Pinkshift released their debut album ‘Love Me Forever’ in late October and immediately started charting within less than a month of its release. The album hit the top 10 in multiple categories including ‘Alternative New Artist Albums’ and ‘Top New Albums’ along with ‘Current Alternative Albums’ and ‘Current Rock Albums’ amongst others. The trio originally from Baltimore consists of Ashrita Kumar (vocals, they/them), Paul Vallejo (guitar, he/him) and Myron Houngbedji (drums, he/him), who met while in college. While they were majoring in the medicine and engineering, they managed to come together frequently to make their own brand of punk rock, forming in 2018. It was during the initial lockdowns of the pandemic that the band gained a big following in 2020. Their song, “I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist On You” went viral on social media while garnering nearly 8 million streams and enabled them to get signed to famed rock label Hopeless Records. In the midst of their recently completed U.S. headlining run, Pinkshift spoke with B-Sides during their tour stop in San Francisco to talk about their growing profile as POC artists, how their families dealt with pursuing a career in music instead of working in the fields for which they graduated university from and more.

B-Sides: Hey guys, this has got to be exciting after having come out of everything that we’ve been through and now to be able to travel the world. How’s tour?

Paul: Oh hell yeah! It feels like we’ve covered so much ground but we’ve really only toured the U.S a little bit of Canada and the UK not even out of Europe.

Ashrita: We actually hadn’t been able to tour before the pandemic so as soon as we could it was like alright, we gotta catch up now.

B-Sides: Like many other artists, you guys really resonated with an audience during a time when we were all locked down. People were scrolling through their phones for whatever enjoyment they could find online and there you guys were.

Ashrita: It was definitely weird and interesting.

Paul: It was Twitter and Reddit.

Ashrita: Like our song went off on Reddit and Twitter.

Paul: I was a teaching assistant for a few semesters in college and some of my students or former students were like, “oh my God, why did I see my TA out there?!”. They reached out to me because they saw us at the top of our /listen-to-this and they’re all like what the f*k.

Ashrita: We were playing local shows in 2019, late 2019 and I remember every show, we had no music out like we had like a demo of “Mars” that we had posted. I remember every show we were like, “at the end of this year you guys, all these songs that we’re playing, we’re gonna put them out at the end of 2019” and that never happened. We were really gonna try to actually record them and put them out and then the pandemic happened. Everybody was scared and we all went home to our parents and lived there for a couple months. Then we were like, wait we should just release this, we’re gonna all go off and do other things anyways.

Myron: The pandemic actually kind of gave us the space and the time to make that song what it was. We were gonna release it earlier in March 2020, but then once things shut down we stopped.

Ashrita: We released a song in March because we scheduled a DIY tour that was supposed to start on March 14th and that was the day that the pandemic was declared. We had scheduled “On Thin Ice” to be released the first day of that four day tour or whatever.

Myron: We like finished like the song and then we decided to also make a music video for it because we had time.

B-Sides: Especially a song like that during the pandemic. A lot of people were in their heads doing a lot of self-analysis, so the reference to a therapist made sense.

Ashrita: Yeah, none of us had one. (laughs)

B-Sides: Did you tell your therapist about this person?

Ashrita: No. The song really isn’t about a person. When it was released that’s what people thought, which makes sense but it was called something else and then we’re like let’s not release that name or whatever. Let’s just call it this and we’re alright, cool this is cool too. It was literally about sitting there with your own thoughts. I’m gonna tell my therapist on you, on my thoughts, and they don’t want to hear that.

B-Sides: Basically the inner self, the inner demon, the alter ego that you were fighting. Was it easy to write such a song? Especially considering that the song was written before everything happened.

Paul: The whole song instrumentally came together in 10 minutes.

Myron: It was September. October of 2019?

Ashrita: It was December because we had played one last holiday show that nobody came to except for Katie.

Paul: Except for Katie! Katie Smith love you. I think did you already have the lyrics pre-written (Ashrita)?

Ashrita: I had lyrics pre-written because I would take the bus. Whenever I sit in the bus I write lyrics. They didn’t have a song to go with it but then we were writing the instrumental in Paul’s apartment.

Myron: I remember we were covering this one song in our sets earlier and we have a lot of fun playing this one song but it doesn’t feel like any of the songs that we had already. So we’re sitting down, like let’s let’s write a song that we have like a lot of fun playing.

Ashrita: We were like the most fun that we have shouldn’t be playing a cover! (Laughs)

B-Sides: Obviously, it gave you a lot of recognition.

Ashrita: I guess so it’s a little golden ticket!

B-Sides: You got signed to a record label and then it sowballs.

Ashrita: I think the fact that it was able to get so much reach was really helpful for us. It was hard to be releasing music during that time and to try to connect to people. Everybody was very inherently disconnected so I think it’s really really cool and awesome how we were able to do that. I think right when that was released, a bunch of kids who liked our songs were like “let’s make a Discord!”, so we we’re in that Discord community. It’s just nice to like have like to witness a community grow.

B-Sides: It’s really rad how you guys came together as well because it started off as a hobby. You didn’t intend to be here right now.

Myron: I would still be here but I just wouldn’t be in a band.

B-Sides: Where were you going to be?

Myron: I was going to go to UCSF med school and now I’m here.

B-Sides: Paul where were you supposed to be?

Paul: Working! I got my masters in chemical engineering so I was gonna go straight to work.

B-Sides: The industry is changing where it’s becoming more diverse, there’s more acceptance of brown, yellow, black, whatever kind of people, of all genders and so forth. This is the right timing for you. Did your parents feel at one point that this is good, continue with this, because you’re making a societal impact versus a monetary impact?

Ashrita: I don’t think they see that aspect of it because my parents don’t really listen to American music. My mom likes Beyoncé but that’s like the extent of it. She also likes Madonna and Michael Jackson, that’s about it.

Paul: I would say my parents don’t even think about the societal impact at all because when they came to this country, they were coming for more financial freedom and opportunity. When I told them that I was going to leave engineering, financial security, that was a worry. That was the one selling point that I had for them to support me and support the band is that, “hey, one day hopefully we will be financially sustainable because that’s all they want.

Myron: Both my parents don’t understand the culture at all. They don’t see it, they don’t really listen to American music and if they do it’s not like they follow these artists or know anything about the state of the scene. So, any societal cultural impact that we make kind of goes over their heads but I think my parents right now, they’re being supportive just because they want to see me succeed in this now. They’re very supportive.

Paul: We have a whole parents group chat.

Ashrita: We have a Pinkshift Parents Groupchat.

Paul: All of our parents are in this one big group chat and it’s been cute on this tour. We’ve been sending photos of what we’ve been up.

Ashrita: I was gonna say with my with my parents it is a little different. When I was growing up, I didn’t really see Indian people in popular music at all. When I tell them, “oh hey, I am one of the first Indian people to be fronting a band in this space and we’re doing well, my mom is proud of that. Yasmin Noor is another South Asian artist and my mom was really excited to see her and meet her because she’s like, “oh you’re also an artist in America but they think of it as just not something that’s for us. I think seeing that, my mom really likes that. My mom loved art too growing up so I think she really does see that and doesn’t use the same language as we do obviously, like diversity and inclusion. But she’s just like it’s really cool to see our people winning.

B-Sides: If things skew in a different way that you don’t imagine, you could always go find a residency somewhere.

Ashrita: If it wasn’t for the fact that we completed college, I feel like our parents would not have let us do this. We were like 23, 20 whatever, but they still would have been like, no you can’t, you just can’t.

Myron: There’s like a backup, we have a backup.

B-Sides: Paul you have a masters!

Myron: They (points to Ashrita and Paul) both have masters!

Paul: That’s what made it harder too- the fact that I have a masters as well. They’re like and you’re leaving that?!

Myron: My parents were crying.

Paul: Mine too!

Ashrita: My parents were like alright, we’ll just stop focusing on you and now we have your sister.

B-Sides: When first listening to your music, I didn’t even know your ethnicities! I listened and it was like nice, this is cool. Only after did I look into your bio and saw photos was it like, oh even better!

Ashrita: That’s how I felt when I discovered Deftones

Myron: That’s how I felt when I discovered Turnstile. I saw Franz and I saw Dan and was like, oh that’s cool!

B-Sides: Growing up, individually, what were the bands that resonated with you that apply to Pinkshift?

Ashrita: For me I listen to a lot of No Doubt and I didn’t really care about like instruments or whatever. I just cared about vocals. I just like singing along. I’m playing guitar at our shows but I literally just started in the past year. I feel like I learned how to sing by just trying to sound like Gwen Stefani from No Doubt specifically.

B-Sides: What was it about her that really resonated with you? Was it her brash, confident style? Was it the fact that she was the only girl in the band?

Ashrita: I think that she’s able to get so much of her character and personality in her voice and that comes out on the record and live. I love that because in a lot of pop music and stuff, the vocals can get so compressed and some of the vocalists don’t put a ton of character. You can tell when she’s smiling or when she’s looking sad just by like the way that her voice sounds and I think that that’s so cool. And the lyrics! No doubt lyrics are so good. My favorite album is “Return of Saturn”- I’ve been listening to that album for years and I discover more about the metaphors and stuff.

B-Sides: Interesting that that’s the album that resonated with you because she was in probably close to 30 and longing for a simple life, and in that period of her life where she just wanted something stable. Were you even alive when it came out?

Ashrita: I loved “Tragic Kingdom” when I was in teenager but I think I grew into “Return of Saturn” a little bit more when I was like a late teenager because it was the songs. They were just so beautiful, they were just put together so well and every aspect of the songs were moving. I feel like in “Tragic Kingdom”, it was like okay this is a band that’s influenced by ska. But in “Return of Saturn”, I was like this is a band playing good music and a lot of people say it’s pop music. Popular music is good.

B-Sides: Paul what about you?

Paul: I’d say growing up the first band that really took over my entire personality was My Chemical Romance. In middle school, I grew my hair out and it never changed.

B-Sides: Have you seen them?

Paul: I’m not going to say only once, it was like two months ago. They broke up in 2012 and I didn’t really start playing music or getting into seeing concerts until I was like in late high school, which was after they broke up. I think even just as much if not maybe a little more so was Pierce the Veil. Just because they are all at least half Mexican or fully Mexican. The way they infuse Latin elements into pretty much all their music was crazy. I didn’t know they were all of like Latin American descent until like I saw pictures. I kind of got an inkling just by listening to their music in middle school, like this is pop punk and hardcore and all of these things but there’s something about it that is just different and feels familiar. All these Latin elements and I adore it and I even tried to do some of that on our record.

B-Sides: Myron, you’re a “My Chem” guy, you’re an emo kid.

Myron: (laughs) Not kid! It’s funny because I was an emo young adult! When I was like 14 or 15, I was on Tumblr and someone I followed would always post Gerard Way and My Chemical Romance stuff and I hated it because I didn’t know him. I didn’t want to know him because I was 15, I’m like I don’t want to know this old man! (laughs) So I blacklisted him! I separated myself from MCR and all of that until I was 18, where I heard twenty one pilots had a “Cancer” cover. I was like wait this is really good and I listened to the original and I was like, wait this is kind of good. Then from there it was a lot of My Chem for like forever.

Ashrita: So you were really into twenty one pilots!

Myron: Oh god yes!

Ashrita: You had pictures like mirror selfies

Myron: Okay, chill on that! We’re not gonna talk about that! (laughs)

Ashrita: (laughs)

Myron: They were like the first band when I was seventeen where I wanted to know what the people behind the music are like. Who they are and that entire lore of the band. Josh Dun made me want to learn drums in college so when I first started learning drums I was doing twenty one pilots and MCR covers. I was playing to those two bands and Paramore. I played to “Answer” by Tyler the Creator. Coincidentally, I was playing an MCR song when they found me in our drum practice room at our school.

B-Sides: The album’ been out for some time now and it’s charting and doing well, congrats on that! Is this sitting well now or are you perfectionists to the point of, “let’s fix it live”

Ashrita: I feel like it never really got to sit because the first day of this tour was the night that it was coming out and then we played a show the next day and then we played another show the next day. We haven’t really stopped playing shows since. We got notified that it was charting a couple days ago in Seattle and we were like, “oh my God, okay this is doing well I guess what does that mean”, because none of us know what charts mean. We’re all just doing this.

B-Sides: Paul, are you proud?

Paul: I, oh my gosh.

B-Sides: I think you’re the critical one of the band.

Myron: I think we’re all critical of ourselves.

Ashrita: I’m the least self-critical. I’m very self-aware.

Paul: We’re all very critical. It comes out in different ways. It comes out purposeful and intentional about things and we want to get better at all costs.

Ashrita: I think by the time that the album was ready to come out we had already vetted it. The way that we write songs is even when we’re writing a song, we all contribute until it’s good enough for all of us to be satisfied with it. These songs have been vetted by us and when we get into the studio, we’ll help with structuring, production and stuff. By the time we were done with it in the studio, we were like this is great, this is us, this is who we are.

B-Sides: It’s so befitting of how people were feeling once summer hit in terms, especially because restrictions were lifted and people didn’t need masks, go to shows and festivals. Are there songs that get you excited and provide that adrenaline?

Paul: I get excited about “Dreamer”.

Ashrita: Why’d you say that? Whenever anyone asks, you always say that your favorite song is “Dreamer”, both of you!

Myron: No! I say “Trust Fall”!

Paul: I say “Love Me Forever” and “Dreamer”.

Myron: I say “Trust Fall” and “Dreamer” but I like “Trust Fall” a lot.

Paul: My dad has a good history for anytime I’ve written a song whether it’s with this band or not and I show it to him, he’s like, “oh, did you write that?” I was like yeah! He says, “oh, it’s not a cover? Are you sure it’s not a cover? Are you sure? How can you be sure that nobody else has written this before?” I remember this past winter and I was like Dad look I’m gonna think of a riff right now, just like a little experiment. I played the opening riff and it was a little different but it was the gist of the rift over “Love Me Forever”. I said, “remember that. Remember this. I’ll come back to you in a couple months.” (Speaking to Ashrita)- I remember when you were laying lyrics over “Love Me Forever”, I sent them that little voice memo to him. I was like, “look remember that idea?” It was a song where I think he finally saw he did not have the right to ask. (laughs). I like that song a lot because we all get to showcase our musicianship.

Ashrita: That’s one of the songs where I can’t believe we wrote that. I can’t believe that’s our song. I can’t believe that’s a Pinkshift song. It’s when the art is up here, where you make something and then you’re like above me. To me it’s cool that we created that. I feel with this album I really feel that there’s not a song on the album that I’m just like I don’t really like that one. I feel like all of them they kind of just came together in a way that complements all three of us. It’s who we are as artists and it did the thing that art does, at least for me. I think for all of us it did the thing that art does where it becomes something greater than you, that you can share and that is so much of a big part of who you are. It’s so specific but it’s also so generalizable to where people can feel it. The people who like our music are just like us. The people who come to our shows are just like us. It’s like new friends all the time and it’s really cool that I really feel like we created this piece of art that’s able to really connect with the people that we want to connect with. If anybody says anything bad about it, it’s not meant for them. We don’t even care. This is so good to us and that’s all that ever mattered.

Grab the debut album ‘Love Me Forever’ by Pinkshift here!

Interview was edited for clarity and readability.

Pinkshift - nothing (in my head) [Official Music Video]