The frontman of a Philly punk band channels his rage over breast cancer marketing and turns it into art.
Pinkwash is a Philadelphia avant-garde punk band with a bone to pick. While the two man band’s crafty rhythmic turns and novel textures have earned them high praise from Pitchfork, the Washington Post, and NPR, the unique musical chemistry between drummer Ashley Arnwine and singer/guitarist Joey Doubek is built upon a mixture of friendship and radical politics.
The duo originally met in the early 2000s as teenagers in Washington, D.C.’s fertile all-ages punk scene. According to Arnwine, D.C. institutions like Positive Force and Dischord Records demonstrated the link between “radical politics and music.” Doubek noted that journalist and peace activist Colman McCarthy’s progressive “Alternatives to Violence” class offered his first exposure to PETA and the “prison-industrial complex” at Wilson High School.
They played together and separately in bands that performed primarily in basements and other impromptu venues. Arnwine eventually found her way to Philadelphia after a stint in Olympia, Washington. Doubek, however, remained in D.C. to care for his mother, who had been diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in February 2008.
For 14 months, Doubek’s day-to-day was, “Get up, make breakfast, drive to chemotherapy, come home, make lunch, make dinner, watch TV. Once a month, my aunt would drive up from North Carolina and stay the week, so I could get out of the house.”
Doubek’s mother passed away in March of 2009. Arnwine performed a Joni Mitchell song at the funeral.
The seeds of Pinkwash where sown after Doubek was forwarded an article on the subject, and his connection to the idea of disease marketing as means to exploit the pain of patients and their families only strengthened from there.
“Pinkwashing exploits the consumer’s sympathy for people with cancer in order for a company to sell product,” explained Doubek. When asked for examples, he cites companies like cosmetics titan Estée Lauder, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, KFC, BP, and fracking equipment vendor Baker Hughes as having created pinkwashing campaigns.
“Pinkwash is based out of the frustration of dealing with my mother dying from breast cancer,” said Doubek. “I’m bitter about me and my family feeling exploited by the cancer-industrial complex. I’m using that as my fuel to write these songs.”
In November 2013, he moved to Philadelphia to start an “immediate, focused, and very intense” new project with Arnwine. While Pinkwash’s sound alludes to bands like Lightning Bolt and Karp in their heft and zest, the roots of the project go deeper…
“When I was 8 years old, my mom got me the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness—my very first CD,” remembered Doubek. “At that time, I would listen to some songs and be terrified by them because they were so intense and so heavy. Even though [Pinkwash] is quite heavy, I really just want the audience to feel something.”
Doubek thinks his band has the power to convey complex issues in a language people can understand.
“I want people to feel the same way they might while watching a sad film,” he reasoned. “They might process something while watching the film and feel better.”
Pinkwash opens for the Screaming Females at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer on August 29, 2015.