Becca Mancari is searching for herself. If Becca Mancari will be found, she won’t be in Staten Island where she was born, or Nashville where she has lived for the past 9 years, writing folk songs that transform into shoegaze with undercurrents of funk, or in rural Pennsylvania where she grew up. “I kept having these dreams of my child home,” she told me. “I would wake up in the middle of the night. I was becoming obsessive. Something was like, ‘You need to go back.’”
As Becca and I spoke, the results from the 2020 presidential elections were still trickling in and it seemed that what many had expected — that the United States would suddenly, in one swift and decisive vote, repudiate the president and a divided political culture — would not come to pass. This is the country where Becca Mancari’s second album, “The Greatest Part,” takes place. If she is found, it will be here, in a country populated by paradoxes and singing songs which hold tenderness and violence, queer pleasure and despair, separation and union in the same body.
“The Greatest Part” begins as Becca, who grew up in a profoundly fundamentalist community, quotes letters she received from a member of her father’s church. Over low and determined strumming, she calmly intones “Letters in the mailbox say I’m gonna hunt you down. I’m gonna hunt you down. / I am the prophet; I am the savior. / Well, I am the prophet, I am the savior.” She’s speaking in the language of reporting, which is to say that the author of the letters has no actual agency, only tenuous claims of authority. And this is a structure that her lyrics often take, establishing a rhythm and a pattern of behavior before they branch wildly out into unexpected sensations, narratives, and pitches. Here, her voice jumps an octave upward and a guitar buzzes with joy. “Well, you’re never gonna track me down! No, you’re never gonna find me out!” she sings.
Becca tells me that “Christian supremacy … is the ideology that we are better than everyone else, that we have an answer. That’s how I was raised, what I was taught to believe. I think it’s a powerful weaponization of what could be really beautiful. It’s really dangerous to think that you have all the answers. I’m learning and growing; I have questions, and I never want to stop questioning.”
The entirety of the thirty-two-minute runtime of “The Greatest Part” inhabits this liminal space and embraces no single answer. In the music video for “First Time,” Becca sings, “I remember the first time my dad didn’t hug me back;” a girl in a prim black dress with a white Gothic collar watches as a grown woman is baptized in a river. The scene resembles a drowning, and the lyrics “Under porch lights with my sister’s old cigarettes” linger over the image. Then, in a sudden turn, the girl faces the camera, smiles, and the diction of the lyrics changes too: “With your hands hanging to your side and my face to your chest.” This is a direct address. Becca sings out to her father and — it is revealed — her younger self.
It’s a rare and vulnerable lyrical talent to address multiple people in a single line. But that is the work that Becca Mancari most aspires to. “I wanted to represent all of us if I could,” she says. “I know I can’t because I don’t know your experience fully, and you don’t know mine. But what I love about our [queer] community is that there is so much openness.” As the song continues, Becca gestures to this openness in the geographical terms that characterize her touring life. Everything is always in motion, as she sings, “They say the heart grows stronger, but man it’s hard to get back on track. / I remember the first time I tried to tell you the truth. / On a Sunday drive with my heart stuck in my chest. / Would the God you love take that love so easily back?” Then, to the insouciant bounce of an electric guitar, she repeats, “Hey did you find your way out? Hey, did you find your way out? Hey, did you find your way out?”
It’s a way out that might manifest literally as a different town or state or country, but it could just as easily be the way out that you carve for yourself.
The video ends as the camera cuts between close-ups of different queer people from Mancari’s current home in Nashville. Two women kiss in front of a yellow background, a man laughs and jumps up to a seat on the wall, another couple stands proudly outside, and a man twirls a scarf around his wheelchair like a cape.
“When I made the ‘First Time’ video, I wanted it to reflect some community that I have built for myself here, and maybe even visualize for other people in other states all over the world and country,” she says. “I think that I realized I couldn’t write — but maybe I will — a completely heartbreaking record where the music allows you to go into those [feelings]. But for me, I needed to be able to know there is a way out. And the music allows you to feel that way.
Talking to Becca, it occurs to me that, in our national discussion, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and my native Iowa are often considered to be a kind of monolith in the same way queer people are in heterosexual culture. Becca Mancari’s “The Greatest Part” addresses a critical lack of queer southern representation. It shows longing and suffering and joy in every place that they occur — even ones seldom filmed or narrated. “We need the freedom to not always let queer people seem broken,” she says. “They’re brilliant. They’re joyful. We are so much more than our sadness.”
“And it’s interesting,” Becca tells me. “I went back to all the old spots: my childhood home, my childhood church — that my dad literally built with his own hands — and at the end of the day I sat down at this beautiful park. I sat there, and I asked ‘Why, why do you want me to come back here?’ It’s interesting. … I wanted to find demons, but [the voice] was like ‘No, it’s time to finally let it go.'”
“The Greatest Part” is available for purchase on bandcamp.