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Artists of Color: Y’all Heard of Pinkshift?

If you’re either shamelessly still in your pop-punk “phase” or from the DMV—that’s DC, Maryland, and Virginia for y’all outside folk—chances are you’ve heard of Pinkshift. This is for those who’ve never heard of Pinkshift. This is for those who are missing out.

Pinkshift is a punk rock outfit that’s feverishly putting Baltimore, Maryland back on the scene. Comprised of Ashrita Kumar singing a fiery alto, Paul Vallejo playing perfectly crafted guitar licks, Myron Houngbedji powerfully pounding away on the drums, and Erich Weinroth steadily giving us the groove, Pinkshift certainly leaves a lasting impression.  

On Friday, April 2, the quartet dropped their final single, “Mars,” from their debut EP, “Saccharine.” You know I had to talk to them.

From left to right: Erich Weinroth, Ashrita Kumar, Paul Vallejo, and Myron Houngbedji. (Photo by Maria Grimmet)

So let’s start with the exciting news, the new EP! Where did the name come from? What can fans expect from this and what can people who have never heard your music expect?

Ashrita Kumar: We were actually debating the EP name for the longest time but came up with “Saccharine” while we were all together brainstorming last month. These songs were written at completely different points in our evolution to what we are as a band today. Our old band name was “Sugar Crisis” before we even knew we were a band, and we wanted to pay homage to the history of these songs while still being true to our growth. This EP is the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. We’re really excited to evolve into our next batch of ideas that we’ve been growing into this year!

Y’all also just dropped a new single, “Mars.” I love this song because it perfectly depicts the controlled chaos that is the sound of your combined talents. How do you even begin writing something like that with so many moving parts?

Paul Vallejo: It was actually just Ashrita and I who first wrote the demo version as Sugar Crisis! Rewriting it was a bit tough at first because we were really used to playing and hearing the original version, but [our] songwriting has changed from 2018—when it was written—to 2021. This recording of “Mars” has the input and influences of both Erich and Myron. I believe this version stayed true to the original but overall feels a lot bigger and more “Pinkshift” because everyone’s a part of it. Although this song didn’t require too much songwriting because we were building it off of a demo, some of the other material we’re working on definitely feels…chaotic, but in the best way. They’ve started with the four of us in a room together just feeling out what kicks the most ass to us. 

How has the pandemic affected this songwriting? I know for some artists it was refreshing and for others it was a creative black hole. 

AK: It made it harder to collaborate in the beginning, because we generally like to write together. But further into the pandemic, our lives became a little more stable as this became the new normal. So we started weekly practices and writing while staying safe. The large gap in time between our pre-pandemic writing and our post-pandemic writing has been cool to navigate, especially through all four members collaborating more equally, and we’re excited to realize that shift in the coming year. 

Ashrita, in “Mars,” you sing “I’m not sure how long you’ll last up here. Pretty boy, what are we to do with you?” What would you tell your younger self to do with an otherwise useless pretty boy?

AK: (Laughs) DROP HIM!

Edgy Pinkshift. (Photo by Leigh Ann Rodgers)

I heard that. You’re a fairly new band, but you’re rising in popularity. How did y’all start out in the first place? How does it feel to be appreciated by the masses and DMV legends like Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low? 

Erich Weinroth: It’s so crazy seeing how many new and different people are discovering us every day and loving our music. Even popular bands and artists that we never would have thought would find us have listened to our music. Like Alex (Gaskarth), Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy, Mannequin Pussy, Chris #2 from Anti-Flag, and probably a lot more we don’t even know about…

PV: Damn, that was wild when Alex from All Time Low and Dan and Josh from The Wonder Years shouted us out. Like many others out there, those bands were huge for me growing up, so the fact that they took some time to listen was really awesome.

Myron Houngbedji: We started in college when Ash and Paul found me playing drums and wanted to jam. Fast forward one year, and we’re playing local shows in Baltimore with bass tracks. So we set out to find a human bassist and our search led us to Mr. Erich.

AK: We started out as a band to have fun! And we’re still having fun! It’s super sick that people have started to listen to us and support us, including the famous ones! It’s exciting to think about having fun with Pinkshift for a little while longer than we expected to. (Laughs)

Erich, I know you through Cinema Hearts, a dream-pop project of your older sister and Miss Mountain Laurel, Caroline Weinroth. We actually played a show together years ago at Empire. How has that shift in genre been for you? Did the rest of you have previous projects? How does Pinkshift compare?

EW: Wow, I remember playing that show, it was probably our second one. Playing in Pinkshift has been more enjoyable for me; the music is more fun to play, draws more influence from what I listen to, and I can relate with my bandmates more. We had no previous projects before Cinema Hearts, Caroline is still playing and is planning to release new music soon. I have a small punk band called Quick ‘o’ Clock that’s on hiatus, but now I’m all Pinkshift.

Other than just being an awesome band, what do you attribute your success to?

EW: Our delightful music, Reddit, and the youths.

MH: Dropping the right song at the right time probably helped.

PV: My friend Katie who let us film the “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you” music video in her empty house. She’s the OG backbone of Pinkshift morale.

AK: I attribute our success to the people who support us. What wild folks, they’re so kind. 

Happy Pinkshift. (Photo by Leigh Ann Rodgers)

A lot of people describe your sound as “riot grrl,” but this term can be used to describe just about any band with a female vocalist. What does riot grrl mean to you? What does Pinkshift mean to you? What do you want it to mean?

AK: It’s a weird space for sure, but I think the modern riot grrrl revival is—I hope—branching further from what 90’s riot grrrl used to be: mostly white women, pretty exclusionary of non-woman identities. To me, riot grrrl represents a sect of punk music and angry rock that is specifically radical because of the people who play it. I know punk was never meant to be like this, but punk has become a space that is so overrun with cishet white guys that it feels like a stretch to reclaim for me, personally.

To me, riot grrrl is pretty much punk with an emphasis on representing minorities, more specifically gender minorities. In the 90s, that manifested as women, but to me, now that represents anyone who’s in this music space that “doesn’t look like they should be.” And yeah, I would think of Pinkshift like that. Taking up this space and playing our own version of punk rock in the modern era of this genre, when it has been overrun with white guys for so long, feels radical. I’m not sure if riot grrrl is the best way to describe us, but I could totally see how someone might describe us as such, and I’d be proud of that.

When most people think of punk rock, they think of white men. What gave you the inspiration or courage to prove that ahistorical concept wrong? Have you always known this is what you want to do? 

MH: I was inspired by meeting Paul and Ashrita for the first time and having them invite me to join their band. I saw their flyers beforehand—which I at first ignored—and expected white dudes, but I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t really consider doing stuff like this when I was younger because I thought I wouldn’t fit in or I thought I’d be considered “not Black” or something. 

AK: Oh my god, I didn’t know you thought we were white dudes, but that totally makes sense since we gave no context as to who we were. I didn’t consider it when I was younger because I just felt like it wasn’t for me. Like, “Indian girls don’t do this.” But when Paul found me and we started writing together for Sugar Crisis, it was super fun, and I wanted to keep going. 

You released “On Thin Ice” the same day the global pandemic was announced. What do you hope will happen to the world when “Saccharine” drops? Where do you see Pinkshift in this?

EW: “CDC announces COVID no longer exists.”

PV: I hope everyone in the world downloads and listens to Saccharine non-stop until Tuesday.

MH: I want people to listen to the EP and show their mommies. 

AK: I know the world generally sucks, but it would be really cool if it didn’t suck more for like, a couple of days following the release. I hope that something worse doesn’t happen and that people can find “Saccharine” to be a little part of their day that they enjoy!

Check out Pinkshift’s debut EP, “Saccharine,” now!

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