Little Hag Premieres “Encore (Live From Asbury Park)” Ahead of Bar/None Compilation LP

Photo Credit: Ali Nugent

The Mercury Brothers had just played a set at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, and the audience was clamoring for more. It was still a few minutes ’til midnight that hot summer evening, but the sound guy brought up the lights and house music instead. In the crowd, inspiration struck singer-songwriter Avery Mandeville. The line “If the people want an encore then the people get an encore” popped into her head, and the next day she was in the studio recording a wistful acoustic version of it that would appear on her her 2018 LP Happy Birthday Avery Jane. In its verses, she wishes for summer tours over icy streets, running late for a gig because she tried to do her hair “in that perfect in between of I care and I don’t care.” She sounds sort of exhausted (or at least flustered) by the reality of being a musician. “I got new stuff coming out soon/Yeah, I got new stuff I’m trying to say/And all this truth I’m writing will never see the light of day.”

“Encore” might’ve been written off the cuff back then, in those heady days when we all took live music for granted. But in the hellscape that is 2020, it’s sort of soul-shattering to hear, particularly in the doo-woppy live version Mandeville released the following year, recorded at the Asbury Park Music Foundation. Her voice warbles “I never wrote a setlist” unapologetically, and when she casually deadpans “Can I get a na na na? Can I get a hey hey hey?” the audience answers back enthusiastically, like a miracle, like a distant memory. “And the crowd goes wiiiiiiiild!” she teases, and they do.

Mandeville is re-releasing the live version of “Encore” as part of a compilation that includes songs from Happy Birthday and the EP that preceded it, Salty. The comp, out September 18, will be her first release on esteemed New Jersey imprint Bar/None Records, and her first as Little Hag, a new moniker that encompasses the full-band sound she’s embraced since coming up as a teenager at open mic nights in the tight-knit Jersey Shore music scene. The name started out as a jokey Instagram handle but it stuck, partially because it made sense given the confrontational nature of her writing style. “I started getting Little Hagged in the street – people would be like, oh, you’re little hag! And I’d be like, yeah, you know what, I am. Once other people started identifying me with it, I was like, this is more representative of the music and my songwriting persona than just my name is, and I enjoy having a little bit of a separation of those two identities as well,” she says. “It was time to kill Avery and just be the hag.”

After signing Mandeville in February, Bar/None founder Glenn Morrow came up with a name for the comp that was just too good not to go with: Whatever Happened To Avery Jane? The project acts as a way to preserve Mandeville’s body of work while serving as a launchpad for the punkier energy of collaborative work with her band, which includes Matt Fernicola on guitar, Owen Flanagan on drums, Chris Dubrow on bass and Noah Rauchwerk on keys. Though the songs were written over the span of the last several years, the theme tying them together is the diaristic nature of Mandeville candidly navigating what it is to be a young woman in a sometimes claustrophobicly small music scene, as well as the nuances of dating, relationships, and intimacy in the modern age, from Facebook stalking an ex to the shock of receiving dick pics to celebrating the proverbial walk of shame. Some of the songs take a lighthearted approach, while others, like “The Woods,” broach allegorical territory, a la Sam the Sham’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” And sometimes, Mandeville comes right out and confronts the heart of darkness, as she does on a track called “Predator” – “So everyone knows and nobody cares/And you know who you are/There is a liar/And there are sympathizers/And you know where you stand,” she howls. “Predator stalks another one out/No one will stop him.”

The first time she played the song out was at a show in the Asbury Hotel lobby – and though the predator she’d written about didn’t have the gall to show up, the sympathizers, surprisingly, did. “I looked them right in the eyes when I said [that line], and I saw them looking at each other, go oh shit, and leave,” Mandeville recalls. “It was so fucking awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a direct sort of satisfaction from being on stage. I wish I had that moment on tape; I would watch it again and again if I could.” This is Mandeville in full Little Hag mode – she’s the shrew who will not be tamed, unbothered by confrontation if it means even one person in the audience can relate or feel protected by her boldness. “I think that’s also giving me the confidence to continue being vulnerable in my music, to definitely not hold back for anybody’s comfort, not even for my own comfort. If I have a feeling, it’s real, and I’m gonna say it.”

That’s true, too of the opening track on Whatever Happened to Avery Jane? and the newest of the bunch, “Tetris.” Written just a few months ago, it’s a perfect ode to the summer that never was: Mandeville bemoans being stuck inside, left to pointless distractions while friends on her feed live life as though everything is normal. It was meant as a response to quarantine ennui, or, as Mandeville puts it more specifically, “this whole amalgamation of feelings kind of came to a head where I was like, I’m so horny and I wanna die and everyone is pissing me off.” Its opening lines (“Everyone wants to fuck me/No one wants to see me cry”) have the kind of raw shock value of Liz Phair classics like “Fuck and Run,” or “H.W.C.” but Mandeville also taps into the same kind of powerless depression Brit Daniels embodies with the line “Sometimes I can’t make myself shuck and jive” on 2000 Spoon track “Chips and Dip” when she sings, “Tried making my brain party/But the music wouldn’t start.”

Even if she hasn’t felt much like getting sunburned among the mask-less masses, Mandeville has been unusually productive during the pandemic. “I was like, alright, I’m hunkering down, I’m writing a bunch of new stuff, I’m getting all my content together to re-release old stuff,” she says. “I was really writing a lot in March in April – more than I had ever written in my life. My old kind of songwriting habits were like, get hit with a bit of inspiration here and there, hopefully that will amount to more than a couple of songs a year, but for a lot of years that wasn’t really the case.” She’s got enough new songs ready for an LP she hopes will be out next Spring, and has been demoing them virtually with her band, which she says has “led to some more interesting choices, or different kind of songwriting techniques that I hadn’t explored in the past.” And she’s got some livestream performances lined up, including one with Long Neck’s Lily Mastrodimos. She even played a drive-in style show this summer, where the audience sat in their cars, listening to her play in the parking lot via their radios. It’s not quite the same as those not-so-long-ago days when Mandeville’s band piled into her ’98 Lexus, scraping tail along the Parkway to get a gig they’d cap off with a debaucherous cover of Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch” – but if the people want an encore, Little Hag is here to give them one.

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LIVE REVIEW: Avery Mandeville and Lords of Liechtenstein @ Pianos

I always end up sprinting through the lower Lower East Side, the annoying part 15+ minutes off the L, Mercury Lounge and Berlin and all those dive bars I’ve cried in and made out in—usually on the same night. I sprint because I am always late, just like I was late to Avery Mandeville and the Lords of Liechtenstein’s dual album release show at Pianos. It was a classic case of, “I’ve heard of them but never listened to them,” mainly because Friday’s entertainment all hailed from my area of New Jersey. I ran away from that world, that scene, harder than I ran to Pianos, but there is a hometown solidarity that forced me—and a bunch of transplants—out that night.

In New Jersey you have friends. In New York you have allies.

The bigger draw was the album cover of Mandeville’s Salty EP: the flame-haired, lilac-browed songstress on her iPhone, an adoring gaze contrasting with the “Parental Advisory” sticker clashing in the corner. It was pleasingly emblematic of her half acoustic, half electric set. Her skill is in using her silk taffeta voice—quality, with a textural stutter that tapers off certain phrases—to tell thoroughly modern stories without making it like a novelty.

The sweetness comes across unplugged in tracks like “Alexander,” prefaced that it was written during her time spent living in this “beautiful, horrible city.” Who knows what drove her out of here—for artists I see the only excuses as financial recuperation or death—but I understand the ache of “I can’t save you, I’m a stranger from the sea.” A shore siren found over her head in brackish city waters… yeah, that makes sense.

When joined on stage by her backing band the “Man Devils” (a…ha) she gets an energy boost, the wobbling guitar solos certainly not hurting her case. But her power is her own songwriting, when she brings the coarse language and internet era touches to her tracks. This is best heard in “Dick Pix,” from the “House of the Rising Sun”-esque intro to the sass behind the line, “You guys don’t intimidate me, I got my leopard jacket and my new haircut.”

Lords of Liechtenstein were next, veterans in the New York folk scene with that air of, “Wait, did I go to high school with these guys?” Fronted by brothers Noah and Dan Rouchwerk, the Lords’ fourth album Downhill Ride to Joyland is characterized through and through by ping-ponging lead vocals. It was those harmonies that I tuned an eager ear for—why form a band with your sibling if not to create such a pleasing melodic blend?

The friend who invited me to this show prefaced that the Lords were definitely “Not My Thing,” and I’m not going to counter that statement. Country folk is a hard sell, and choosing to lapse into a country accent when you’ve probably done Inkwell open mic nights and downed many, many pork rolls (Taylor Hams?), is a harder sell. Nevertheless, the part of me that loves Neil Young can appreciate the quiet beauty in “Utica,” a song about wrongful imprisonment.

Really, their schtick almost relies on a proud nerdiness, and like the argyle sweater vests they don on stage and the replicas they sell in the merch booth, they wear it fairly well. There’s a bravery in taking those unconventional, even dark detours in history, be it a theoretical Jonestown rally song with “Kool Aid” or a lament over the anti-Semitism of Roald Dahl in “Long Lost Boy.” They’re also comfortable rocking really tiny instruments, which kept my eyebrow perpetually raised. Ultimately, the Lords’ sound works best on the more leveled, gentle end of the spectrum, although I’ll cop they can pump out a very enthusiastic Paul Simon cover.

Mandeville came back to share a mic for “Satellite,” the final track off the Lords’ LP and the final song of the night. It’s another stunning song with successful vocal melding, and I couldn’t help focusing on the playful pre-song banter of “We like to be close,” “But not too close.” It’s that sense of silly familial love that feels like a happy homecoming to everyone in the room; even up front with my jaded neo-New Yorker stone-face, I couldn’t help feeling it a little.

I grew up at the shore and spent the entire time looking over the ocean for skyscrapers. I couldn’t run away fast enough, because I wanted something harder. My North Brooklyn scene of indie-grunge-post-punk-psychedelic peers certainly delivers that. It is beautiful, never horrible, but always hard. Finding that hometown comfort on the Lower East Side was a respite I don’t regret.

In New York you have allies. In New Jersey you have friends.

Stream Avery Mandeville’s Salty EP below:

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