Mary Bell Interview: “France has always had a strong DIY punk scene”

mary bell interview

Mary Bell’s self titled debut album is out now.

French feminist punks Mary Bell, named after an adolescent child killer, are not messing about. Their Bandcamp bio claims they wish to “fulfill her (Mary Bell’s) legacy” and that they “want to hurt you”. On top of this rather extreme rhetoric, the quartet mine a brand of punk that is short, direct, and rather explosive. Easy comparisons would be to the riot grrl movement and other feminist punks like Kathleen Hanna and Mia Zapata, however the band equally draw on 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll, the fuzz of proto-punks The Stooges, and bands from the first wave of punk.

We spoke with Victoria (guitar), Alice (vocals), and Gaïlla (drums) about why they named their band after an adolescent child killer, their love of Charles Burns, and the upcoming French presidential election.

Overblown: The band is named after an 11 year old girl who murdered two boys in Newcastle in 1968. Why did you pick Mary Bell as your band name? What kind of reaction has the name received?

Victoria : I guess we were looking for something a little bit shocking, and really liked the fact that Mary Bell was a child herself (supposedly symbolizing innocence, then). But the Mary Bell story isn’t very known here in France, so our name doesn’t really shock!

Alice : Some people in France even think I am Mary Bell … They think I’ve been in jail but “I’m feeling much better now”.

O: Your sound is often compared the the riot grrrl movement of the early 90’s. In particular you are compared to bands like Bikini Kill. What do you think of these comparisons?

Victoria : These comparisons are highly flattering, even if we find it a bit reductive. It is easy for people to assimilate us to the riot grrrl movement because Mary Bell is ¾ female. We do listen to a lot of riot grrrl bands (such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile…) but much prefer when people compare us to bands in terms of music!

Alice : Yes I agree with Victoria! I’m very flattered when people compare my voice with Kathleen Hanna for example. But sometimes it feels like it’s only because I’m a screaming female singer!

O: One of the songs on the album is called ‘Bitmolette’. As it is one of my favourites on the record, I’ve tried to find a meaning for the song title online but have failed miserably. Could you shed some light on what it means?

Victoria : I’m afraid that “Bitmolette” is a word that comes straight from our twisted imagination… As for a meaning, a French phonetic translation would be “little limp dick”. How about that?

Alice : We could maybe explain it with a drawing… But it won’t be mysterious anymore so we won’t!

mary bell interview
Mary Bell LP artwork by Gaïlla Jany.

O: I love the album artwork for your debut album. It reminds me of the work of Charles Burns. What inspired the artwork? Are you Charles Burns fans?

Victoria : Gaïlla did the artwork for our album!

Gaïlla : Some of us are huge fans of Charles Burns and his universe. His work touches me a lot. His dark side, a little bit weirdo, is real beauty. He is obviously one of my inspirations but not the only one, I’m also much inspired by esoteric aesthetics. It’s a theme that we all like very much and that corresponds well to our music. I wanted to represent our music through this illustration: disturbing, gloomy and vaporous.

O: You’ve made the digital download of the album free on Bandcamp. Why are you giving the album away for free?

Victoria : We really like the idea that anybody could have access to our music, as it is meant to be shared.

O: What are your thoughts on the upcoming French presidential election?

Victoria : It is, as usual since we were given the right to vote, scary. We witness a rise in extremism all around Europe and the US right now, and France is no stranger to that. A lot of our rights are in danger. But the scariest part is that you have almost nobody to turn to, in order to change that… Personally, I don’t trust French politicians, regardless of their ideology. They all are power-thirsty-privileged-old men that want to make us believe that the moon is made of green cheese! Fuck them.

Alice : I really don’t know what will happen, I really don’t know if voting will change anything… We have shitty politicians, they’re rotten to the core and it feels like we’re just viewing a real life TV-show with twists and turns everyday.

O: Are you wary of the neo-liberal feminist movement?

Victoria : We all define as feminists into the band. But personally, my idea of feminism is one that considers all people as equal human beings, regardless of gender, race, social status and identity. Thus, I don’t find myself in the “neo-liberal” definition.

O: The punk scene in Paris and France seems to be very strong at the moment. Why do you think this is the case?

Victoria : To my mind, it always was the case. France has always had a more or less strong DIY scene, in punk, in hardcore, in garage rock… But yes, thanks to the internet and social networks, a lot more people, especially in foreign countries, have access to it.

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