Courtesy of Nyah McGetrick

April 24, 2024

PROFILE | Pulling Punches

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On April 16, I had the opportunity to sit down with Pulling Punches for an interview. Pulling Punches consists of keyboardist Andrew Sposato ’27, guitarist Derek Block ’27, rhythm guitarist Lucas Mitchell ’27, bassist Lynden Cellini ’27, drummer Sam Cook ’25 and vocalist Stella Crawford ’27 — a big group, yes, and I was lucky enough to speak with five out of the six of them. What made this interview especially interesting was that the band has recently undergone a rebrand; once known as Compost, Pulling Punches is redefining itself — and its music.

Courtesy of Derek Block

The band recently released their first original song as Pulling Punches, “Can You See This Through?” — a catchy, all-encompassing Smashing Pumpkins-esque track. Mitchell described this as an inspirational shift from songs like Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” and Blur’s “Song 2” to a more alternative sound, or as he puts it, a “more bombastic” sound. Block added that the group transitioned from sounding “less melody heavy [to] more scream-heavy.” Interestingly, though, the decision to rebrand only came as the band was working on the single in the studio. “We just thought that the sound of the song and the new statement we wanted to put forward kind of sounded different than our original,” Crawford said. 

This move is also embodied by the change of the band’s name; whereas “Compost” was chosen on a whim, the band was intentional in choosing “Pulling Punches.” “It’s not [making contact], so it’s like pulling away force…more of a peaceful image,” Crawford continued. “It definitely reminds me of ’60s, ’70s pacifism,” Block agreed. The whole group concurred that while there was a dash of “flower power” inspiration, that wasn’t the crux of the switch.

When talking about “Can You See This Through?” more specifically, Crawford, who wrote the lyrics, boiled it down to “trying to reach someone but them not being reachable…kind of being available to someone who’s not available.” Aside from the lyrics, what stands out the most sonically to the listener is the development from slow to fast and quiet to loud as the song progresses with the addition of more intense drums, courtesy of Cook.

Part of what makes Pulling Punches unique is the eclecticism of it. None of its members are from the same place, have the same major or have the same musical background. It was evident, though, that this is not a hindrance, but an asset. “All of us kind of had a different idea that was built on different musical backgrounds,” Mitchell said. Combining those different ideas and different influences, he believes, made for their cohesive sound. 

The sense of camaraderie and understanding running through the group was tangible, even to an outside perspective. After each question, the members looked at one another, a shared answer discernable on their faces. And more than just genuine friendship, the way the members built on each other musically was clear. According to Sposato, when Block sent the rest of the group the demo for “Can You See This Through?” they all wrote their parts separately. “We all kind of internalized it,” he said, and when they came back together, they parsed through their respective parts as a group. “We might have written something that was like ‘Oh, that doesn’t make sense…so let’s change it. Cool.’” The group agreed — each member knows they are an asset, and they feel comfortable telling each other when they sound off. This is a huge part of what makes them work so well together.

The nature-packed environment of Cornell impacted the original sound of Compost, and still plays a role in the group’s music as Pulling Punches. When the band was still Compost, nature was an obvious factor in their name, which they incorporated into their sound. Even though they aren’t Compost anymore, that basis remains. “I think it also did kind of add the down-to-earth aspect of us and our music. We’re not trying to be insane jazz virtuosos or too poppy or anything…not too big, too glamorous…we want to be genuine,” Mitchell explained.

Courtesy of Luciana Nicole

“Can You See This Through?” is concrete proof of the genuineness and down-to-earth nature of Pulling Punches. What directs the trajectory of this band is its music — its members are focused on making the music they truly want to make, on pursuing styles that are attractive to them. Regardless of their different backgrounds, their shared love of music — whether it be that of Jefferson Airplane, Gracie Abrams, Jimi Hendrix or, in fact, the Smashing Pumpkins — is what makes them such a strong unit. Find them at Relay For Life on the Arts Quad on April 27 — you’ll see it for yourself.

Sydney Levinton is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].