time as she spits out lyrical prose that comes as a visceral punch to the gut.