Pink $ock is an R&B comedy band made by Santa Monica native Julian Rifkin, who has been playing in L.A. for nearly seven years. The hilarious and witty singer-songwriter took the time to talk with me about his journey as a musician and which musicians inspired him while growing up.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alex Myers: You said you were taking a lunch break. Do you have a day job outside of music?
Pink $ock: I do yes!
AM: What got you into music?
P$: I don’t know. There was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles concerts video I had when I was young that I fucked with that all the time. I’m also from a musical family so I was around it all the time, so it just seemed like the thing to do.
AM: How have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles influenced your own performances?
P$: I haven’t seen that concert video in probably 20 years, but I imagine that I was very inspired by Michaelangelo.
AM: What is the meaning behind your name? Not going to lie, when I head Pink $ock I thought it was a fleshlight reference.
P$: Haha it’s kind of a long story. When I started the project I was seeing it more as a creative writing thing. I thought of a scenario in which my non-existent fiancé would move out of the non-existent apartment I had with her and I’d find out only by coming home and there would just be one of her pink socks on the floor. So then on the first album, there’s a song called “Pink $ock,” which explains everything.
AM: Did you originally want to be a creative writer?
P$: Oh no, I just thought it’d be fun to have a storyline with a character in my music.
AM: Does all your other music have a storyline?
P$: I envisioned a video for every Pink $ock song—that’s how I kinda write it in my head. I see it visually even though it’s music. I try to tell full plots in songs and express some sort of tale of romance or woe.
AM: Yeah, you’re a very visual artist and I love how everything you make from your albums to videos are pink.
P$: I realized at a certain point that I wanted a certain vibe to come across. We’re not a rock band and we’re not a punk band. We’re a mid-tempo funk band. It’s not super fast or super slow—it’s music that you can dance to with somebody. Pink seems to be a relatively romantic color, so we just kinda push it. Personally, I love the color pink, so it works out for me.
AM: Pink is definitely a loving kind of color. Your songs remind me of 80’s R&B and pop songs. I was looking at your public playlists on your Spotify page and saw that you’re into a lot of Brazilian artists like Elis Regina and Sérgio Mendes. Are you Brazilian?
P$: No haha I’m a west side Jew, but I love Bossanova and in the last year or so I’ve started sitting down and really studying it. I used to assume that it was always there, but it literally means “new wave” and it’s a musical style from the late 50s. I just had always assumed that Brazilian music was always that. When I learned about Bossanova, I learned that the main tenant was being romantic. They wanted to make romantic music that everyone, regardless of class, could get into because it’s hyper-romantic. I’m into the cheesiness, so it speaks to me on that level.
AM: Yeah it’s very groovy and not hard on the ears.
P$: I used to play in a rock band, and I still love rock music, but I found that you’re really only as good as your audience if you’re playing rock because if they’re not into the genre, then it’s not going to work. I feel like I stumbled upon something that’s kind of a little more universal—it’s music that you’d have playing in the background.
AM: What do you listen to growing up? Was it mostly rock music or mainly prominent West Coast artists?
P$: I’m pretty sure there’s a huge influence from Space Jam. I can’t fight it you know. The main things I listened to while growing up was lots Roxy Music, Neil Young and Stevie Wonder. And then in middle school, I dabbled into some horrible music like Green Day, but Ween and Radiohead got me out of that.
AM: I respect that so much because of Ween.
P$: I learned about Ween from the Spongebob movie and I bought their album. I thought they sounded different and they were kinda fucked up, but still fun. At that age, I had this idea that if the musician was fucked up, then it had to sound fucked up. I eventually learned that you can have darkness, but not necessarily lead with that because there is also a lot of comedy to Ween, but they’re not a comedy band.
AM: Your music kind of reminds me of “Freedom of ‘76”
P$: Yea I would say “A Tear for Eddie” and “Freedom of ‘76” were the most influential Ween songs for me and the thing about Ween is that it gets you into other music because you realize that “A Tear for Eddie” is about Eddie Hazel and then you get into Funkadelic and Parliament. After Ween, The Flaming Lips were a huge thing and I would say that every now and then when I listen to Pink $ock I hear the influence from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I would say the albums that have the most influence over Pink $ock songs are Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese, The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots and Midnight Vultures by Beck.
AM: I can definitely hear that influence.
P$: The funny part about it is all that music eventually got me into Marvin Gaye when I figured out that I like sexy music—it’s booty music with booty. You can shake your booty, you can grab a booty and you have your booty grabbed, consensually obviously. So it took me a while to get to the master [Marvin Gaye] and I would say regardless of weird personal issues he had, no one could sing as smooth as that mother fucker. My friend gave me the album Here, My Dear that Marvin wrote when he was going through his divorce. It was the first time that he wrote lyrics on his album and he wrote all about the horrible divorce proceedings. It’s a real vulnerable album and it’s honest.
AM: Is that how you write? It’s more of a therapeutic way of dealing with the bullshit of love.
P$: I would say I’m pretty wacky, but I’m well adjusted—I was well-loved as a kid. I would say that Pink $ock is more romantic comedy R&B because the songs are serious, but they’re funny about humorous relationship topics that are relatable. I don’t want to make really heavy emotional music because I’ve listened to my fair share of it. There is also a lot of horrible shit happening all of the time and I would like to make Pink $ock to represent more hopeful positivity. I will be the first to say that it might not be the deepest lyrically, I try harder on the melodies to give it more density, but lyrically I want it to be relatable and fun. I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 28 and when I was in high school it was a lot of sad bastard music—there was no booty in music for a long time, so I wanted to be a less dorky, sad, white emo boy. Everyone has problems and I’m sure people have a lot worse problems than me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable complaining about whatever bullshit I deal with. What I stubbed my toe? I just want it to be fun because I’ve been to so many heavy shows in my life. I saw Father John Misty years ago, like back when he was going by J. Tillman, and he was opening for Dirty Projectors. His music was really heavy, but then in between songs he was hilarious and he was just trying to entertain the crowd. I thought there was this horrible discrepancy between his music and who he is. I think he figured that out and changed to Father John Misty. I think he was stuck in this mindset where he thought he had to play sad music because people liked it and personally, it would be a lie if I was making sad music.
AM: How do you write music? Is it more of a collaborative process or is it just you and a computer?
P$: Generally I make all the music by myself. Occasionally, I’ll have someone come in if I’m stuck and they’ll help me finish a song. My friend Max from Wild Wing will come over to smoke pot and we’d write songs like “West Side Girl.” The song was about me wanting to go out with this girl, but I couldn’t afford to see her because she lives in Hollywood and I was living in Santa Monica at the time. I’d show Max the idea and I’d be like “I wanna drink sake” and he’d be like “no dude, soju.” When I’m surrounded by the people I trust it’s kind of collaborative, but generally, I make it myself. I kind of have to sketch it out because the song will either come to me immediately or it will take months.
AM: When did you originally start making music?
P$: I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12—I worked at a guitar store called McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica for almost ten years from high school to college. I really didn’t start playing music for people until I was 21.
AM: What bands were you in before you created Pink $ock?
P$: I had a band I ran called Greaser, you probably haven’t heard of them, but you’ve probably seen some wearing a Greaser shirt cause all my friends wear them. But going back to the question about making music, I record everything myself because it’s really personal. I’m in my car a lot and I’ll work on songs in there. I’ve had a live band for the last year and before that, I used to do solo shows with my iPod playing the background tracks. The band is so much more fun and I have way less pressure to be entertaining because I recognize there are other musicians who are performing. The band I have now is the best band I’ve ever been in and I feel so fucking lucky every day. I don’t have to carry all the gear and I just sing while they play and write parts that are amazing. They write parts that are true to the music, but uniquely them.
AM: So it’s kind of like Tame Impala where Kevin Parker writes all of the music and the other bands mates will add on?
P$: Yeah exactly, and I’m working on this new album and I’m finding that I’m writing guitar parts that are more in the style of my band.
AM: How did you meet your band members?
P$: I met our keyboardist, Doug Lamoth, who plays in the band Perfection when I was playing at a wedding for one of our friends and Pink $ock’s drummer, Nate, used to book shows for me as a solo act. All the band members were legit fans of my music and they were in other bands that fucking shredded, so I eventually asked them if they wanted to join. Our first show was in March of last year, so about a year and a couple of months.
AM: Have you guys grown and evolved as a band since then?
P$: Oh definitely, like I said I now write my songs in a way that I know they’re playable by humans. I used to not to have to worry about that, but now I’ve learned to tone some of the electronic music elements to my music. On the news albums, I’ve learned how to record and write better, which makes looking back at my second album weird because all of my fans liked that one the most.
AM: Do you record everything in your room?
P$: Yeah exactly and I think what’s really important about music is that I only make this music because I want to hear it. I’m unabashedly my number one fan. The band has really helped me evolved in the way that they’ve helped me find how I really want to sound like. Farther down the line we’ll get a full band album. It’s really hard now cause that I write songs is personal and requires a lot of alone time.
AM: Do you feel like strangers are seeing you naked when you’re writing a song with people that you don’t fully trust.
P$: Not necessarily because I’m pretty confident, maybe even borderline arrogant. I’m pretty honest with what I’m doing and recognizing when I suck. I’ve collaborated with enough with people to know that for every five songs you make, one is great. And that’s the hardest part of working with people is when you have to tell them that you don’t necessarily like the song that was made.
AM: Are there some songs or albums that you have released that you wish you didn’t?
P$: Nah, it’s easy to say that you’ve made a mistake, but you have to make them in order to get where you are now. The songs I like are the ones people don’t listen to and that’s also how it works. One of the most popular Pink $ock songs is “I Wish I Had Her Number,” which I wrote with my friend Brandi. We wrote it in such a relaxed state and we just thought to add it on to my album and people love it, but I’m like “no you don’t get it, it’s all about the song ‘Pink $ock’ on the first album.” I have to remember though that I am not my audience.
AM: When do you plan to release a new album?
P$: No joke, I tore a back muscle a month and I was knocked on my ass for a while, so I’m just now getting back to recording it. I’d say maybe between September and November.
AM: Do you have any upcoming shows planned?
P$: We’re doing Echo Parking rising on August 17 and we’re planning more that I can’t say right now.
AM: Do you still talk to Sophie, Cassandra, Alyssa and Katie?
P$: Yes and only one of them is a fake person. All three of them are amazing and beautiful women that I love.
AM: How did they react when they heard the songs?
P$: They loved it! None of them were offended. I let them know that I was writing a song about them. My one piece of advice for writing a song is that it doesn’t work if you want to impress a girl who you like. I’m really close with all those girls and it has never been romantic.
AM: How would you describe the L.A. music scene to someone who is not from L.A.?
P$: There are a lot of different ones, but I would say that right now I’m apart of the Echo Park music scene. It’s one of those things where you see there’s a scene but when you start working you realize that everyone is just trying to work independently. I guess what it is is that you find the bands that you’re comfortable with. I’m more comfortable with the bands that consist of friends that I grew up with because we like the same music growing up. We play such romantic soft music that we stick out in the scene.
AM: Are there any acts in the L.A. music scene that you are excited to see grow?
P$: One of my favorites is Belly Belt. She has a full country band, which I find ridiculous, but it’s amazing. She plays these performance art pieces that are like R&B. My friends Wild Wing just put out this new album that’s pretty fucking sick. I’ll admit that once you start writing and playing shows, you see less of them. Though one band I want to see is La Chomba—it’s South American psychedelic funk.
AM: Were there times that you thought about changing careers?
P$: I went to college in Santa Cruz for modern literature. When I was younger my aspirations went from wanting to be a secret agent to an author because I liked kids books to being a chiropractor, which I have no idea where I got that from. I’m at this point where I’d be happy to make enough money to eat Thai food three times a week paid for by music.
AM: That is a fucking goal.
P$: The other benefits are implied, but there’s gotta be pad thai, pad see ew and papaya salad.
AM: What advice would you give to other acts who want to make a living out of playing music?
P$: Make sure that you love music more than anything else in your life. When it comes down to it, music must be the thing that makes you happy because there will be so many things that will make you unhappy while pursuing it. You have to make sure that the desire never leaves and it’s also about adapting. You have to know your body’s limits and what kind of music you were meant to make. It takes about ten years to figure out what you want to make and it’s tough. I mean you really just have to be honest with yourself. Don’t expect anything. About two and a half years ago, I started doing solo shows, which was a drop off from doing a three-piece 70s rock band show, but I realized that it was the music that I wanted to make. I know I love rock guitar solos, but I know that I’m not built to make that kind of music.
AM: Well at least you now know yourself.
P$: Yeah, it’s like would you want some kind of dorky ass dude being a rapper? No, you can’t be a rapper and a dorky ass dude. Even the dorky ones aren’t really dorks.
AM: Does your day job relate to music?
P$: No, it’s completely different.
AM: How do you maintain your sanity not doing what you love?
P$: You toughen up a little bit and recognize that in due time you’ll be okay. I’m in L.A. and there are fucking millions of people here. Like how many are going to make it? You got to go through some horrible shit and it gives you perspective. I worked in the service industry a lot and it gives me empathy towards humans doing any job because you realize that you should treat people good regardless. I would say conflict probably helps because, for example, you might not have the energy after work to go to band practice and write a song, but someone else does and works longer.
Listen to Pink $ock below and be sure to catch their performance at Echo Park Rising on August 16th: