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Strangers No Longer: Pllush Gets Rid of the Fake News - July 11, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Strangers No Longer: Pllush Gets Rid of the Fake News

Pllush would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

This is not strictly a shoegaze band. It actually has two lead singers, not one. And no one in the group is a dedicated lyricist, à la Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead. Also, they are neither the Plush from South Africa nor the Plush from Chicago.

The members of the four-piece San Francisco rock group have been forced to clear up these errata because they’re receiving increasingly more attention and praise, due in large part to reactions to their wonderful debut album, Stranger to the Pain.

Released on the local label Father/Daughter Records, Stranger to the Pain is a testament to Pllush’s continued growth and burgeoning confidence. Accessible, yet still forceful and challenging, it represents a natural step forward for a band that gained notice for the hazy, feedback-laden output of its first two EPs.

“Every review that we’ve gotten still calls us a shoegaze and it pisses me off so bad,” says Karli Helm, one of the two vocalists and songwriters. “There is maybe one song on the new record that is reminiscent of that sound — but once you’re a shoegaze band, you’re always a shoegaze band, apparently.”

Far from only blasting out ear-blistering feedback, Pllush is a fully cohesive group, experimenting in numerous sounds and structures while coalescing around the twin-songwriting core of Helm and Eva Treadway — who is a primary vocalist for Pllush, and not the person solely responsible for writing the group’s lyrics. The group showcases its talents on Monday, July 16 at the Rickshaw Stop as part of Local Sirens, a free, quarterly performance series that features local female artists.

Pllush formed in 2014, after Helm met drummer Dylan Lockey through mutual friends at S.F. State. Treadway had already been working with Treadway and bassist Sinclair Riley — both current members of The She’s — on a new musical project, and when Helm mentioned casually that she really wanted to start a band, the other three members jumped at the opportunity.

“It sounds cheesy to say, but it just seemed kind of fated,” says Helm, formerly a member of The Sweethearts. “I was working on an acoustic thing in my bedroom, but didn’t really want to be an acoustic artist. And everyone was like, ‘Well, if you have songs, let’s play them.’ So I lined up these acoustic songs, and we turned them into rock songs.”

On their first two EPs — Pine and Pleasethe group showed a knack for finding big hooks and melodies, but for the most part, the sounds were buried under waves of dissonance, heavy layers of reverb, and avowedly lo-fi recording setups.

With a few extra days in the studio to record Stranger to the Pain, the four had more opportunities to expand their sonic boundaries (although they still made the album in four days, so it was not like they suddenly channeled Brian Wilson or Kevin Shields). The result is the most assured product of their career — an album that highlights the band’s growing strengths without abandoning its identity. Treadway openly admits that they were trying to make a pop record, albeit one in their own framing.

“It’s almost like when you’re going to be on television and they put a lot of makeup on you and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m wearing so much makeup,’ ” Treadway says. “And then when you’re on TV, you just look completely normal. When we were making the album, it kind of felt really over the fucking top, but we had to try it. And at the end of the day, everything felt normal.”

The album is filled with an array of different sounds, venturing from ambitious Britpop anthems (“Big Train”) to boozy bar ballads (“Shannon”) to sparse acoustic numbers (“Okay”) to haunting, wordless dirges (“Sleeper Cab” — which borrows the melody from “Big Train”). Whenever the members of Pllush questioned if they were straying too far from their origins, they fell back on a familiar mantra.

“The main headspace we had when we were questioning if it was too much was just ‘Lean into it,’ ” Lockey says. “That was our motto: Don’t be afraid to go for something big.”

The group is buoyed by Helm and Treadway’s divergent voices. (How anyone could mistake them for the same singer is baffling.) Helm has an ethereal, airy tremble, while Treadway’s stylings are more direct and dispassionate. With their songs interspersed evenly throughout the album, they act as palate cleansers for the other, restarting the album frequently with their different approaches.

“We wanted to have a natural versatility to the songs — nothing forced,” Treadway says.

For a band with humble local roots, Pllush is now on the receiving end of heavy national notice. Outlets such as NPR, Stereogum, and Pitchfork have praised their work, and this fall, they’ll be embarking on a West Coast tour with LVL UP, a beloved Brooklyn indie rock quartet that is set to call it quits after one last jaunt across the country.

The band takes its success in stride and with a healthy dose of humility. While finally accruing some cash in the bank, all four members still have full-time jobs, and an extensive trek across the country isn’t a reality at the moment. Living in the most expensive city in the country can put a damper on any sort of financial success, but the group is still enjoying the attention they are receiving for their little project — one that started in the bedroom with little expectations.

“I was at the merch table for our record release party [at Bottom of the Hill on June 8] and I saw a huge line and I was like, ‘Oh, they must all be here for the headliner,’” says Helm. “And then it hit me that we were actually the headliner and they were all here to see us.”

It’s clear that word is getting out on Pllush — a great band with two L’s, two singers, multiple sounds, and a bright future. Please get those facts straight now.

Pllush with Lalin  St. Juste and Azuah, Monday, July 16, at the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St. Free; rickshawstop.com