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An interview with Pinkwash / by Beck Levy

Pinkwash is a two-piece punk band from Philadelphia, PA and Washington, DC. It’s tempting to categorize Pinkwash using terms like post-hardcore and math-rock, but those sterile labels don’t do justice to their raw, menacing, anguished sound.

Where I come from, you can’t talk about Pinkwash without talking about another band, one that’s been broken up for about five years and only ever put out a tape: Ingrid.

The first show my old band Turboslut ever really slayed was with Ingrid. It was our homecoming show after our first tour in 2007. Our engine had seized earlier in the day in York, PA, so we ditched it there and road in the freezing bed of a pickup truck just so we could make it. We pulled up in front of DC house venue Girl Cave just in time, lurched through the door to a quiet band and packed living room. We arrived to a very civilized sight: everyone seated on the floor or on the couches. My dad, stepmom, and sister were there. I remember a room turning to us and smiling. I was home.

In deference to our van ordeal, Ingrid let us play last. I thawed to their set. They were loud and tight and everything I wanted from music. I survived adolescence with Nirvana. They sounded like Nirvana. I had just gotten into Karp. They sounded like Karp. But mostly what they sounded like was Joey and Ashley: two people whose apparent shyness belied the roar of their music, two people I’d admired from afar. The harsh, frenzied sounds they made together soothed my nerves. When we played, I lost myself in a set for the first time.

I was booking a lot of shows then, often at the Girl Cave, where Ashley lived. I had a very specific framework for how I liked that to go down: Mixed bills, only bands I liked, only bands where the crowds would overlap and thus cumulatively increase the draw for each. Every band would get fed Frito pie, a Maryland delicacy; the house got four rolls of toilet paper and, if there was enough door money, some cash for utilities as well. I wanted to build a “sustainable scene,” which is hilarious, because, now, the first word that comes to mind when I think of those times is "unsustainable." Everyone I knew was maintaining an impossible sleep, work, food, mental health, relationship, drug regimen. Everyone I knew was taking on more than they could handle.

I put Ingrid on every bill I could, and they churned out intense, solid sets, but I could see the cracks. After a set I told Joey they were amazing and he shook his head and walked away crying, because every moment at a show was a moment he wasn't with his terminally ill mother, and he didn't know how to live because no one ever explains this part of life.

I felt guilty, booking them, but because they were my favorite band, I kept asking them to play. I still didn't know Ashley or Joey that well. Joey was busy taking care of his mom and I was busy living in a three bedroom house with seven people, coercing my bandmates into touring and battling the big sad. We didn’t hang out, but nonetheless built a friendship out of shared vulnerabilities and house shows. I observed the pain and discomfort that radiated from him and tried to approach him when I felt welcome and hug him when it seemed OK. Joey was a constant reminder of what is real. My grandmother was dying of cancer at the time. I didn’t have as active a role in her caretaking as Joey did in his mother’s, but we had some common ground and talked about it a few times.

This horror, maybe you know it: Within each of us is the potential for cells to rebel and for us to enter an accelerated living death. People have an aversion to discussing the politics and economics of cancer. It is uncouth. But when you're watching cancer eat your mother and you know the reality of expensive drugs, and you know the money goes to pharmaceutical companies that have more of a financial stake in treatment than a cure, and the entire cultural narrative of the disease is an infantilized, positive, survivor culture, the taboo of acknowledging the politics can be suffocating.

After Ingrid, Ashley played drums with another favorite band, Des Ark, contributing primal percussion to one of my favorite phases of that band. I didn't follow Joey's subsequent project, Hume, too closely. I think there were possibly 12 people in that band and they relocated to different cities together. Joey went to school, thought about becoming a music therapist. He told me about it, said he would go into the ICU or the hospice and sit down and improvise guitar around the nonstop cacophony of the place, work with the sounds, not try to disguise them, but play with them and respond to them. He provided sweet sounds to frame the regimented machine noises of keeping people alive, monitoring. I could see how he would be good at that.

I was floored the first time I even heard about Pinkwash. “It's Ingrid again and Joey is actually calling it Pinkwash,” I thought. “He actually named his band after the monster of capital that sought to keep his mother — seeks to keep us all — from leading dignified lives, dying dignified deaths.

Then I finally heard Pinkwash and beheld Ingrid distilled: furious, uncompromising, brutally raw, the sound of the horror of grief, of loving anyone trapped in a body, of the delirious truces you make with yourself in order to continue living. Now when Pinkwash plays, Joey doesn't have to be anywhere else he is supposed to be. Joey and Ashley are stuck on earth with the rest of us. As Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “In the sick organism, the healthy cell is doomed.”

Beck Levy: Pinkwash basics – who plays what? What other bands have y'all been in?

Joey Doubek: Hi! I play guitar and yell and Ashley plays drums. Live we'll both trigger samples.

I played drums in a band called Hume from DC/Baltimore for three years. Before that, Ashley and I were playing as Ingrid. And before that we were in a band called Mass Movement of the Moth. Taylor from Priests calls Pinkwash "Ingrid 2.0" which I hope is an improvement.

Ashley Arnwine: The other bands of note that I would consider including would be Des Ark, Layers/Quake, and Birth Noise.

What are your upcoming plans and releases?

JD: We just finished recording a 7" in August which will be out on Sister Polygon probably by December or so. I'm so excited about it! We'll also be putting out a full length record with Don Giovanni next year which we're equally excited about!

When did you start playing together again, at what point did it become clear that the project would be Pinkwash?

AA: Joey and I started playing together again in 2013 after he moved to Philly into a house that I was living in. We built a practice space in our basement so we could play together whenever we wanted. Its pretty soundproof and our housemates rule and are really supportive of us practicing all the time. We kind of started playing some Ingrid songs at first but we talked about it being something different and eventually worked towards all new and different songs. Joey thought of the name Pinkwash and I really liked it a lot.

In many ways it seems Pinkwash songs reflect on what life was like during Ingrid. Was that automatic, intentional, or some combination? At what point did it become apparent that was happening, and what was that realization like?

JD: While I like to think that Pinkwash is much different, a product of Ashley and I playing together again with the same intensity provides a lot of musical similarities - so automatic. As for the lyrical content, most of the songs are me processing my 14 months as the primary caregiver to my mom who was dying of breast cancer, which all happened while Ingrid was playing. It's like continuing the process of an overarching grief cycle: long after acceptance comes extreme bitterness, which is an easier state to be in to write angry, loud music. Intentional - I mean the band's name is Pinkwash, afterall.

For readers who are not savvy to the term “Pinkwashing,” will you explain it?

AA: Pinkwashing can mean a couple of different things. It's often used to describe the act of companies or institutions putting a pink ribbon on or changing the color of consumer goods (or objects, or ads, etc.) to pink in order to, supposedly, raise awareness of breast cancer and money for its treatment. This tactic is extremely problematic for so many reasons though and has been shown to actually do more harm than good for those who suffer from the disease. It's totally unregulated and any company can decide to put a pink ribbon on something and claim to "donate a percentage of the proceeds to breast cancer research or treatment programs" but you often never know which (if any) organization is actually receiving money or what specifically it is actually being used for. Amongst all of the other ways in which the use of this tactic is harmful by distracting people from real issues, promoting marginalization and objectification, making people dumber, and playing a stupid part in destroying the universe, its also true that even some of the very products marketed this way, like perfume and bath products, have gross shit in them that have even been linked to cancer or are created using processes that expose those people making them to harmful chemicals that can cause cancer.

Pinkwashing can also refer to the appropriation of LGBTQ rights culture/movements by companies, institutions, or parties in order to make it seem like they are acting in solidarity with them to win support from those groups, make a profit, or draw attention away from other issues that they want to cover up.

Fuck capitalism. What a mess.

I've had the pleasure of knowing you both for the better part of the last decade. To me the music you make together feels and sounds like a natural extension of your friendship. I know that you've both played music under a wide variety of circumstances - what have you learned about the relationship of friendship to the creative process?

AA: Yeah we have both definitely played music under a wide variety of circumstances, and speaking from my experience overall, the main thing that I have learned about the relationship of friendship to the creative process is that it is extremely powerful in an unpredictable way. In a lot of situations, especially when you are first beginning to collaborate with someone, you probably don't know them as well as you might think you do, and over the course of working together you naturally learn more about each other, etc. This then leads to an infinite variety of different outputs, some good and some bad for an infinity of reasons. So basically, the universe. But its the friendship that impacts the final product, you know? Undoubtedly.

In terms of Joey and I's friendship in relation to our band, I would say that it feels essential to what we do. At this point we have been playing music together for almost 10 years. We are comfortable working with each other and we have a shared vision that cultivates itself as we create more things together. We've learned how to predict and/or adapt to each other's ideas and its pretty awesome and fun and intense and so many other things.

Ashley, you're a dope visual artist whose aesthetic was a huge influence on a certain sector of DC punk while I was booking shows. What is the relationship of your visual art to your music? Does it impact the way you think of live performances at all? Also, you build and fix amps and cabs for a living. Tell me about that, and your journey in learning those skills, and how it has affected your musicianship.

AA: With the exception of the occasional show flyer or, more recently, collaborating with Joey on our tape art, I actually don't really spend a whole lot of time on visual art these days. So yeah, I guess, it doesn't play that much of a role in the process of creating and performing music for me right now.

I kind of attribute this decline in visual art to my focus on learning woodworking skills and eventually starting to design and build guitar and bass cabinets with my friend Brandon Sheppard in my spare time. I've always kind of been interested in building things but it really started when I got a job working in a wood shop for a furniture designer here in Philly. Over the course of the 2 years that I worked there I got the opportunity to learn a lot about the production and finishing of fine furniture and I began to build up my own personal shop in the basement of my house to work on my own projects. Now I'm building shit all the time down there, from bass and guitar cabs, to picture frames, to retail shelving units for local businesses…it's awesome. All of a sudden I have enough experience that I'm able to take on regular projects and make money doing it and getting to work with my hands and make cool gear for my friends. This kind of work, where it is a physical process with a physical result, is really appealing to me. I think it fulfills the same needs as visual art once did for me, and now I've found something that I'm try interested and passionate about (alongside playing drums and writing and performing music). These all are the things that occupy my creative focus at the moment, and they definitely overlap in a lot of ways. I think its true that the more skills you learn and get better at, the stronger all those skills get together and separately.

Ashley and some of her recent work.

Pinkwash has a strong aesthetic component (which I’m honored to contribute with your upcoming Sister Polygon 7”). You have a music video for one of your songs, which you made yourself.

JD: The song, "Mattress,” for which I made a video, is about the pains my mother faced lying in bed all day. I don't really want to elaborate on the lyrics more than that. I found a video online from the '50s about the prevention of spreading of disease and infection in hospitals which just so happens to have some very amazing animation. I tried to move the clips around to give it a sort of narrative to the song and this is what I ended up with. I think they fit together fairly well and the animation although haunting is quite beautiful.

Joey, particularly given the personal nature of Pinkwash’s content, what role does your friendship with Ashley play for you?

JD: Our friendship has been integral to Pinkwash. I have felt more comfortable expressing myself in this band than any prior. Ashley and I have seen each other go through so much over the years - she even played guitar in a Joni Mitchell song at my mom's funeral. Although the two of us don't spend very much time talking about our feelings with each other, it all pretty much floods out when we play music because we are both very emotional players. So it all works very swimmingly and I am so happy about it.

You just finished an East Coast and Midwest tour this October. How was that?

JD: We just finished up last night at Death By Audio in Brooklyn playing with Girlpool, Slutever, and Soupcans. Amazing show and such a nice ending to a lovely first tour. We had so much fun at all our shows, but some favorites were DC/Philly/NYC with Pygmy Lush whom I haven't seen play a heavy set (they sometimes play soft folky sets instead of a 5-piece raucous punk set) in 4 or 5 years. Providence with Skimask was amazing; Chicago was amazingly hectic but a great set; Cincinnati with Tweens was so much fun; Richmond ruled and so does the band New Turks. I also had a blast sharing a few dates with Ought from Montreal - great band and great people.

AA: I loved traveling with Joey and it only got better once we met up with our friend Amy Breesman in Chicago. She came along to hang out and help out with gear and merch and stuff and also took so many awesome photos! It was seriously probably the most fun and relaxed tour I've ever done start to finish! All the bands Joey mentioned were amazing. I also loved playing with Chomp in Cleveland, Glazer in New Brunswick, and Tomboy in Boston.

What was touring during breast cancer awareness month like?

JD: I didn't give much thought to touring during breast cancer awareness month until I received some emails from my aunt and brother (a FRACKING company has started using pink drill bits!). We shared our anger and frustration together over it. I didn't see anything too flabbergasting on the road besides some toxic energy drinks at Wawa plastered with pink ribbons. I do remember when I was on tour three years ago with my old band we drove through a small town outside of Omaha where an entire block was plastered with pink decor to um...celebrate the month. The bars offered "mugs for jugs" but I remember every store window displaying some slogan that was equally offensive.

AA: It was definitely weird to realize that we were traveling during breast cancer awareness month but besides what Joey said it didn't really come up much specifically during our shows.

I have serious ambivalence about whether or not music can be political, or specifically, how the act of playing music can be political. I also vacillate between a muted, jaded despair at the soullessness of the majority of bands I encounter, and a fierce, all-consuming belief in the importance of punk rock. For me, Pinkwash is a band that reinvigorated my faith in punk (rather, a particular kind of punk made by high-caliber humans such as yourselves). What are your thoughts on music as political action or political catharsis?

JD: Well first, being responsible for renewing your faith in a form of punk seems like a LOT of pressure, so let's just say nü metal instead, yeah? For me, there seem to be two ways I enjoy live music. In one, I'm fully confronted by the performance; the intensity of the sound (not specific to volume), the intentions of the performers, the sense of meaning to the performance. In the other, I am able to get lost in a performance. This isn't to say that one is shallow and one deep, because in so many cases in which I am really moved by a performance it's a combination of the two. I have seen some intensely political bands incapable of moving anyone and some really introverted drone projects be intensely thought provoking and cathartic.

With Pinkwash the most I hope for is if it moves a single person at any given show. Ashley and I are very passionate about performing and try to waste ourselves every time we play together. I don't say much when we play live and we don't present an agenda farther than our band name and lyrics, but Ashley and I are political people. This doesn't necessarily answer your question, but without passion you can't put forth anything political.

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