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Talkback: Becca Mancari

Puerto Rican‑Italian Artist By William Stokes
Published October 2023

TalkbackPhoto: Sophia Matinazad

“I have an impulsive streak,” confesses Puerto Rican‑Italian artist Becca Mancari, wryly adding, “It’s something I’m working on in therapy.” That impulsive streak brought Mancari to Music City around a decade ago. “I had met this producer, and they were like, ‘You know, you should consider coming to Nashville, you would do really well here,’” Mancari explains. “I’d never even visited, but I just got in my car and came here alone. I literally didn’t have any friends here.” It was in Nashville that they met a host of future collaborators, not least Alabama Shakes’ formidable frontwoman Brittany Howard, co‑writer and guest on the single ‘Don’t Even Worry’, taken from Mancari’s recently released third LP and self‑producing debut Left Hand.

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

I listen to a lot of pop music because it relieves my stress. Great pop music is incredibly difficult to make, and I’m in awe of it. A friend of mine works with Harry Styles, and I really love that new record [Harry’s House]. Initially I just didn’t listen to it, but I listened to it again and was like, ‘Wait, there is some weightiness to this!’ I’m also late to this party, and I’ve read people mentioning it in so many of your interviews for this column, but the ROSALÍA record is crazy, man!

The project I’m most proud of

It’s very, very hard for me to pick one. Good Woman I made when I was such a baby — and I made it with my live band, which was a terrible choice, but also the best! I think I broke the brain of Kyle Ryan, who produced that record with me. The Greatest Part is so special because Zach [Farro, of Paramore] and I, we did that mostly in his bedroom, just us. The common thread between The Greatest Part and Left Hand is this incredible engineer, producer, mixer, his name is Carlos de la Garza. He produced the latest Paramore record and has mixed a bunch of their stuff, Hayley [Williams of Paramore]’s records as well. Carlos is a beast, like, if you talk about the drums sounding good on my records, that has a lot to do with Carlos because he’s a drummer originally. I feel like drummers might make the best producers. So I’m working on my drumming!

I think Left Hand came out of a place of having no option but to make this record myself. I left the producer I was working on it with initially, and Juan was still scheduled to come and play on the record. So I called him in the middle of the night when I left the session and said, ‘I’m gonna cancel your flight. I’m coming home.’ And he told me, I’ll never forget it: ‘Becca, you’ve already done the work. The songs are ready. If you want me to help you, I will help you. But you can do this.’ And I think that allowed me the freedom and space to realise that I actually did know what was required. I thought, ‘I have put in this work.’ And this isn’t so scary, actually, if you have the right team. We hired an engineer called Dylan Aldridge for Left Hand. I’m so proud of myself for taking that chance. And now there’s no going back! And that’s the thing: a lot of us, especially women, we’re not taught that we can. It is changing. But that change is so gradual. And it’s something that I’m so passionate about now that I’ve experienced it. And there is space for all of us. It’s not like I’m anti‑working‑with‑men. I just think there’s a space for all of us. And what a better world it is when all of us can participate.

The first thing I look for in a studio

I really appreciate a studio that has limitations, but also fun things to play around with. I think you make a great record when you have to work within what you have. For me, for indie artists, I’m looking for a studio that has something that I don’t have, or something that sparks an interesting sound that might play a part during a whole record process. For Left Hand, there was a Hammond B3 Leslie speaker, so we reamped a lot of the tracks through that speaker. And it sounds so sick! It’s on so many bass tracks across the whole record. And it’s just one of those things that was unique to what Dylan had. I was like, ‘Keep throwing everything through it! Put my vocals through it!’

Becca Mancari: I feel like drummers might make the best producers. So I’m working on my drumming!

The person I would consider my mentor

There’s a man named Daniel Tashian. He is an incredible producer from Nashville. He did all the Kacey Musgraves records. I met him through his daughter, who was playing ‘little me’ in the ‘First Time’ video from The Greatest Part. He just took me under his wing, as somebody he saw had the potential to do more than just even being a lead singer or a songwriter. We had coffee and he just said, ‘You should produce it. I’ll help you, whatever you need.’ There’s so much gear in my room right now, that he just gave me! He was just like, ‘Learn.’ He’s just a legend. I don’t like the word ‘genius’. But he is just next‑level. He understands music in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. He provided the tools but didn’t do any gatekeeping. He showed me everything.

My go‑to reference track or album

Sound And Color, Brittany [Howard]’s record with Alabama Shakes. For sure. I think that Shawn Everett is such a baddie. The guy who engineered my record is a huge Shawn Everett fan and the console that we recorded on was an API 1608, which is what Shawn uses. Shawn works all over the place of course, but that is his home studio board. And I know he works a lot on Brittany’s stuff with that board.

My top tip for a successful session

You really can’t think about being on the clock. Especially if you’re paying for everything. That’s a big one for me: when I go into a session, I can’t think about those things, I have to leave all the budgets and the money and all the business outside the door, otherwise that just creates a stressful and unexciting time for everyone involved. I would say, as a real tip, that that requires preparation before you go into that room. Prepare for that time. For a lot of us, that is financial; you have to think, “I only get this amount of time.” So I do not want to go into it worrying about things that you could have taken care of before the session.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

My answer is so lame, but I wish I could have been there when they made ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, the Bob Dylan session. There’s so much lore around that session. And I’m sure a lot of lies around it that have just built up over the years. You know, like the story of the guy who was playing the organ part in the song [Al Kooper — Ed.]; apparently he slipped into the session. He wasn’t actually part of the band! So the story was that the engineer was like, ‘Get this kid outta here! He’s not even part of the session!’ But Bob heard the part and was like, ‘No, turn it up!’ And that’s the most iconic part of that song.

Apparently Bob Dylan would do sessions where he would come in and just play it all differently, and the players would never know what was going on. They just be like, ‘Oh, God, like what is he going to do?’ I still get really charmed by that kind of thing, like, ‘Was that real?’. I like mythology. I like to believe that we have these moments that change a song’s life. Without that organ piece, maybe that song wouldn’t have hit the same way. As producers we all know that a single sound can be the reason why a song succeeds.

The producer I’d most like to work with

I’ve already worked with her: Brittany Howard. No question. Working with her on ‘Don’t Even Worry’ was just transformative. She’s just so special. I have a lot of friends who are in the industry, and I would not tell her this because she’s my one of my best friends, [laughs] but sometimes when I’m around Brittany I’m just like, that’s Brittany Howard! That person is like, beyond what I can imagine when it comes to artistry. It’s just so pure. We’ve been friends going on nine years now, we’ve been in a band together — Bermuda Triangle — we’ve toured together, we’ve slept in the same bed, we’ve been in the same van, we have a very close friendship. But seeing the way that she can look at a song and decipher sounds, and do it in a certain way... and she works in Logic, by the way. It’s not what people think. I think it’s pure and inventive. And it’s interesting! It’s unique and it’s not trained. You can’t train that. I think, as a producer, I look for that.

The part of music creation I enjoy the most

I think that this answer has changed for me with this record. Before I would have said the communal aspect. But for me this time around, it was just that feeling of being in your room, that feeling of true surrender to the sound. There’s no expectation, there’s no label, there’s no PR, there’s no interview, there’s just you. And there’s a sense. I hope in my life that I’m not only known as a writer, but as somebody who can make you feel an emotion through a sound. I think sound is the most special thing to me, like, I shouldn’t say this, but I would just love to make instrumental music someday! I just want to feel something through sound and not so many words. Words to me are really difficult! I work really hard on words and that’s a goal in my life, to get better at expressing things through words. But, man... sounds will always be the feeling of my heart. So, that space when I’m just by myself with that pouring in of love, that’s real for me. That feels really good.

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

I would say to myself: please don’t listen to those voices outside of your own, which are going to tell you you can’t. You have everything inside of you already. Choose to believe that now. Make mistakes, fail. You’re gonna fail but it’s OK. Because you will get to you. Everything else doesn’t matter.