Break In Case Of Emergency: Veronica Torres On Pill’s Politically-Charged Debut Convenience + “100% Cute” Premiere
The first time I heard Veronica Torres I thought she sings like there’s an emergency. It wasn’t until later, on my third or so listen through Pill’s debut album Convenience that I realized–there is. If you’re paying attention to the state of things in American culture right now, emergency–or crisis–is an apt descriptor. From the ascendance of a bigoted xenophobe as a viable political candidate, the struggle for women’s access to birth control and abortions, the attacks on the LGBT community via archaic, intolerable laws, the prevalence of cold-blooded gun violence, and the glaring specters of rape culture and targeted police attacks against the African American community… America isn’t doing so well. Into that flaming heap of trauma and despair bursts Pill, a Brooklyn post-punk quartet helmed by Torres and her firehose voice.
After coming to New York for college–to study photography at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts–she stuck around the city and got involved with the thriving DIY music scene in Brooklyn. Torres began jamming with one of Pill’s other members Andrew Spaulding when he was teaching her how to play drums for another band, and eventually, the two of them broke off on their own and Spaulding proposed that she sing. The singing erupts out of her, volcanic and fiery, in disaffected, sarcastic, coy, mournful and angry tones; but for all the molten power of her voice, singing is something she has only just begun to do.
“I was like “Me… sing?” Torres said of her initial reaction to her current bandmate Andrew Spaulding’s suggestion, laughing and lighting another blue American Spirits while we sit on her apartment’s ample back porch. “My singing is kind of just what came out–that’s how my low voice sounds. I think sometimes people will draw comparisons, or I’ll get grouped together with other female musicians in ways where, if I was a man, that comparison wouldn’t be there.”
Torres currently lives in Bushwick near the Myrtle Broadway JMZ line, just around the corner from Market Hotel, the DIY venue and artist haven that drew her to move to the area several years ago. She credits the women she met through that venue and other flourishing artistic spaces in the neighborhood for really sparking her increased interest in making music herself.
“My friend Madison and I moved out here a couple years ago when Market Hotel was bursting at the seams and wonderful,” she said of Bushwick. “I met so many other people there and a lot of really amazing women that were making music. They’re all incredible musicians and so socially and politically active that they inspired me.”
Of course, it isn’t just the tone of her voice that’s important; the lyrics to Pill songs are unflinching even as they dig into topics like abortion, sexual fetishes and sexual harassment, or America’s violent capitalistic underpinnings. Their initial self-titled EP, which came out March 2015 via Dull Tools, and last fall’s seven-inch “Hot Glue” backed with “A.Y.I.M.?” via Mexican Summer, were geared more toward gender roles and relationship dynamics, but Convenience widens the scope to address politics on a deeper level.
If anything, Pill’s songs prove how inextricably linked the political and the personal are; despite addressing wider themes the tracks remain intimate and idiosyncratic. Pill drown any assumption that a band concerned with these themes be boring or stuffy in a wail of guitar noise, surging percussion and unstoppable saxophone. For a sample of the band’s distinctive, seething chemistry, listen to the premiere of “100% Cute” below.
Over a honking saxophone, jagged surges of guitar and a clatter of drums, Torres examines the multiple levels of desire and connection that fuel a relationship’s internal tension and fulfillment. It also reveals them at their most noisy and inventive–the defining feature of Pill is their ability to whip a song into a frenzy in a mere minute and a half or so.
Perhaps the fluid roles in the band are part of what makes that possible; two of the members of post-punk four piece play three or four instruments each (Andrew Spaulding and Jonathan Campolo), including some noise-geared inventions they rigged up themselves. Torres plays the bass while acting as de facto frontwoman, delivering lead vocals like her words themselves will alter the status quo with their fury. And, last but not least, there’s Benjamin Jaffe, a saxophonist in the most promising post-punk quartet this city has seen in more than a decade. Playing brass in an indie rock band is still a definitive and compelling act–and Jaffe’s reeling saxophone solos often push the songs into hyperdrive, ramping up the melodies until the edges bleed out into nothing.
Chris Pickering from Future Punx spotted the band in their earliest incarnation–attending three shows in one week as legend has it–and urged them to record the debut EP that was then released on Dull Tools, the independent label he and Andrew Savage (of Parquet Courts) run together. A friend, Andy Chugg of Pop. 1280, recorded the EP for them at a very low budget location–another friend’s house. Circumstances were a bit different for the recording of Convenience; after Mexican Summer signed the band they began working on their full-length at the label’s Kemado studios, and released that seven-inch through the label last fall in the interim. The resulting album will come out later this summer, in mid-August, and it hones their unrelenting squall to a fine, piercing point.
Here at the magazine we’ve been fans of Pill since last year when we named them one of the 8 NYC Bands You Need To Hear, and something that continues to set them apart from the plethora of other bands in this city is their dedication to tackling challenging subject matter. While Torres writes most of the lyrics for the songs, the sentiments are shared and discussed by all the members.
“I think by having me in the group they knew it was going to be like this,” she said. “I can get pretty fiery. But it’s definitely a collective feeling. All of the guys are definitely super supportive of women, the LGBQT community, everything. Though I write the lyrics I bounce a lot off them. We’re all very thoughtful people, and especially writing the new album we all wrote little pieces and meditated on what we wanted to include.”
Pill has only been around for the past two years or so, but for Torres, in some ways the music is just another creative outlet for the ideas and art she has already been putting into the world. For her day job she works at the Condé Nast photo studio, and was a visual artist for years before she began playing in a band.
“I kind of think of it as an extension of me,” she said. “I love making stuff, I take photos, I draw, I do ceramics. I love riot grrl and that entire movement and women that are loud. So much of what they were saying still rings true. It’s been what, 30 years? It’s still the same shit. I’m outspoken and that to me is a huge inspiration.I just need to make stuff. And I feel like everything is of the same style.”
That style shows up in full force on the new record, particularly, a song called “Fetish Queen” addresses sexual desire and kink as something powerful and desirable that women can pursue on their own terms and be in control of, instead of being objectified or forced into. “I want to be your fetish queen / Think of me on my knees,” she sings on the track, claiming the role for herself as bursts of saxophone trail after her angular alto like a tail on a comet.
“I think sometimes women are taught to hide their sexuality,” she said. “Everyone wants to have control of their environment and there’s a healthy way that can be explored. But it’s hard for women to talk about because there’s so much exploitation of the female bodies–it can be hard to verbalize that you want that, and then have other people say ‘How dare you? We’ve struggled so hard for these rights.’ But I think it’s healthy and normal.”
Another track, “Medicine,” is the album’s first single, and explores medication and procrastination over a bass-driven lament. “My Rights,” dissects the legislation and stigma around abortion and other forms of birth control in a hurricane of noise, and “Speaking Up” directly addresses sexual harassment in the workplace and the stigma that women still face even reporting that kind of behavior. One of the album’s most compelling and difficult listens, though, is “Dead Boys,” a track mourns the way masculinity and imperialism feed into a toxic cycle of death and destruction. In some ways, Torres singing about the plight of men becomes Pill’s most powerful, political, and transgressive track.
“‘Dead Boys’ specifically is about still recognizing that a lot of our political and social infrastructure is built on these archaic ideas about men that we are still suffering through,” Torres said. “And sometimes while I’m practicing it I’ll feel the weight of that. For a really long time, no one was politically-minded and we were all drained. In the past few years that’s actually changing a lot, in a grander American view, people are trying to get back a lot of the power that was lost. I get angry and then I try to be hopeful.”
Convenience is out 8/19 via Mexican Summer. Pre-order it here.
All photos shot by Nicole Fara Silver at the Market Hotel.
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