News & Politics

Washingtonian Favorites: Olivia Mancini

Every Thursday, we bring you interviews with noteworthy Washingtonians. This week, we catch up with local musician (and Facebook addict) Olivia Mancini.

Photograph by Chris Leaman.

You don’t have to spend every weekend at local music venues such as the Black Cat or the Rock and Roll Hotel for the name Olivia Mancini to sound familiar. Like the now-defunct Georgie James (RIP), Mancini has become an indelible part of the local music scene, first as the bassist for Washington Social Club and then as frontwoman of the Housemates—made up of Kristin Forbes, Randy Scope, Dan Swenson, and Ed Donohue.

Swenson and Donohue now reside in Boston and New York, respectively, but Mancini continues to make music—whether it’s with Scope and Forbes as Olivia and the Terrible Two (a name they use half seriously to refer to themselves), or through entirely different projects such as Donny Hue and the Colors. As Mancini explains, part of the fun of being involved in more than one band is the opportunity to adopt different styles and explore various sides of her personality onstage—not that she’s looking to join more bands right now or thinking of pulling a Beyoncé, for that matter.

Mancini, who lives near DC’s U Street, chatted with us about her many projects, the musicians and albums she relies on for inspiration, and just how good fellow bandmate Randy Scope’s scrambled eggs really are.

Name: Olivia Mancini.

Age: 29.

Occupation: Musician.

Hometown: DC.

Must-have item at all times: Glasses.

Signature drink: Varies by the season.

Finish this sentence: When not working, you can find me . . .

. . . playing music in someone’s basement.

Washingtonians you admire:
I very much admire local activist Mark Andersen. For those of you who don’t know Mark, he’s been working for 25 years to improve the lives of the city’s low-income residents and the elderly through We Are Family, a part of the Northwest Settlement House organization. He also cofounded Positive Force DC, which takes the best ideals of a DC music institution—punk rock—and puts them into action, empowering youth to get involved with their community to foster change, growth, and acceptance. The group raises money for various charitable organizations by putting on benefit concerts with local bands. Mark’s been doing that since 1985, and he’s still going strong, helping to increase awareness and better people’s lives on a grassroots level.”

Favorite neighborhood in Washington?
Palisades—it’s lesser known, underappreciated, quiet, and quirky, with beautiful river views.

Washington insider tips?
The result of years of careful research: Wednesday around 10:30 AM is the best time to get your car inspected. It is counterintuitive for me to reveal this to a large audience.

Finish this sentence: Thinking about the Metro makes me . . .
. . . hope those long-anticipated-and long-deserved federal dollars are forthcoming.

Favorite music venue?
I love the Backstage at the Black Cat.

What would you change about DC?
Today and every day for the last year, I’d like to change the legal construction starting time from 7 AM to maybe 7:30. While I’m happy that 14th Street continues to boom despite the current state of the economy, I am so tired, so very tired, from being woken by “boom,” “crash,” “clink, clink, clink,” and “beep, beep, beep” six days a week. At least, please, could Saturday start later?

As you answer these questions, what Web sites are open in your browser?
Caught. On Facebook.

There’s been talk for some time now about the band changing its name. What are some of the best and worst name ideas that have been thrown around?
Well, if we’d found the best one or, frankly, even a good one, we probably would’ve stuck with it. It is challenging finding a name for a band that is in a perpetual state of flux. We moved away from the Housemates, in the literal sense, more than a year ago and may have been on the precipice of attaching a name to the latest incarnation when our lovely Dan Swenson moved to Boston—this on the heels of Ed Donohue’s departure for New York. So when we’re all together, which only happens now occasionally, should we be called one thing and then be called another when it’s just the remaining locals, Kristin Forbes, Randy Scope, and myself? We don’t know! Probably? Recently, Randy dubbed himself and Kristin the Terrible Two for the purpose of a few shows played as a trio—Olivia and the Terrible Two.

In addition to the Housemates, you’re involved in a number of other musical projects. Do you ever worry about burning out?
I don’t, really, because in every group I do something different. The variety offers the chance to adopt different playing styles and stage personas and to explore different shades of personality. For example, I have been doing the vocals for Randy’s studio project, Sleeping Secrets. The singing I do for those songs is 180 degrees from the singing I do in the Housemates; it’s almost like I’m channeling a different person. A quieter, more depressed person. Similarly, the kind of bass I play in Donny Hue & the Colors is different from the bass I played in Washington Social Club because the groups and the music they make—or made—are so different. In that case, it’s plaid shirts and corduroys versus glitter face paint and an oh-so-social cape.

What records do you find yourself constantly listening to for inspiration?
I am endlessly inspired by Johnny Marr’s guitar parts, the Beatles’ harmonies, Bruce Thomas’s bass lines, Sam Cooke’s vocals (the smoothest of all time!), the Shins’ songwriting, and Matt Barrick’s drumming. And of course there are certain albums that make me want to crawl inside the sound and wrap it around me, it sounds that good or that distinct. Pulp’s This Is Hardcore is one of them. Cat Stevens’s Tea for the Tillerman is another.

Any local bands or musicians you’d like to collaborate with?
Many. But I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t join any more bands.

You’ve known Randy for a while now. Give us some dirt on the guy. Are his scrambled eggs all they’re cracked up to be?
“I don’t know about Sylvia Plath, but Randy’s scrambled eggs have gotten me out of bed on a number of occasions when the chances of that seemed unlikely. They’ve also proven useful barter on the road, when a kindly host has awoken to the sight of a strange drummer in his or her kitchen, scrambling up a batch in gratitude for a free night’s stay. Other dirt on Randy: He’s always on the lookout for the perfect fountain Coke with the right amount of ice and just enough fizz.”

Want more Washingtonian Favorites? Check out last week's interview with The Politico's video blogger James Kotecki.

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