“It’s a new year/ or about to be/ I wanna forgive/ everything that has harmed me.”
These are the opening lyrics of the song “New Year,” by Bitch, formerly half of the queercore band Bitch and Animal, which broke into the music scene in Provincetown in the summer of 1998. “New Year” will be featured on Bitch’s new solo album, Bitchcraft, to be released in early 2021. (Her birth name is a well-guarded secret.)
During this year’s pandemic, Bitch spent June to September in Provincetown. “When I was invited to spend the whole summer again and play music, it felt like coming full circle,” she says. “Though I hadn’t lived in P’town since 1998, it has always felt like a second home, a second birthplace to me. We had a lot of support here, and each time I returned for a gig and had to leave, it would break my heart.”
She played with John Cameron Mitchell at the Crown & Anchor and was joined by the local singer Brandon Cordeiro to beatbox her signature song, “Pussy Manifesto.”
“It was amazing,” Bitch says. “Brandon is a natural improviser, and that song relies heavily on a spontaneous performance vibe.”
In September, Bitch and Cordeiro reprised the song during a virtual concert from the basement of the Provincetown Commons. “Shelley Jennings had run the tech for the concert and hooked me up with Chris Racine, who had also done my sound at the Crown,” she says. They put together a music video of “Pussy Manifesto” that will be released on New Year’s Eve.
As a child, Bitch was a promising young classical violinist. “I heard the sound of the violin on Sesame Street when I was about three and begged my parents to let me play,” she says. “My family is very musical. My mother was into musical theater and had a tap-dancing school in our basement. We had constant rhythm coming out of our kitchen floors.”
But as Bitch grew up, classical music felt too restrictive. “You’re playing someone else’s music, and most often that is music written by dead white men,” she says. “When I closed my eyes and played violin from my heart, it felt like my own dirty little secret. You’re not encouraged to do that in the classical world — it’s all about reading the music that is in front of you. That power dynamic didn’t sit well with the young firecracker that I was.”
Bitch left her family in Pittsburgh and moved to Chicago to study acting. It was there that she met Animal and formed the band. “I had tucked my violin away under my bed when I was in school, but when I met Animal, something happened,” she says. “We started playing, and it wasn’t dead white guys’ music anymore. I was playing my own sound.”
The pair moved to Provincetown in 1998 for a regular Sunday night gig at Bubala’s, with Bitch singing and playing violin. (She also plays ukulele and bass.) Bitch and Animal were an instant hit, and their wildly spirited theatrical act became renowned in the lesbian music scene.
After touring the U.S. and Europe as Bitch and Animal from 1998 to 2004, Bitch went solo. (Animal now performs as Animal Prufrock.) Then, in 2014, she took a hiatus from show business. “I’d been on tour most of the time,” she says, “living in my RV with my life scattered in boxes in 13 states. I needed to rest and regroup. I moved to a cabin in the woods of Michigan, in the middle of nowhere, and went through a period of isolation. I kept working, but I wasn’t putting anything out.”
In 2018, Bitch spent the evening of Dec. 31 with Ferron, one of her mentors in the women’s music scene. “We were writing down everything we wanted to let go of before the new year and throwing it into the fire,” Bitch says. “I wrote a poem after we did that ritual, and the poem later became the lyrics of the song [‘New Year’].” She released it as a single in 2019.
Today, the lyrics hold broader significance. “Going into 2021, we have so much to rebuild and repair — I don’t even think we know the half of the damage that’s been done over the past four years,” Bitch says. “Now is a time when we collectively have to let go of the pain.”
The song’s refrain — a repetition of the words “you’re the man” followed by “but I’m the woman” — picks up on a theme that is central to Bitch’s message.
“ ‘The Man,’ by Aloe Blacc, with the chorus ‘I’m the man, I’m the man,’ was really big at the time I wrote ‘New Year,’ ” she says. “You hear ‘you’re the man’ a lot, but we don’t say ‘you’re the woman.’ The phrase gives men a lot of power, which is great — men should have power — but so should women. That’s the problem: we haven’t given that power to women. This is the kind of thing I am trying to undo.”
“New Year” now represents “my dive back into sharing my music again,” Bitch says. “It has been a long time coming. My former label, Kill Rock Stars, heard it and invited me to make a full album.”
And, for the holidays, there’s the “Pussy Manifesto” video. “Ani [DiFranco] used to joke that I was going to be playing that song till I was 90, and that’s probably true,” Bitch says. “ ‘Pussy Manifesto’ pokes fun at the inherent misogyny in how we use the word ‘pussy’ to mean something weak or bad. Instead, we reclaim ‘pussy’ to be a compliment,” Bitch says, adding with a laugh, “Hope your 2021 is really pussy!”