Becca Mancari on her new music and a new tour

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday October 31, 2023
Share this Post:
Becca Mancari (photo: Shervin Lainez)
Becca Mancari (photo: Shervin Lainez)

Is there anything more exhilarating than experiencing the creative growth of an artist you admire? Becca Mancari is such a perfect illustration of that. Over the course of three albums, including the modern Americana of her 2017 debut album "Good Woman," to the daring and haunting experimentation of the follow-up, 2020's "The Greatest Part," Mancari proved herself to be a musician who took risks.

Her new album, "Left Hand" (Captured Tracks), and its title cut, which is as challenging as it is accessible, crosses multiple genres, including jazz and spoken word. Even as she continues to develop her craft, Mancari never excludes the listener. Instead, she delivers innovative pop songs, including knockouts such as "Don't Close Your Eyes," "It's Too Late," "Over and Over," "Don't Even Worry," "I Had Dream," and "Eternity," that keep us coming back for more. Becca was kind enough to make time for an interview in advance of her Nov. 7 concert at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.

Becca Mancari (photo: Shervin Lainez)  

Gregg Shapiro: The last time we spoke in 2020, about the release of your album "The Greatest Part," we were still in the early days of the COVID pandemic. Did you come through it all right?
Becca Mancari: [Laughs] I came through it changed. I think I came through it a very different person than I was when I was in it and who I was before.

Changed for the better?
Yes. The first time I went to therapy was during the pandemic. The first time I was actually able to see certain things in myself and others in good and hard ways. A lot of agency, a lot of realization, a lot of growing up; changed forever.

Did the shutdown have an impact on your ability to promote that album?
[Laughs] yeah, Gregg, it was pretty brutal. The most brutal part was not being able to play the music live in front of people. That's the biggest thing I care about, actually, in making music is performing it. Being able to reach my fans and talk to them in real-time. That was difficult, of course. As an indie artist, that's what we have to do to grow.

In the same breath, there were a lot of people that streamed music. There were actually a lot of amazing opportunities at radio overseas in the UK and then at Spotify in New York. In hindsight, everything has meaning, everything has a moment. It depends on how you choose to look at it.

I'd like to begin talking about your new album "Left Hand" by asking you to say something about the inclusion of the voicemail message from your grandfather Louis Mancari Sr. on "Homesick Honeybee," because it really stayed with me.
I'm glad it did because I want him to stay with everyone forever. He's still with us. He's 93. He's this incredible Italian man, first generation. His family was from Calabria, Italy. He's a blue-collar Democrat, born in Delaware; just the most amazing, loving person who is a complicated person, too. He was the first elder in my family to accept me for my queerness. He said to me, "You are loved." He was born a Catholic and lives as a Catholic. He said, "God is love. I know that that is what I believe and so, of course, I accept and love you." He's the best.

Zac Farro, who produced your 2020 album "The Greatest Part" returns on the song "It's Too Late" — what do you like best about working with Zac?
Everything! I really do. He's the most fun person to be around. He brings an energy that I am almost addicted to. It was really hard for me not to do the record with him (as producer) and I'd love to do another record with him someday. But I think that it was a great opportunity for me to grow and learn and even learn from what we did together.

"It's Too Late" was the perfect bridge and we were really excited to do that song together, because it felt like the right song for him to play drums on. We tried to redo the drums in the studio, and I went back to the original. I think that once you get Zac as a drummer, it's very difficult to replace him. What an honor and a privilege to be his friend; always a great collaboration.

Julien Baker, who could also be heard on "The Greatest Part" album, is back on "Over and Over." What makes her a good collaborator?
She's such an honest, kind person. I think she really values art and friendship, and she values it at a level where it's about relationships. I originally wasn't going to ask her because I thought, "Oh, man, I don't want to twice, that's too much." Then, the people who I was supposed to work with, we couldn't get together in time. I knew that she was into engineering, she actually went to school for that, so I asked her if she wanted to practice her engineering and engineer her own vocals [laughs]. She said, "Of course, I would love that. Come over." We did it in her little studio and she was able to practice on me. How cool is that?

Everybody wins! Brittany Howard, with whom you performed as two-thirds of Bermuda Triangle, can be heard on "Don't Even Worry," which she co-wrote with you. What's it like working with Brittany?
It's like working with a genius. I don't know if I know anybody that's better at making music than Brittany Howard. I told her that. Not only is she my best friend, but she's somebody that I look to and learn from. She is somebody that is touched by whatever you called musical gods; I believe that.

She's so in her strength and in her truth. She's never afraid to share light on a project she believes in. She's taught me to work really hard, too. It's not like it's an easy thing. We've always talked about that. She said, "Becca, I don't know how long it will take you to achieve what you want to achieve, but I know it will happen. You just have to not quit."

Strings can be heard on some songs on "The Greatest Part," but on "Left Hand" you have an actual string section on the songs "Don't Even Worry," "Mexican Queen," "Eternity," "I Needed You," and "To Love The Earth." What appeals to you about having a string section on your songs?
That is something that I never thought that I was going be able to have. I worked with Jordan Lehning, who arranged all the winds and strings and recorded them at his place. He's a really big fan of mine. We're all fans of each other. This is like a small community at the end of the day. We all lift each other up.

The first time I heard the music, I wept. A kid like me couldn't imagine having something like that. It's true. I never thought that was part of my story. Something that Jordan did was open that door for me. He knew what he was doing. He wanted to give that as an offering towards art. That is what we serve, the song.

When we got together, those were the songs he picked, and we decided on together. Then we worked closely with him. He has no ego. He's like the best person to work with, as well. Going back to the question, when we got the offer, I said yes, of course. When I wrapped my brain around what it would bring, I wanted it to feel like a story, like another world. I love cinematography. Movies are my second love and art form. I wanted it to feel like you were in this other world with me, and I really think we did that.

The string section, as well as the woodwinds on "I Needed You" take the song to a whole other place. The line, "I'm the same age as you when you had my brother," made me wonder if the song is addressed to your mother, and if so, do you know if she's heard it?
[Laughs] I hope not! My parents don't really listen to my music. They sometimes sneak it in once in a while if I get a really big article or somebody tells them, "Becca's got something going on." For me, with them, it's a very misunderstood kind of relationship. But it's something that I have had to write about because it is what has happened. There's no hate in my songs either.

That's something very important to me. "I Needed You" is such a beautiful moment for me in that the realization is, did she need me like I needed her? We were hurting each other and how do we heal while we still have time? There's the line, "I wish I would have met you when you were 19." My mom was a different person when she was 19. It's very emotional. That song is tough, but it's loving. I wish she could see it as a love song to her because that's what it is.

The synths and the beats on "Don't Close Your Eyes" sound like they're custom-made for a dance remix, something that would sound good spinning at Women's Week in Provincetown in October. What would it mean to you to be a dance diva?
[Laughs] Oh my God! That would be incredible. You know what's fun about that song? I actually play the drums on that song. I am not a technical drummer! For that song, I brought in my friend Daniel Tashian, who works with Kasey Musgraves. He is an absolute legend.

We became friends because his daughter played the young version of me in the music video for "First Time" from my previous record. That's how he heard my music. I knew who he was — he's a Grammy Award winner and legendary songwriter. We ended up co-writing for "Don't Close Your Eyes" and we became very good friends. He's been like my godfather. He opened the door for me and told me to walk through it.

He was one of the first people to say, "I think you should produce your own record and I'd love to help you do a song. You can do this, and you should keep doing this." I love the drums on that song, and it makes me happy that you like that.

The gorgeous "To Love The Earth" sounds like a love letter to the planet. We just lived through the hottest July in recorded history and I wanted to ask you to please say a few words about your concerns for the planet and what kinds of action, if any, you are taking.
This is how my brain works. Getting so involved in understanding exactly what's happening, but I also know that that's something that's a privilege. Over the course of my life, realizing what's happening to the planet. You know what's interesting? This is why I wrote the song, too.

When I was a kid growing up, and this isn't even just on my parents, this is on the community of radical, right-wing Christianity. There's a belief that the earth is going to burn up because that's literally what we're taught as kids. We're taught that God's going to come back, and the earth is going to burn. So, go ahead and drive your SUV, the planet's going to burn anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

It's almost as if they're hastening the destruction of the planet.
Yes! One hundred percent. For me, the song "To Love The Earth," is to say, "I want to be here, right now." It's a hymn to loving what's in front of me, being present and being part of humanity, loving it for what it is. Loving my neighbor as myself. Things that I really believe are arcs of love and arcs of spirituality.

I still have spirituality. I'm not an atheist. I still believe in the unknown deeply. For me, that's the universe and the planet that we're on and being part of it. I really wanted to double down on that on this record. Even the visuals are part of the earth. I wanted to feel like Becca's here and I'm not leaving. I'm staying. I'm part of the problem and I'm also part of the solution, and what a joy that is.

Earlier we talked about touring. I live in Fort Lauderdale.
I used to live in West Palm. I think we talked about that in our previous interview.

Yes, we did. I know that a lot of artists don't want to come here to perform. But the governor won't be here forever. He's going to go away. Could you see yourself adding Florida tour dates?
I want your Florida people to know that I love Florida. I have a deep love for it. It's part of my life. I lived there for almost five years. I love the community. I'm also mixed — I'm Puerto Rican and Italian. That's a really common thing down there to be a mixed kid. I really felt seen and loved by the community there. I think it's so misunderstood. There's so much amazing music and art and queer people. Puerto Ricans and Cubans and Dominicans and Haitians. Everybody is so amazing there in a lot of ways. I think I could sell some tickets there and I want to try that. That's definitely a future goal.

You already have a full tour schedule this fall. What are you most looking forward to about playing these new songs for a live audience?
I'm really investing in this tour in a big way. I'm financially investing in it. I am buying my own playback rig. Basically, it's like having your own sound system that you are bringing with you for your ears. It's such a huge investment, but I think these songs really call to us — my team and my band — leveling up. We are doing that. We're practicing for a month straight. We're really going deep into this.

I think my goal is that I want people, when they spend their hard-earned money, to come to a show where it makes them feel similar to when you go to the movies. You get to set off for a bit and be part of something. You get to go to another place with the artist in another world. I want to create that atmosphere as much as I can on a budget, make the best-sounding, sonically appealing new show that we can. Then I can't not talk. I can't not tell stories, so that's always part of my show. I just want to connect with people. I love what I do, and I think that's my place in it.

Becca Mancari performs Nov. 7, 8pm at Café du Nord, 2174 Market St. $20.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.