When alt-rock duo Mediocre showed up at the East LA warehouse they’d booked to film their latest video, the woman who let them in was shocked – despite the fact that the location is mainly used for film production, this was the first all-female crew she’d seen shooting there. But Piper Torrison and Keely Martin are used to doing things themselves (Martin is also one-half of Bowie Nix, the production team responsible for all of Mediocre’s videos thus far). Not only is their quirky DIY spirit built into their musical and visual aesthetic, it’s also attracted the attention of Dangerbird Records.
In 2020, after hearing Mediocre’s self-released EP Emotion Sickness, the indie label invited the band to participate in their ongoing Microdose Series. Normally, Dangerbird curates up-and-coming bands and sets them up with whatever they need to record a single and its b-side; sometimes they throw a free show to commemorate the release. Mediocre brought a handful of tracks to Dangerbird, who selected catchy, kitschy power pop number “Waiting For Your Heart” and reworked one of the band’s older songs, “Give In,” as a shoegazey daydream.
But while they were still in the process of deciding what to record, Martin and Torrison had been furiously writing a new song, reunited after a year of college spent on opposite coasts, not to mention the pandemic. They squeezed it into their studio time with producer Danny Noguieras at Balboa Recording Studios (his band No Win also works with Dangerbird) and the label decided to release all three songs. “They really gave us so much freedom to just do what we want,” Torrison says. “It was really cool to have them on board with what we were doing, and I think that also helped us just be like, we got it. We don’t need to appease anyone. We’re doing our thing and it’s working out.”
The third single from the series, “Mattress Bitch,” premieres today on Audiofemme, along with the video Mediocre shot for it in that East LA warehouse. One of the rooms in was set up with a neon cross and church pews, which ultimately dictated Martin’s vision for the clip. While it’s essentially a performance video, Martin and Torrison also play a variety of other characters – a frustrated teacher, awkward schoolgirls, disaffected goth kids. It feels like a fun take on the repeated chorus, “We’re only playing make-believe/but I’ll keep coming back around,” but it also mirrors the song’s cheeky examination of pretending to be something you aren’t for the approval of others.
Martin and Torrison started writing songs together soon after their friendship formed, when they were still in high school. “When we first started out, we were just practicing in Piper’s garage, as all DIY bands start – humble beginnings,” remembers Martin. They’d pass a notebook back and forth, jotting down lyrics about whatever they were feeling, even something as a literal as what foods they were craving (the initial basis for their first-ever tune “Milkshake”). “Before we even talked about being in a band or anything, I think our way of hanging out would just be creating the most obnoxious, total joke of a song, cracking [ourselves] up,” adds Torrison.
Though they spend most of the year 3,000 miles apart now that Torrison is enrolled at UC Santa Cruz and Martin at Emerson College, they still develop songs much the same way; over texts, videos, and voice memos, they share ideas, lyrics, and melodies. “It’s been really cool still being able to write stuff from afar,” says Torrison. “Even when we were together, I would start a song and kinda stop myself and be like, no, I wanna write this with Keely, and I know that it’ll develop into something different if I stop here and we do this together. So it’s been pretty natural to transition into that, to be like okay, I have this riff idea, I’ll send it to Keely, and then she’ll send me something back with a little bit added to it, just back and forth like that.”
“I sent Piper the first bit of the first verse that started us writing ‘Mattress Bitch.’ I wanted to make it like, kinda funny, and I was trying not to think too hard about it when I was writing it, but of course when you look back, you’re like oh, there is deeper meaning to this,” Martin says. “I do think that it is a sad song in a way, and vulnerable, but hidden behind that humor – which is very much a common thing that I tend to do, or anyone else does when they’re confronting a something or someone but they don’t want to reveal too much about their feelings. Compensating with humor, just that general experience of making yourself small and forgetting your worth, I feel like that’s very relevant to anyone’s experience.”
Whether it is the humor in the song’s nonsensical lyrics (“I am a mattress/You can get on top of me if you want to”) making its rawness more palatable, or simply the pair’s familiarity with one another, both agree “Mattress Bitch” came together quickly and easily. “We wrote it while we were apart, and then as soon as we came home to LA for the summer, that was like the first time we really heard ‘Mattress Bitch’ live together,” Torrison recalls. They had about two weeks to nail it down before going into the studio, but Noguieras was as eager to include it in the upcoming session as the band was. “We sent it to Danny and he was like, yes, we’re recording that. He was really stoked on it too. The energy was matched,” Torrison continues. “But I think the comfortability with writing it, especially, points to our future of writing together.”
“I feel like that song is really indicative of the sound that the band is going toward. And of the bands that we had been listening to throughout these past couple years,” Martin agrees. “When I was trying to write songs in high school, I was like, okay, they have to mosh to something! And it was just this unnecessary pressure in my brain – when you’re young and you’re in a scene you want people to get riled up and stuff; I feel like I was in that headspace. That music is fun and I enjoyed playing it, it just wasn’t fully our style.”
“The bands we played with were very different from our sound at that time, very punk-heavy,” Torrison elaborates. “I think distancing ourselves from that, not having that pressure anymore, we can find our audience on our own. We’re not forced into this narrow punk scene. I think that expanded us to get more comfortable with our own writing and writing for what we like.”
That trajectory is evident comparing the Mircrodose singles to Emotion Sickness, which compiled much of their earliest songs. “By the time that we were able to release it, all of those songs felt very indicative of the past – in a positive way – but we wanted to get it out there fast as we could so we could progress to new things, you know?” says Martin. “We recorded the Microdose songs this past summer, so those two processes happened a year apart, but we experienced so much growth within that year. It was really cool to look back on the release date of our EP versus us recording these new songs. [Even] the songs we had written in the past, we were reinventing them now that we were more confident with our sound.”
Though “Mattress Bitch” may be the next tongue-in-cheek anthem of pushovers everywhere, Mediocre seems to have moved far beyond that mentality. Every step of the way, they’ve approached their songwriting, sound, and visual aesthetic with conviction. They’ve gone from “playing make believe” to believing in themselves – and we’ll keep coming back around, every time.
Follow Mediocre on Instagram for ongoing updates.