Text and photos by Stacie Joy
I’m following a byzantine series of steps and underground hallways to find Sabrina Fuentes, lead singer of indie rockersPretty Sick at a sold-outMercury Lounge.
It’s Halloween night so there are random spooky decorations up, and the band is hosting a costume party so concertgoers are feeling festive. I bump into local faves Hello Mary, who opened for Pretty Sick (sharing the bill with Harry Teardrop) before finding Sabrina a few minutes before she’s due on stage with her two bandmates, dressed for the night as Santa Clause and Travis Bickle.
I trail her up the stairs and onto the stage, where her fans react with predictable fervor. People scream out suggestions for songs they’d like to hear from the band’s EPs, including the June release Come Down (released via the label Dirty Hit, whose roster includes Wolf Alice and the 1975).
This is the band’s first NYC in two-plus years, so there’s a full house who sing along to every song.
In the weeks after the show, I follow up with Sabrina to talk about music, feminism, friends and collaborators. The band, which Sabrina founded in 2013 at age 13, has been rehearsing at Rivington Music Rehearsal Studios ahead of recording a new full-length album upstate.
I’ve read that you started writing music at a very young age. What initially inspired you to do so?
I’m not sure what inspired me originally. Sound has always been the sense/medium that appealed to me. I can’t imagine working with or on anything but sound/music. I’m a sonically inclined person, I guess. Rock is the genre I work with the most because it comes naturally to me and the message of rock and roll is the most freeing.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
Hard to say. Probably lullabies my parents and grandparents sang to me.
How do you feel like NYC has shaped you as a person, as an artist?
Growing up in NYC is so different than anywhere else in the world. You have access to so much more and it really is such a privilege creatively to have been able to see and hear the things around me from a young age. I feel like I was forced to grow up really fast for a number of reasons, and NYC definitely added to that.
As an artist, I feel like I got to be like a kid and experiment, explore and play around with music more than I would have if I were anywhere else.
You’re a native New Yorker and now going to school in London. What do you miss about the city? Does being away make you appreciate NYC even more?
I actually graduated from school in London already; I’m just living there now. I come back to the city for about half the year (on and off) and spend the time in between in London. I miss the energy of NYC and the way people interact in public. I think I see the flaws of the way this city is a bit more now that I’ve had a step back from it, but I think that happens whenever anyone leaves home.
I appreciate the sense of community and the great people who are here way more now. I’m much more comfortable here, but I like moving and traveling — it’s good to get out of your comfort zone.
Through the years, several articles about you refer to you as a “riot grrrl.” How do you feel in general about the term? Do you find it limiting at all?
I don’t mind it, but I don’t know how accurate it is — haha! Riot Grrrl refers pretty specifically to feminist rock music movement from the late ’80s and early ’90s, and while I’m a feminist, I don’t really consider my work to be particularly political or feminist-y. I’m just a woman writing rock music and people like to use buzzwords like “riot grrrl” or “feminist” to write an article ’cus it’s easier than having to think critically. It’s not a limiting label as much as it is kind of inaccurate and reductive, but I don’t really care what people call me; I’m just grateful they’re giving my music a chance.
You’re friends with Hello Mary, who opened for you on Halloween night at the Mercury Lounge. Do you see a more robust community now for young bands in NYC than when you started out?
Oh my god, yeah. There was like a four-year period where a lot of the DIY venues who booked local bands closed, and all of the slightly bigger NYC bands moved to LA ’cus there were just more opportunities.
After the pandemic, the band scene has been doing so much better, and people are more excited to go see music and wanna get involved in some way. A lot of people who move to NYC these days are yuppies and PR-girl types who don’t give a shit about going to see live music or listening to alternative music, so it’s great the youth are actually excited about it.
Speaking of that Halloween night show, how was it playing again in front of an audience?
It felt so good to be on stage again at home. That was our first show in NYC since August of 2019!
Allen Street” and “Bet My Blood” videos. What’s it like working and collaborating with friends?
It’s great. All of our videos were made by my friends who are NYC artists like Manon, Maggie Lee, Leander Capuozzo,Oliver Rivard, Jake Moore and Richard Kern.
All of the crew are artists and homies too. For example, sculptor Sofia Lelani and painter Karmel Spanier made the set and props for the “Bet My Blood” music video, and designer Sasha Melnychuk made the costumes.
Another example is all the cars in the “Allen Street” video were lent to us by a Red Hook-based drag-racing team called New Day, which is run by Louis Shannon, who operates Entrance Gallery in Chinatown. All of the actors and video vixens are artists, organizers, skaters, and oddballs from the Lower East Side. Community in NYC is really important to me and Pretty Sick as a whole, which wouldn’t exist without it. I love NYC and its people. Fanatically.
You can keep tabs on the band on Instagram.