Jun 15, 2023

Boston band Mediocre is having fun with despair on 'To Know You're Screwed'


Right from the start, Mediocre wants you to know they’re not resting on their laurels. From the crunchy opening moments of “To Know You’re Screwed is to Know a Lot,” the lead single from the group’s newest EP “To Know You’re Screwed,” they begin to parade the core tenets of their music: radical honesty, sugar-coated irony and a painful sense of self-awareness. “To know you’re screwed is to know a lot/ And I’m a mother f---ing genius,” jeers singer-guitarist Piper Torrison, one half of the Mediocre brain trust, along with bassist Keely Martin.

This immediacy is shown throughout the EP’s five songs, a collection of probing, ‘90s-inspired guitar rock, each posing a variation of the idea that nothing really matters, so let’s at least have some fun with it. “That’s definitely where we’re coming from,” Torrison tells me, who notes that a jaundiced perspective of the world is one they tend to adopt in their songs. Self-analysis plays a large part in their music — the societal burdens of youth paired with boundless freedom encourage a feeling of insignificance and questioning.

“This EP will probably resonate with us in a very different way when we’re older, but right now, it feels so much as if we are in our early 20s and just graduated college,” laughs Martin, who just graduated from Emerson College in December.

But the music of “To Know You’re Screwed” doesn’t complicate their message. Pulling from bands associated with the Riot grrrl movement and ‘90s alternative rock, the EP feels as bubbly as it is perturbed. It’s not unlike the way Kim Deal could make an illicit love affair sound so damn fun on “Gigantic.” “Oh, what a waste to make you think that I feel okay,” Torrison laments on “Wash the Paint,” Martin’s squirmy bass line snaking around a surf rock beat and Torrison’s chunky, fuzzed-out guitar playing. It’s a song that sounds like it was meant for Liz Phair in her flippant mid-‘90s period.

“The Hives are also a big one for us,” says Martin, an influence evident on the album’s energized lead track. Torrison adds Luscious Jackson and Le Tigre to the list.

While Torrison and Martin process thorny concepts like misogynist music reps (“Pop Song Baby”) and finding love as the world ends (“Together Together”), they also manage to make space for whimsy and playfulness. “Tiny Toad,” a song that is literally about a toad, blends the duo’s comedic sense with a shared love of big-sounding music. With its hammering, navel-gazing outro and sweet concern of a toad missing dinner time, the song perhaps best represents the impetus of the band. “We were cracking ourselves up writing ‘To Know You’re Screwed’ and ‘Tiny Toad,’ writing about such dark subjects but trying to enjoy it as much as possible,” Torrison says.

“My younger self... imagined the music in my head as a big sound, rock heavy and melodic,” says Martin. “Once I saw how ‘Tiny Toad’ was developing, it felt like it was fulfilling the fifteen-year-old-me prophecy.”

An element of the band Martin and Torrison also present is their clear chemistry and depth of friendship. The pair met in a ninth grade health class in Culver City, California, and have been chasing that youthful companionship through their art ever since. When Torrison made the move last fall to join Martin in East Cambridge, their goals were set and clear: To get tight and get on a tour.

Their bond translates in the unadulterated fun of their music videos and meticulously crafted aesthetic. Martin, who studied film production at Emerson, spearheads this creative vision with the help of her production partner Ginger Port (together they form Bowie Nix), with input from Torrison. Their videos are a staple of the band’s identity, and each reveals that they’re students of the art. They quote Sleater-Kinney’s “You’re No Rock And Roll Fun” and The Breeders’ “Cannonball” as Mediocre canon. In the video for “To Know You’re Screwed is to Know a Lot,” the duo don a couple of Charlie Chaplin-esque suits and flee from an imaginary foe in the Park Street subway station. After leap-frogging downtown, Martin ultimately dies on the train tracks in Torrison’s arms. It’s a narrative that cultivates a blend of ‘90s camp, quirky slapstick and amusing twee.

“We’re in our Spike Jonze/Beastie Boys era,” says Martin with a smile.

Mediocre is the spark plug that Boston has needed in its DIY-underground scene for some time. Picking up where the great punk innovators left off, Torrison and Martin are hungry for a sense of community to contribute to; “We just want to play as many shows as we can and make more musician friends,” says Martin.

“Hey, you with the really cool hair,” Torrison sings on “Together Together,” “Do you wanna be cool together?” The answer is yes. Totally, yes.

“To Know You’re Screwed” is out now. You can see Mediocre perform live on Monday, April 17, at The Silhouette in Allston.