Brooklyn’s Wild Pink are not a political band. They certainly don’t write sloganeering, crowd-pleasing numbers that will incite a riot. But John Ross is passionate about social justice and politics. In fact, he is at his most forthright when dissecting the state of the nation, blasting the Trump regime as “reckless” and slamming the government for its plans to roll back civil liberties.
“No-one can afford to be apathetic,” he asserts. “In fact, I don’t think anybody does feel apathetic anymore.
“We’re in dire straits – about the gun control issues and how the world seems headed towards rising dictators in Western countries. The Women’s March in New York was overwhelming and emotional and beautiful, and I think it’s exciting if this sort of thing continues.”
By his own admission, he is not a political songwriter, yet there are some powerful messages to be found within the New York trio’s self-titled debut album. The most striking of which comes on the arresting ‘I Used To Be Small’, which concludes with John asking: “I wonder if the next mass shooting will be near? / If God tells me to keep the flock safe / I’ll keep a gun loaded with the safety off just in case.”
It is an issue embedded in the American psyche, yet it doesn’t make the topic any less emotive. “The gun violence issue in the States is surreal,” says John. “The number of mass shootings there are, how it has been normalised, and how the only answer politicians seem to have – or at least the ones who are winning right now – is that we need more guns and more people need to be armed. It’s just insane. That lyric is supposed to show how crazy that thinking is.”
John’s utterly aghast at the situation, and ‘I Used To Be Small’ serves as a direct response to this and the failure of the American Dream. “Yes I am embarrassed to be here,” he muses on it, pointedly questioning his relationship with his homeland and idea of identity.
And issues of identity, location and time are constant themes in the work of John and Wild Pink. Whether referring to a particular moment or a certain location, ‘Wild Pink’ is a product of experience and environment. “I don’t think locations inform my music directly or differently,” says John, “But locations generally are very important to me.
“For example, where I used to live, there’s this big clock that hangs over the door of a funeral parlour, and that always stuck out to me as kind of interesting for a funeral parlour to have such a big public clock telling people what time it is.”
The implication, of course, is that for the residents inside the funeral home, time is somewhat irrelevant. That said, John is eager to stress that mortality is not a big consideration of his work, despite a handful downbeat lyrics (“we’re losing you in the night, you’re slipping away”) and song titles (‘How Do You Know If God Takes You back?’): “I guess it is a consideration, in as much as anyone thinks about life and death,” he says, “but I don’t think it’s a particularly big point of interest for me.
“I don’t want my work to feel too heavy. I feel like if you’re talking about life and death, then it has the potential to become indulgent and overly dramatic.”
Yet there is a certain drama to Wild Pink’s work. Whether it’s the punchy transition between opening song ‘How Do You Know If God Takes You Back?’ and the sweet indie-pop of ‘Great Apes’, or the closing four lines to ‘I Used To Be Small’, ‘Wild Pink’ is awash with moments of tension and drama.
Formed out of the electronica two-piece Challenger, Wild Pink have retained some of the atmosphere of John’s previous project, combining it with moments of quiet, understated beauty and blasts of driving, if somewhat off-kilter, indie-pop. Now a three-piece (completed by bassist TC Brownell and drummer Dan Keegan), Wild Pink’s full-length debut is arguably the group’s most rounded effort to date, building on the early promise of 2015’s ‘Good Life’ EP to create an album with an easy ebb and flow to match the personal and identifiable lyrics.
The reason for such growth is, simply, time, as John explains: “I definitely took more time with the album than I did with ‘Good Life’,” he says. “The ‘Four Songs’ EP that came out last year, that was made up of extra tracks from the full-length; so the full-length is 11 songs, and we had those four songs left.
“‘Fourth of July’ [off ‘Four Songs’] is the most recent song. I wrote that one when we had finished recording and mixing, and I just wrote and recorded it at home and decided to just put it on the EP.
“But I definitely started spending more time with the songs since ‘Good Life’. Initially, we were just a two-piece, and those songs were done pretty quick – I don’t think we put a huge amount of thought into them. But with the full-length, I gave each song a little more room to grow. And they were finished when I was finished with them.”
The result is one of the most satisfying albums of the year so far; an album that blurs genre boundaries yet retains a sense of familiarity. And in these troubled times, it’s reassuring to know bands with the potential to create such beautiful, emotive and accessible music still have the will and desire to change the world.
Wild Pink’s self-titled album is out 24th February.