Arts Desk

Olivia Mancini’s Future: Part-Time Social Worker, Full-Time Musician

When local indie-pop singer Olivia Mancini decamped to New York last fall, it seemed as if D.C. had lost yet another artist to that giant creativity magnet to the north. Not so, says Mancini, who is playing at the Black Cat on Friday with her band, The Mates. She swears she is just there to prepare for a more stable, less frustrating career than music: social work (?).

Do social workers really make more money than musicians?

I don't think so. I don't know what information/misinformation I was working off of, this whole thing about going to school to achieve more financial stability. As it turns out, social workers don't make any more money than people who piece it together than music. But I guess social workers are more traditionally employable. Hopefully I can make a nice part-time job about it, and I can stick with the music thing. Social work is as noble and worthwhile a profession as you can think of, but being away from D.C. has been hard.

Isn't New York a great place to be an artist?

So they say. I am trying to keep an open mind and an open heart about it, and many of my music friends have defected to New York, so I definitely have an equally good music network as I had in D.C. But New York is hard—it's so loud and so dirty.  I am learning a lot being there; it felt like an accomplishment learning how to work the subway and having overcome those logistical challenges of living in the city. It really is a melting pot of humanity—but I feel like, when I come back to D.C.,  I take a deep breath and a deep sigh of relief. It's urban, it's cool, there's a lot of stuff to do, but I don't feel like I am choking.

How is the music scene different there?

In New York, I meet a lot more openly ambitiously people—musicians who want to make it big, or at least be able to say, "I really tried." There's a lot less shame in saying who you know, who you are going to work with, what your game plan is.  That doesn't really seem to exist in D.C. My musical experience in D.C. is very familial, very amicable, everyone is really laid back. It's un-Washingtonian, in a way.

Has going to school full time slowed down your songwriting?

I write a lot of songs in class. Really, nothing has changed since high school. I try to pay attention, but then I think of some lyrics, or a drum part—and then rush back to my dorm room and record it on garage band. I'm lucky because some of my oldest musical collaborators are in New York now. My guitarist, Ed Donahue, has been living there for the last five years, and I get together with him couple times a week to hang out and work on new stuff.

How do your new songs fit into the Olivia Mancini oeuvre?

I feel like most of the stuff we do is steeped in oldies. My new single, "For Rickey," is a song about someone who is out of reach because of their social status, and musically it has a '50s rock feel to it. I thought putting it out in vinyl would be the right kind of tangible representation of the kind of song it is. No one likes to talk about class; it's not a polite subject, but it exists and pop music keeps it in our minds with songs like Frankie Valli's "Rag Doll" or "Uptown Girl."

Do you think you'll move back to D.C.?

I think I will definitely come back to D.C. New York is, as they say, a great place to visit, and I am gaining a lot of living there, but it's not a place I want to spend the rest of my life. I feel a sense of obligation to come back. Most of my generation has deserted D.C. for different places, and I think D.C. has a lot of potential as a city for people to stay more than three years after college. I see D.C. getting better and better and cooler and cooler every month, and I want to be a part of that.

Olivia Mancini and the Mates perform with Tom McBride at 9 p.m. at Black Cat. $10.

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