Prism Bitch, Perla, and the Pandemic
A look at the pandemic life of musicians through a profile of one band.
By August Edwards
Prism Bitch is timeless—they’re sort of the perfect movie rockstars. They’ve got killer vocals, choruses that’ll set your brain sizzling, and lots of splits in midair. The band, consisting of Lauren Poole (bass, vocals), Lilah Rose (keys, guitar, vocals), Chris Walsh (guitar), and Teresa Cruces (drums, vocals), is best described as exuberant.
The pandemic stunted Prism Bitch’s release of Perla as well as their touring plans. The Albuquerque rock band released the album a year later—March 2021—when shows could be seen on the horizon. Since then, the band has hit the road a few times, and has also laid down new tracks in the studio. On their current tour, they’re performing old songs, songs on Perla, and the four new songs that were recorded in November.
The band released two EPs prior to Perla, but their prowess really stems from their ability to dominate the social aspect of their art. Their accolades have come swiftly: Cruces now drums for Built to Spill; they’ve played at the Whiskey a Go-Go; they’re a beloved act at the Treefort Music Fest; and of course they’re wildly celebrated every time they come play in Albuquerque. Their music is both sunny and dense, making for an incontestable magnetism.
While the decision to delay the release of the album had much to do with the fact that they couldn’t make profit from tour, there came a point where a release felt unavoidable. The band agreed that people wanted music regardless—or because—of the pandemic.
“I wanted to close that chapter and start writing some new songs. It was a good time to move forward,” Walsh expressed, highlighting the band’s everchanging identity. “And we’re different people—we’re a different band,” Cruces echoed. Some was written in the studio, where songs were “fun to mold,” as Rose said. Others were pieces they had for years, some of their earliest songs.
The members came up with a concept to name albums after their moms, and Cruces’s mother Perla had the distinction of being first. “My mom grew up in the Philippines, and there was a laundry detergent when she was growing up named ‘Perla,’ and so she was a little embarrassed by her name growing up. ‘Cause everyone was like, Oh, you’re a laundry detergent!” Cruces explained. “And now she’s like, ‘Now the album gives me my name back! I’m an album!’”
“She said she finally liked her name,” Walsh said.
Perla is produced by Toshi Kasai [Foo Fighters, The Melvins] and recorded at Sound of Sirens Studio in LA. This was their second studio session with Kasai. The album features Built to Spill front man Doug Martsch with a guest guitar solo.
It could be said that Prism Bitch wear their influences on their sleeve, which is more beneficial to them than not. Though they’re strictly rock and not pop, they have a commercial quality that makes it easy to elevate hype. While their music is catchy, strong, and objectively good, I think the hype stems from who they are visually. Their costumes (ranging from bright Adidas track suits to circuslike jumpsuits), stage acrobatics, and proclivity to tear from their roots all sort of make for a major motion picture vibe. It’s why when I listen to them, I hear Sleater-Kinney, The Cramps, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but they can only be Prism Bitch.
From their kind, warm guitar tones to their marked song structures, everything about Prism Bitch is inviting, even when they revisit their grunge influences. While distortion and angst kind of make you want to look away, this grunge (as exemplified in “II” on Perla, to just give one example) beckons. Drummer Teresa Cruces explains this quality by referring to Prism Bitch as an “aggressively friendly band.”
This could be true because friendliness was one of their main ingredients from the start. They began as a performance art group when founder, bassist, and vocalist Lauren Poole collaborated with guitarist and videographer Chris Walsh. The two had notoriety in the Albuquerque theater scene, which gave them a strong support system as well as other creatives to make videos and discuss ideas with. Then, as it turns out, they made damn good music. Bringing some of their theater professionalism and obvious talent to the music scene worked out well—being a band was so natural to them that eventually they became just that.
Maybe the ingredient wasn’t initially friendliness, but internet-friendliness. Walsh and Poole had been collaborating on videos (most of which meant for YouTube) for about 13 years, thus had the knowhow and connections to firstly make videos that they enjoyed making and secondly had a natural, comfortable, internet-accessible flare. An online image can sometimes be more powerful than in person. Additionally—ideally—an artist’s online image translates identically to their on-stage image.
Who listens if there’s no stage? Where does that attention go? Many artists resorted to technology to keep from falling off in the pandemic. TikTok has helped independent musicians gain recognition, and livestreaming practices or shows has kept bands in their followers’ newsfeeds. However, as time has passed, the internet seems to be less pertinent to Prism Bitch.
Of the band’s identity, Cruces said, “I think we’re a live band, in the end. We’re not, you know, like Steely Dan, studio musicians. We jam things, put things together, and then it takes on a life of its own in front of other people. We get energy and they get energy, we’re not staying in one place. [Touring] is a focal point, because a) it’s how we make money, and b) it’s how we exist.”
Poole explained the freedom that came with being a live performer from New Mexico specifically: “You can do what you want, and it’s not expensive. There’s not a pressure in the Albuquerque scene to hop on any particular trend, maybe the way musicians feel pressured in LA. You can do whatever you want, you can be lovely weirdos or maybe an alien band, who knows?” Rose added, “It’s a very expressively artistic community in general. Being able to go to shows often, and play shows often, and then figure out what you like often, is a huge pleasure and opportunity in itself to hone yourself individually as well as the band, as well as being inspired by other people. It was a place where we felt comfortable being freakin’ weird, and trying weird stuff and getting really acrobatic.”
“But then we’re so geographically far from everywhere that there are a lot of bands who don’t come through,” Poole continued. This is true for the opposite, as well—the geographic isolation may keep certain bands from venturing out, which is Walsh’s assertion; “Being from Albuquerque, you can be in a bubble, and it’s hard to get to another city. So, this is a great opportunity to do that.”
“We had a realization back in 2017, ’18, that we needed to get out of town a little bit more, and see the world and have the world see us. As you become more of an involved musician, you realize you just gotta keep going and see different places and meet different people. We got really lucky in 2018 at Treefort, we met Doug Martsch, who Teresa’s drumming for in Built to Spill now, but he kinda opened up this whole other realm of what touring can look like,” Rose said.
From the outside it seems that Prism Bitch has had a seamless transition back into musical activity after the release of Perla, and the sort of expansion they’re looking for as a band is chiefly a geographic one. I’ve thought for a long time about what it means to forgo working with sound engineers based in Albuquerque to record in LA, and the nuances of Prism Bitch’s relationships with other bands based in Albuquerque. I don’t have a good take. A band is going to do what’s in their best interest, and their relationships are going to flourish or suffer because of it. If you’re a musician and you’re reading this and you’re looking for advice, mine would be to learn your strengths—and there is no limit to what a strength can be—and run with them.
I do believe that this plague has presented a few good things (I feel like I have to believe that, at this point). For instance, both musicians and showgoers got a more intimate look at the inner workings of the industry. “I didn’t realize how naïve I was about how many people it takes to put on a show,” Cruces said.
Musicians have been put to the test and I’ve seen so, so many of them succeed. How easy would it have been for a band like Prism Bitch to throw in the towel? With previous guitarist Nelson Crane departing the band on top of not touring for the foreseeable future on top of general life changes, the easy thing might’ve been to call it quits. But what we’ve seen from most bands is that quitting was never actually an option (and how many kickass bands do we have now that formed because of/during the pandemic?).
Cancelling shows for a year made their return that much sweeter. “It made music feel like an event again, like, ‘I’m going to see a show,’” Walsh said.
Overall, people in the music ecosystem were forced to support each other in a new way. Walsh, who does a stellar job on the Prism Bitch's music videos, also is a great hand to the Albuquerque community. He’s one to thank for Launchpad’s live stream videos and he’s helped other bands create successful music videos. The band has also been vocal advocates for the vaccination and health protection for the people in the US, perhaps in part due to Cruces working in the medical field.
COVID taught me that there’s a lot of make-believe in this world, and everything is hard because of it, so we should just be having fun pretending in the meantime. Build your community, find and share your strengths, do whatever is in your means to make something you love. That’s what I get from Perla. Whatever the song content and whatever they’re trying to emulate, Prism Bitch creates joy.