At the end of 2018, Becca Mancari found herself at a low point. The prior year, she'd put out her country-tinged debut, Good Woman, toured nonstop with artists like Julien Baker and Joseph, and played in the folk trio Bermuda Triangle alongside Brittany Howard and Jesse Lafser. But after all that, she was back home in Nashville—having parted ways with her manager, Mancari was unsure of what the future held.
So, she got to writing, and out of that uncertainty came her recently released album, The Greatest Part. Produced by friend and Paramore drummer Zac Farro, the LP is a massive shift for Mancari, trading her soft twang for rhythmic pop with lyrical weight. It's a highly personal collection, covering her religious upbringing and processing her queer identity—particularly on the Baker-assisted single “First Time,” which details her experience coming out. We spoke with Mancari about how sharing her story through music has transformed her sound, her listeners, and herself.
Spotify for Artists: What inspired you to write “First Time”?
Becca Mancari: For queer folk who go through a lot of trauma with coming out—for me, at least—I only knew how to survive for years. I didn't know how to grieve or feel those things, because there's no time for that if you want to live. I know that's heavy, but I just realized I physically wouldn't be here if I would've really felt all those things when I first came out.
[“First Time”] in particular, this line just came to me, from my coming-out story: “I remember the first time my dad didn't hug me back.” And I went back to that back porch on this hot summer night in Virginia and it all came to me. I have to believe—from so many people coming up to me at shows and saying, “Hey, you being open and visible helps me believe that I can be even happy”—[that] joy is supposed to be shared. I wanted [The Greatest Part] to feel good when you listen to it but bring out stories, bring the heavy stuff out. That song in particular is almost learning how to re-parent yourself, love your child self, and move on.
“First Time” speaks both to your past and your identity now. What was it like sharing that part of you?
The day it came out, I panicked. This whole record is just turning to the next chapter, which is asking myself, “Did you find your way out? Are you ok? And if you have to leave behind your whole world in a sense, how do you find your way to the next one?”
The reaction has been amazing. People have reached out and said, “I get it, thank you.” Even parents have reached out and been like, “I don't understand my trans child, my queer child, but I want to. I don't want to reject them.” It's a lot. I didn't know I signed up for having that responsibility but I think, as artists, what better time to really make music that will help change the world?
What’s been the most challenging aspect of that responsibility?
It's just hard to hear that there are so many people living in so much fear: fear of losing family, friendships, and oftentimes the communities they grew up in. It breaks me to think that this is still happening every day all over the world, and my hope is that someday there will not even be a need for a song like "First Time" and that queer people will be accepted fully. But until that day comes, I want to be visible and, as I do that, I remain hopeful for my own family and life.
Repeating the lyric “Hey, did you find your way out?” is really powerful. What led you to do that?
I know that feeling of running for so long that I wanted to linger there to be like, “No, for real—did you find your way out?” Really ask yourself that. Spend time. I've played it live only a couple times and people immediately sang the line back to me. They knew the song already.
What impact has that response had on you?
It's definitely made me feel like I want to be stronger, embrace who I am even more. The “First Time” photo that we chose to use is a photo of me without my shirt on. It's not a provocative, sexualized, for-the-male-gaze photo. It's a very queer photo. That's something I never really had embraced yet. My friends have noticed it, and other artists who are queer, too, have been like, “There you go! Claim who you are. Be proud of who you are and what your body looks like.”
The shift is amazing, telling these kinds of stories. Every little queer kid, every not-queer kid, every person of color—these are our stories. I always had so many heroes who were old white men and I'm just realizing there are so many heroes I am now discovering that are like me, and that's pretty amazing.
What advice do you have for other artists who are hesitant or uncertain about how to tell their own stories through music?
Someone I look up to as a writer once told me, "Becca, write what you know," and that hit me so hard. Ever since then, I have chosen to write about the thing that I know the most intimately: my own life. But the one thing I would say to someone who decides to write that personally is to be gentle with yourself and to others, but don't be afraid to write what you know.