By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of American Pinup.
By the time you read this, Change Machine, the newest release from White Plains, NY’s American Pinup will have been officially out for close to a week. The release marks a new plateau of growth from one of the forebearers of modern rock n’ roll, a stepping stone in the art of creative expression… Okay, the album just really rocks.
The band is based out of Westchester County, the one-time hub of suburban ska-punk. Though Pinup dabbles in both genres they do not claim to be either, as doing so might cement them firmly in 2004 and they’re not ones for nostalgia.
BTR had a chance to speak with the band’s guitarists, lead vocalist Lauren West on rhythm and lead player Rob Peralta. West (or “Westy” to those who go way back)is the face of the band, for all intents and purposes, which would probably make Rob the… arms, or something.
West says she used to be more of a solo act in high school and up to her freshman year of college at SUNY Purchase. It was then that she was solicited by the band’s former drummer and home recording extraordinaire, Andy Porta, to do an acoustic EP. She eventually just joined a band with Andy and current-Pinup bassist, Tim Robbins (yeah, he knows), as the lead singer.
The decision to find a lead guitarist was put into action by a Craigslist posting looking for a lead guitarist. Peralta eventually responded to the posting and joined like that. West claims it was, “the only time I think Craigslist has actually worked for something.”
He wasn’t the only person who responded to the ad, though. The other potential Pinup candidates?
“The only other person that responded to the ad was this 45-year-old guy with long curly hair, like the wet looking curls, like Slash. He was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be in your band if you pay me some absurd amount’ and I’m like, ‘Nah, that’s okay'” West revealed.
At the same time, Peralta had responded late to the posting, “I was worried someone already took my place. I feel like someone already did the audition and there was no opportunity.”
All that worrying for naught! But for the 45-year-old, keep your chin up; you’ll find something.
Pinup gets fairly (or unfairly) compared to No Doubt a lot, depending how you see it. West herself sees it as apropos because they’re “the most high profile, female-fronted, pop-rock band.” Peralta, however, touched on evidence of American Pinup having a past life in the ’70s, citing a band that they were once compared to called The Shivvers.
West says, “They were like us in the ’70s, if we were a band in the ’70s we would be the Shivvers. It’s weirdly accurate.”
Judge for yourself:
Peralta says they only found out about them because a person made the comparison, and West said, “I was like, ‘Wow, this band could have been one of my major influences.’”
Despite the ample comparisons to female fronted groups, punk can be a bit of a boy’s club even when there have been so many important bands with females in them. West explained her experience being in such a band that needs to fight a little harder than most to be taken seriously.
“It probably sets us apart a little bit, it makes us stand out. Sometimes we get put on shows as the token ‘chick band’ but I think a lot of times it perks people’s ears a little bit to be like, ‘Oh, this band is kind of rockin’ out and they have a girl singing.’ Although you’re seeing that more and more nowadays, which is really great.”
She elaborates on the pros and cons of being a female in a band, “Sometimes you get special attention for it but sometimes you don’t get taken as seriously. It depends on who’s taking a look at your band and interpreting what you do.”
As I said before and West reiterated, American Pinup demands to be taken seriously and they don’t make compromises to make that happen. There’s no record label pleas to play up the “cute” and if you go to one of Pinup’s shows, be prepared to get your ass kicked by West’s melodic/aggressive, good cop/bad cop routine.
Thinking of the name American Pinup, many different images throughout different time periods come to mind. Within each punk scene, there is always the “rockabilly dude” cliché of that guy who has a bit of a fetish for all things 1950s. The band says there is some sort of retro counter-culture influence definitely, but it hasn’t taken over.
“It’s not our obsession and I don’t think we try to make it our schtick for the band but I think our name, like that was sort of a coincidence that it matched up with the rockabilly stylistic choices. It just seemed to fit. I mean we definitely have a retro influence but I do think that we do pretty contemporary stuff at the same time,” West tells BTR.
In the parlance of our times, Change Machine “hit the stores” last week but we all know that Bandcamp is where the real marketplace of music is. It’s Pinup’s sophomore release and in no way shape or form does it succumb to any dreaded “slump:. The band’s last full-length was Strange Creatures back in early 2011 and they have grown since then, both going through line-up changes but also employing more polished recording strategies
“What I like about it is that it’s definitely a ‘step up’ from our first release because our first release we did in [former drummer] Andy’s basement. But in this one we did everything in a real studio and laid everything down as a much more solidified and produced sound,” says Peralta.
Westy also remarks on how the album differentiates from their last, saying that “Strange Creatures was really just an amalgam of songs that we were throwing together. Some of them I wrote when I was 14 or 15 and some of them Andy and I wrote together right before we recorded them. Some of them were being written as they were being recorded so it was a pretty pieced-together thing. I felt like we were quilting an album, just stitching together these random songs.”
As for the aforementioned scene they came out of with a bevy of ska bands playing teen centers “back in the day,” what hope does the Westchester underground music have? Will it remain a fading memory of our collective teenage years or will it pick itself up and contend with the strength that Long Island and Brooklyn have?
“In the past two years maybe, I feel like there’s been this resurgence, just a lot of bands in Westchester that have been really active and really going for it. Then there’s just a lot of people who have been enthusiastic about it and go to the shows, who want to see new bands. That’s a great thing”, says West about their county’s climate.
Peralta adds, “I feel like now that we’re much older, we wanna keep it alive.”
Help American Pinup keep it alive by purchasing Change Machine here.
Check out their interview and music from the new record on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.