Denver's the Corner Girls Aim Pastel Punk Against the Patriarchy
Denver punk band the Corner Girls will perform at this year’s Underground Music Showcase.
It’s just before midnight on a Sunday, and I’m lying on the kitchen floor at the Corner Girls’ house.
One room over, people are gathered in front of the TV to un-ironically watch Avril Lavigne music videos. Below me, Bourgeois Girl is finishing up recording for its upcoming EP in the creepy back room in the basement. The beer count is running dangerously low, but both the bottle of Seagram’s and the bag of Ruffles are still well over half full. Someone pours shots and toasts in Hebrew. I find the strength to stand up and re-establish my mostly amicable relationship with gravity and make the right decision when offered more alcohol. At the moment, the house seems like a veritable who’s-who of Denver DIY, brimming with members of Space Suits for Indians, Total Goth, Ancient Elk and Galleries. To use the contemporary term, Pet Shop — that’s the name of the Baker punk house the Corner Girls moved into last month — is lit.
Two days later, I’m back in their kitchen, sober and fully upright. The band, which comprises frontwoman and guitarist Breanna Ahlgren, bassist Jessica Pulido and drummer Madi Pietruszka, is gathered around a blender, making margaritas while Death Proof plays on the TV in the living room. There are a few open cans of LaCroix water around, but evidence of the recent party is largely gone. The four of us sit down in the living room to chat as Ahlgren passes out the margaritas. Pietruszka starts talking about their self-described “pastel punk.”
“It’s like punk rock, but flirty,” she says. “And with glitter.”
It’s an accurate assessment. Glitter is a staple of Pietruszka’s makeup bag, and all three members project a punk image loaded with feminine power. Pietruszka’s drum set is bright pink, and she plays in high heels — something the male members of the audience find baffling. “I always get, ‘I can’t believe you play in high heels,’” she says. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t get why you can’t believe that.’”
Her bandmates are similarly out of fucks to give about the punk-rock patriarchy. Pulido’s dark-blue bass is decorated with sparkly stickers and the band’s name. Ahlgren plays a baby-pink guitar and sports velour knee-high boots on stage, projecting an overtly feminine image while banging out overtly feminist kiss-offs like “Baby Honey,” a sharp punk number in which she shrieks, “Call me baby again and I’ll kick your face in.”
It’s a refreshing sound and sight within the male-dominated Denver scene, but it has yet to deter all the creeps. Ahlgren notes that there’s always a question as to whether men are being genuine. “Someone came up to me after a show and was like, ‘The way you scream is so sexy,’” she says. Pietruszka adds, “But he started out that conversation like, ‘You guys are really great; you have great musical chemistry.’ And then he says that! ‘But what I’m actually meaning to say is I like it when you squeal.’”
“We’re not asking for a handout,” Pietruszka continues. But she also knows just how real the Denver DIY glass ceiling is. “The men in the music scene in Denver are so unified, and they always give each other opportunities and help each other out,” she says, noting that her band is rarely extended the same courtesy or opportunities.
All three women are fully aware of the fact that their gender is a constant factor in the way they’re approached and perceived as musicians, as well as how it’s used to boost other people’s images. “If we get put on a bill, is it because they want to be like, ‘We’re feminists because we have a girl band on the bill’?” Ahlgren asks.
Though the musicians are not keen on being evidence of someone else’s pseudo-progressivism, feminism and post-riot-grrrl punk have always been integral to their identities, even before they became the Corner Girls. Hinds, Chastity Belt, Tacocat and Peach Kelli Pop (who they opened for in May at the hi-dive) are all vital inspirations in both sound and message, and the Girls have been making some version of their pastel punk since Ahlgren and Pietruszka met as freshmen at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The pair started the short-lived punk band Poison Ass, which quickly fizzled following the loss of a practice space.
Ahlgren introduced Pulido to Pietruszka shortly after they dissolved Poison Ass, and the trio started attending shows around the city together. Pietruszka decided to start a new band with Ahlgren, and the pair enlisted Pulido to play bass. “I was like, ‘Jessica, be in our band,’” laughs Pietruszka. “‘You’re going to play bass, because you look like a bassist.’”
Pulido had never picked up the instrument before. “I just went to a pawn shop and bought a bass,” she says. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this.’”
Pulido came up with the Corner Girls name while waiting for a bus, and the trio set to work writing songs and performing in DIY spaces. The musical chemistry was instantaneous, and the three present a united front held together by a friendship that extends well beyond a typical bandmate relationship. Living together has proven the ideal situation for practice, writing songs and hanging out together after work.
“We always talked about living together anyway, so we were like, ‘We should just fucking do that.’ We’ve never had any arguments,” Pietruszka says.
“Knock on wood,” Ahlgren jokes in response, and Pietruszka quickly taps her knuckles on the coffee table, which is decorated with the signs of the zodiac.
Superstition aside, it’s not difficult to believe Pietruszka. Songwriting is a vehemently collaborative effort, and their songs typically begin as a single lyric drawn from the good, bad and ugly of their real lives. “We talk about the things we go through,” says Pulido. “And we try to call people out on how shitty they treat girls.”
“I think we talk about shit that girls want to talk about but are afraid to,” adds Pietruszka.
It makes them an anomaly — and a desperately needed one, at that — in the male-dominated scene. For all the creeps, they’ve found some serious male supporters, most notably the members of Bourgeois Girl.
“Being in this community makes me fucking stoked to be making music,” Pietruszka says. “I personally don’t want to do anything else.”
The Corner Girls
Underground Music Showcase, 7 p.m. Friday, July 29, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, 303-733-0230.
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