Powder Pink & Sweet is a Los Angeles-based dreampop band, which released its fourth single “Grey Day” in October. Created by Cris Verso as a solo project in 2016 with the single “Blue Sunshine,” on which Cris plays all of the instruments, Power Pink & Sweet has grown to become a quartet. Cris still conducts all of the songwriting and performs some of the lead instruments in addition to delivering lead vocal. She is joined by Carl Urbinati on guitar, Stephanie Rose on bass and Sarah Lundeen on drums. The band is currently working on new songs, and Big Sonic Heaven contributor Rick Bourgoise recently caught up with Cris and Carl between recording sessions.
The transcript of this conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Big Sonic Heaven (BSH): Tell me about the new song (“Grey Day”).
Carl Urbinati: It’s kind of interesting how I joined the band versus how the other folks in the band joined. Steph, who plays bass, and Sarah, who plays drums, have known Cris forever, and they played in at least one band, if not a couple of different bands. I met Chris through the kind of standard L.A. thing: an ad in Craigslist. The stuff that she had mentioned on Craigslist was right up my kind of sonic alley of dreampop mixed with shoegaze, post punk. We’re kind of cut from the same cloth, maybe a different pattern on my cloth versus hers, but definitely the same material. So, I met her, and I liked her as a person immediately. We sat down and talked. I think we were drinking milkshakes. She had her phone with her, and so I listened to a couple songs and “Grey Day,” actually, was one of the songs that really sold me on her. “Blue Sunshine” was another song she had recorded by that time, and that was a cool song. I liked that song a whole lot, but “Grey Day” had this other kind of mood to it, and it really sold me.
BSH: Cris, “Blue Sunshine” was the first song you released. That was pretty much a solo project?
BSH: Carl, how long have you been in the band?
Carl: For a while now. I mean we’re coming up on maybe two years. It was about this time of year it was like October, November of 2018.
Cris: Yeah, I think that’s when we started jamming together.
BSH: Cris, you put out an ad on Craigslist for bandmates. Why did you go kind of go outside of your inner circle of musicians that you knew? Obviously, two members of your friends joined you, but then why did you put out an ad to seek out somebody else?
Cris: I come from a world mostly with people who play hard like punk or reggae. I do know other musicians, but they’re in established bands, so their level is different from mine. And they’re already doing things. I don’t have a (big) network, and I did put the word out in my network and talk to a couple people, but ultimately I feel like this style – not a lot of people will understand how to play it and don’t know the utilization of the effects, not in my circle anyway. We’re not new. We’re not young spring chickens and my friends who actually went and saw bands like Lush and My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain in the first go-around either are not playing music anymore or have moved on. It was just hard to find this type of guitar player. And what I liked was Carl answered, I mean a bunch of people answered, and it was amazing to me. This one guy just didn’t say anything. He just sent a link of him jamming, like, ‘hello’ would be nice! Carl wrote a beautiful email. He is very well spoken. He’s a college professor, and we just really hit it off in more than just music, so I think it worked out.
BSH: Carl, tell me about your musical background. You had been in some bands before, right?
Carl: Like Cris and the other girls in the band, we’ve been playing in bands for a long time. I’m old enough where I came through college in the ‘90s, and I played in college bands. I came definitely into music, or playing guitar, from a more hard rock, classic rock kind of point of view. But, as soon as I hit probably sometime in high school – when you discover bands like The Cure and Joy Division, and The Cult was a huge band, Love was this amazingly important album for me – I was learning how to play guitar at the same time. It must have been ‘85. And so, that’s the kind of stuff I learned to play along with. I would go with a cassette tape at that time to my guitar teacher and say, “I want to learn how to play “She Sells Sanctuary.” And he was super sweet about it. He’s like, alright, what’s this band? If I was playing Led Zeppelin riffs he’d be totally cool and be like, I can teach you that. but. I definitely came up with that kind of music. But throughout my musical career it’s been mostly in rock bands, not so much in the post punk, or even now into post rock or dream pop or shoegaze. In college, it was a lot of grunge bands. I was in a band for a while in college, we were modeling ourselves after old school Red Hot Chili Peppers, a very punk funk kind of sound. So, I kind of came up that way and then when I moved Los Angeles in 2004, I played in an Americana band for quite a while. When that broke up, I just bounced around like a lot of L.A. musicians do in a couple of different things. When I met Cris, it was a perfect fit. The stuff that she was writing at the time was, without sounding too corny or whatever, definitely resonating with my soul. It was the right kind of music at the right kind of time. It’s the kind of music that I’ve always been listening to all through college, all through grad school and whatnot. And now to be able to play it really means something to me.
BSH: I saw Americana in your bio. That had to be an interesting time given where your interests lie.
Carl: Yeah, it was different for me coming from more grunge and stuff like that as I was starting to get into Americana. It was actually very important for my development as a guitar player because I had to learn how to play country. I had never played country before. I became a little bit more proficient in playing in major scales that I wasn’t accustomed to and doing things like double stops on a guitar which were things I’d never done before. I think it actually has molded me into the type of melodic player that I’ve become. Now before, it was just heavy grunge riffs and now it’s a little bit more melodic. I think the Americana and alt country stuff really influenced that.
Cris: Just to piggyback on that. My roots are also with new wave, first of all. The whole reason I’m playing music was because of Duran Duran. I was a Duranie. I was like 13 and John Taylor, he was the dreamy one, and then I started listening to the bass. I started playing bass lines at 15. Bass has always been my instrument. The Cure and all those 80’s post punk new wave are just so bass heavy. The songs and the whole English movement, there’s a darkness to it. I got into goth. The funny thing is I was into goth and then into ska at the same time, but granted it was The Specials, so it was darker, you know the British stuff. There’s always a melancholy to the way I write I’ve noticed. I like that it. When it’s too happy, I get nervous. I love classical choral music and stuff that’s just emotional. I write with the darkness, and then Carl comes and adds a little bit. He’s not as dark as I am, so he’ll put on his really pretty stuff and stuff that I can’t play. He’s an actual guitar player, and I’m a bass player who’s getting by on guitar. I think it’s a good sonically. It’s been a cool balance, especially within the songs that we’re in the process of recording right now. There’s these added layers that balance the dark, kind of melancholy.
BSH: I think you kind of touched on this, but I’m going to ask you a little more directly. You’ve got a lot of musical diversity in your background, Cris, with the ska and the reggae and the punk and obviously some shoegaze dreampop. Was it really hard for you to settle in on this genre? Why shoegaze dreampop versus the other experience you’ve had in your musical career?
Cris: I think, as I’ve gotten older, my musical taste has kind of been like inching towards the more dreamy pretty music. I like rock, and I like some metal. I like punk. There’s Minor Threat, Misfits. I like harder stuff, but I think this part of my life I’ve really been attracted to the pretty and the soft. I think I’ve worked some things out with my personality on calming down. And also, technically, I don’t sing well fast. I have a classical voice background, so I like the long and I love harmony. We did a lot of harmony in the ska bands and, granted, these weren’t third wave they were traditional styles gone reggae. We had a lot of three-part harmonies, and I don’t like to sing fast. I like the pretty flowy music. I like upbeat mid-tempo as well, but being a soprano, my voice can ride above a lot of guitar and sonically that just really appeals to me. My husband was starting to get me into all of this type of music years ago because he’s got his interests. He got me into Radiohead, which I’m obsessed with now as Carl knows, cuz I can’t stop talking about them. I listened to Cocteau Twins years ago before I met my husband, but he has a lot of everybody’s discography in the home, so I have access to that. Working in the concert business, I’ve been able to see a lot of different bands, and it just feels like I really am emotionally attached to it as well as my skill set at this point.
BSH: Carl, Cris mentioned a lot of the production that you bring to the table when it comes to producing the music. Can you elaborate a little bit on what are you doing in the studio to add to the song production?
Carl: Not in the formal technical sense of producing. I’m not the producer of the song. When I first came into the band and Cris had at least a good chunk of the songs really kind of finalized. There would be times where I come in, and I’d play a part, and I played it in my own you style. Cris would be like, ‘you know what? That part doesn’t really go like that. The part goes like this.’ And, I’m like, ‘oh really? Are you sure?” like trying to change her mind. But, I totally respect the writing that she’s done because it’s the way she’s written the songs. They evoke the mood, the tambour of what the music is supposed to convey and stuff. So, it’s like okay, I’ll learn it your way. and all that. And then the songs that she said, “here’s the parts that I’m playing. I think your parts could go in here and go in here.” She gives me some notes of what’s in her head what she kind of hears. Everything I play isn’t exactly what she hears in her head, but because we fit well together, and I like the music and can play it pretty well, it complements it better. She’ll have these sad and more melancholy (approach) and I’ll have a little bit more melodic, more singy songy quality to it. Not to belittle Cris’ guitar playing skills, but that’s my first instrument When she wanted a guitar player, she wanted a guitar player to come in. She knows music theory. When I say something like, ‘oh, that would really be cool with major seventh. Major sevenths are great in dream pop.’ She knows what a major seventh is. She learns how to play major sevenths on her guitar, but she didn’t automatically know that. What’s kind of cool for me is that the some of the things that she hears, I can, at least for my parts, be able to translate that into what it should sound like when I play it on guitar. I think what my guitar playing does is it definitely brings the melodic stuff and then a larger set of bigger chords. Again, not to belittle Chris’s playing, because my cord vocabulary is a little bit larger, so I’ll have these bigger chords to be able to play. I think what that does is it really makes a good marriage of Cris’ guitar playing and my guitar playing being complimentary to each other, not being exactly the same. I’m really happy with where that leaves our music. I think the music really benefits from that kind of complimentary approach. I played in bands where I played very much like the other guy in the band in grunge bands. and it was like, okay, he played that lick and I played the same lick basically because we’re exactly the same kind of thing. (to Cris) I’m the yin to your yang.
Cris: Meeting Carl, I really liked his personality, and I was looking for a more advanced guitar player. Like I said, I’m a bass player. I can get around on piano as well. I know theory, but I’m not a guitar player. I’m a fake guitar player, but I can play. I can put notes together and make songs and write, and I know sonically where everything is, it’s just technically, I have to learn more. Carl will come in, and he adds that proficiency. Steph, the bass player, she was actually the last to join although I’ve been friends with her forever. She’s a good friend, but she wasn’t able to be in a band for the first part of our Powder Pink and Sweet. She is a good bass player and she’s on the gothier end of things and we both kind of have that. She’s been in reggae bands that I’ve been in. I’ve written the baselines. Actually, I’ve written almost all the parts except for the drums. Although, I pick out drum stuff, Sarah comes in and makes them human. Steph will play my baseline then she adds stuff. But then, she can come up with her own stuff too. We all seem to fit together right now.
BSH: I saw, looking at your Instagram, you did a live show about a year ago now. It looks like you had another show in January and then obviously the COVID hit. That has to be tough, though, as you’re getting started and wanting to get together perform live to now be on this lockdown.
Cris: Yeah, we had a show booked for May at this venue out here called The Smell. And we were really looking forward to that because it’s all ages. And we were gonna just have more shows, but yeah, COVID. We took a little bit of a hiatus. Everyone had to get used to this. Our drummer has a couple of young children, so getting used to everybody at home all the time and the lockdowns and how are we going to do this had to be worked out. A couple of band members moved, so now we’ve started up again. We kind of flirted with like, let’s play an outdoor street concert, but I don’t know about the noise. I have a friend who’s been doing Twitch live like three times a week, but his is a different show, a different type of thing. I’m like, well, you know we can do something like that. We’re working on getting it back into the studio, then maybe doing some online live stuff. I don’t know. It’s hard because no one really knows what to do, and now we’re having that spike. We kind of have to go back underground for a minute before we can even play for like five friends out in the backyard.JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjI1NjAlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjIzMTUlMjIlMjBzcmMlM0QlMjJodHRwcyUzQSUyRiUyRnd3dy55b3V0dWJlLmNvbSUyRmVtYmVkJTJGeXYxV0UtTzQ0T1ElMjIlMjBmcmFtZWJvcmRlciUzRCUyMjAlMjIlMjBhbGxvdyUzRCUyMmFjY2VsZXJvbWV0ZXIlM0IlMjBhdXRvcGxheSUzQiUyMGNsaXBib2FyZC13cml0ZSUzQiUyMGVuY3J5cHRlZC1tZWRpYSUzQiUyMGd5cm9zY29wZSUzQiUyMHBpY3R1cmUtaW4tcGljdHVyZSUyMiUyMGFsbG93ZnVsbHNjcmVlbiUzRSUzQyUyRmlmcmFtZSUzRQ==BSH: Carl, you are making new music now. What can we expect? When will we hear some new songs?
Carl: That’s a good question. I think Cris was just asking me about that in our last rehearsal. It’s unfortunate when COVID hit. We had just finished tracking drums, and we were probably going to do some stuff home recorded. Cris is actually in the studio back again doing some vocals. The songs that we’re recording now, they’re songs that Cris had penned. But again, everybody’s adding their own kind of flavor to what that song is. So, while we’re certainly playing the parts that she wrote, the way I play it and the way she plays it, there’s still as much as I try to actually 100% replicate it, I don’t always 100% replicate it. And then certain things where if there’s a solo or kind of melodic line, I get to have a little more creativity with that. Some of the new music, though, that we’ve actually been doing in rehearsals, it’s been very kind of organic. Some of it has been what old classic rock guys do, they just jam on a riff for a while and something kind of develops from that. We do have one song that looks like we’re just about done, and we’re almost ready to record it. I think it’s a real pretty song, and I think it’ll sound really cool. Cris had mentioned before her most recent rehearsal. We just started working up this other song, and it seems like it might have some staying power. That’s the other thing too when you do this by jam, certain things have staying power and other things don’t have staying power and you just totally forget about them and they sit in the ‘to do’ pile and you never get to do them.
Cris: I’m hoping that we can get an EP in the first part of 2021. I actually went in and recorded vocals last night for one of the songs, probably next week for the other song. And then the pretty song that he mentioned, that’s just about done being written. We have to get that ready to record. Then it’s just mixing and mastering and all the business-y stuff. We will have a collection shortly, so excited about that. I would love to do some colored vinyl. My husband’s a collector, and some of our friends so I’ve been getting advice on what cool thing we can do.
BSH: How did you come up with the band name and what does it mean?
Cris: I’m a big Cure fan. Backing up, the whole reason I’m doing this is my mom passed away in 2015. I had started writing some songs when she was ill. She had MS my whole life, she just started getting worse. When she passed away, I kind of had this attitude like, nothing matters. Why am I worried about, I’m not a real guitar player, I shouldn’t play. I don’t know how to do these fabulous intricate songs. I just said, ‘to hell with that,’ and I just started writing. And that’s why we’re a band now. That’s why there’s music. But at that time, that summer – my mom passed in May of 2015 – I didn’t really have anything to do. I tried to start a blog. I was writing down names, and I’m like, well song names. I love The Cure. The blog is called “The Grooviest Thing” from “The Love Cat.” And Powder Pink & Sweet was on there because that’s from “The Caterpillar.” And I love whimsy. I love Simon Gallop’s baselines, and I love Robert Smith and everything. So I’m like, alright, I’m going to do that because it was me. I’m like, it’s good because the songs are not happy and cotton candy. Then, there’s powder pink and sweet because I’m a girl. I was just going to do that for me, but then it turned into a band. I’m like, okay I don’t know if a guy is gonna want to be in this band. Is anyone gonna take us seriously? It was too late because I already released song. If you know The Cure, then you know exactly the line. So, it’s kind of like cool to fans of The Cure to be like, aha. I’ve had that when I released “Blue Sunshine.” I think that’s cool, even though it might be a little cheesy or saccharin.
Carl: I think the saccharin-ness of it actually is a good complimentary and juxtaposition for the musical style. I actually like telling people that I play in a band called Powder Pink and Sweet. I get this look of ‘huh?’ And then I get to say ‘I’m the only guy in the band too’ and they’re like, oh wow, that’s interesting.
BSH: I really appreciate your time and thank you for doing this.
Hear “Grey Day” and “Blue Sunshine” in rotation in Big Sonic Heaven.
Big Sonic Heaven is a 24/7 Internet radio station dedicated to the ethereal sounds of shoegaze, dream pop, post-punk, trip-hop, etc. Listen to the artists featured on the blog and discover more by downloading the app for iPhone and Android or listen at bigsonicheaven.com.
Written by: Rick Bourgoise