See Bitch perform at Space on April 23. Photo by Jim Frohna

When Karen Mould was 22, she took on the moniker of Bitch as a way of reclaiming a word that has been wielded against women seemingly forever.

Now in her late 40s, she hasn’t looked back, and now only her mother uses her real name.

In February, she released the album “Bitchcraft,” and she’ll be playing several tracks from it Saturday night at Space.

A solid 20 years ago, I saw her old folk duo, Bitch and Animal, perform in Provincetown, Massachusetts, but haven’t kept a particularly close eye on her career since. When I saw Bitch was coming to Maine, however, I did what I often do: Listened to her album without distraction while out for a walk. When I finished, I knew in my bones that she had made the album of a lifetime.

It turns out, that was her goal, and the pandemic helped. Bitch said in a phone interview that lockdown lent itself to being still and regrouping, which paid off with “Bitchcraft.”

“I had this time to kind of let myself dream about the absolute best album I could make with every tool I had, with all my life experience behind me,” she said.

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She also approached making it with the notion that it didn’t matter how many people would end up hearing it. “This time, I really crafted it and took my time, and I feel like I did the slow and steady, and right now it feels like I’m winning the race.”

To me, it sounds like Bitch stood over a roiling and boiling cauldron and added synthesizers, violin and beats while chanting incantations and casting spells. From politics to surviving breakups, “Bitchcraft” gets into all of it with sleeves rolled up and boots on the ground. It’s a dance party, rallying cry and lyrical tour de force.

Bitch has been playing violin since she was 4 years old, and it figures prominently into her music in enthralling ways, especially on tracks like “Fallen Witch 1,” “Another Wound” and “Hello Meadow!”

“Bitchcraft” cover art. Image courtesy of Kill Rock Stars

The opening track is called “You’re The Man” with the lines: “But we, we did our part/We cried, we built a heart/Now we are way too smart to sing your war songs.”

On a thick layer of synths, keys and beats, her vocals are bright, clear and affirming. In a song description, she wrote that she’s always interested in how phrases of popular sayings are gendered and noted that the term “you’re the man” signifies awesomeness and power. “We don’t have those phrases for women, so it is part of my calling to make them as common as their male counterparts.”

After the fun of “You’re The Man,” Bitch serves up a slower tune on “Easy Target” with synths, piano and beats that continue down a righteous, feminist path. “I can take a stand/Stand up here and take it like a man/Like chin and sin is all I’m made of/And all I’m made in/I’m an easy target,” she sings.

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This could very well be my song of the year. Bitch wrote that it came from a dark place during the time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. She also mentioned the freeing of Bill Cosby, the scrutiny Tarana Burke (the activist who started the #metoo movement) faced, and the conviction of former U.S. women’s national gymnastic team doctor Larry Nassar. But the song isn’t depressing or one that induces taking up arms, fists clenched. Rather, it says that, despite the fact that history continues to show how little women are believed, we can still stand tall and speak our truth. “At the end of the day, I’m still proud,” she repeats on “Easy Target.”

Next up is “Hello Meadow!,” a frantically paced whirling dervish of a song. It was first a poem about when Bitch left her longtime home of Brooklyn, New York, and moved to a woodsy log cabin. Capitalism and Mother Nature are in the ring together with a cacophony of electric violin and beats.

I told Bitch during our conversation that “Pages” is the most succinct song I’ve ever heard about acknowledging the pain of a breakup while also knowing you’ll get through it. With violin, keytar and synth, she says it all: “I’m halfway down the road of my life/You’re a story I couldn’t hold, I couldn’t write/And every day I’m one day older and am I right/And every day you were (expletive) cold and that’s life.” Like the songs before it, “Pages” isn’t sad because the beats are so uplifting  and the optimism of lines like “It’s OK, I’m all right” make it actually fun to listen and sing along to.

I asked Bitch what it’s like playing “Pages” and other particularly personal “Bitchcraft” songs live.  She said emotional detachment doesn’t occur. “I’ve never found myself singing a song and not remembering where I wrote it from. It never changes for me.”

Another topic Bitch delves into in her music is climate change, with “Polar Bear.” Based on a poem she wrote after reading an article about the shrinking of the polar ice caps, the song is dramatic with lines like “I can hear the howl of the polar bear and I know she’s scared.” The refrain features Jennifer Kreisberg’s howl which effectively captures the anxiety and pain that the mother bear must be experiencing. There’s also a thunderous line of drums throughout and then the song ends on the same somber, quiet notes it started. 

Born in Pittsburgh to English parents, Bitch moved to the Detroit area when she was 11 and has been mostly in Los Angeles since 2014. She also considers Boston a second home, and that’s where she was when we spoke.

She said for the show at Space, she’ll be playing her violin and keytar and that she wrote a play that takes you through her history, complete with props. “I have all these giant notebooks all over the stage and a giant pencil,” she said.

She’ll also be bringing with her a bunch of merch, including “Bitchcraft” on vinyl, which she’ll be happy to sign.

Bitch with Juniper Ginger
8 p.m. Saturday. Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, $14 in advance, $16 day of show. space538.org


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