by Julia Leiby
Pity Sex, a four-piece emo / shoegaze band on Run For Cover Records from Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently released White Hot Moon, its follow up to 2013’s critically acclaimed record Feast of Love. The album delves into and subverts pop music with blurry ballads and distorted guitars, with lyrics co-written by Britty Drake (vocals, guitar) and Sean St. Charles (drums). Over email Drake and St. Charles conversed with me about Pity Sex’s beginnings, influences, changing sound and the meaning behind White Hot Moon.
Where are you from originally? When did you start writing music? Where are you living now?
Britty: We are all from Michigan. Brennan, Brandan, and Sean are from the Detroit area, and I'm from near Lansing. We started writing music together when we moved into a big house in Ann Arbor in 2012. Brennan, Sean, and I still live in Ann Arbor, and Brandan is back in Detroit right now.
What bands and songwriters influenced you as you were making music?
Britty: Jewel, Alanis Morissette, and The Cure come to mind, but I don’t ever set out to write something that sounds like something else. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t really understand how to replicate a sound.
Do you find songwriting therapeutic? Can you tell me more about the song ‘Plum’?
Britty: I would say it’s therapeutic, yes, but that’s not it’s major function in my life (I just like it). "Plum" is a true story about the last few weeks of my mom’s life. She was sick for over a decade before she passed away. When it finally happened--when she was really dying, it’s like my dad thought he could still make her feel better by buying her favorite fruit at the store. I remember the hope in his voice when he brought them home, but it was already too late. She had already eaten her last meal. She spent a couple more days in and out of consciousness with him sitting by her side. When we came back home from her funeral, I saw the plums still sitting in the kitchen—uneaten. I felt a pit grow in my stomach.
Could you tell me a little bit about what was going on in your life when writing this album?
Britty: I was working three jobs and finishing college when we finished this record.
I noticed that the band is from Ann Arbor and I lived there as a child. Was the local scene welcoming there for you guys as a young band and how did it influence you?
Sean St. Charles: There isn’t much of an Ann Arbor scene. As a college town, it’s in perpetual flux. Talent comes and goes. No one stays around long enough to establish any artistic continuity. If anything, this taught us to not give a shit about posturing. As anyone would expect, we have a lot of good friends here, but otherwise no one knows who we are or what we’re doing. Isolation. That’s something of an influence I suppose.
How do you feel the band has grown since your earlier releases (Dark World and Feast of Love), in terms of instrumentation as well as personal growth?
Britty: Idk I heard emo is growing up but we aren’t?????????
[in reference to their recent Pitchfork review]
How do you feel like you experiment with your sound and do you feel like you intentionally try to move past being a conventional emo/rock band?
Britty: As I mentioned above, I think it takes more talent than I have to intentionally change your sound. I just write what I feel like writing because it’s fun. I don’t feel like I have too much control over what it sounds like.
White Hot Moon includes a lot of references to seasons and months specifically/ the passing of time and I was wondering if you could talk about that a bit.
Britty: Time is one of my main research interests. I currently work in a psychology laboratory at the University of Michigan. We study many aspects of human cognition, but time—the way people conceptualize, value, and perceive it—is my topic of interest. A lot of my songs are influenced by our research. I’m particularly interested in trait differences in temporal orientation (e.g. past focused, present focused, future focused). Most of my songs are influenced by my tendency to fixate on the past or future to a problematic degree.
The lyrics in the album seem focused on relationships that are either unhealthy/ emotionally taxing, can you talk a little about the inspiration for this?
Britty: I can understand why some of my songs sound that way, and some of them definitely do reflect an emotionally taxing (but very worthwhile) state. That being said, most of them have a positive underlying sentiment even if they take a wavering approach to said sentiment. As far as inspiration is concerned, I only write about whatever is really happening in my life.
What is the meaning behind the White Hot Moon?
Sean: There is no explicit meaning. The phrase came to me one night as I was working on lyrics for the record. I was frustrated with my progress, looked out the window and saw the burning summer moon. Everything I was living, and consequently writing, transpired below that moon. An emotional environment and a physical one. That all felt right to me.
Have you ever faced any harassment/ different treatment in the music scene/industry because of your gender and does that affect your songwriting/ your general life?
Britty: Of course, but it’s important to note that I am still relatively privileged in many ways. I don’t think it has affected my songwriting. It has definitely acted to discourage me in the past, but discouragement eventually turns into motivation to push back. I’m lucky to be in a position that allows my voice to be easily heard, and I’m always happy to use it for something I believe in (i.e. equality).
Pity Sex will be on the road starting in June, on a full U.S. tour with Petal and PWR BTTM.