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Pretty Bitter draws inspiration from the music of movies and TV

The band will perform at Comet Ping Pong on July 1 and Pie Shop on July 3

Pretty Bitter features singer and lyricist Emelia Bleker, front right, and Zack Be, front left, who wrote the bulk of the music on the band’s new album, “Hinges.” (Mike Kim)
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The story of how D.C. pop-rockers Pretty Bitter recorded their new album is an increasingly familiar one to any band that hoped to hit the studio during the last two-plus pandemic-squeezed years. The high-gloss, lushly orchestrated “Hinges” began as socially distanced demos written when the future of live music (and the future in general) was in flux, before being recorded for real in a basement, in a closet and in a Guitar Center, guerilla-style, on a $3,000 vintage ax. (Perhaps that last one isn’t as universal).

The challenge was particularly acute for singer Emelia Bleker, who felt untethered and struggled to settle on lyrics for the songs, some of which went through double-digit revisions before she landed on a final version.

“There was so much frustration because I’ve never written like that before,” Bleker says. “I write best when I’m in a room with people that I trust and people that I can try things out with, and I was going absolutely out of my mind.”

Eventually, Bleker figured it out, as images of doors and themes about her family and personal life began recurring in her lyrics. Not coincidentally, this was around the time she returned to therapy and realized — among other things — that she hadn’t gone more than two weekends without being on a stage until the pandemic hit.

“There ended up being this through line of, who are you at the end of all of your experiences?” she explains. “Ironically, the pandemic ended up being a really great place to be able to [explore] that because I had a moment to step back and look inward.”

The band also looks outward to create and contextualize its music. Press materials compare the band to a “queer Richard Linklater movie” and the album to art-house fare from studio A24, like Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.”

Aster “renders these films in these, like, extremely beautiful visual palettes, but he’s showing horrible things, and there’s something about that where you just want to keep digging deeper and looking more and more at it,” explains Zack Be, who wrote the bulk of the album’s music. “That definitely plays into the production side: How far can I take this and people will still listen to it as a pop song?”

Bleker, on the other hand, looked to the small screen for inspiration and motivation, in shows like “Station Eleven,” which follows a traveling theater troupe in a post-apocalyptic, post-pandemic future, and often considers the persistence of art.

“Watching that show was probably the most joyful part of my creative process during quarantine, where it snapped me out of this head space where I genuinely didn’t know if I could do the thing that I love doing the most anymore,” she explains. “I watched that show and I was like, listen, art is always going to exist.”

July 1 at 10 p.m. at Comet Ping Pong, 5037 Connecticut Ave NW. cometpingpong.com/livemusic. $15. Proof of vaccination and masks required.

July 3 at 8 p.m. at Pie Shop, 1339 H St. NE. pieshopdc.com/events. $12-$15. Proof of vaccination or negative PCR test required; masks optional.

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