Watching Pretty Sick’s ’90s-esque music videos makes you feel as if you’ve been blasted onto a production set starring Hole, except the entire cast is replaced by an aggressive, high-definition Gen Z. Sabrina Fuentes was only 13 when she started the new-age grunge troupe and quickly established them as one of the fastest-growing bands in the New York DIY scene within seven years.
Their songs celebrate youth, lament love and reflect the emotional undertakings analogous to growing up in the big apple. Fuentes’ eerie voice and distorted bass guitar complement low harmonies played by second bassist Orazio Argentero, crunchy guitar solos by Wade Oates (The Virgins) and complex fills from Austin Williamson (Onyx Collective).
While they scaled back the reverb and slowed down the consistent aggression compared to their 2020 EP, Deep Divine, they succeeded in keeping the same chaotically mystic energy the band are known for. Covering issues of love, sex and troubled relationships, the band’s new EP, Come Down, serves as their second release on U.K. label Dirty Hit.
“We weren’t sure how we wanted to collect all of the songs to tell a story,” Fuentes says of the new EP. “So we were just sitting on it for a while and waiting to figure out what we wanted to do with it.”
Newcomers who want a feel for their energy need to look no further than the “Bet My Blood” music video, especially if you love huge syringes, sardonic smiles and some of the most punk screams you’ve ever heard overlaid by hectic scenes of failed defibrillation. It has all the best elements of a dynamic grunge track, featuring dueling bass guitars, tom-heavy drum parts and otherworldly lyrics.
Ultimately, the new EP acknowledges what it’s like to be in a troubled relationship while choosing to ignore the red flags because you enjoy being with that person too much. It’s aggressive yet stands as an ode to finding yourself in that place Fuentes calls “safe and warm” with another person and letting it overwhelm your intuition. Yes, “Pillbug” and “Bare” are more personal than their fans are used to. But as expected from the constantly evolving Pretty Sick, Come Down delivers a refreshingly grunge take on the complexities of modern sex and love.
You can read an exclusive interview between Fuentes and Alternative Press below and hear the new EP as well.
Come Down is host to a variety of new sounds. How do the band experiment to create such a fully realized album?
We play a lot of different types of music together. Austin, Orazio and Wade show me a lot of new kinds of music and stuff they think would be cool for the band to do or that they want to explore, and that definitely influences our songwriting as a group. We’re growing as a group, with new influences for everyone to explore different genres at different times of our lives. So I guess that’s where most of the inspiration for this album came from.
It’s a lot of different styles of music that we’ve been wanting to explore for a long time that we just haven’t been able to before. It didn’t feel like we had [a] base that was solid enough to branch out into doing more “out-there” stuff until now. Luckily on Deep Divine, we were able to look at that and set the tone for what it is and what we want to do, and now we can continue to build off that, which is the idea for the whole EP.
Despite being on a major label, Pretty Sick exude a strong DIY vibe. How do you manage to do that so organically but also sound so polished?
Pretty easily, actually. Dirty Hit has been great about respecting our choices and not pushing us in any one direction too much. Outside of that, I think I have a real taste for pop music, and my songwriting style has a real pop music sensibility, but I also really love alternative music and underground stuff and knowing about stuff before it’s really taken off and whatnot.
Orazio is obsessed with DIY underground punk purist stuff, as are Austin and Wade. If anything, Wade has a little more of a pop sensibility, but it’s a good 50-50 split where we’re all concerned with making music that stays true to a certain emotion without abandoning that feeling. It’s like versatility with a wider audience, you know? Keeping the feeling alive and keeping it interesting to us while still making it something people can relate to and enjoy in a modern age.
Pretty Sick were trailblazers pretty much immediately from your first release, and you’ve consistently broken new ground. Do you plan the direction of the band, or does it just happen naturally?
It happens naturally, especially in the past since we didn’t have a label. We weren’t really sure what the direction was in the long run until recently. Now with a label and a wider audience, there are obviously questions like, “What’s the next release going to be?” I feel like that’s how you run into writer’s block. Right now, we’re taking a break and writing a lot, talking a lot about the new music we like, looking through the stuff we already have, deciding what resonates with us and what we want to continue to work on. I think we’ll take it from there.
On “Bare” and “Pillbug,” you took a more stripped-down approach instrumentally. Can you tell me more about how you were feeling when you wrote and recorded those songs?
“Pillbug” was a song that I had in my head for a pretty long time, but I didn’t know how to put it together. I had it in my head since I was 15, and I wasn’t really sure how it came back to us. But I was just playing by myself, and we had extra time in the studio one day after we had wrapped up recording “Self Control” or something. It was one of the louder tracks, so we wanted to do something more relaxed, just me and Orazio, so I was like, “Let’s do something I’ve wanted to do that’s been stuck in my head since I was a kid.”
That one’s just about retreating to that place in your head that’s safe and warm and finding that same feeling in a person. And “Bare” is just about being in a shitty relationship, but not wanting to give it up or admit to yourself that that’s what it is because you’re really in love. We weren’t sure if we were even going to record those, so we just recorded them for fun, but we had a lot of time in the studio, and it turned out better than expected.
Yeah, it turned out great. How did you manage to balance school, being away from your bandmates and releasing a new EP all during a pandemic?
So we wrote the songs over a few years and were jamming on them for a few years after that, then recorded all of Deep Divine around 2018, 2019. And then when Orazio started playing in 2019, he came to New York with us, and we recorded all of Come Down. When we signed to Dirty Hit, it was July, so kind of the beginning of the pandemic. It was a really weird time playing with a label since everything was so uncertain in the world at large—we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to release music. But it’s been great to release the music we had recorded and worked on for so long during this time.
I think otherwise, we would have felt really stuck not being able to go to the studio and stuff. I really feel for musicians who had to cancel tours or cancel recording dates. We’re really lucky that everything played out the way it did. We thought about re-recording all of the music from Deep Divine and Come Down to try to make it more polished, but we didn’t because we just wanted to get it out and weren’t sure if we were going to be able to record. I’m really glad that we did because I really like the promise of the original recordings.
Which song off the new EP are you most excited to play live? And which song do you think will be the most difficult to capture in a live setting?
I’m really excited to play “Bet My Blood” and “Self Control” because I love rock, and I love playing heavy music live. It just brings a different energy to singing for me that’s really enjoyable. It’s a really big release for me. I’m nervous to play “Bare” because it’s really close to home and personal. I’m also nervous to play “Devil In Me” because it’s hard to play bass that fast and sing at the same time, but I’m sure with practice I’ll get really good at it.
You can read the full interview with Pretty Sick’s Sabrina Fuentes in issue 395, available here.