Philly-based quartet Puppy Angst first caught my attention with their single “In Sensitivity”, a sunny shoegaze anthem exuding chords and textures akin to ’90s guitar-pop jams running through the old FM radio in your mom’s car. The lyrics are blisteringly honest, penned by frontperson Alyssa Milman, who finds strength in sensitivity. I caught up with Puppy Angst on their origins in other indie bands, and the direction they’re collectively exploring with their new project. Read our conversation, and listen to Puppy Angst’s debut album Scorpio Season wherever you love to stream music.
Your single “In Sensitivity” pairs sunny chords with complex lyrics—why did you choose to explore heavier themes of mental health in this way?
Alyssa Milman: I don’t usually make that type of conscious decision when I’m writing songs, and usually just start off with an idea that feels right and go from there. So far my songwriting practice is what organically comes to be. I tend to be drawn to the “sad lyrics, happy sound” type of music personally, so that’s probably why a lot of our songs end up going in that direction.
Eric Naroden: Even though I didn’t write the lyrics or guitar I can say that I don’t see mental health, even as a snapshot, as a linear experience, or as easily definable. This is exemplified by the song’s final lyrics “I’m not thinking straight.” The song feels to me like searching for the answers and taking different paths in introspection.
Puppy Angst has band members from Alex G and Kississippi, making it a bit of an indie who’s-who group. How did the band come together?
AM: So I started the project as a solo set type of thing back when I was still in Past Life and Blushed. It became a full band before I joined Kississippi, but me and Zoe have been buds for a long time! I did a couple of tours and some local gigs with them between 2019 and this past spring and had a blast during my time in Kissy, but currently, this is the only project I’m focusing on. We also opened for them back in April for their Philly gig after I had left their touring crew, and it was so fun to play together in that way. As for John (who is also Alex’s bassist), he joined back when our original bassist Ky decided to step back after moving further away and having to focus on other projects. John and I met at Headroom when I was interning there a couple of years prior to his joining the band, and he was the first to respond to my post that we were seeking a new project.
John Heywood: As Alyssa said, I joined the band after I answered their post about needing a new bass player. When I saw Alyssa’s post I first checked out Puppy Angst’s Bandcamp and listened to their EP Tiny Thoughts. I liked their vocal melodies and the warm fuzzy tone of the recordings. I hadn’t played in a shoegaze band before, so I thought it would be a fun experience.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a professional musician, and what did that path look like to get you to where you are now?
AM: I always wanted to play in a band, but never really believed that it could be possible for me. I decided to pursue music therapy when I went away for college so that I could still work in music in some capacity, but it became clear very quickly that it wasn’t right for me. Knowing that being a music therapist requires a ton of commitment to the job, I thought it would be best if I switched paths to focus on music theory and audio stuff in school. I didn’t want to become a bad music therapist who could potentially negatively affect someone’s life because my heart wasn’t in it. Once I joined my first band Past Life, it was obvious to me that playing in a band was all I really wanted to do. So I’ve been trying to make that dream happen ever since! I’m really appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had along the way that has gotten me closer to maybe being a full-on professional musician one day.
EN: I always grew up around music, my father is also a drummer and my drum kit is actually passed down from him. Growing up music was something I could channel my creativity into or bond with my family over. Whether that was my earliest life memories of dancing on the couch to “Love Me Do” with my mother or going to see Black Sabbath with my father.
JH: I started playing bass in high school and from the first moment I picked up that instrument I knew it would be a part of my life forever. I then attended a university in Philadelphia that exposed me to an amazing DIY house show scene populated by many talented musicians.
What’s the quickest way for you to channel inspiration when you’re feeling stuck on a song?
AM: I usually like to shut my brain off to be able to let the songs flow, so I sometimes tend to noodle around on guitar while watching reality TV or something else I don’t need to pay much attention to, and when I land on a chord or riff that sounds like something, I stop whatever I’m watching and hone in on the idea.
EN: For me, it’s seeing live music. We’re so lucky to be surrounded by so many amazingly talented friends that inspire and push me constantly. I like to try to emulate my favorite pieces of other musicians.
Dan Leinweber: Take a break and go for a walk, try using a different instrument or singing how it should sound instead, or if I’m feeling really stuck trying to find an idea that works I’ll just allow myself to write a bunch of bad ideas without thinking too much. Worst case scenario, it helps you define what you don’t like and close in on something you do. Sometimes revisiting those “bad” ideas I change my mind and decide that I actually like them or can alter them slightly into something that works.
Where are you hoping to take this project next?
AM: I would love to start touring now that we’ve finally released our first full-length album on October 24th. It would be great to take this band on the road for longer than a weekender. I’d really love to have the chance to get the songs out to a wider audience; music is one of the things that makes me feel connected in a real way when I start to feel like an island, so I hope our songs can do that for someone else one day.
DL: Adding synth to the live show is going to be fun since it is featured on the record quite a bit.
Who, or what, are some of the biggest influences in your writing?
AM: Always My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Lush, the big gaze bands for tones. The major ones I can think of for songwriting or cool production moments are Bully, Mannequin Pussy, Japanese Breakfast, Death Cab For Cutie, Kero Kero Bonito, Pity Sex, Title Fight… the list goes on and constantly changes, but those are some big ones I can think of. I’m always curious about who people can hear us being influenced by that I’m not consciously aware of.
EN: Probably Manchester Orchestra or Death Cab.
DL: Duster, Cloakroom, Hotline Tnt, Spirit of the Beehive, Ringo Deathstarr, Animal Collective, Teebs, Celer, Grouper, to pull from my recently listened tracks.
Finally, have you ever met an angsty puppy?
AM: I sometimes dog sit for my friend’s three chihuahuas and all of them are angsty puppies (I guess they’re all adult dogs) in their own way, but there’s one named Arya who I have a special bond with. In my mind, she is THE angsty puppy, she’s got a very expressive face and she grumbles for attention when she feels like she’s not getting enough of it.
EN: Love a rambunctious pup.
DL: I’ve never seen any dog before 😦 maybe someday.
Follow Puppy Angst on Instagram.