Pinkshift are one of 2020’s most vital new punk bands (2 new songs + Q&A)
Having put out their first demo song ("Mars") in 2019, Baltimore punks Pinkshift came into 2020 with plans to release their debut EP and tour, until that was all stalled by the pandemic. These tour-less times have presumably been extra hard on new bands who aren’t already established, but Pinkshift have been making the best of it and they've become one of the most talked-about new punk bands of the year.
They put out their first proper single "On Thin Ice" in March, right around the time the entire country began shutting down, and they followed it in July with "I'm Gonna Tell My Therapist On You," which stirred up all kinds of word-of-mouth buzz and quickly racked up an impressive amount of plays for a punk band with just three songs. One of their vocal fans has been Anti-Flag's Chris #2, who said to us, "There are moments that happen, when people are more in tune with what is missing from their lives, and then if we’re lucky, the opportunity arises to fill whatever that gap may be. For me, Pinkshift happened at that time. At the intersection of global pandemic shutdown, cultural shifts towards racial, environmental, and gender justice... all while searching for young creative people who just fucking live it, where it’s not forced, but authentically presented. They sonically and emotionally fill that void for me. It’s been incredible to watch it happen for so many others, so quickly as well."
Pinkshift showed promise off the bat on that 2019 demo song, but each song they've released has been even better than the last and that continues today with the new two-song single, "Toro" / "Rainwalk." Pinkshift's earlier singles kinda sounded like a cross between Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge-era My Chemical Romance and Riot!-era Paramore, but with a more lo-fi, DIY punk approach, and the new songs find them exploring even more musical territory. "Toro" starts off as a straight-up hardcore song before seamlessly transitioning into hazy psychedelia, and it segues directly into "Rainwalk," which is closer to the band's usual sound, but heavier, sharper, and more distinct. Singer Ashrita Kumar cites both Babes In Toyland and Paramore as influences on these songs, and she says the two songs make up one continuous story. "'Toro' has all of this rage, kind of reacting to being manipulated, confused, and torn down," she says, while "Rainwalk" is "kind of like a 'reaching my breaking point with this' song. I kind of used Rainwalk as a way to get my headspace out of a toxic relationship. It turned into a story that takes you through multiple relationships, detailing the 'thrill of the chase' at the point where that thrill can turn toxic."
The band is still planning to eventually put out that debut EP, but meanwhile, they've now got five great songs out in the world, and if you like loud, melodic, purposeful punk rock and aren't listening to Pinkshift yet, you should change that now. This band just gets it on so many levels, and at the rate they're going, they're only gonna get better and better.
We caught up with the band to ask them a few questions about how they got started, the new single, and what's next after this. Stream the new single and read on for our chat...
BV: For anyone unfamiliar, can you talk a bit about how you formed, and what were some of your shared goals and influences as a band from the start?
Erich Weinroth (bass): They found me on Tinder and thought I was cute and good at bass.
Paul Vallejo (guitar): I met Ashrita near the end of college and we started out by writing covers and short demos of songs. She listens mainly to '90s grunge (Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots) and rock (No Doubt) while I came from a more recent emo (My Chemical Romance, Pierce the Veil) and pop punk (State Champs) background. We started writing a bunch of demos in the summer of 2018 and when we realized forming a band was something we wanted to do, we started looking for a drummer.
Myron Houngbedji (drums): I met Paul and Ashrita in December of 2018 while I was practicing in our university’s drum room. They heard me playing "Helena" by My Chemical Romance and were nice enough to tell me that I was good. I was still pretty new to drums so when they said they were looking for a drummer, I didn’t think that I’d be a good fit. It’s funny, I actually saw the flyers that they put up in my apartment building and deliberately ignored them because I was still ass. But after hearing "Mars," I decided to learn it and about a month later we played it together for the first time.
Ashrita Kumar (vocals): I think from the beginning, this was always something we did to get away from regular life. We were in college, and it was an escape from school work. I didn’t really share too many influences with Paul, but we both liked each other’s music taste, so we wrote in a way that combined the two. When Myron joined, he and Paul liked similar stuff (MCR, etc), and Erich was something in between my '90s rock taste and their emo/pop-punk taste (pretty sure he likes older punk and jazz). Pinkshift was something we all did for fun, and as we played more shows and wrote more music, we kept digging into it.
BV: There's clearly a lot of different stuff musically going on in the new songs, especially "Toro," which is this heavy post-hardcore song but then has this slower psychedelic passage. What were some of the specific musical influences on these new songs?
Paul: Myron was the first one to write anything for "Toro." He came to practice and was like, "I don't know what this is but me play fast” and then started to play the intro drum beat. Since the beat was tom heavy, I got a Latin vibe from it and so I played a riff that gave off that same energy. It ended up reminding me of a bullfight. Since “toro” is the Spanish word for “bull,” we named the song accordingly.
Myron: The waltz-y part in "Toro" was actually a transition we used when we played "Rainwalk" live in late 2019/early 2020. Ashrita said she felt awkward just talking in silence in between songs so we came up with some instrumental transitions to fill the space. "Toro" didn’t exist back then, but the transition came almost directly from the transition between a Destroy Boys cover and "Rainwalk" in our live set.
Ashrita: Haha yeah that’s true, we’d always play "Rainwalk" as our last song so the waltzy part was a cool lead-in. I’m not sure if there are specific musical influences, but vocally I did do something inspired from "Misery Business" (Paramore) for Rainwalk, and Babes in Toyland for "Toro."
BV: Lyrically speaking, what are you hoping to get across with these two new songs?
Ashrita: Lyrically, "Toro" and "Rainwalk" are kind of a story in themselves. "Toro" has all of this rage, kind of reacting to being manipulated, confused, and torn down. I wanted to do something vocally that was reminiscent of the more Babes in Toyland kind of sound - really rough and just loud. The line “Help me the storm is coming soon” refers to "Rainwalk" - "Rainwalk" itself is kind of like a “reaching my breaking point with this” song. I kind of used "Rainwalk" as a way to get my headspace out of a toxic relationship. It turned into a story that takes you through multiple relationships, detailing the “thrill of the chase” at the point where that thrill can turn toxic. Like I said before, I liked how "Misery Business" had a spiteful talking-to-someone-but-also-spitting-in-their-face vibe, and I pulled inspiration from that for the flow of the verses in "Rainwalk."
BV: Your first (non-demo) single came out on March 13, which was right around the time the country began going into lockdown. It must be tough to be just getting your band off the ground in a time where touring doesn't exist. How have you been adjusting your approach to band life?
Erich: Interacting with people and fans online as much as we can. Even though we only have a few songs up and not that much content, people are still discovering us somehow haha.
Ashrita: It’s kind of wild, we announced the single release in the midst of a lot of chaos. We had planned our first tour for March 13th-17th, and we cancelled it the day before - it was like, “Listen to our song, but also here are these resources that you can (maybe) trust about what’s happening I think? Also we’re cancelling our tour because it’s not safe!” It wasn’t a great start, but it was a cool opportunity to do something different - I would just randomly message people who liked similar bands a link to "On Thin Ice," asking them to add it to their playlists if they liked it. It’s cool, we were able to steadily grow like that, just by sharing it online with people who we thought might be into it, learning how to put together press materials DIY, and getting more into music blogs and podcasts. Most of the people who listen to us haven’t seen us live which is kind of wild! We’re just trying our best.
Paul: Before the pandemic, we’d just show up and really just go with the flow of what we were feeling that day, how much we wanted to play, etc. It was fun and relaxing but we never really put a lot of time into nitpicking the things that could make us sound better. With the pandemic disrupting every band’s natural flow, we had to start organizing our practices in a way that resulted in a better-sounding Pinkshift. At least at that point, we wanted to take more control of our sound since we couldn’t control anything else that was happening in the world lol.
BV: In March, you said an EP was coming in the summer. Obviously summer came and went -- what are your plans for a proper EP (or full-length album) at this point?
Ashrita: I think with the pandemic, a lot of plans went out the window. Everyone was in a weird headspace, and with social distancing and constant existential uncertainty it was really hard to commit to recording all of these songs and putting them out according to a timeline. We do have the material written, and there are plans to release the songs in entirety (hopefully sooner rather than later). But given how everything is up in the air, we’ve been taking our releases a little slower than we had originally planned.
BV: In general, what do you hope that listeners take away from Pinkshift?
Erich: Just a couple a kids havin’ fun.
Myron: I want people to know that ANYONE can cook.
Ashrita: We’re just doing this for fun and so should you!!
Paul: boom smash crunch