Exnations "Pink Haze" Tour Interview

"Someone once described nostalgia to me as a pink fog...that's what Pink Haze is about."

Vibrant, glowing indie pop band Exnations recently embarked on a tour celebrating the release of their latest EP, Pink Haze. This bright trio consists of Taylor Hughes (drums), Sal Mastrocola (vocals), and John O’Neill (bass). On their stop in Chicago (which happened to be on John’s birthday-- Happy Birthday John), InAlternative had the pleasure of sitting down with Exnations to discuss their artistic vision, musical journey, and inspirations.

It was only fitting to begin this interview by finding out a bit about the inspiration and production process behind the band’s latest EP Pink Haze. Sal explained some initial inspiration and meaning for the EP, “Someone once described nostalgia to me as a pink fog. It coats everything in this very beautiful sort of view...it’s positive and it feels good, its got this rosy pink tint to it. And I think that we’ve all had a really crazy year...I think when you have big changes in your life, you look to the past a little bit to hopefully glean some knowledge and understanding in order to move forward, and that’s what Pink Haze is about. It's about embracing nostalgia, loving it, living in it, but really understanding that it is a haze, a fog, and something you can get lost in and using it to move forward.” I really love this description of Pink Haze. When you listen to it, this idea really shines through. The sound and atmosphere each song creates is like something out of a dream. It feels and sounds very nostalgic, which I think each listener can feel in their own way.

John adds to Sal’s statement, “There's a little distance to it. You know that it's gonna be rosy, you embrace that it’s rosy, but you just take it with a grain of salt.” Taylor talks a bit about the production process behind Pink Haze, “I feel like we just went with way more meaningful tones rather than a bunch of filler. I feel like we’re still super proud of “Tiny Sounds in the Dark”, but it wasn’t as intentional as Pink Haze. For “Tiny Sounds in the Dark” we’re like lets make it sound big, let’s make it sound full, but this record we don’t need to force it to sound cool...I feel like we really came into our sound and figured it out rather than being like ‘Whoa, this artist did this really cool thing and we should something similar.’ No, this is what we want to do because this is who we are. It’s just way more genuine and intentional.” The band moved on to talk about their highest streaming single, “Knife”, and why it resonates so well with their audience.

Having over 61K streams on Spotify at the time of this interview (and now over 62K), Exnations was excited to hear this news. Taylor began to explain what it is about “Knife” that is so easy to relate to, “That was like our bridge to Pink Haze. I feel like that's the first real song that we wrote that was super real. It was just the most relatable song. Everyone’s gone through rejection and heartbreak and everything like that. And you just tied all of these terrible feelings up with a little bow...So it’s setting you up like 'this is going to make you cry.' I think that was the first time we were just raw. It wasn't about making it catchy.” John adds, “It is a really nice intersection of important and strong lyrical discussion and very intense music. And it's the first time those two things crossed.” Knife is one of my favorite songs by Exnations. It has a beautiful build, and has a similar radiant, dream-like feeling.

The band noted some artists, dead or alive, that they would love to tour with. Some names mentioned were Bombay Bicycle Club, Tears for Fears, The Cure, The Smiths, and, of course, Bleachers. Sal talks a bit about Jack Antonoff’s craft, and how that contributes to their music, “I think that Jack really blends all these different genres of music that I love so deeply in a very unique way that really no one else can do. And I just think as a producer he’s so interesting and I would just love to work with him.” I can definitely hear some influence of Bleachers in Exnations’ music, which I love because Bleachers is also one of my favorite bands. I hope to hear a collab between the two one day. We asked the band what careers they would be doing if they were not in a band, and the response relates a lot to the creation of Exnations’ visual aesthetic.

Sal answered this question by talking about his skill in graphic design, and how that is useful when in a band. Sal states, “ I’m a designer and it actually really comes in handy being in a band. I think music and art, visual art, are inherently tied together. When you’re in a band, especially nowadays, I think aesthetic is more important than ever because we consume media visually more than we ever have. With this band, it’s been really rewarding to be able to bring design skills to the table because it's just fun. When we go on tour and things like that,you always have to design an album cover and see what the videos will look like.” Taylor elaborated on how she contributes to the design process, “I pitch in with some of the design stuff too and since being in a band with Sal and helping with that, I’ve gotten immensely better at design work. He’s taught me so much. So it's kind of cool 'cause we just grow from each other. John’s like the serious business man...he brings in this corporate side to the band, things that like I didn’t think about before because I'm more of a creative and he’s more like ‘this is what we need to do.’” The colors, atmosphere, and aesthetic of Exnations is one of the most memorable and unique things about this band, and what got me hooked initially.

We took a moment to showcase Taylor by asking her what it’s like to be a female drummer in a typically male-dominated industry. Taylor explains, “I don't know very many female drummers. There's a cool community in it. There’s a magazine called tomtom and they only cover female drummers and I got to do some stuff with them and they’re based in Brooklyn. But as far as female empowerment and stuff, it’s really cool ‘cause a lot of girls come up to me and say ‘I wish I had played drums, it’s so cool that you did it’ and stuff like that. I always encourage, it’s never too late to pick something up, go get a drum kit girl. Fucking do it. But it’s funny being a female drummer because not even five minutes into stepping into the first venue, I got asked the ‘Hey do you know where Exnations is? Are you with them?’ I was setting up merch. I was like ‘Hi, I can give you the stage plot. I know what I’m talking about, my ovaries don’t get in the way of my brain’. That shade comes from being ten years in the music industry and getting asked that it’s so nice you know your boyfriends set up and helping him set up...I feel like I’m very heavy handed behind the scenes of things. Then when I get to a venue no one has any idea. So I have to prove myself every night and that gets very tiring. I hate the mansplain, I get mansplained all the time.” Props to Taylor for bringing it every set and sticking to her guns even when she is underestimated. It’s an inspiration to all women working in the music industry.

Sal notes what he wants fans to take away from their music and live show. “I hope people leave feeling warm and fuzzy. That’s all I want. Someone wrote a review for us one time saying ‘It’s sad but we’re still dancing’...We want to be like hopefully a link in the chain for someone. That’s it. I would just like to give a little bit, just a hair, back to the art form that has given me so much.” Exnations told us some of our future plans. Taylor notes specifically, “You can expect some music on TV from us, as well as visuals.” InAlternative gives our biggest thanks to Exnations for taking the time to do an interview with us. We hope you come back to Chicago very soon, and cannot wait to see what the future has in store for you. Links to Exnations' social media and music can be found below.

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