A little kid hugging a green plush dinosaur. A 20-something with the word “Lucifer” prominently tattooed across his face. Moms sitting on the ground quaffing wine. Lots of smiling dogs. Too-cool teens surreptitiously passing a bottle of booze around. It’s a happy motley crew that’s milling around a corner of Tompkins Square Park on a recent steamy Sunday afternoon.
It’s the real humans of NYC, and Pinc Louds fans—of which there will soon be hundreds, a dozen people deep, by the band’s 4:30 p.m. set time—are eager to dance to a trio that defies musical categorization but always brings the energy, inclusion, and joy.
From an adjacent park bench, a man ambles over and stands in front of Pinc Louds’ lead singer, Claudi. The man introduces himself as Mark, reminding Claudi (pronounced “Cloud-ee”) that he danced at a previous gig. “Your colors are beautiful,” he says. “You give hope.” Claudi, who uses all pronouns, gives him a big, genuine, lipsticked smile. In a black bob-n-bangs wig with a topknot and a festive pink floral vintage dress, Claudi—often pulling her musical life (guitar, merch, CDs) in a red wagon—is a welcome, omnipresent, and hard-to-miss downtown sight. The singer’s voice, too, is unforgettable, a pleasing, cartoony, almost-falsetto, which she willingly confesses is not natural. As the band In Circles begins their set, Pinc Clouds bass player and new dad Marc Mosteirin, clad in shorts and a black T-shirt, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, joins Claudi to share in the stories.
Pinc Louds has been in Claudi’s heart and mind for more than two decades. “I always say Pinc Louds is an imaginary band, because when you’re a kid, it’s like, ‘I want to have a band.’ And you don’t even know how to play anything!” she says. “But I was, ‘I want to have a band called Pink Clouds because everybody likes Pink Clouds so everybody is going to like us!’ I wrote it down one time, and my neighbor made a fake album cover for me.” Thrilled, Claudi, a language lover, changed the letters to create the play on words. As for the musical goal: “I wanted to make a loud punk band, but also soft and pink, like me.”
Several of Pinc Loud’s songs have logged well over a million streams each on Spotify. The layered jazzy tropical harmonies that begin “Dream Catcher” move into a nearly a capella mid-section; “Scrambled Inside” would suit Amy Winehouse or Etta James, and, like many Pinc Louds songs, seamlessly incorporates different tempos and rhythms with a result that’s both modern and old-fashioned.
The band’s latest album is 2021’s La Atómica, eight songs recorded during the pandemic at Claudi’s apartment. “The first album was in English and the second one was in Spanish, and in between we had some singles in English,” she says. Atómica translates to “atomic,” but, Claudi explains, because of “La” and the context, it’s like she’s saying “the atomic girl/woman/femme.” “There’s a chorus of male voices singing lovingly to the atomic femme and then she responds, tempts them, draws them in, explodes, and destroys them. The Atomic person destroys lustful admirers who know the atomic person is toxic but can’t help being reeled in anyway.”
“The more I went into the subway, I started meeting people and getting invited into weird and fancy parties in New York City, very strange, obscure basement things and very fancy lofty things.”
Cuts on La Atómica include “Semaforo,” inspired by a Bushwick crossing guard and featuring Claudi’s delightful kalimba playing, and the irresistible hard-strummed guitar romp that is “Tamarindo.” The tune’s manic fun and staccato energy translate well on-screen, in a video that’s equally as hyper and enchanting. Shot on the island of Vieques (a municipality of Puerto Rico infamous for being the site of U.S. Navy ordnance tests in the past), it includes guest stars including free-roaming horses, chickens, and Claudi’s young niece as an adorable mini-me.
Claudi moved to NYC from her native Puerto Rico in 2015, and her aunt and uncle helped her get a job giving music lessons to kids, an occupation Claudi, with her childlike vibe, seems ideally suited for. It was there that she met music teacher Mosteirin. But cool as the gig was, “I just can’t deal with having a boss,” Claudi admits. “Or real adult things. So I started busking in the subway. At that point, I wasn’t exactly who I am right now, I was a different person.”
Underground, teacher became student. The crazier the performances, the more commuters liked it. But it wasn’t for show. “More than screaming and jumping up and down, it has to do with being vulnerable,” recalls Claudi. “It’s not only the fast rock songs but also the really painful songs that I did not dare to write before. All that started shaping me into what I am now, for better or for worse!”
The performer found her voice there. “Let’s say it’s not my God-given voice,” she says, with high-pitched enthusiasm. “The more I would let myself be vulnerable and let that take me where it needed to take me, the more opportunities came up. The more I went into the subway, I started meeting people and getting invited into weird and fancy parties in New York City, very strange, obscure basement things and very fancy lofty things.”
#DelanceyForever might be a good hashtag for Claudi. “That’s my favorite station. It’s got great space and the subways get behind schedule. For a busker, that’s good,” she explains. “Because usually you don’t get more than three or five minutes at the most to perform. And when you’ve got people stuck, they’re pissed off for 15 minutes. And you’re the number-one source of entertainment.” The singer even answers the most impolite question of all: “Worst days, when I was starting, I would work four hours and make 50 bucks. Best days? I’ve made $400 to $500 in a day.” It’s a lot of work, both solo and playing outdoors with the band—the ideal situation, where Pinc Louds would normally play at least three sets.
Claudi is a colorful and original amalgam of her loves and influences: She digs ’20s jazz, Gene Austin, and, “obviously, Billie Holiday. A lot of harmony groups, doo-wop, and punk.… I listen to so much stuff.” Put that together in the body of a gender-bending Latinx artist obsessed with children’s books and possessed of unfettered, unrestrained creativity and you get Pinc Louds.
In fact, it was a 1973 surreal picture book, Who Needs Donuts?, by Mark Alan Stamaty (a former Voice cartoonist), that inspired Claudi to move to NYC. Then, in 2018, Stamaty, her “favorite illustrator ever,” did the cover art for the band’s Delancey St. Station LP. “Exhilarated” would be an understatement. “Humans came to earth so this book could happen,” Claudi raves.
The pre-show prep completed, drummer Raimundo Atal (the doctor of the group, they joke) joins Mosteirin and Claudi. (Atal has just received his Ph.D. in environmental economics.) Growing up in Chile, he started out a fan of Pantera and metal, but “transitioned into blues, rock, jazz, folk,” Atal says. “There’s two types of music,” he continues in accented English, echoing Duke Ellington, “good and bad. The only two genres as far as I’m concerned.”
Atal and Mosteirin (who also plays keyboards) are a big part of the sound they’ve called “hardcore acoustic doo-wop,” and they’re down with the immersive, unbounded Pinc Louds experience, though Claudi is the trio’s visual focus. The band’s punk-DIY ethos has solid musical underpinnings: Mosteirin brings a classical piano background and a degree in music theory and composition from NYU (as well as a degree in music education). But he—and the band—are all about experimentation and freedom in music and performance. Claudi once “married” Mosteirin to a naked stranger at a “Wedding” event, one of the many W-themed parties inspired by the singer’s love of tautograms. To wit: “I have a W poem called ‘Why Would Werewolves Worship Waffles?’” she says. Additional “W” happenings include Wormholes, Westerns, and War; other letters have also been brought into play.
Gigs range from the slightly more staid (Joe’s Pub, Le Poisson Rouge) to the obscure (dumpling shops, Mexican restaurants) to the hipster (Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right), but they’re all approached with equal ardor. The band admits, however, to especially loving the energy of a wildly moving crowd, literally on their same level—which they’ll have at Tompkins Square Park within the hour. Pinc Louds has toured outside the country as a band, while Claudi has played Germany, Spain, France, and Portugal on her own—mostly for practical and financial reasons. A week after this afternoon’s gig, she’s off to Germany on a bill with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and NOFX.
Fans continue to wander by the park bench where the trio awaits their performance, offering praise and inquiring about set times. The pandemic park gigs—which Gothamist wrote about under the headline “Pinc Louds Saved Summer”—were semi-guerrilla shows that both soothed and thrilled the beleaguered citizenry. “Today is the first time we have a permit,” notes Mosteirin. But not for lack of previous effort. “I did want to attempt to get a permit for us. I paid my application fee. And they informed me that they were not giving out any permits because of Covid,” the bassist explains, adding, “and they retained my application fee.”
While they’ve collaborated with a freegan group (met through the subway gigs) on a mini-musical called “Magical Garbage,” Pinc Louds doesn’t aim to be political. “By us doing what we do on the street, by hanging in the subway, I think it’s a political act just to be free and do the music that you want to do and do it in public spaces for people. I’m obviously not a Trump supporter,” Claudi says, understating. “Our songs generally aren’t political. But we do believe in freedom and liberty. And making New York as real and raw and weird as possible.”
Indeed, Claudi’s creativity and exuberance project the color and surreality of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, or, as one YouTube fan gushed, a “gloriously idiosyncratic creativity,” aptly describing the “Tamarindo” video as “exceptionally bursting full of pure unbridled joy in the most wholesome bizarrely brilliant effervescent way possible.”
There are many, many moving parts involved in providing that weird joy to adults and kids alike. And much of it, the business and the creative, emanates from Claudi. It’s a lot. And tiring. Claudi’s open to being picked up by a label, and getting a bigger tour with support. But at the same time, she says, “I know that I probably will never be happier than playing here in Tompkins Square Park. I mean that 100%. I can’t really think of anything that gives me more joy.” ❖
Katherine Turman has written for Entertainment Weekly, Spin, Billboard, and other publications, is the author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, and produces the classic rock radio program Nights With Alice Cooper. She lives in Brooklyn.