Ashrita Kumar on pop punk artists | Pinkshift interview
[Photos via Mint Green/Spotify, Hands Off Gretel/Spotify, War On Women/Spotify, Meet Me @ The Altar/Spotify]

Back in February, Alternative Press hailed Pinkshift as one of 100 Artists You Need To Know. Now, vocalist Ashrita Kumar is expanding that list with 18 of her favorite emerging pop-punk-adjacent bands.

It might not surprise you to learn that the Baltimore-based outfit’s influences are just as eclectic as their sound. In fact, Kumar is quick to note that her foundational listening inclinations gravitated predominantly toward grunge. Still, that hasn’t stopped her from observing the nuanced, often underrecognized talent running rampant throughout the pop-punk scene and beyond. 

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“I feel like there are two different routes that people who are influenced by pop punk [take],” she says regarding the modern wave. “There [are bands] like Meet Me @ The Altar, Magnolia Park and Action/Adventure, who are very reminiscent of [traditional] pop punk. Then there are [artists] doing things adjacent to pop punk but pushing it into different directions.”

The shifts are hardly incidental. As Kumar explains in the context of historical gatekeeping, there’s no separating musical movements from the culture of the time. And, if the rise of prominent women/nonbinary and POC-fronted bands serves as any indication, the alternative scene seems to be diversifying considerably—in both demographics and sound. 

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“We should champion women, people of color and queer people in this space,” she says. “People like us are bringing something new. They’re bringing different and important experiences that people don’t hear often. That’s really cool.”

You can check out Kumar’s monthly showcase of such trailblazing artists through her DIY Fem, Queer, & POC in Punk/Rock/Indie playlist. Read on for 18 of her favorites to come up from the pop-punk scene.

Jhariah

Jhariah’s stuff is very different. He’s really unique in that he pushes boundaries with literally everything that he does. It’s hard to categorize him into a genre, but I know that he has a lot of early Panic! At The Disco influences. He has a very theatrical vibe and [uses] storytelling in that same way. “PRESSURE BOMB!!!!” is my favorite song, but he’s come out with more recently. He’s been going more in the direction of pop with his latest stuff. Sometimes he’ll send me demos, and I’m like, “I have no idea what this is, but it’s so cool.” He’s one of those artists who I can listen to and be like, “Damn, there’s nothing wrong with this [song].”

Doll Skin

Doll Skin are really cool. I didn’t really know much about them until people started being like, “Oh, you should listen to Pinkshift and Doll Skin!” Then I listened to them a little bit more. They have that classic pop-punk sound, but they’re a little bit rougher around the edges. Their stuff is super catchy, and their singer is really good. I love their voice. What they’re doing is pretty cool, and I like a lot of the artists that they tend to be grouped with. They’re also super badass. 

War On Women

War On Women just released an album, Wonderful Hell, [last year]. I’ve been listening to it for the past week or so. They have that heavy, punk-leaning vibe, and they talk about really important things in their music. The genre needs people talking about things that are happening in the world, not just their own lives. They’re also from Baltimore, which is pretty cool. 

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Pom Pom Squad

Pom Pom Squad recently dropped a new single, “Lux,” which I really like. It’s punky with a little bit of edge and rougher vocals. [The vocalist] is talking and screaming. It’s not just on-tune singing. I like hearing that when I’m listening to bands, especially when they’re fronted by women. You can hear the anger, and I think it’s really cool. Their stuff is good, genuinely, and it hits different ears. It hits people who like punk and people who like pop punk as well. The way their songs are structured is really easy to follow. It’s like well-produced riot grrrl [music]. 

Yasmin Nur

Yasmin Nur released an EP [Punch Me! This Is A Nightmare!] last year. I think she would probably identify [her genre] as rock. I don’t know exactly who her influences are, but I think her stuff sounds really cool. Pop-punk fans would be really into it. She has cool chord progressions, and I like her lyricism a lot. It’s simple yet powerful, and she’s good at describing feelings in a concise but poetic way. You can sit with [her music], and it feels good to listen to. My favorite song of hers is “I Wanna Throw Up.” 

Hands Off Gretel

Hands Off Gretel are fucking fantastic. Every time I listen to them, I’m like, “Damn, I wish I sounded like that.” They define themselves as grunge, and I feel like you don’t find that many modern grunge bands… But I’d define them as more of a punk-grunge band. My favorite songs are off The Angry EP. I listen to them in my headphones while sitting in the car, and I’m like, “I want to get on my feet.” They have that quality to them. Their lyrics touch you in a way where you’re just like, “Yeah! You’re right!” [Laughs.

The singer talks a lot about being a woman and what that’s like. It has an empowering quality. In the first song on that EP, “She Thinks She’s Punk Rock N Roll,” she’s talking about how people don’t think she’s punk because she’s a girl. That can come off as cheesy, but they do it really well. Their [themes] aren’t surface level. I’m also so jealous of their singer because I love her voice. I can’t scream yet, but I want to be able to scream like that because she sounds so badass. 

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The OBGMs

The OBGMs [put out] rock that actually makes you want to get up and dance. My recommended song would be “Cash.” They have the qualities of heavy music that I really like and also dancey music like hip-hop. There are really good rhythms that aren’t just four-on-the-floor. The way that the singer speaks and sings makes you want to move to it and feel it throughout your body. They’re not emo rap or anything, but they have the same qualities in that they create music with their words and how they speak them. If I could relate them to an influence, it would be Nirvana.

Meet Me @ The Altar

Meet Me @ The Altar are doing what they do and reaching so many people. It’s really incredible. You don’t see women of color hitting the mainstream the way that they’re going to be doing soon. They work really hard and release good songs, and they’re really inspiring in that way. Before they signed to Fueled By Ramen, they actually shouted Pinkshift out on Twitter. It was a huge deal at the time because they had like 5,000 followers, and we had like 40. So, I started talking to their guitarist [Téa Campbell], and when Pinkshift started getting more attention, I’d DM her and be like, “Yo. What do you do when this happens?” [Laughs.] She’s really helpful when it comes to navigating stuff and giving good tips. They’re really sweet, and I hope that they go to the fucking moon because they deserve it. 

Teen Vamp Army

I found Teen Vamp Army because someone commented on one of our TikToks like, “Hey, if you like Pinkshift, check out Teen Vamp Army!” And it was crazy because they were right. They do sound very similar to us. I looked at their music inspirations playlist, and they have really similar influences [to us] like Nirvana, Babes In Toyland, Frank Iero, My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco, the Offspring and Sublime. It’s cool because they basically have the same influences that [Paul Vallejo] and I brought to the band at first. So, it makes sense that our music sounds similar. I haven’t heard that many bands that sound like us, but they have a very similar vibe. It’s so cool. I want to play a show with them someday. 

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Dead Pony

I think I found Dead Pony through Pinkshift radio [on Spotify]. They have a pop-punk feel with their drums, but they also have these weird chord progressions that are spooky and edgy in a way. Their song structures are pretty cool. I just really like listening to their stuff. It makes me feel like I’m wearing a leather jacket and driving down the road at 50. [Laughs.] They have a cool spice to their sound while still remaining relatively within what pop punk is considered [to be]. They introduce a darker sound, in my opinion. 

Haybaby

Haybaby are super underrated. They remind me of Hands Off Gretel in that grunge way. They’re one of those bands where I’m like, “This singer is so powerful.” Then I go to check what they look like and who they are, and I’m like, “Their singer is also Asian!” That’s so cool! It made me connect to it even more. They have a very slow vibe. They’re not really punky but a lot more grunge-leaning. Their whole thing is performance. That’s big for them, how important that expression is while performing. It’s not performance in a way that’s calculated but more like self-expression on a stage. I respect that a lot. There’s a lot of pain behind the music and lyrics. My favorite song is “Yours,” and I really like the EP Blood Harvest. They just have this really strong sense of vulnerability that I gravitate toward [for inspiration].

Allergen

Allergen have this EP, Honesty Hour, that I really like. It gives me Mannequin Pussy vibes. I bought the CD off Bandcamp. It’s one of those finds that you hear and just want to show to people. I’m like, “Hey mom, you would like this! I know you don’t like my loud music, but you would like this!” [Laughs.] Not that it’s not loud, but it’s a pleasant EP. It’s very nice to listen to. They have a pop-punk feel, but they’re bringing more of an edge to their sound. Their choruses are a little bit different than what you might expect. I couldn’t stop listening to “Uncomfortable.” I’m excited to see what more they do. 

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GILT

GILT recently had their drummer [Ash Locke] start singing for them. They [already] have one song [with Locke on vocals] called “Black And Blue.” I feel like it’s a taste of what they’re going to sound like when they release new music. They align with emo, and that song specifically has a lot of pain. It’s really visceral, and it makes me really excited about what they have coming up next.

One Life To Lead

Another band that [have me] really excited to see what comes next is One Life To Lead. They’re from Baltimore, too, actually. We have to play a show together after the pandemic. Their newest song, “Bent,” shows them coming out of that strictly pop-punk shell. I’m really into it. Whatever they release next is going to be super cool, too. They have a lot of potential to hit that pop-punk scene. 

Bacchae

I heard Bacchae’s stuff, and I was like, “Damn! This sounds cool!” They released an album last year, Pleasure Vision. They’re very punky, which I like, and they also have that pop-punk feel to them. There are these minor chord progressions that you haven’t heard before but somehow feel like you should’ve heard all along. They have this out-of-the-box thinking that still feels right. I gravitate toward music that puts together chords that could sound dissonant but don’t. [Instead], you can vibe to them. They sound cool and make you feel edgy. 

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Mint Green

Mint Green have more of an indie sound. They’re mellow, but they have a pop-punk feel for a nice spring day where the breeze is light… You want to wear a sundress even though you never wear those. That’s the vibe that they give me. They’re definitely active, even though they haven’t released anything [this year]. I’m looking forward to what they do next. 

Gully Boys

Gully Boys have more of a garage-rock vibe. They come from a rougher sound, and they have this quality to them that’s a little bit different. They remind me of bands that might be considered riot grrrl, but they’re a little more polished. And they’re super-cool people. I love cool people that make cool music.

Jangus Kangus

Jangus Kangus is an artist that had a band, Sankaran, but recently started doing solo stuff. Her first album, Santa Fe Sessions, was super mellow and indie. I was like, “OK, cool. This is what she’s going to do.” Then she just released this EP, Anxiety!, and I couldn’t stop listening to it. My favorite song is “Life On The Fault Line.” It’s all about experiencing anxiety specifically from her point of view, living in California with the wildfires, earthquakes and everything that’s going on there. The way that she talks about it is so funny and cheeky. I relate to it, but I’m not from California. I’ve never experienced these things. [Laughs.] She’s talking about experiencing anxiety and existential dread, but the songs sound really happy. She gets political with her stuff, and she’s fearless in what she says. I admire that a lot about her.

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Who are some of your favorites of Kumar’s picks? Let us know in the comments below!