I had the chance to sit down with Manchita, the effervescent singer, rapper, and University of Minnesota alumnus. Sipping an Ice House gin and tonic, Manchita told the story of how she got into rapping, of her background as a member of the rap collective GRRRL PRTY, and how she feels the importance of female energy and empowerment is now more essential than ever before.
The Wake: You grew up on the West side of Saint Paul. What made you want to stay situated in the Twin Cities as an adult?
Manchita:Well, that’s an interesting question. I met my dad when I was 18, so like a senior in high school. I wrote him a letter because I found out that he was sick. And, I was afraid that he was gonna die without me getting to meet him. We decided to meet at the glass fish at the Walker in the sculpture garden. And then basically, my plan was after high school to leave and just go to California and figure it out, you know. But once I met him I wanted to capitalize on that relationship. He ended up going into remission and being okay. So, then I decided to go to the U. I went to the U and right during finals—like my senior year at the U—my dad found out that he had another rare disease. My plan after the U was I was going to spend a year- I was going to WWOOF [work for Willing Workers On Organic Farms] in New Zealand and Thailand and work in an orphanage in Liberia and a home for teens in Argentina. It was all set up and ready to go, and then when I found out he was sick, I stayed. And I was going to take the GRE and the LSAT and I had this very long plan of letters behind my name that I was going for… because when we’re in college we’re learning how to use our voice, and that's what I thought my voice was going to turn into. That year after, my dad… he got a bone marrow transplant, so he was in recovery for a long time, and in a lot of ways he’s still recovering. But, during that time, I was working at the U as a research assistant for one of my professors.
The Wake: What was your major?
M:Child Psychology and English Literature. So, I had a double major. I was working in a child psych lab doing trauma-focused work, which was really cool and exciting, and we had a big project… whatever, whatever. Just doing work, basically! Ryan Olson basically hit me up one day and was like “Hey, come rap over this track.” I was like, “What? I don’t rap.” But, I went anyway and ended up rapping. Then I was like, “Oh, I need to be making music. I forgot about that.” It’s what I would do to avoid doing homework, but I always thought it was… it felt too good and like too selfish. That’s kind of how I ended up staying… just like, my dad and then life unfolding from there, you know? But yeah, I didn’t think I’d be a local musician.
The Wake: How did you discover that you could rap?
M:I was in a long relationship with Michael Larsen, Eyedea. I was into hip-hop and in the mix and in the community. One thing that Michael turned me onto was Freestyle Fellowship from the West Coast. That shit just blew my mind and Aceyalone was like my hero… like 18-year-old Aceyalone. I learned like all his verses on the Innercity Griots record. And I would bike around and be rapping to myself. And Michael knew I could rap Aceyalone lyrics. But it was always someone else’s lyrics. I really don’t know how Ryan… He said something really condescending actually. He was like, “You’ve dated enough rappers, I think you can figure it out.” That’s like some super sexist shit to say. He was joking, and I don’t think that’s really why he thought I could rap. He had some sort of hunch or something. He was like, “Come do it.” And, it worked out. We all start somewhere!
The Wake:What’s the origin story of your stage name, Manchita?
M:Oh! Well, I’ve always had a thing for Don Quijote. My first car was this beater Honda, and I also loved Weezer when I was in high school. So anyways, my car was “Doña Clara de la Mancha” [the female version of Don Quijote de la Mancha]. So, I was Doña Clara and my partner in crime, El Scorcho, was the car. And, Mancha is a section of Spain—it’s like one of the provinces. So, a manchita is like a little girl from Mancha. My family’s from Spain. We’re not specifically from Mancha… but anyways, I was playing on that. Manchita also means stain, or blemish, or spot, or imperfection, or scar… It’s any kind of imperfection which really hit home for me because I felt like this was a side of me that was not… what I was recognizing about rapping was that there was a different part that was coming out that wasn’t quite as kind as I normally felt, if that makes any sense. It was a bit angrier, and it felt like my… I don't want to say “dark side” because I don’t like the concept of dark and light but it was like my anger… what is hideable… my stains, basically.
The Wake: Yeah, I looked it up and it said… Well, okay Google Translate is not the best, but–
M: Did you see all of the pictures of people’s puppies and cats? I get tagged in stuff all the time because it’s like a common name for an animal, like “Spot” or “Fluffy” or something. So, they’ll be like “Manchita” and it’s a little dog with a spot on its ear or its eye or on its butt or something.
The Wake: Well, that’s not a bad thing to be associated with!
M: It’s cute! It’s super cute! It’s just a bunch of people’s pets.
The Wake: I read in another interview you did with The Current that you grew up trying to be as masculine as possible, and that’s why you never sang. What changed for you to be able to sing on many tracks in your EP, “One”?
M:I think it’s an issue of safety. I think that EP selfishly was a moment in time. The best way I can describe it is like… I needed to witness myself survive being vulnerable, which is what that voice is for me. It’s the feminine, the softness, the tenderness, it’s the pain, it’s the tissue, the soft tissue. I love GRRRL PRTY and I love working with other women because it brings out a fire in me. But there was something safe about working with Bionik that made me feel like I could explore that. And honestly, when I freestyle—which is how I write my music—it’s mostly melodic and rhythmic, but mostly melodic. Because, what always comes first for me when I listen to music is not, “What are the words?” It’s “How’s the ride? Can I follow the soundscape? Is it connecting and making sense as a melodic arc?” And then I’ll hear the words and sometimes I’ll be like, “What the fuck! This is awful!” or “This is rude!” But, I might at first be dancing around to some shit that’s like “Let me slap your bitch in the face and put my dick in her mouth,” and I won’t notice, you know what I mean? Because the way that it’s delivered is musically satisfying to me. So, when I’m freestyling it’s a lot of not words sometimes and just the way the music needs to be written so I can have my first dance with it. I’ve sort of discovered my process this way. My process is really to trust the first dance. And so, I try to give myself as many dances with the music as possible. So, I’ll like set up a session with a beat and I’ll freestyle over it until I feel like I’ve lost the rhythm or I’m repeating myself or not with it anymore, and then I might switch to another song. But I won’t listen to that. I’ll go back to it another day without listening and do the same thing again and freestyle. Then once I’ve done that three or four times, I’ll just start mining it and it’s there. The song is there. It’s really about that instinct… that first initial dance. I think also it was getting to know my process better. And allowing myself to dance the way that I needed to dance. I made another EP a while ago that was me singing over electronic beats. It never made it out. Part of that is this or that reason but I think a lot of it was that I wasn’t subconsciously ready to deliver that and present that side of myself. So, I think it just took time. You know, we’re artists but our process of artistry evolves with our personhood… who we are as people and what we go through. We’re just one being trying to capture it all. So, I definitely think it had to do with whatever progress I was able to make internally to accept parts of myself and parts of my womanhood and parts of my femininity that I’ve otherwise tried to protect or obscure because they seem like vulnerabilities.
The Wake:So, it’s been close to two years since GRRRL PRTY played its last show. How did you feel about the end of the GRRRL PRTY era?
M:I feel different ways about it. I feel like GRRRL PRTY was magical for a time and was offering something that was truly, really special. But the thing is that our artistry grows as we grow as people. Everything doesn’t always stay lined up, working out. It became a thing where we didn’t have the time or means to get together to even make music. So, then it was like, we’re just playing music. It was very difficult to grow together because we didn’t have time to come together. I feel grateful for that experience. But I also know that what I really, really want, and what I’ve always wanted, and what I still want is not to be a solo artist. I want to be on stage with a gang of tight, badass women. That’s what I want. Because you know what? That’s what the fuck I want to see! I don’t give a fuck. Like, there are crews of men everywhere. Give me a fucking lady crew! And let me see women supporting each other. I don’t want to be a solo… just another singer-songwriter rapper or whatever. I want to be with women, holding each other up. That is my happy place. So, I’m happy to embark on this journey and make my own music, and I love making my own music. If I could form a new union of strength and womanhood, I would. I feel like there’s something magical when women come together, no matter what. Like, “The Clituation” picked right up where GRRRL PRTY left off: presenting all of these wonderful women and talented women, having a safe space, and really celebrating and going raucous. That is beautiful to me. I would love to do that in more ways. My favorite times performing are when I’m on stage with other women. Like, there’s something truly energizing about that. I think it’s actually really, really a lot more important to present union than solo stardom. And that’s not a stab at anyone—that’s just my personal projection of what I would like to offer the next little girls… is a squad. You know what I’m saying? Women loving each other and having each other’s backs and being hard as nails and fucking up the game. That’s amazing to me. It was amazing to see little boys on their mom’s shoulders with a GRRRL PRTY tank top on—swimming in this adult tank top, like a dress—and, little girls just being like “Oh my god!” and older women, too. What it was able to touch in people was so special. I think part of it was that we did a good job as performers and we made fun music and dadidadida… But I think part of it had nothing to do with us and purely everything to do with the fact that it was female strength and energy coming together like when the Power Rangers morph into the giant dinosaur. That’s what it is! It’s an energy—it’s a force all its own. And, I think it’s really important for women to do that together.
The Wake:Who are your biggest musical influences?
M:I’ve gotta say Michael, Eyedea. Because he, as a person, taught me so much and exposed me to so much… like Freestyle Fellowship. I wouldn’t be rapping without him. It’s a pretty strong influence. He always encouraged me, but I felt it was too selfish an act to indulge in this feeling—that feeling when you’re like “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s too selfish. I need to be working for the betterment of humanity,” which I still think is true in a lot of ways. I think it’s important to acknowledge all of your gifts and honor them and do your best with all of them to be a good person. So, I would say Michael. I’d have to say the Beatles because the Beatles Anthology II was the first CD I had. Actually… It wasn’t! That was the first CD I had but actually my CD player came with The Cranberries in it… the one with the couch! I was like, “What the fuck is this?” and my dad was like, “Uh, I don’t know… The guy in the store just put it in there to test it.” I was only allowed to listen to oldies so The Beatles I heard a lot. My mom was super afraid of contemporary music and me being over-sexualized at an early age. So, she let me have two tapes and those tapes were Arrested Development and Michael Jackson’s “Jam.” And it was the Arrested Development record… what the fuck is it called? Five hundred thousand days? That was like what I had to play on repeat. And Michael Jackson for sure, like come on! I mean, he was all over the place. He was in my oldies allowance and then she let me have newer records. Michael Jackson was someone she trusted to be okay for me to listen to [laughing] for some reason. You look back on it… Now we know what we know. But, there will be people who will be like, “Do you really know what you know?” I gotta say Beyoncé. I don’t sound like Beyoncé at all, and I don’t model myself after her as an artist. But, Beyoncé is the gold standard of what is possible... what is humanly possible. She is the greatest living performer. She only gets better at singing. She’s a dancer. She does everything. She’s like an Olympic gold medalist in the category of performance and strength. She’s sexy and strong and confident. Just her existing has helped me exist musically. I wish she could adopt me. I love her. Her record B’Day was the first record where I took the initiative and learned songs on the guitar, whereas before, I was just doodling. But, this woman… She inspired me.
The Wake:What’s different on stage about performing alone versus in a collective?
M:Being on stage is an interesting thing. I kind of just don’t remember it afterwards–like not blackout, but you go into your zone or whatever. I think performing in a crew or collective provides you with the ability to be a lot more energetic. You have at least like thirty-two bars of break in each song. You might only have to rap eight bars or sixteen bars, you know? So, you have a lot more time to jump around, to get people hype, to really engage—and engage with each other—and be playful. And there’s something really special about that. I would say with a crew it feels really empowering and on stage alone, it’s empowering but not in the same way. It’s like, “I’m going to get naked for you… I hope that’s okay.” It’s more vulnerable but it’s also more free in a lot of ways because I don’t have to worry about anyone else knowing what I’m doing. No one else is depending on my cues, except for Bionik, but he’s doing the music. If he’s not backing me up, I’m free to dance with each song in a new way and for the first time, and be improvisational with it, and change it or just feel it differently, because it doesn’t matter. No one is going to be like, “I didn’t know where my entrance was because you didn’t do the normal thing.” It’s more free in that way and I really like that. What I don’t like about performing alone is backing tracks. But, some of the new music just needs that. There’s so many layers and harmonies and stuff that it has to be presented somehow. Without a person to do consistent backup, it ends up just being a backing track. You know, I got places to go with my live show. But it is nice, in some ways, to be the decider and be like, “Oh, you know, I don’t have to coordinate with anyone’s outfit. I can dress up as a princess today or just wear a bathing suit.” They’re both good. It is nice to have your release—to do your thing alone and hold it. It is nice to see yourself holding the space and doing it yourself, to know that you can. But, it’s not necessary for my ego or anything to know if I can do this or that. I want to make music with people. I’m energized by other people. And, Bionik energizes me in a way, too, so that’s why we make music together.
The Wake:How did you conceive of “One”? What inspired this EP?
M:Well, the EP just kind of happened. We made “Shame on Me” when GRRRL PRTY was still active. We started writing “Cashed” and “Head Right” and then I went to the hospital for my brain and then I came out and we finished the rest of it. It was kind of like… “Okay well we can keep going.” But, I kind of was like, “I’m ready to like burp this fucker out.” This is all just kind of like painful, sad material and I don’t want to continue down this road. This needs to be done. Let’s remove it from the docket. You know what I’m saying? Let’s excuse it. Let’s get it out and give it its life and then keep making. This is a little archive of some time that was hard, so let’s release that, and keep going. So, we’re making more music that isn’t so sad or dark or depressing or whatever the word is. I don't know, there’s something very personal about that record. And I worry—I don't want it to be like emotionally masturbatory, but you know, sometimes sad stuff is.
The Wake: You don’t have to answer this, but why did you go to the hospital?
M: I will answer that because I think that we need to reduce stigmas… basically, my depression. I had a mental health emergency and had to go to inpatient and then outpatient and do a lot of recovery therapy and stuff. I’m still working on a lot of things. I had not been managing my mental health appropriately because I was so resistant to medication. And once I finally accepted that maybe that could be a tool to help me manage this, and let go of the stigma of being “clean” or “pure” and whatever… Just allowing myself to be like, “You know what? This has been going on since I was like three or four! This is what the hell it is, and I’ve just got to work with it. Like, let’s just work with it!” And since I was able to accept that and move forward and take the steps necessary to really address it chemically, in my brain, with medication and various forms of therapy, because it’s never just one thing; you know, diet, exercise, blah… When I went into the hospital, I had lost my sense of taste, my eyes went from 20/20 to 50/20 vision, I couldn’t hold a pen or a sandwich, I couldn’t focus, I could barely speak. Everything was shutting down and they were worried that I might have permanent brain damage ‘cause they said I was nearly catatonic. Like, I couldn’t walk. I was losing my motor skills! I didn’t even know that it was physically possible for your body to respond that way. I’ve learned that since that for me it manifests physically, and to pay more attention and to really work that mind-body connection. It sounds so fucking hippy…
The Wake:Do you do yoga?
M:Oh yeah. Gotta! Gotta or it ain’t right.
The Wake:What was it like working with producer Bionik on the EP?
M:It was great. He’s a good coach. He’s really good at what he does. He’s adaptable, and it sounds generic, but creative. So, I would bring him something and he would be like, “Oh, I hear this behind that.” It was very back and forth. He gave me a beat, I wrote to it. I’d come lay some stuff down, he’d maybe move some things around and be like, “This sounds like the hook actually.” You know, it was a very collaborative process. I learned a lot from working with him. I’ve recorded before, but it’d always been a group record and we would never go super hard with stacking vocals and shit. It was like my first intensive time doing that on my own. I learned a lot about my voice and layering it, and what I like and what I don’t like. It was a really good learning experience. And now when we play live, he plays live and plays electronic drums—he has little glockenspiels. It’s been really rewarding, and I feel like I learned a lot. And, I feel like I’m working with someone who is better and more experienced at music than I am. That’s what I want to do, because I want to learn from those people.
The Wake:Who would be your ideal audience?
M:When I think about who I want my audience to be, I just automatically think about women, and future women, and I think about little girls. I want to make a kids record with a super badass female character that little girls can gravitate to and feel hard as hell and feel that toughness, feel that shit that we gave with GRRRL PRTY, but as little girls, that’s like appropriate. But, then when you say, “Who would you feel most comfortable having in your audience?” I cuss a lot, I’m grinding, I’m not very lady-like, and I grab myself sometimes… like a phantom dick or something. People point it out to me, I’m like, “Ooh, I don't know what that is.” The people that I would want around are people who are accepting and open minded. I feel like I can create a safe space and so I would expect that from whoever came in return—to be safe and non-hateful, non-racist, non-sexist. One of the saddest moments of my music career was the time that a white woman came up to me, after I performed, and quietly into my ear, she was like, “Thank you so much. We need more white representation in rap music.” And I was like, “I quit! I fucking quit.” I was appalled. It makes me embarrassed and ashamed to be this color and rapping sometimes, because it’s like, I don’t want other people to just think it’s okay. And, what makes it okay for me? It’s such a weird line to explain. I feel bad sometimes when I’ll have young white rappers ask me what advice I have and the first thing in my mind is like, “Just don't do it. I promise you, just don’t do it.” And that’s horrible! Like, I shouldn't be telling people who need to make art that they shouldn’t do it. But, there’s so much wrapped up in it, and I have a really big problem with being a role model for people who look at me like that. And, I don’t want to justify anybody’s bullshit. That upset me a great deal. I didn’t perform for a while because it made me so uncomfortable. So, not that person. Or, not the guy who comes up and is like, “You’re so sexy.” Go home.
One thing that I know about performance and what I want to give is that it’s less about who’s there to receive it and more about what I want people to take from it. I want people to laugh, I want people to dance, I want people to leave with serotonin buzzing in their brains—have a good, happy experience. That’s what GRRRL PRTY was able to do for people and I would love to be able to do that with what I’m working with, though a lot of it is a lot denser. I want to be able to give that to people that come to the shows. That’s the goal. It makes me happy when– even if it’s just between songs and I make some jokes and some people laugh. Then I’m like, “Good, you got the laugh. Okay you laughed, that’s good for you. Good. Okay, now I’m going to depress you some more.”
The Wake:What new projects are you working on?
M:Well, I’m always working on stuff by myself. Bionik and I are getting back into the studio next week to record some stuff that we have written and play around with some new stuff. There’s more coming on that end. And then, I’ve been playing around a little bit with Prophis and Sophia Eris. I’m down to work with whoever. Like, I never ask people to work with me because I don't want to be “that guy,” but when people are like, “Hey, do you want to work with me?” If I have time, I will, usually.
The Wake:Do you have any up-and-coming shows?
M:March 29th at The Whole Music Club. Doors at 7:30pm, show at 8:00pm.
The Wake:What’s your hidden talent?
M:I speak cat.
The Wake:Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to talk about?
M:I think there’s something going on right now. There is a huge cultural shift happening in so many ways. I think it’s really hard right now… I’m having a lot of trouble reconciling. What I was talking about earlier when I was saying, “Oh, that’s just Ryan Olson,” saying like, “You've dated so many rappers” or whatever… Which makes me feel like immediately like I need to defend that and give the accurate number, which is two. But it’s not necessary. I’m trying to reconcile this cultural change and this ability for me to speak up for myself and other women with the beaten-in practice that we’ve all succumb to of just like turning the other cheek and looking the other way. Like, “Oh, it’s just so-and-so being so-and-so. You know. He’s just a guy.” I think there’s a lot of change happening internally within me. I’m seeing it, and it’s hard. I want to call out microaggressions and hold people accountable, but I also really don’t like the call-out culture. So, I guess, I’m just noticing this balance of what it is and which artists I can continue supporting. Like, Aziz Ansari… That sucks, for so many reasons. Like, I trusted you. You broke my art. I don’t know what to think. As soon as you read the story… it’s like, his face—he’s there every time that’s ever happened to me, or any other women. It’s like, oh, you’re that guy too. He’s got a bunch of other names, but you’re him too. It’s that soft push, that soft coercion. We haven’t been allowed to really see that as coercion. And we always tell ourselves, “Oh, well I did something,” or like “Oh, let me just get it over with,” or “Uh, I’m being difficult, why don’t I want to?” And you blame yourself. To have someone be like, “This sucks and it’s not okay,” was like, I sobbed when I read it, because I can’t put my finger on how many times that has happened. Those are the ones that are so hard to define, because when someone grabs you or forces themselves on you, you know what it is. And then when there’s these other ones where someone is pushing, and you say no, and they keep going and saying, “C’mon, c’mon,” and wearing you down. It’s something that’s impossible to explain to men—well, not impossible, but I haven’t figured it out. It’s like we found the first dinosaur bone and we’re just brushing it off and we can finally look at it under a microscope. I’m trying to figure out who I can stand behind and who I can’t. And, who stands behind me, as a woman. Like, are you just down because feminism is like, cool? Or are you fucking James Franco, telling his students to take their shirts off while they perform a scene? You know what I’m saying? There’s phonies everywhere, man.