With Great Power Comes Goth Responsibility
A Stone Pony show review & interview with Little Hag
By eLIAS kOTSIS
Photos by Melissa McLaughliN
I love the Stone Pony as much as the next Jersey Shore-born and raised, rock-loving, Bruce-admiring music nerd, but let’s be honest: the Pony can feel a little stale. (Gasp!) So when I saw that Little Hag—a New Jersey-based rock band fronted by lead singer and songwriter Avery Mandeville—was playing at the famed Asbury Park venue, I had to go.
After sets from Spoon and Interpol on the outdoor Stone Pony Summer Stage, Little Hag (also composed of Owen Flanagan on drums, Matt Fernicola on lead guitar, Dana Yurcisin on bass, and Cara Introcaso on keys) played an hour-long indoor set. The divide in Little Hag’s crowd was noticeable and wonderful: towards the front danced the younger, relatively non-male fans and friends of Little Hag; towards the back stood the older, leftover male Spoon and Interpol fans who were largely perplexed by and skeptical of the female-led Little Hag.
Not that they were trying to, but Avery and Little Hag won over these Spoon and Interpol fans right away. How could they not have? Especially after Little Hag opened with “The Whole World”—the first track off their 2021 album Leash. The song’s relentless drive and explosion of sound at the top of the first verse gets your body moving. With the band behind her, Avery was on fire. Energy flew out of her as she ran a race against herself throughout most of the song. (Read: literally jogged in place.)
Maybe it was then, during Little Hag’s first song, that everybody—both the front and back halves of the audience—knew this would be a different kind of Pony set. Little Hag breathed fresh life into this hallowed space.
In between the first and second song, a true saint of a fan rushed to the front of the stage and shouted something to Avery that I couldn’t make out. Avery nodded and asked the sound guy at the back of the house, “Could you bring up my vocals?” The audience cheered with approval.
Avery’s voice is special—you probably haven’t heard one quite like it before. It’s honest and round, with a quick vibrato that urges you to reflect on her lyrics and melodic lines. The rest of the performance was special, too. Avery is a high-energy, wickedly talented performer and writer. Little Hag is a wickedly talented band.
I could tell you more and speculate on Avery’s performance choices, but wouldn’t it be better if Avery just told you herself? Well, she’s going to! Avery kindly agreed to talk about Little Hag’s performance on a Zoom call a few days after the performance.
Photo of Avery Mandeville
E: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
A: Of course!
E: What was it like when you first performed the songs that you had written during quarantine? Was there any audience reaction or response that surprised you?
A: I mean there have been some things recently that have felt so amazing. Like, people I don’t know coming to the shows. Or like when I got “Little Hag!”-ed in a church carnival parking lot by two goth teens. It’s always a goth teen. Like, a cute little goth girl with a haircut. And I’m just like: You are my fucking kids.
E: That must feel incredible. With great power comes goth responsibility.
A: I’m learning my audience. And I love my audience.
E: Your songs come from a really honest, straightforward place. What is it like to perform such personal songs on stage?
A: I hate playing “Leash” and we don’t really play it. So, there’s that answer! But I use humor to cope so much. The joy of performing and the goofing around-ness on stage is always so high. So I don't ever really find it hard to perform a song that might have been difficult or painful to write. When I'm solo, though, it’s different. When I’m playing solo, I'm accountable to nothing, which is why I don't really play solo that much anymore. I just ramble or I get too real about [insert jazz hands and a scary voice] “The Truth,” you know?
E: I need to know how often you jog in place when you perform. When you started, I thought, “She is hyped up out of her mind.”
A: I am hyped up! I always end up overdoing it on stage and I'm dead tired and soaked with sweat. I'm not that energetic of a person, but then I get on stage and I lose my mind a little bit. I don’t think I’ve always been as energetic as I am now because I used to be drunk or about to be drunk pretty much every show until July 2021. I also don’t smoke anymore. I feel like I have more to give now than I used to.
E: The energy didn’t falter at all. And the audience loved it. My favorite thing besides watching you was watching the impressive retention rate of the middle-aged Spoon fans!
A: The last time we did one of those Pony gigs, I had a random 50-year-old dad on the street say, “I saw you at the Pony! Good job!”
E: Because that’s the approval you’re looking for!
A: Yes! Validate me, daddy!
E: Is there a song that you look forward to performing most?
A: I think it changes. I always like doing “Schlub” and “The Whole World,” especially the screaming part because I don't do that on the record, and I love doing it live. I could never do that in studio. I have to be juiced and at that adrenaline level.
E: “Schlub” felt totally rocked out. That’s my favorite song off Leash.
A: Oh, then you are going to love this tasty backstory. I do hate myself for not seeing this through. I tried to get my exes to record first reactions to listening to it for a music video, but I didn't get enough. Only five of them were interested and it would have just been too sad. Five is not enough. If I had like ten exes? That’s something. And not like “exes” exes, but people who I just hooked up with, or whatever. But not enough were interested. Their reactions were . . .
E: Oh, you actually got some of them to do it?
A: Yea. Maybe I’ll make a music video out of it. I’ll rally the troops.
E: I really enjoyed you forgetting a chord at the beginning of “Blood.”
A: [Laughs] Oh my god! What is my problem!
E: That’s your most-played song on Spotify. I don’t know if you’re sick of playing it, but—
A: I’m totally sick of playing it! I never play it besides when we play it live because we’ve been doing it for so many years. There have been nights where I do a Fred Schneider-y version of “Blood” because it feels right. I hate playing the same shit I’ve been playing since 2017, man. But you gotta do it. It’s still fun. I just need to write a better song than “Blood” so that I can replace it in the set.
E: What is it like to perform a song you wrote about someone in front of that person? Has that ever happened?
A: Oh, this is the one baby! This is a story to tell you! This is not about exes, but a group of people that was sort of implicated in the song “Predator” I put out years ago. There’s a group of guys that I was friends with at the time that were complicit in a situation and didn't have my back. The night I played that song for the first time, they were at the show. But for a different band. And [during the song] I saw them look at each other, say “Oh shit,” and leave. Come on! You can’t make that shit up! You literally just incriminated yourselves by getting offended by what I’m singing about. What can be better than that! That’s one of those moments that is so powerful, that you can’t believe you hold that kind of power. It makes it worthwhile to be vulnerable. I feel like I overshare musically sometimes, or maybe I’m just oversharing on Twitter. But I’m giving a lot of myself to others. And I wonder, “Is it worth it?” And sometimes, it is.
E: And sometimes things stay in your Drafts, and that’s okay too.
A: If I’m hanging out with my friends, sometimes I’ll just hand them my phone and say, “Unleash a draft.”
E: What a rush!
A: Well, I don’t have the balls to do it.
E: What do you hope an audience takes away from a Little Hag show, if anything specific?
A: I jokingly say “Girls to the front!” Or not jokingly. I mean it when I say it. I do get a lot of young, cool women and queer people at my shows who feel comfortable and excited to be there. And there’s nobody more worth performing for than teens. Like, that’s so cool. Like, kids think I’m cool? What?! Because I feel old!
E: Is there anything you wish that I asked you about? Is there something you wish you got to talk about more with your music?
A: That’s a great question. Let me think a little because I’m sure there’s something.
[A long pause]
A: I always want to talk about something other than myself and my music. [Laughs]
E: So, no?
A: So, no. But thank you.
You can follow Little Hag on Instagram and check out their linktree. Or even better, see them live at the Brookyln Monarch on 11/19 in support of The Higher. Not in NYC? They’ve got some other shows coming up: