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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Sad Girls Aquatics Club

Chelsea Rumbaugh and Marie Mashyna make melancholy synth pop full of playful experimentation and interesting textures. Their latest release "Easier" features the song “Plastic & Pearl” which effectively captures the hollow emptiness of modern existence, while making it sound really pretty.

Chelsea and Marie from Sad Girls Aquatics Club recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about their new song, keeping things playful and experimental, and amateur pig farming.

This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.

What’s your musical history up to this point?

Chelsea: Our musical history together goes back to 2015, when we started a 3 piece pop-punk/surf-rock band called Side Eye, which was a lot of fun. We were in that project together for a few years before we decided to take a more electronic song writing direction, and started Sad Girls around 2018. As far as our individual musical histories go, I think we both originally started playing music in childhood. I started piano lessons when I was 6 and continued all the way through high school, started guitar at 10 and joined my first punk rock band in the 7th grade. Marie played the Cello.

Marie: Yeah I also started piano around age 6, and played the Cello as a kid. I picked up guitar when I was 13 and then bass in my 20s when I joined Side Eye.

How do you describe your sound? 

Chelsea: I think our sound could be described as a kind of melancholy synth pop. We like to incorporate lots of live instrumentation and interesting textures to our recordings as well. We have a lot of fun and try a lot of different ideas when recording the songs and I think that playfulness and experimentation comes through and makes our sound a little more unique and true to our original musical influences.

Tell us more about the song “Plastic & Pearl.” What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?  

Chelsea: Honestly when we were writing this song/album, we were quarantined in a cabin with our producer, engineer, and a few other musician friends and we were just trying to churn out as many songs as possible in the time that we had together. Of course, a ton of the songs we wrote in that time did not end up working out and were cut from the album, but “Plastic & Pearl” ended up being one of my favorite songs of the bunch. With this recording, we wanted to make something really pretty on the surface while also capturing the empty/hollowness of modern existence, with all of that room/reverb in the track and the big empty percussion. Layered with the dissonant synth and 80s arena rock guitar riffs, I just think we got a lot of elements in there that make the song sound cool and are simultaneously really effective. 

What was the first album that really changed your life?    

Chelsea: For me, maybe Michael Jackson's "Thriller," just because not only was I obsessed with these songs as a child, I also had a VHS tape of the music video that I watched so many times it actually physically broke the tape. So I credit this album for both my obsession with pop music and also my love of horror movies, which are both cornerstones of my entire personality.

Marie: It’s hard to pinpoint because I grew up surrounded with a lot of good music, mostly new wave and alternative rock. Similarly to Chelsea, I had VHS’s of They Might Be Giants & Squeeze music videos that I watched obsessively. In the age of Napster, I was introduced to a ton of artists one song at a time rather than album by album. I think “Whoa, Nelly” by Nelly Furtado was the first album I asked for on my own and listened to the entire thing over and over.

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?  

Chelsea: Good Sport, Merce Lemon, Natural Rat, Wwoman, any band with Pat Coyle in it, Rave Ami, Wild Onion, Flash Thunder, Ideas for Advertisements, there’s a ton of good bands in Pittsburgh right now.

Marie: Whole heartedly agree with all of what Chelsea said, and I’d like to add Same, Sierra Sellers, String Machine, Clara Kent, Good Dude Lojack, Loren, Gaadge, Zinnia’s Garden, Luis Pontillo, L.T. Creacher, Flower Crown.

Any other super interesting things we should know about you?

Chelsea: I recently became somewhat of an amateur pig farmer.

Marie: I am reading a book about women lighthouse keepers.

Learn more about Sad Girls Aquatics Club here:


Check out previous Pittsburgh Artists of the Week here.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.