Inside D.C. entertainment

18 holes with Olivia Mancini

August 11, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Olivia Mancini grew up deprived of fake sports. "My parents are religiously anti-athletic," the singer says as she prepares to whack a bright-purple golf ball across some Astro Turf. Badminton, Frisbees, kite-flying -- these were not part of Mancini's upbringing in the District's mostly unsung Forest Hills neighborhood, and going to Vassar certainly didn't help her advance in meathead studies.

Now Mancini, who is doing a two-year social work graduate program at Columbia University, lives in New York for much of the year. And she is busting out of her Bizarro-Footloose childhood, dipping her toes in Notre Dame and Penn State football culture ("Even though I don't really understand the rules of the game, I do like the culture. I like tailgating, that's really fun") and responding to the odd request to play miniature golf instead of do a normal show preview.

When Mancini takes the stage at Black Cat Friday night, she'll be with her D.C.-based bandmates; she's got a New York band as well, a situation she says is mostly frictionless. "I don't think there's any resentment," she says, "but there's always that moment when somebody will ask, 'Hey, am I playing that good-looking show with you in New York?'"

Last year, Mancini debated whether she'd go to Columbia in a Washington Post article. Reader, she went for it, deciding that social work is something she could do alongside music and was a lot more stable than freelance journalism. (She'd been a reporter at the Poughkeepsie Journal, covering meetings "and interviewing the occasional Eagle Scout," she says.)

Mancini broke into the region's music scene as the bassist for Washington Social Club, which bubbled under the mainstream for a few years and even placed a song on Gossip Girl, but she left after the group's second album, when, she told DCist, "I stopped having fun at shows."

Mancini plays miniature golf like she lives her life. "I'm a par 3 person," she says (and in fact she shot at least 11 3s during our round; I lost track during the last few holes). "Middle of the road, even-keeled."

Olivia Mancini golfing

The bass, she says, suits her personality better than guitar, which she plays with her own band. "I don't know how familiar you are with band personality types, but the bassist is always like the one who gets along with everyone, the one who deals with the money at the end of the night, the one who owns the car."

This summer Mancini will play one more big show, at the Mercury Lounge (the D.C. band gets to do this one: IN YOUR FACE NEW YORK). That's in addition to her membership in guitarist Ed Donohue's band Donny Hue and the Colors and the just-for-fun wedding band Band of Gold. "So basically I get my bass fix," she says, nailing another 3.

Come fall, school starts up again, and maybe by spring she'll have a new album, or a series of EPs. It's all up in the air, and she's not in any rush. She's got school in New York, a relationship down here, a new 7-inch single (email her to get one), and bands at both ends of her life. After we pot our last balls, we sit on a bench and she tells me about publishing deals (she wouldn't mind one), doing music for commercials ("that's had limited success") and her favorite part of being a musician: actually playing. "The moment when you're up there on the stage, and you're standing there with your band, and you're making a lot of noise and you see people having a good time, that's the best feeling in the world," she says.

Final score: Olivia Mancini 45, me 47, my 3-year-old (had to come along on the interview due to a childcare SNAFU) 23. That's with me forgetting to write down the scores on the last few holes and us allowing him a mulligan or 17.

Olivia Mancini golfing

Olivia Mancini and the Mates play Friday at the Black Cat with Tom McBride. Doors 9 p.m., $10.

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