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D.C.-Based Band Pretty Bitter: “Do You as Loudly as You Can”

D.C.-based alternative dream pop/rock band Pretty Bitter is one of the area’s multi-dimensional musical treasures. With three out of five members identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community, much of their lyrical content is heavily informed by topics surrounding life as a Queer person, so it was only fitting to catch up with these talented musicians – Miri Tyler (she/they), Mel Bleker (they/them), and Zack Be (he/him) – to discuss the band’s inspiring music and the importance of being a visible Queer person, not just during Pride Month.

Pretty Bitter embracing in creative photoshoot with colorful makeup and outfits
(Left to right, top row: Miri Tyler, Jason Hayes; bottom row: Chris Smith, Mel Bleker, Zack Be) Photo by George Hawkins

Pretty Bitter was born in 2017 by Miri Tyler (bassist & songwriter) and Mel Bleker (vocalist & lyricist) after meeting on Tinder. When sharing creative ideas, a connection was formed as they realized their artistic visions were synced. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Zack Be joined later down the line, as well as the other two members, guitarist Chris Smith and drummer Jason Hayes.

“Pretty Bitter is a psychedelic synth pop gumball machine. Pretty Bitter is the new queer Richard Linklater movie you’ve never heard of. Pretty Bitter is the summer music festival of your dreams. Pretty Bitter is the last night of July and there’s fireworks and you’re screaming happy at the sky and blissful glitter is spilling as you’re making out in the backseat on a long, long drive.

Pretty Bitter’s music is whatever you make of it, the band says. “I hate describing the music that we make, personally,” Tyler says. “But lately I’ve been describing it as dream pop-ish with emo influence … It’s not about what we’re trying to make, it’s about whatever you hear.” What we hear is an impressive mix of fun synth pop and vulnerable lyricism with layered feminist storytelling. “The thing that sort of brought us together creatively originally was that both of us were writing in order to process our own growth that was going on at that time,” she says, which was very different from what it looks like now. “It was just my tool that I knew how to do to try to process things.”

Pretty Bitter performing onstage with blue lighting
Pretty Bitter - Photo by Fire Rose Studios

Identity and growth are key themes within Pretty Bitter’s songwriting. Bleker and Tyler talk about both sides of the process – writing is a tool to process hard emotions, but at the same time, it can be difficult having songs constantly reminding them of the hardships they went through. “In the very beginning when we first started writing together, I feel like I was writing very specifically, maybe not intentionally, to get myself through some really hard sh*t,” Bleker says.

They explain that even though the pieces occupy a place in their heart, “You end up reliving those [traumas] every time you have a show, and that can be really sneaky psychological damage.” In the past couple years, Bleker says they have focused a lot on writing about their experiences of being a Queer person who grew up in the South and familial complexities that have impacted their identity.

“We do write a lot about what growth looks like for any individual and how much tripping there is when you’re trying to get better. And how that really is only indicative that you’re moving,” they say. “If you’re tripping, then you’re moving.”

Zack Be, whose day job is actually a couple and family therapist, explains that he approaches songwriting differently. “Music making for me is like the mindfulness exercise part of therapy as opposed to the processing part,” he says. “I just get lost in turning knobs on the keyboard or on the computer to get things to sound a certain way, and I can look down at my watch and be like, ‘Holy sh*t, I’ve been doing this for six hours; I completely lost track of time,’ which is good.”

After that, he sends a demo over to the rest of the band to work with and see if it brings up any emotions/sparks any ideas to collaborate in a further direction. Be describes that he aims to evoke an emotional response in the listener rather than focusing on a specific genre of sound, which he is constantly exploring. Bleker adds, “One of the coolest things, in my opinion, about working with not only my best friends, but also some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, is I can send some some stupid sh*t over to Zack and Zack’s like, ‘Okay, well this is a little stupid, but we can also work with it.”

Tyler describes the band’s Google Drive as a cutting room, with the songs as slabs of marble that are slowly being chiseled: “There are some scraps and stuff that are being collaged together to make something else … Sometimes one of us comes in with a fully formed Mona Lisa,” she says.

Zack holding guitar above his head in a crowd
Zack Be of Pretty Bitter - Photo by Mike Kimchiii

The band recently released a single in January called “What I Want!”, which Bleker says holds a big place in their heart, as they are thankful for Be and Tyler being so supportive of its content. “I’ve got a lot of pride for that one because it feels like a really happy song for me in a way that doesn’t feel re-traumatizing, even though it’s talking about something that has caused me pain,” they say. “It was a really cool exercise in both trust and building something that sonically was a little bit different from the last thing people had heard from us.”

Pretty Bitter released their (most recent) album, Hinges, last year in June 2022, which the band is greatly proud of. “I still look back and I’m really surprised that we were able to get it done,” Bleker says. “Not because we weren’t working hard on it, and not because I didn’t believe in it as it was happening, but I mean recording an album completely isolated from one another like that.”

They explain that it took a lot of focus during lockdown to exude a sense of control during that crazy time. “For me personally,” Tyler says, “the time that we were writing and working on recording that one could have gone very poorly, but didn’t, and we ended up with a product that I also am just incredibly proud of and songs that I genuinely enjoy. But I was very much in a place of not greatness mentally, but being able to work together on that as a group and as a band and as a creative entity really helped with just getting back up and doing it.”

“I’m super proud of Hinges, especially because we got these,” Be adds, as he holds up a Wammie award. At this year’s 35th-annual Wammie Music Awards, Hinges won 2023 Best Pop Album, and Pretty Bitter won 2023 Best Pop Song for “The Damn Thing Is Cursed”. (Read more about what the band has to say about the Wammies in Issue 3 of our Alchemical Records magazine!)

Pretty Bitter on Wammies red carpet
Miri Tyler, Mel Bleker, Jason Hayes, and Zack Be at the 2023 Wammies, Photo by Erica Blake Photography

The band is highly grateful for the D.C./DMV music community. “There’s this music scene here that does kind of feel like you can know everybody,” Be says. “And if you stay here for a while, that seems to be pretty consistent in terms of who’s here, what bands are around … There have always been good bands in D.C., but lately the quality of the bands has been exponentially increasing.” Bands like Outerloop and Spring Silver come to his mind; Tyler adds ones like Flowerbomb and Grady. Bleker, who attended George Mason University, reflects on how they “had no clue that there was a music scene in D.C. I had my ticket to move back to Austin, then I met Miri and went to a few shows and was like, ‘Oh, no, I need to stay here for a little bit longer.’”

This has come full circle for them – “Having college kids now reach out to me on Instagram or wherever else be like, “Hey I’ve started a band,” and I’m like, “There is a scene here! Come into the city please!’” From their perspective, D.C. is different from other bigger music cities. “There seems to be no gatekeeping of how you get gigs at the very beginning, or, ‘What is the best way to promote something?’ Or, ‘Where should I be reaching out for the good people to talk to and make friends with?’ And I feel like a lot of the bands in D.C. are very willing to entertain that and to help other people to get to that same spot.”

They encourage others to lift up Queer people in your own community, which they say D.C. does exceptionally well and brings them joy – “There is a genuine, really strong and supportive Queer community in D.C., and there are new people joining that community every single day.”

Tyler makes it explicitly clear that Pretty Bitter shows are safe spaces. “When you’re at our shows, do not hesitate to approach any one of us … if anybody there is making you uncomfortable, or for any reason at all, because we do stress that our shows are safe spaces for Queer people, for young people, for anybody who needs to be there, and we will take that responsibility unto ourselves.”

Jason, Mel, and Miri onstage under purple lighting
Pretty Bitter - Photo by Meredith Wohl

Regarding Pride, “My goal is to be a visible Queer person,” Bleker says. “I’m never going to deny my identity. It is a large part of me, but having a Pride Month, especially with the political climate right now and all of the bills that are putting Queer/trans people at risk and actively trying to hurt us, I want a Pride Month that is a lot of Queer and trans people talking about the things that they are passionate about, that they love, and never once having to mention explicitly, ‘This matters because I am Queer,” they explain. “I want to see happy Queer people living, existing, and fighting against those things for themselves and for their friends and community.”

Tyler’s advice to up-and-coming Queer artists is to “use your existence as your biggest weapon,” they say. “Nobody should have to feel like they need to be an activist … As Queer people, we deserve to just be able to pursue our passions in whatever those are … Radical existence is enough; just do you as loudly as you can – turn that sh*t up and spread it far and wide.”

Pretty Bitter is performing this summer on June 24, July 1, July 9, and August 2 in the D.C. area – Find more information here. Make sure to stay updated so you can catch more new music and shows!

Alchemical Records contributor Emma Page

Emma Page

Emma Page, a recent Journalism graduate of The George Washington University, possesses a passion for music journalism and storytelling in all its forms. Originally from Baltimore, MD, when she is not writing, she can be found at a local concert or making music of her own.

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