Our contributing writer Ali Carter toured the east coast with Boston-based musicians Pariuh and Couples Counseling for two weeks in June. Read her tour diary for a city-by-city account of their do-it-yourself saga, featuring grimey basements, waterfalls, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and more, which we’ll be running in a five-part series over the next two weeks.
: a person who is hated and rejected by other people
Pariuh had only played one show in Boston before going on tour. Chris Dougnac had been writing songs for months, but the group’s current setup was just a few weeks old. He was proving a point, though he perhaps didn’t know it: what did a band actually need to go on tour? Certainly not a manager, or even much experience or preparation. Determination, friendship, fearlessness, and a mostly functioning van—in this case, Chris’s parents’ silver Chevy HHR—were the only requisites.
He and Virginia De Las Pozas had been involved in music projects together for years. Growing up in Miami, they met at auditions for a youth music showcase at the Museum of Contemporary Art when Chris was 15 and Virginia was 16. In 2010, they started a band called Toad Eyes, playing tongue-in-cheek, melodramatic punk rock. Virginia left Miami a year later to study vocal performance at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Chris enrolled at Florida International University. Chris moved to Boston in January 2013, after he and Virginia started dating. Toad Eyes broke up two months later. Virginia embarked on a solo project, which turned into the moody pop paradise Couples Counseling. Pariuh, Chris’s project, was a natural outgrowth of Toad Eyes—part performance art, part ecstatic explosion.
In the beginning of April, Virginia hosted a show at her house in Allston and billed it the “VirgNChris Split Up Party”. They had broken up for a number of reasons, and when tour started they seemed to be in that muddy, residual stage of loving each other and figuring out how to be friends. They interacted like an old married couple, with a directness that could be abrasive, but was often playful and humorous. Chris had planned to leave Boston by the end of July and return to Miami to finish his degree at FIU. The way Virginia described it, he was “ripping off a bandaid.”
This was Virginia and Chris’s first tour this extensive together—30 days, 20 shows, 18 cities, nearly all DIY spaces or houses, as far north as Montreal, with their final destination in their hometown of Miami. They kicked off tour with Adam Ziel at a house in Allston. Adam and Chris met at a basement show and had collaborated before on artistic endeavors—wacky retro vhs shorts and performance art at the monthly Cambridge variety show Cheap Seats. That night, Virginia and Chris’s tape label Blood Oath Slumber Party was also celebrating the release of “Locust Sludge” by Boston native Liana’s Fire. Blood Oath is just a year old but their output is impressive—11 eclectic releases from bands throughout the U.S., typically 50 to 100 tapes at a time, their latest, aptly, a Couples Counseling / Pariuh tour split.
The next day the three headed to Montreal. The venue was Psychic City, a practice space in the basement of a fitness center on Saint Laurent Boulevard. Catherine Simone Debard, AKA YlangYlang set up the show for them. Virginia knew Catherine through Cameron Potter, AKA Little Spoon, with whom Virginia was in the electronic duo Cry Guy. What’s more, Patrick McBratney, who set up their show in St. Petersburg, Florida, put out two tapes of YlangYlang on his cassette label Lava Church. Both Lava Church and Blood Oath have also released Harmoos tapes.
“We didn’t realize that any of them knew each other,” Virginia would tell me. “Patrick and Catherine have never met. They just know each other from the Internet. It’s so crazy. Everyone’s super webbed.”
From Montreal they hit Burlington; Providence; Brooklyn; Buffalo; Pittsburgh; Athens, Ohio; Philadelphia and Baltimore. We were about to enter the southern stretch of tour—Asheville, North Carolina; Athens and Atlanta, Georgia; then Florida, where we would visit Tallahassee, Gainesville, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Tampa and, finally, Miami.
Chris drove most of the time, with Virginia to his right in the passenger’s seat. I would sit in the backseat with Adam, a stack of duffle bags between us like a cushiony partition. Dozens of books were wedged beneath the seats. The trunk was packed with instruments, old suitcases filled with musical equipment and who knows what else so that the back window was about as useful as a busted pair of sunglasses.
[Above Video: Couples Counseling performs in Buffalo]
After a brief, unmemorable drive through suburbia, Chris, Virginia and I arrived at the Foxhole. The street was fairly empty, apart from a gaggle of young people near the front stoop of an apartment. This was the place.
The basement was checkered with black and white square tiles, and about 15 people could fit easily in the room. If you were taller than six feet, you were slouching against a wall. There was a faded oriental carpet on the floor, a couple colored stage lights, an inverted triangular mirror on the back wall. After a zoned-out chillwave set by local act Bliss, Virginia prepared to play.
This is my first time seeing Couples Counseling and Pariuh. Virginia’s commanding soprano beckons you into the subconscious double dream world she creates with samples, loops and pedals. Somehow emotions so personal and vulnerable infect everyone in the room. As she reaches a climactic swell singing, “Should I obey a corpse or a conscience?”, a few close their eyes and sway back and forth. Virginia keeps a calm seriousness about her throughout her set, a perfect mesmerist, and when it’s over you wonder how so much time could have passed.
Though Pariuh and Couples Counseling sound nothing alike, they oddly complement each other. As a sound check erupts into a frenzy of noise, the vibe shifts from wistful introspection to the chaotic present. Chris becomes Pariuh, his voice like a garbled transmission from the Deep Web filtered through a handmade microphone contraption he wears around his head as he simultaneously plays drums. Virginia’s bright electric guitar takes surprising turns of melody and Adam’s omnichord, which mimics a crunchy psych organ, buoys the sound. In the middle of his set, Chris hands out toothbrushes and toothpaste. “Ready, we’re all going to get clean now—go!” and he begins vigorously brushing his teeth along with the showgoers, turning what we know to be a mundane, isolated activity into a spiritual experience. Adam soundtracks the spectacle. The newly bonded strangers spit their backwash into a cup and Chris drinks it down in one gulp before he’s back on drums. There isn’t more than 10 people in the room at this point, and everyone appears to be in giddy disbelief as to what just happened.
[Above Video: Pariuh performs in Buffalo]
A lifelong Baltimore resident, Alan Ginsberg—that was his real name—a poet like his namesake, helped book shows at his house that he shared with at least five others. He had light blue hair and a chimerical grin, and he had just released a new chapbook called “The Glass Breaks, Melts, Reforms Again.” After Pariuh’s set, Alan offered to trim Chris’s beard, which had grown into a bushy, wild-looking chinstrap, in the kitchen, while Virginia made some pasta with red sauce.
Kelly, Alan’s housemate, a spunky illustrator who also plays in a band, had been living in Baltimore for five years. She came to Baltimore to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. They started having shows to help pay the bills, the first being a “housewarming” party in January.
When I asked Kelly what she liked about Baltimore, she simply replied, “The people, the scene, cheapness.”
“It’s a very liveable city,” Alan agreed.
“Yeah, what is our rent? $275 a month per person. We’re probably gonna get kicked out of this place because gentrification is coming. There’s a street called North Ave. that’s four blocks down. That place has been a center for cool art shit. It’s no longer murder capital.”
The next morning I woke up disoriented on a grungy futon and had to remind myself where I was. I entered the kitchen, and the smell of cheap microwaved pizza filled the room—Kelly’s breakfast. After downing a couple glasses of water, I walked upstairs to the second-floor shower, forgetting that Kelly had mentioned a third-floor shower the night before. The cat’s unchanged litter box expelled a pungent odor. Breathing in through my mouth, I rinsed off in haste while the group got their stuff together and packed up the van. When I got downstairs and told Virginia and Chris, they were simultaneously grossed out and hysterical with laughter.
Adam stayed in Baltimore to hang out with his friends, while Virginia, Chris and I ventured on to Washington, DC, where Virginia’s aunt Nina lived. The complete 180 of environment from the Foxhole to Nina’s refined three-story home was amusing. Recently remodeled, the place was spotless. On the first floor, there was a large abstract painting on the wall, some expensive-looking dishware in an antique china cabinet, a dining table with silver candlestick holders. Besides a full fridge, there was little indication that people actually lived there. There was one personal photograph in the entire house—Nina and her husband at their wedding.
We did what any touring band would do on their day off—eat, nap and discuss art and protest movements. Chris had confirmed a last-minute show at a house in Asheville, North Carolina for the following night. He was talking to Virginia and making a Facebook event.
“Couples Counseling is… dreamy bedroom pop.”
“No, don’t say dreamy. Use a serious adjective.”
“No, that’s vague. Um, I don’t know. Whatever. Can you pick an adjective that won’t make people think of girly things? Is it for the Facebook event? I don’t really care if it’s just for that.”
“How about ethereal?”
I met Virginia almost three years ago at a show she played at Dreamhaus in Allston. She performed a solo set as Audrey Horne, in reference to David Lynch’s iconic television noir “Twin Peaks,” looping vocal and electric guitar melodies. As I think back to that night, I hear early echoes of Couples Counseling. I’ve always known Virginia to be open and forthcoming, with a quiet confidence and old-soul wisdom. Inventive and playful with her appearance, she keeps a pair of haircutting scissors on hand and dyes her hair when the mood strikes her. At the moment, she’s a dark brunette with a streak of blonde. Virginia is vegan, which can be difficult on tour. Her choice snack is toast with fresh avocado and salt. She kept a notebook full of trippy pen and marker drawings, her own sort of tour diary.
Virginia’s taste in music spans classic jazz singers to innovative electronic musicians like Mica Levi. She doesn’t get sarcasm, I learned on this tour, which was fun to test now and then. She can get into heated discussions about politics and feminism, painfully aware of the challenges for women and genderfluid artists in an industry that remains male-dominated, though increasingly less so.
Nina arrived home from work that evening, and we had a pleasant dusk-lit dinner in the front yard that we all helped prepare. Nina was an eloquent woman with a serene demeanor. A Cuban immigrant, she worked at a nonprofit and joked that the family considered her a bad influence on Virginia because she wasn’t religious and cut her own hair. The next morning, after restful sleep in real beds, we went to pick up Adam from the bus station. While we had been relaxing in the adult comfort of Nina’s home, Adam and his friends had been searching for the Blair Witch in the Black Hills forest.