Frontwoman, vocalist and songwriter Sabrina Fuentes formed the poignant rock group Pretty Sick at just 13 years old. The group has gone through various iterations over the almost-decade since, with Fuentes continuously utilising the act to explore her unpredictable growth in deeper and finer detail.
Since moving from the high rises of New York City to the hustle and bustle of London in the middle of a pandemic, Pretty Sick have been picked up by Dirty Hit – home of The 1975 and Wolf Alice, among others – and recently dropped the follow-up to 2020’s ‘Deep Divine’, a new EP aptly titled ‘Come Down’.
Grunge rock bangers descend upon listeners with the group’s signature chaotic edge, refining harsh sonic environments into reflections of a challenging adolescence; Sabrina talks to us about the experience of growing up in a large, daunting world, the industry around rock music culture and her carefully crafted thematic journey hidden within Pretty Sick’s formidable soundscapes.
- - -
- - -
Hi Sab, where are you at the moment?
I’m in Barcelona right now, just hanging out. Since February I’ve been in London, but prior to that I spent most of lockdown in New York.
You got signed to Dirty Hit shortly after moving to London - was getting signed something you always aspired to, or did it just come at the right time for Pretty Sick?
We didn’t aspire to it; we didn’t even have a manager before we signed. We were always really DIY and did pretty well for ourselves considering that. We felt that if it was something that could take us further than we could go on our own, we were open to it, but it wasn’t something we were thinking about. It’s been great with Dirty Hit, though; I love working with them, it’s a really supportive environment.
Has trying to garner attention with your music ever been a struggle or has it come surprisingly naturally to you?
It was really hard in like 2017, we had a real dry period. That’s when the original band members moved away, I was looking for a year for people to make music with and couldn’t find anyone. I found the whole experience to be draining and it left me uninspired, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. Then I met Wade and Austin and we got back into the swing of it. They inspired and encouraged me and it’s all gone from there.
Is that what you look for in collaborators – people who inspire you?
Yeah. People who inspire me and people who are inspired on their own; people who have big ideas. That’s how I feel about everyone in the band.
Have you ever felt pressures from those outside of the band trying to make you conform to any external decisions?
As a person, yeah, I feel like everyone feels that way. As a band, no. I don’t feel that there’s that much pressure on younger rock bands, probably because there just aren’t many – if we were in pop or rap or any other genre, there might be more of an industry standard there, but rock has had such a heavy decline and is just now sort of coming back because young musicians are making their own decisions. We’re rewriting the genre, and the people who follow the rules, in rock music or any other context, are never going to be the ones making it very far.
So because rock has fallen away from the limelight, that gives you more freedom?
Yeah, people just assumed that we wouldn’t be popular because no one’s been listening to rock for so long, so they didn’t dare to advise us. They couldn’t tell us that anything about what we were doing was wrong because we were doing something inherently wrong just by playing rock. People have said we should play something a bit closer to indie because it’s more palatable, but that’s pretty cookie cutter advice.
- - -
- - -
I know rock music is something you discovered a passion for at a young age, but I also heard you’ve spent a lot of time in the fashion world – can you elaborate on this experience?
I worked on the other side of the table before I tried modelling; I used to assist fashion directors and models always get treated really poorly. I got asked to model when I was 14 and it was obvious to me that I would be taken advantage of by the industry and not do well unless I was a ‘personality model’. I don’t like being subjected to other people’s ideas. I don’t like being a mannequin.
People would put you in these ridiculous outfits and you’d just have to stand there, grin and bear it. - Girls are also really oversexualised at a young age. The industry parades around as if it’s some new, diverse, culturally woke thing when there are still so many girls being used up and left in the dust. I can’t complain because I managed to protect myself a lot, but it’s not a career path I can recommend to anyone.
So does music provide a different approach to performing because you’re in control of your act rather than having it dictated to you?
Yeah, I don’t follow any rules now and have never had to in my music career. I have a real problem with authority. I love music because I can do whatever I want in that regard; I’m my own boss so I have full creative control. That’s also daunting at times because I don’t always want to have to make every decision about how we look at sound. I always have the full band to figure that stuff out with, we create an image that fits and involves all of us, that’s nice. In a personal sense, I love hearing what people think. We just turn our nose up at those people who give their two sense in a condescending or controlling way. When it comes to fans or friends, I love hearing advice and getting to know what people think in the world at large.
Growing up in New York City seems to have had a huge impact on you and your music – do you think any other city could’ve inspired you in the same way?
I definitely don’t think any other city could’ve shaped me into the artist that I am, or the artists that we’ve become as a band. It’s so heavily influential. There’s nowhere else in the world where I could’ve grown in the same way.
I grew up with really strict parents and went to catholic school my whole life, I felt really trapped for most of my childhood and adolescence. The only thing that really saved me from that feeling was that right outside my front door was the cultural capital of the world. It’s big and scary but full of surprises, very serendipitous. If I lived somewhere suburban I wouldn’t have been able to blossom in the same way – I would’ve been trapped behind a white picket fence.
If you could give advice to yourself at 14, or anyone else establishing themselves super early, what would you say? Don’t try so hard to play it cool or act like you don’t care about the things in the moment that are important to you, because those things and the memories of them will leave less of a lasting impression when you don’t let yourself enjoy them. Do you think the love for creativity in NYC is romanticised or is it genuinely present?
Everyone’s really passionate about what they do but pretend that they aren’t because we live in a post-passion society. Everybody who comes to New York to make art is passionate about their art, and definitely the city and community around it, so that fuels people in the right direction. Except maybe the rich kids who do the exact same thing as their parents.
- - -
- - -
You’ve expressed that rock is fuelled by the drive and forward-thinking passion of youth; is that an area you can ever see yourself deviating from as you grow older?
I just don’t really see myself changing genres ever; I’m such a “rock’n’roll is my religion” kinda bitch that I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I like hearing perspectives from all different walks of life in music – I feel like an older woman’s voice is lesser heard, so I won’t stop making music because I have a strong belief that all biographical music is valuable – it informs the human experience. It’s a way of sharing ideas and experiences and helping people become more empathetic towards each other, which is always great.
Your new EP, ‘Come Down’, just came out a few weeks ago – how does it expand on ‘Deep Divine’, your last release?
It’s a lot more diverse in the kinds of music we play. It goes harder in a lot of ways. It touches on a lot of the same themes but is a lot less uplifting – it digs deeper into the sadder, angrier side of life. ‘Deep Divine’ is the amazing high where you see the world as a beautiful place, and ‘Come Down’ is the after effect of making decisions in a place where you think nobody can hurt you and everything’s great all the time.
Which song would you pick off the new EP as a highlight, or a good jumping-on point for new listeners?
I guess ‘Physical’; it’s the one with the most spiritual, metaphysical, universal feeling. It’s also one of the newest ones and I’m really proud of the writing on that song – hopefully whatever comes next will be in that direction, in one way or another.
Speaking of which – what is coming next for Pretty Sick?
I’m writing a lot about the feeling of being lost, feeling like you’re moving forward in a lot of ways but you’re still stuck in others. I want to explore my experience in London and the world at large because I’ve travelled a lot recently – places stay with me and they’re a great starting point to work from. We’ll see where that leads us.
- - -
- - -
'Come Down' EP is out now.
Words: Finlay Holden
- - -