With streaming services and a deluge of music uploaded to the Internet every day, finding new music can be a daunting process. So I always feel lucky when I stumble across a new favorite band. Pushflowers found their way into my inbox via an email from Bandcamp, announcing the release of their new EP close for comfort with Minneapolis cassette label Forged Artifacts.
Pushflowers (Rocío Del Mar, Justine DeFeo, Ryan Alfonso, and Josh London) are a quartet from Boston, that rose from the ashes of the band Off & On. Rocío Del Mar and Justine DeFeo began writing songs for the new project, and after releasing a handful of singles, pushflowers have now released their debut EP.
Close for comfort is an EP of subtly large songs. Del Mar and DeFeo’s songwriting is built around winding melodies and carefully stacked instruments that stretch beyond a traditional verse-chorus song structure. Del Mar and DeFeo both grew up going to basement shows in the Boston area, but Del Mar dove into musical theater before taking a leap of faith to leave her New York acting career behind and follow her dream of pursuing music.
Over the phone, I caught up with Rocío to talk about finding the confidence to make music full-time, working collaboratively with friend and co-songwriter Justine DeFeo, and finding community in the close-knit Boston music scene.
Could you tell me a little about how pushflowers came together? I heard that you started out of a band called Off & On?
We were in Off & On for three years, and then it just got to the point where we felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I thought that I was going to have to start my own thing, and I didn’t know that anybody else was on the same page as me, I was just kind of silently suffering.
I met up with Justine [DeFeo], who was also in Off & On, and she was feeling the same way, and so we felt like we needed a shift. We decided to have the big conversation with one of the members in our band of, “Ok, we can tell that your heart’s not in it anymore, so we should probably go our separate ways.” And he was doing other stuff as well so I was like, “You can continue doing what you’re doing, we can do our stuff now.” It wasn’t ideal, but it ended fine.
We started working on new music pretty much right away. We figured out what it was we were going for, and the other two members from that band were also down to be a part of it. So pretty much, this band is that band minus a person.
That’s where the name pushflowers came from — it came from a Lil Wayne lyric. The idea of it was just beautiful coming from the death of something else; making something good out of something that wasn’t so good, something negative.
I heard that your first show was one that Slingshot Dakota asked you to play — and that was before you had your band name and even a bunch of songs written?
Yeah. We had maybe three or four songs — if that — that we had written at that point as the new band. We said yes, because thought it would be really good — we all work better on a deadline. So it ended up being the best thing that could have happened. Definitely the fact that it lit a fire under our ass, like “Ok, you’ve been thinking about this for a while, now’s the time to do it.”
Is close for comfort the first EP that you’ve put out as pushflowers?
How does that feel to have that first big project out with this band?
It feels great. We released four singles before. We wanted to have music out there because it felt like it was hard for us to get anywhere if we didn’t have music out. Not that we weren’t as proud of them, but it felt more rushed, like we needed to get something out.
So with the EP, we were able to take our time and really do it the way we wanted to. We didn’t settle on anything. We still have to do it DIY because it’s just us; no one was repping us until after the fact, when we reached out to Forged Artifacts.
So in the process of recording, it was still us doing everything. But we felt like we made all of the right choices and we’re really proud of the songs. So it feels like the first big step in the right direction of reaching out further of our Boston scene.
Have you played mostly so far in Boston?
Yeah we’ve only played in Boston. It was a choice — with our other band we did these ridiculous tours really fast, so we felt like it was a good idea to build a strong foundation and build a community. It’s great in Boston, because everyone in the scene that we’re a part of, everyone wants to help each other and everyone is super supportive.
Everything that has happened to us has been because of the friendships that we’ve made. And it feels like friendships — it doesn’t feel like networking and connections, it just feels like we’ve grown and we have all these friends and they just happen to play music we really love.
I’ve never been to Boston and it’s one place that’s been so on my radar, especially within this last year. There have been so many bands that I love, and then I find out they’re from Boston and I’m like, “What? I have to visit!”
It’s a really small community too, and all these great bands that are coming out of there like Palehound, they’re super connected with everyone we know. It’s all one small local network. I definitely would not trade it for another city.
So it’s you and Justine who are the primary songwriters for pushflowers?
How do you go about writing your songs? Do you come up with ideas individually or work collaboratively?
We each write our own stuff on our own through Garageband or just voice memos. I’d say we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing which songs would work best as a pushflowers song. There will be some songs that I have where I’m like, “I don’t know if this will ever be a pushflowers song.” And maybe she does the same thing.
We’ll write them on our own, and then we bring them to each other to see, “Do you have any ideas on this?” By the end it always ends up sounding like a different song than it started off as, only because then it becomes both of our song, and we both put our ideas onto it. I wouldn’t have been able to come up with the things she comes up with and she wouldn’t have been able to come up with the things that I come up with.
So I think it’s definitely beneficial for both of us when we’re writing stuff and collaborating on it, but it starts as individual thoughts.
Do you feel like you can still hear a difference when you listen to the recordings, between both of your songs?
Yes, I do — but the only thing that separates it for me is that when I’m listening to her songs I can still enjoy them purely. I feel like when I’m listening to my own songs I get in my head about it, and it’s nice to be in a band where I can listen to the songs that she’s written and be like, “Wow, I love this song.” Because it didn’t start with me, so I can still listen to it as an audience member in a way.
That’s exciting, to be able to support your friend and put your ideas on their song, but still feel a little more removed and not as self-critical.
Yeah that’s exactly what it is.
One of the things that really stood out to me when listening to this EP was the vocals on it; all of these clever vocal melodies and really unique delivery. What was your background in music like?
Thank you! I come from a super musical family. I always wanted to be a musician growing up, but I didn’t see a lot of myself — I’m Puerto Rican and I grew up in a super white, suburban neighborhood. It was very punk-rock heavy, and everyone that was in a band were guys. I didn’t really see myself represented, so I didn’t think that it was possible for me.
So I geared toward musical theater, because it felt like that made more sense — I could probably find my place there. I started in high school, and then I went to college for that; I went to Boston Conservatory, which is now part of Berklee [College of Music]. I studied musical theater there.
I was an actor in New York for a little while. I had a friend — my friend who was in Off & On — I think I did a demo for him, and he was just like, “You know, you should be doing this. Why don’t you just try doing this?” So I started trying — I was always kind of scared to write music. And then I decided to just try it, and have been addicted to it ever since. And then I left New York, and I haven’t done musical theater in maybe three or four years.
Yeah. It was a big life change for me.
That sounds totally sudden, and really exciting to finally let yourself do the thing that you really wanted to do all along.
Yeah, and it’s nice now because I didn’t see women in rock at all, and now it’s everywhere, and it’s the most celebrated thing, I feel. It’s sick.
Do you feel like you had any people who inspired you, whether they were artists you looked up to or friends or mentors, during that transitional period who helped you build your confidence?
Definitely Justine. She was in punk rock bands since she was in high school, or probably even late middle school. She was in rock bands and she was always the only girl in them. She was paving the way and doing it on her own and she didn’t care, which I admire.
She was a little bit younger than me, so I never saw her play, but I wish that I had seen her play. When I went to all those basement shows that we grew up going to, I wish that I had seen her band, because then I might have been like, “Oh, maybe I can do this.” So it’s just funny that we grew up going to the same shows, but just a few years separated, and that could have made such a difference.
Totally. I feel like having someone else there who knows how you feel makes such a difference. Like you said, if you see someone else doing what you want to do — playing music and being on those stages — then it’s so much easier to be like, “Oh yeah, I can see myself doing that too.”
Exactly. Representation — finally people are talking about it — it’s just the most important thing. It can change an entire life. I’m just happy that because I didn’t see it when I was growing up, that didn’t mean that I didn’t end up doing it. Because I would have been sad. But it’s great that I found my way there eventually.
And it sounds like now you’ve sound a supportive scene in the Boston music scene.
Absolutely. There are so many bands that are female-fronted or non-binary or gender nonconforming. It’s just amazing.
I wanted to ask you about Forged Artifacts because that’s how I found out about you. How did pushflowers get in contact with them?
We have a tape label in Boston called Disposable America, and we’re friends with Dustin [J.S. Watson] who runs that. Somewhere along the lines, in the Twitter universe, Forged Artifacts popped up because of something that Dustin liked.
I was looking into their label and it looked like it was very similar to the type of music that Disposable America would release, and the same vibe as well — the fact that it’s run by one guy — and I really liked the DIY aspect of it.
I reached out to [Forged Artifacts founder Matt Linden] on a whim, like “Hey, we’re almost done with mixing and mastering these songs, would love if you would check them out and let us know if you’d want to be involved in any way.”
And he responded pretty quickly and said that he was really happy that we reached out to him, and we talked on the phone for a while and I really liked his personality; he seemed very down to earth, and I loved that he did it all himself. I was like, “Damn that’s awesome,” and that’s what we wanted. And we wanted someone who was outside our community to plant a seed somewhere else. And just expand, because our bodies aren’t going anywhere out-of-state at the moment, so at least let our music travel a little.
Is that your goal for pushflowers, to stay a DIY operation?
I feel like DIY means a lot of things right now. I would never want it to be where other people have a say over what it is that we’re doing and makes big decisions for us. I very much like having control over that or having a big say in those things. But I want it to expand, and I don’t know how you can expand without letting other people in. So I would like to find a balance with that, in order to be able to tour and get our music out there.
I don’t want to be a rich person — I don’t expect to be a wealthy person — but I’d like to be able to only play music, and I know that’s a pipe-dream, but it would be nice. And if I have to work a little bit here and there and play music, I’m fine with that as well. But I would like to be able to tour and not have to worry about how I’m going to pay rent. And I feel like it’s hard to do that as a DIY artist. And if it isn’t — and if there is someone else out there who has the answer to that, then please contact me.
I wish that was so much more possible. That makes me sad to see all of these musicians that I love struggling and working full-time on music, but just not getting the money that they deserve.
It’s hard, because there’s a part of me that’s like, “Do I deserve to make money doing something that I love?” I don’t know if that’s the way this country was built. It’s a tough subject.
It is. That’s how I feel a lot of the time; I’m trying to make a living off of writing and playing music on the side and it’s like, “Is that feasible, or is that selfish to want to make a living off of art?”
Exactly. Because I know that it benefits people, and it makes you a better person — art in general. But I don’t know. I’m conflicted with it all the time. I would like to do that, but I don’t know if that’s selfish.
It’s so easy to slip into impostor syndrome and be like, “I’m not good enough” and to have capitalism define what is and isn’t productive. It’s just so dangerous.
It is. But I do think it is productive. I think about it literally every day. And the whole impostor syndrome thing is my life as well. But I think that’s everyone.
Hopefully one of those things that makes it better is performing live and seeing how your songs connect with people. Have you been performing the songs from close for comfort?
We’ve been playing them for kind of a while now, except for one song. But it’s nice because usually at this point I’m very much sick of them. But I’m not sick of them yet. I think it’s a good sign, that I really love them. They’re still really fun and exciting to play.
Are there any songs that you’re most excited about performing live?
There is this section in our set that we do, “slipping” to “bed song” to “bite.” It feels like a trio — those are all songs that I sing and songs that I’ve written. One of them starts with “All my confidence is slipping off my body” and “bed song” starts with “Here’s your confident person.”
That switch in going from turmoil of slipping, I’m losing it, and then “bed song” feels like I’m putting on an act for it, and then “bite” is like, “I don’t want to be like myself anymore,” which is a very depressing thing to think. But it feels like three acts. So that’s exciting for me.
I feel like that’s a theme in some of these songs — that performance and how you present yourself or how you present how confident you are — and I feel like that’s something that relates directly to performing on stage. That is literally a performance. So it’s another layer to that as well.
That’s exactly it.
It’s cool to see how your musical theater background ties into that. You haven’t left those days completely behind. You can still tie in those things that you’ve learned.
I know, I try. For maybe three years, I was still doing it for a while but I kind of hated it. While I was still doing [musical theater], I didn’t want the two to be related, I was like, “No, musical theater is not for me and being in a band is, and I just need to separate them.”
But there have been artists recently that have made me be like, “Oh man, I had it wrong the whole time.” Sir Babygirl, they’re bringing them together. I was like, “They got to it before I did!” So it’s kind of been a shift to where I feel like I need to start taking all of my tools and using them. Because they’re all beneficial in a way, and I need to stop feeling like I’m corny.
I love that! I feel like I have seen more of that — not being afraid to lean into being goofy or genuine — and I love it, I’m all here for corniness.
We have a video coming out soon that definitely leans into it and you’ll see it once it comes out.
I’m excited for it.