Interview: Pink City
Last year, I got an interesting Christmas present: International noise rock collaboration Pink City released Thinning a snippet of the duo’s still up-and-coming album, Killing All The Right People. The band, a joint effort by Mike Martin and Jake Healy, isn’t well known but they’ve become an important part of my musical diet—their first song, “Wrung,” made a big impression on me when it was released.
After seeing Gnaw Their Tongues at California Deathfest,listening to new material by Crowhurst, and reading so much about Pharmakon, I have a sneaking suspicion that electronic noise musicians are going to begin working at metal festivals with metal bands more and more. I absolutely feel that Pink City deserve to be mentioned alongside those names.
You said you don't really reach out to the press very much, is there any particular reason why that is?
Mike: We haven't really reached out to people in a while essentially because we thought there wasn't much interest, and because we don't have the album finished yet. Pretty simple, really.
Jake: We’re kind of self-sustained and very lazy. When we release something on Bandcamp anyone who has bought music from us will get an email from the site and usually that’ll include a few blogs and stuff that are interested in us, we figure anyone interested in our type of music will find it eventually.
How did you and Jake hook up as musicians together, since you're collaborating across continents? I'd love an origin story.
Mike: This is as mundane as it gets, really. We met on a message board, talked over a while, became friendly and decided to record a song together. It was a cover of "Shitbeard" by the Cows. Sounded great when we finished it, so we thought, "hey, why not do more of this…" and then we decided to write our own songs, and it kind of spiraled from there.
Jake: Our original intention was to do a covers EP, that turned into an EP of our own stuff, then that became an album.
Where did the name Pink City come from?
Mike: A list of band names… I think I'd subliminally stolen it from a Xiu Xiu song, but it seemed pretty evocative. People always seem to think it's suggestive of porn, or genitalia. It has nothing to do with that. If I had to suggest what it was I would say it's a mind.
Jake: I just agreed with it because it seemed the complete opposite of what we sounded like, and that’s always the sort of vibe we’ve had, kinda going against expectations and traditions.
I always liked the bit on your Facebook page that reads "General Manager: You're funny. Booking Agent: You're not funny." What role does humor have in your project, in the music and outside of it?
Mike: There isn't much of a role. For me, anyway. I wish there was more at times, honestly. We do often get a kick out of trying to push it to the limit and there are occasionally buried traces of slight humor (calling the last song on Designing Women "Happy Days" is an example) but overall it's not that funny. And for the record, Jake and I had never heard of the TV show before I called it Designing Women. Everyone thought that was us trying to be funny, so…
Jake: I have to disagree with Mike here, because from my perspective I find recording a bunch of the stuff I’ve written hilarious! I always like to see how far I can push the extremes of what we do, by making feedback as unbearable as possible, or just record a song with a loop and not much else just to see what Mike can come up with to put over it, or to see if people can find anything to like in there.
It started off as just you and Jake, but now Pink City seems like more of a full-scale band. Why do that if you're not going to play live?
Mike: Our one live performance thus far included members of the great bands Tyranny Is Tyranny and Blacks.
Jake: Both of those bands are worth everyone’s time, particularly Blacks who were criminally ignored when they were around.
I gather that, being independent and digital-only, you don't have too much contact with your listeners. Given what you know, however, what do you imagine that your audience is like? I'm asking because I'm writing for you on a heavy metal website and while your sound isn't exactly "metal," there's a lot of things for metalheads to like in your music. The big drum sound, the screaming, etc. You even did a split with Great Falls from Seattle, who are a metal band.
Mike: We don't know that much, but people seem to like us in Europe. There is a French radio station which has often played our music, for some reason.
Great Falls are pretty goddamn awesome and I'm glad they put up with our side of the split taking so long.Accidents Grotesque is a monstrous record.
Jake: I like to think we attract people similar to us really. The kind of people who like to hunt through blogs and stuff looking for the next band to give them that jolt of excitement. It’s how Mike and I bonded really, through a love of undiscovered gems which were noisy as fuck. As long as people get excited by us because they like our music and not because we’re some obscure noise thing I’m happy.
What does extreme music mean to you, what's the appeal?
Mike: Not to sound more ridiculous than I already have, but some emotions can only be dealt with through that kind of expression. Call it a coping method.
Jake: I’ve always liked artists and people who push things if just a little bit.
When I first heard Pink City, Designing Women hadn't exactly been released, but you could listen to "Wrung," and that song really got under my skin as what seemed to be a really virulent breakup song. Can you tell me about "Wrung," as in where your headspace was, and why put it first on the album, etc?
Mike: "Wrung" is not a breakup song at all.
"Wrung" was the first song we ever recorded as Pink City together. Jake wrote that one musically (we generally each write about half of the songs musically by ourselves; I write all the lyrics) and we just knew immediately that it was the opener.
Jake: I wrote and recorded ‘Wrung’ on Christmas Day 2010. I can’t remember the details but I remember just having a few hours to do something so I did that and “Family Therapy,” which Mike had written a few months before. I guess I must have been angry about something but I think it was an okay Christmas really. I just recorded the drum beats and improvised everything on top of it, I used a really old and beat up Yamaha guitar to get the feedback squeals and then I beat the shit out of that guitar to get the “solo” towards the end of “Family Therapy.” Then I probably ate some turkey and pulled some crackers.
Why did you not publish your lyrics, but make them available via email? Something about direct contact?
Mike: That was something I did back when Designing Women came out. I think Lester Bangs once said that publishing lyrics was the most impersonal thing you could do, so I didn't at first. But then I did end up posting them, so it didn't seem to make much of a difference. Almost no one asked, if you were wondering.
You made it a point to say that Designing Women was made with free software, is there something special about available tools which means something particular to you?
Mike: No, it's just what we had! We just wanted to make a good record, and we couldn't really get into studios much at all, and we recorded it when we could. And we were proud of how the album sounded, considering what we were using. So I guess we kind of boasted about it.
Jake: Considering the limitations we had, it came out sounding pretty massive.
The Pink City sound has proven pretty malleable over the years. A lot of the material you've done since Designing Women has been more laid back, more beautiful. Was that conscious, or is the headspace different? What gives?
Mike: Sort of conscious. I feel like a lot of the less intense material comes from our postpunk and less noisily experimental influences showing through. Some of it is also because I'm in a better place emotionally than I was when we started. So put it all together and there you go, really.
Jake: It’s just a matter of trying different things, we went so far in one direction for Designing Women anything similar to that we’ve tried since has probably not come out so good for us. These days I’m a little bit bored of that set up anyway, and a lot of our newer songs is more about textures than clangy riffs. We’ve always just made an effort to make music that excites us both for whatever reason, usually just how weird something is to us.
Why drop “Thinning” on Christmas Day? You guys don't strike me as particularly festive.
Mike: It's been a Pink City tradition to do something of some sort on Christmas Day. This has been in place since we started recording.
Jake: As noted above, I enjoy pulling a cracker here and there and am happy to struggle through turkey. I expected the release to go under the radar a bit as I don’t usually bother with the internet on Christmas because you just see the same messages being posted over and over, but it seemed to make a lot of people’s days which is hilarious. Imagine playing that for the family!
Your art style has changed as well. “Thinning” and “Virgins” have this very particular aesthetic that is separate from the Designing Women-era material. Can you unpack that for me?
Mike: Killing All The Right People and the attendant artwork are meant to fit together. The album - at least initially - was inspired by a dangerously unhealthy kind of suburban thought process and those pictures were meant to capture that. I designed them and kind of wanted it to look like the sheen on melted candy or mystery meat. That explains the ridiculous, saturated pastels. I also believed it was an amusing contrast to the music inside, which maybe testifies to our fairly buried sense of humor.
Jake: Yeah, it’s the same sort of idea as naming the band Pink City in the first place. Although I must admit a lot of people, and I’m inclined to agree, have talked about the haunting nature of some of those pictures. We’ve always been into capturing the mundane and twisting it a bit, the back cover of ‘Wrung’ used a picture this old industrial estate by my parent’s house in Wales.
You've stayed active and pretty prolific, but Killing All The Right People isn't out yet. Where is that project at in its life cycle?
Mike: It'll come out this year. Cross my heart. I promise. One reason it's been delayed for so long is because we've both been working on performing with other projects where we live - I have a band called Coordinated Suicides where I sing and play guitar, as well as a solo project and other bands, and Jake has a band called New Cowboy Builders where he sings and plays guitar. So we've both kept busy, but mostly it's been my fault for a variety of reasons that the album's been delayed. But I will say: apartment living just isn't conducive to this kind of screaming, you know?
Jake: We really have taken our time and at times it can be very frustrating, but we want to do something that is really different and we’ve ended up thinking about it more than anything else. I’d say it’s about 60% done, and most of what has to be done now are kinda tedious tasks so we’ll end up waiting until it’s exciting for us again.
Are there any particular advantages or disadvantages to recording independently, in relative anonymity?
Mike: The chief advantage and disadvantage is that we can take as much time as we want. This means that we get really good material that satisfies us but also means we've taken years between the first and second record.
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