"I let in a robber / I let him in because I just wanted company," Pinky Pinky drummer/vocalist Anastasia Sanchez sings on "Robber," her tough-smart nasal drawl channeling Jonathan Richman. "He took me hostage / but only because he didn't want to be alone like me." Guitarist Isabelle Fields chimes in, riffing incongruously on some cheery garage guitar grunge, as bassist Eva Chambers joins them on a series of girl group "doo-be-wop-wop" choruses. It's gothic desperation in a sunny package.
The LA trio specializes in retro rock with a deceptively morbid edge. Their name, despite its carefree sound, is actually derived from a South African legend about a creature that sexually assaults young girls in toilets. They picked it without realizing quite how ugly the legend was, but many of their songs, in the tradition of Shangri-La's girl group garage, include disturbing imagery wrapped in shiny hooks. "Fish Bones," which, like "Robber," is from their recent EP 2018, tells the story of a break up by the shore, as the narrator steps on dead fish and muses on rotting love. "I let her kiss me not with love but out of spite," Sanchez spits at the close.
The band's dour material and tough sound hits all the harder considering its members are barely out of high school. Sanchez is 20, and the others are 18. "It's definitely hard being three very young girls in the industry, because this is an industry of men," Fields said. "It can be easy to end up in bad situations."
"People don't expect much from us, and then they'll be shocked,” Chambers adds. “'You can actually play.'"
In fact, the members of Pinky Pinky, who perform this weekend at Noisey's Emerge Impact + Music fest in Las Vegas, have been playing for a long time. Sanchez has been drumming since before she can remember. "My dad would duct tape drum sticks to my hands and I would play a little beat," she told me. Chambers started on piano when she was 6, and was in a band with her sisters when by the time she hit 9. For her part, Fields says, "My parents were very into rock 'n' roll. You could say I was raised on rock 'n' roll."
Sanchez and Chambers met in middle school through a shared love of rock. "In the locker room after school, after PE, one day, we had to wear these grey shirts, and Anastasia would wear this grey Bowie one rather than the school one," Chambers recalls, making her voice high and girly to channel her middle school self. The two bonded over their shared Bowie love.
Besides Bowie, the band cites a bewildering array of influences, from the five-octave 1950s Peruvian singer Yma Sumac to Frank Zappa. "Hot Tears," an over-the-top minor key girl-group pastiche, is full of "oooh-oooh-oooohs" as Sanchez sings in a quasi falsetto, "I soaked up the tablecloth with hot tears / cause darling you left meeeeee / ooooh oooh oooh." But the band also cites plenty of contemporary, perhaps less expected performers. "The pop stars who changed my life are probably Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. I still think they're the best," Chambers says. They all fantasize about going on tour with Cardi B.
After Chambers and Fields graduated high school, the band concentrated on songwriting and touring. They were approached two years ago by producer and musician Hanni El Khatib, who has since been recording their music on his Innovative Leisure label. Their 2017 self-titled EP includes "Spiders," in which an Eastern belly-dance groove crawls ominously out of the amps, and "Ram Jam," an unsettling rave-up about being stalked. "My baby comes through the window / He won't let me alone!" Sanchez wails, as the garage vamp chases her down. There's no youthful innocence here; just youthful paranoia.
They're just speaking to what surrounds them, Chambers says, pointing to the anti-gun activism of the Parkland shooting victims. "I think the whole shock value of the kids leading this—I mean, I'm not surprised. I think it's funny that it's so unexpected, but maybe because we're young too, we always felt that our voices should be heard, and can be. And I think it's really cool that people are taking it seriously. It's just important to speak up and have your voice heard."
Pinky Pinky isn't falling silent any time soon. After the release of "Hot Tears" this year, the band is working on recording their first full-length, which they hope to debut in the fall. Like the band's releases so far, the album promises that when young people do speak up, their voices aren't more than inspirational and fun—they're weird, arch, honest, and funny—soaked with pop hooks and dread.