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Interview: Pinc Louds

Pinc Louds
31 August 2022

Photo by Cristina Agostini Fitch

Pinc Louds (Claudi – vocals, guitar, kalimba. Marc Mosteirin – bass) could be described as the most unique voice on New York City’s underground music scene.

Lead singer and guitarist, Claudi, came to New York from Puerto Rico in 2015 and formed Pinc Louds out of a need for creative and musical reinvention. Operating as a three-piece with a drummer and bass player, their songs – written equally in Spanish and English – draw from a lifetime of musical and local influences.

At once old-fashioned and completely new, Pinc Louds exist outside of any era. Their songs combine Jazzy 1920s vibrato-laden melodies with intricate vocal looping, a soothing kalimba, and a punk rock ferocity that often leaves strings broken and dangling from the pegs of Claudi’s acoustic guitar.

Pinc Louds brings a vibrancy and vitality to the streets of a city still recovering from a pandemic drought of live music. You’ll find them busking in front of packed crowds around New York’s East Village and Lower East Side. Against a backdrop of iconic landmarks like Tompkins Square Park, and the Delancey-Essex Street Station, audiences from all walks of life are lovingly encouraged to dance and let go of self-conscious inhibition.

I spoke to Claudi about songwriting, busking on the streets of New York City, and winning over audiences on the Punk in Drublic 2022 tour with Fat Mike (NOFX, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes).

You came to New York in 2015 and Pinc Louds happened soon after. Since 2017, you’ve put out one EP [Pinc Louds (2017)], a couple of albums [Delancey St. Station (2018), La Atómica (2021)], and a bunch of new singles. Could you describe what Pinc Louds’ sound is like?

CLAUDI: Isn’t that the question! I still haven’t thought of a good name for what we do. I mean, there’s so many influences. The energy of what we do is a punk energy, but we’re mixing it with crooners from the 20s, harmony groups, doo-wop, and Latin music from my childhood. I’ll say it’s a mix of Billie Holiday and the Pixies. It’s a juxtaposition that works and is interesting.

That makes sense. That’s what makes it eclectic.

CLAUDI: When I compose, I don’t think at all about genre or influence. I don’t really know music, I do everything by ear, and I don’t really know most of the chords that I’m playing. In a way, that ignorance helps me be able to mix all the little influences I have swimming around in my brain and have them pop up in different interesting ways and mix with other things without it feeling like a mashup, at least in my head. If I was thinking, “Oh, I’m going to do a Pixies-like song.” that would be kind of limiting and I would probably end up doing a Pixies-like song and not something much more interesting than that. To me, writing music is still very magical because I don’t know what I’m doing, so when something sounds good it’s like you’ve created a new potion, which is very cool.

Your songs cross the board from love songs and heartbreak to writing about roaches and air conditioners. What inspires each of the songs you write?

CLAUDI: At the beginning, a lot of it did have to do with heartbreak and finding myself, but different things inspire me, just walking around the city and being in the subway. I also go the Beatles’ route and write songs from a point of view that isn’t actually happening to me. I’ll tap into an emotion that I’ve had or into a story that somebody has told me. I do hear a lot of stories, especially playing on the street. Complete strangers just start telling me their life story, MTA workers and all kinds of different people. In New York, there’s so much going on and so much you can use as food to create songs with.

So, it comes from all over the place, I mean, air conditioning…that’s just from being in Puerto Rico. It’s very hot pretty much all year round. I did spend a lot of time in the supermarket just because of the air conditioning.

How different was the scene in Puerto Rico and what have been the differences since coming here?

CLAUDI: Puerto Rico does have a scene – an indie scene, a rock scene, definitely a queer scene, a performance scene – but it’s all very small because it’s a small island. There’s really great people and venues making it happen, but after a while you’re playing for the same people and it’s hard to tour because you’re on an island, so can’t really get anywhere without a plane.

We’re kind of part of the United States, but kind of not. Our culture is very strong, but we’re also getting a lot of influences and information from different places. We create our own versions of things. I think there’s a very special thing in the position that we are on the planet and culturally. A lot of great things come out of Puerto Rico.

Has the kind of music you were making back then versus now changed significantly?

CLAUDI: A lot of the influences were the same ones. I’d say I was a bit tamer…

New York and the subway really informed me on what things worked and what things kind of took me in different directions. I realized for example that I needed to be a little bit louder and not in terms of volume, but in terms of showmanship. I was shy to really rock out or to create more energetic songs that go all out. I was doing more contained things and then New York is like…there’s so much going on that you need to be out there to get people’s attention. Busking in the subway where you’ve got all this noise, and all these people, and people looking at their phones…you’re competing with so much.

I also realized sometimes I would have a new song, and it would be a very vulnerable song, and I would be like, “This is going to work in a recording, but not in the subway.” And then I’d try it and it would work. And it would work because it’s about energy. If the energy is honest and real, that can also speak very loudly. It’s fun because it was like the city telling me what to do and using my life and my surroundings to guide me through the music and how to write new material.

Tompkins Square Park has become your favorite place to play since the pandemic. What about that park connects with you and Pinc Louds?

CLAUDI: At first it was just because it’s a public space, people were here, and we weren’t getting kicked out by the cops, but the more we played here…it’s just such a special park. Everyone talks about, “New York…a melting pot…diversity,” but this is definitely a neighborhood where you can feel that – if you’re open to talking to strangers and you’re listening and you’re coming here with an open heart. A Pinc Louds show is like all these little kids and older people and teenagers and old punks. All kinds of people come together and it’s just a very special place.

Honestly, I like it so much more than playing in venues where you only get to play a certain amount of time, they kick you out after the show…and also in terms of money. It’s great to be able to play for people who may not be able to pay twenty bucks for a show. It just feels very open in a way that works, at least for us. The people who can pay, pay, and those who can’t don’t, and everybody gets to enjoy the music. Some people pay more and that helps take the place of the people who weren’t able to pay and it just seems very equal and fair and beautiful. It doesn’t really get much better than that.

From the audiences I’ve seen, it seems like a majority of teenagers from the punk and queer community. How did that fan base grow and is that what you expected for Pinc Louds?

CLAUDI: Well, that started happening because of the shows in the park. We’d been playing a lot before in venues, but most venues are 21+ or 18+. I guess a lot of those people were hanging out in the park anyway. When we started playing here, I guess the word spread and all of a sudden that became almost like our main audience. Which is so cool because I’d never expected it. I never know really what kind of people will be into my music. I don’t really think of age groups or anything like that. Also, it’s because of the energy that they bring and the dancing and the creativity. I’m in awe all the time.

I wanted to ask you about the Punk in Drublic Tour. How were you asked to do that in the first place?

CLAUDI: I was busking in Union Square and a booker for that festival and another festival in Europe contacted me and all of a sudden I was on a plane going to Europe with all these punk bands. My first punk show when I was a teen was a NOFX show, so that was very crazy to all of a sudden be in that situation. It was great. We did a bunch of cities in very few days. It was on a tour bus with a bathroom and bunk beds and it was so fun, like what you dream a tour will be when you’re a kid.

I know that most people’s first impression when I would come on stage was like, “What’s going on here? Why is this person opening for the Punk in Drublic tour?” So, every day my job was to win people over. It’s very intense, but I’m also used to playing in the subway and the street where you also have to win people over. You’re not playing for people who necessarily already know who you are or like you. Every day was like going to war. Obviously, it’s not a war where you’re going to hurt anyone, but as I put my makeup on every day I would look at myself in the mirror and pump myself up. It was a big space and I was playing solo, so I would psych myself up to bring people to my side. It’s more than just playing the songs, it’s also between the songs – what you say, looking the people in the eye, feeling their energy.

One of the funner parts of doing live shows is that every crowd is different and you have to explore it, so I never get too bored if I’m playing the same songs because I know that I have to do different things to connect. It’s just ways of tricking the energy into going your way. A little like what I was saying about songwriting – like making it magical because you don’t know what could happen. If everything was scripted and you were doing what you had planned to do then there would be no magic. It’s a fun thing to play with the audience. I was doing a lot of that in the Punk in Drublic.

Is there anything new coming up for Pinc Louds? Recordings, tours, or anything else this year?

CLAUDI: I think we’re gonna be playing a lot of shows until October. We’ve got a residency at Wild Birds in Crown Heights, so we’ve got some shows in September, some in August, but mostly I want to be playing outside. When it’s summer, I don’t want to leave the city at all. I wait all winter for summer in New York and I don’t wanna miss a second of it. Plus, we’re working with a new drummer, so I wasn’t really booking tours without knowing what our drummer situation was going to be. After October, since it gets cold and I can’t play outside as much anymore, I’m going to take some time to work on new material. We have a lot of songs that we haven’t recorded, but I want to make more and record in the winter so that we can have a nice album out next year.