Coming together around music to escape the stress of school, three Johns Hopkins students formed a band that would go on to do shows all over the country, and even the world, and play alongside rock legends. Vocalist Ashrita Kumar, guitarist Paul Vallejo and drummer Myron Houngbedji make up the rising punk group, Pinkshift. (We did a little introduction to them last year that you can read here.)
Following their debut album Love Me Forever in 2022, the Baltimore-based group’s latest single “to me” came out this year. Pinkshift described their music as heavily influenced by what each of them listens to, which includes My Chemical Romance, Turnstile, Knocked Loose and Deftones.
This summer, they’re joining L.S. Dunes, whose guitarist Frank Iero is also a member of MCR and inspiration to the band, on a nationwide tour before embarking on their first festival season. With Louder Than Life, Aftershock and, of course, Riot Fest lined up, Kumar calls them “babies to the festival scene.”
Playing the same day as Foo Fighters and Turnstile, Pinkshift is taking the Riot Fest stage on Friday, September 15. Kumar, Vallejo and Houngbedji spoke to Riot Fest about their perceptions of punk music, songwriting process, biggest influences and more.
Love Me Forever
- i’m not crying you’re crying
- nothing (in my head)
- GET OUT
- cherry (we’re all gonna die)
- the kids aren’t alright
- Trust Fall
- in a breath
- BURN THE WITCH
- Love Me Forever
Pinkshift @ Riot Fest 2023
Foo Fighters, Turnstile & More
Friday, Sep. 15
What made you all want to start making music together, and how did your band get started?
Ashrita Kumar: We got started out of trying to find an outlet for all of the stress that comes with school. Honestly, we just stumbled together is the short version of it. We all met in school. We all kind of just stumbled together because nobody else was really playing rock music, and that’s kind of what we were into. So, we found each other and started making rock.
Also, looking at where you land in playlists, I was seeing a lot of new pop punk as a genre. Where do you see your music fitting in that sense?
Myron Houngbedji: I see it as rock. I feel like rock is the most faithful description. There’s a bunch of elements of different things. That comes from our different inspirations and such. Some people may say it’s too general, but I think it works and it’s true because if you box it into one subcategory, it might not be true.
AK: I feel like the “What genre of art?” is every artist’s worst nightmare to try to explain. When we write music, we don’t really go for anything. It really is up to whoever listens as to what they get from it, so I’m cool with whatever anybody wants to call us.
Paul Vallejo: That’s kind of the boat that I’m in too. I know pop punk is a term that, now, is very shied away from, and it kind of has an air around it. But, taking it at quite literally face value, I feel like our music is… I don’t wanna say it’s pop punk, but, I guess in a very general sense… It’s punk because it’s not pop, right? When I say pop punk, I don’t mean like, All Time Low 2012 or The Story So Far 2015. A whole bunch of bands right now are under that huge umbrella term of pop punk. But, it sounds completely different from what it did pre-pandemic and before that because genres are changing. Just because the genre sounds like a specific thing in a certain time period doesn’t mean that genre’s gonna sound the same 10 years from now.
AK: I like calling us punk just because there are lots of ways that punk can sound, but, at the very core of it, punk is what it’s about. Punk is about creating community and uplifting people and fighting for what’s right. That’s kind of where we lie and how we conduct our shows and what we stand for and what we fight for and all that stuff. So, I feel like punk is a really fun place to sit because it doesn’t matter exactly what you sound like, but it all comes together to create this sense of autonomy and individualism and community. That’s why I like that description. So, in terms of pop punk, I like the punk part.
PV: And it’s pop because we do all have an ear for pop as well.
Can you talk a little bit more about your process of making songs and writing music together?
PV: We just write what we’re listening to at the moment. We’re all very heavily inspired by what we listen to, and we all listen to very different things in the rock realm.
AK: How a song can develop really depends on the song for us. We’ve only written one album.
PV: There’s no definitive formula for any of those songs on that album.
AK: I like to write lyrics, and I’ll have poems, so sometimes I’ll try to put stuff from my poems, or sometimes, somebody else in the band has a chord progression or a groove or something. Just try to build off of it in practice. Our whole thing is if it’s a Pinkshift song, then it’s one of those songs that we have all felt really inclined towards working on and fulfilling.
Paul, you mentioned that you guys are all very influenced by what you’re listening to at the moment. Can you talk about what your biggest influences are?
MH: That changes [laughs]. A lot of stuff for therapists (“i’m gonna tell my therapist on you”) was very MCR influenced, at least on my part. With the album (“Love Me Forever”), I remember trying to take some elements from Knocked Loose for certain things and then Turnstile. For our newest song, “to me” had a lot of Deftones influence on my part. It really does just matter based on what I’m listening to at the moment or what I feel is really, really cool and really, really good at the moment. Where I’m just like, “Ooh, I’m practicing these songs by these artists, and I’m picking up certain things and certain tendencies, and I really like it,” I just incorporate it into what I’m writing on these songs.
AK: Whenever I write a song, I have to make sure it’s not already a Nirvana song. ‘Cause that happens. Like a lot. Sometimes it’s just fun to be like, “oh, I kind of like how the lyrics in this song flow. What if I tried writing something like that?” Almost like an exercise. I do that with No Doubt and Soundgarden. I’ve done that with Arctic Monkeys.
PV: I’m with Myron. Early on, I had a lot of My Chem (My Chemical Romance) influence, still do. I feel like, out of the three of us, I definitely was the deepest into the pop punk branch of Story So Far, Knuckle Puck, that 2015 era. I was well, well into it. I still have a lot of those musical tendencies that come out just without thinking. My Chemical Romance, Pierce The Veil, Microwave, those are three big bands that have constantly been influencing the songs we write since Saccharine.
Myron, you mentioned Turnstile as an influence, and they’re also playing Riot Fest. Does it mean something to you all to be on the same stage as people that might even have influenced the music you’re making?
MH: We finally talked to a few of them at the last festival, which is funny because they live like a few blocks down from us in Baltimore. Me and Ashrite have seen their drummer just on the street before because we’re all in the same area, but they’re always on tour.
AK: I’m really excited to play on the same stage and on the same day as Foo Fighters because Foo Fighters is the first band that I really listened to a lot, besides Nirvana. I was so into the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl is so cool. I haven’t really had my moment, like “Oh my god. That’s so cool. Like what?” I don’t really listen to a lot of bands that are alive, so it’s kind of cool to have that.
PV: We’re gonna have to sneak you into the Foo Fighters camp.
MH: We gotta find a way.
AK: It’s okay. Dave Grohl probably wouldn’t be into my music.
MH: I don’t agree with that.
Myron and Paul also, do you have people, maybe on the Riot Fest lineup or not, that are your dream artists to be on the same stage with?
AK: A year ago, at Riot Fest, MCR opened. We were like, “Oh my God, we want to play that one.”
PV: Frank is in L.S. dunes, and that, for me, is pretty huge. Just knowing that, “Oh wow, we’re gonna be playing the same shows.” Or, maybe he personally had a say in saying, “Oh, Pinkshift is cool. Let’s have them all here.” That concept to me is crazy just because that’s the band that pushed me further into the wind. All the shit that I listened to in middle school and onwards is very, My Chem influenced, so it’s pretty full circle. And my parents understood! The fact that my parents understand is telling because they’re immigrants, but they know the name My Chemical Romance because as a sixth grader, I couldn’t stop talking about them. The fact that they’re like, “Oh, that’s cool. That guy’s in it?” I’m just like, “Yeah!” They’re like, “cool.”
AK: You have a Frank Iero poster with the Frank Iero pick.
PV: I do have a signed pick by Frank Iero that he’ll never know about.
MH: That’s so funny. The L.S. Dunes tour is also crazy for me. I got into MCR way later than Paul, but it was a very, very deep obsession. I wasn’t a phase. I still really, really like them. I just listened to them a shit-ton in college, like every single day. And there was a lot. One of the artists I would want to share a stage with is Turnstile or Deftones. I got to see Turnstile side stage at the last festival we played, and I was just watching their drummer because he’s the person I look up to the most right now in terms of how comfortable he is on the kit. It was so crazy, and I was like, “Oh shit. I get to actually be here.” It’d be sick if we opened a show for them. That’d be even cooler, and Deftones too. I just haven’t seen Deftones live at all.
PV: I do want to add Microwave at Riot Fest! I’m very excited to see them. When Ashrita and I first met, Microwave was being injected into my veins.
What does the future look like for Pinkshift? Where do you see yourselves?
AK: I’m really excited to release another album and not just be a band with a single album, kind of start growing and doing our own thing and having a solidified project that moves forward and is always doing something. I’m excited to progress with our art and make new stuff, make different stuff, occupy different spaces. That’s something I’m really excited about.
PV: I’m really excited to write. We’ve been on the move a lot. All three of us are in Baltimore now but just for a couple weeks before we head off again for another three, four months. But, this winter, we have it blocked off in all of our schedules to kind of be in Baltimore and write and create together. I don’t think we’ve done that since the last album, so I’m really excited just for that. Just, just to hang, get to hang out with my friends.
MH: Yeah, we haven’t done that in forever. I’m really excited for everything that Paul and Ashrita said. But, less about the future, I’m just super excited about what’s happening right now. Looking backwards, just the amount of opportunity we’ve been able to take advantage of and how many different people, artists and festivals were able to actually consider us for things is really cool because there’s definite growth for us, compared to last year, and we were doing pretty good last year. And then, this year we’re like, “Whoa!” I’m really excited to see how much further it goes. I know we’re gonna do everything in our power to keep everything running. It’s gonna be really fun.