Interview with Moxie Pocket: the experimental rock band creating bombastic live shows and haunting walls of sound

"Performance is spellcraft, shaping a moment to a collective will."
Sofia Zarzuela
Sofia Zarzuela
Musician and writer from NYC <3

Loud, punky noise explodes as a frontwoman floats around like a ragdoll, sinking into the stage and then throwing herself on the ground beneath it. She alternates between rhythmic chanting and screaming, playing with the microphone as if she’s a cat with string. Meanwhile, the band locks into ever-changing grooves, playing an experimental mix of metal and post-punk with hints of funk. Behind her, an impeccably dressed guitarist performs her own minute contortion, legs splayed and feet pointing inward, staring outward as though in a trance. The bassist, clad in a nu-metal uniform, holds the rhythm together with a smile, and the drummer pounds so hard it looks like it hurts. It’s difficult to know where to look: everyone is in a total state of flow, and they’re making music that keeps you on your toes.

Moxie Pocket consists of frontwoman Brenna Sastron, a Connecticut-based pin-hole photographer, printmaker, and sculptor; bassist Skye Groballi, a Connecticut-based multi-instrumentalist, jeweler and architectural landscape gardener; drummer Cody Zusman, an Ithaca-born NYC-based producer, engineer, classically trained cellist, and multi-instrumentalist; and bassist Jude Thomas, an Astoria-born player of stringed instruments and front person of the black metal band Kemmering. The band was formed in 2021 by Sastron and Groballi, with Thomas and Zusman fortuitously joining the following year. From then on, they gigged through Purchase College—where Sastron and Zusman attended—Connecticut, and New York City, establishing a trademark style of bombastic live shows, haunting walls of sound, and a nostalgic found footage aesthetic almost immediately.

All members being multi-instrumentalists forge their bond further. The group usually ends their sets with an unreleased song wherein the lineup rotates entirely: Groballi on bass, Zusman on guitar, and Thomas on drums. Groballi says, “I think we all bring our own specific energies to the overall sound, but switching instruments really gives me the chance to understand everyone’s perspective! Walking in my bandmates’ shoes makes me that much more impressed and helps us communicate during the writing process.” It’s rare to find a group with such a knack for diplomacy.

There’s a distinct visual throughline between Moxie Pocket’s releases: album covers feature dolls, stuffed animals in embalming jars, and an old photo of children playing ring around the rosy. Indeed, the band collaborates just as much aesthetically as they do sonically.  Often, the images come from Sastron’s pin-hole photography practice, which she says is linked to the music by her “secrets and fears.” However, the album art and promotional images for their 2023 single, “Six,” was a creative undertaking each member had a hand in: Sastron made the art, Thomas designed the logo, and Groballi and Zusman took the photos.

Out of all the bands I’ve seen emerge from the New York DIY scene in the last few years, there is none like Moxie Pocket. To watch them play is immediate catharsis. As their sound transforms and evolves, it is clearer than ever that they are making work entirely authentic to themselves. Although people are quick to pigeonhole it into related genres like punk or riot grrrl, Sastron describes it simply as experimental rock, saying, “Improvising and experimentation are integral and highly sacred to our practice.” The chaotic and eerie sound lends itself to a highly present feeling of rage, with many songs lingering on a demand for apologies. In my favorite unreleased song, “Kilter,” Sastron repeats, “I’ll make you sorry, I’ll make you sorry.” And I believe it. In their latest single, “Cassius,” she howls, “You disgust me / I’m so hungry / for your sad sick apology / you’ll be sorry / draped pity / when you find you’re not above me.” She calls it the last angry song the band will write, saying, “It works for a lot of people but not really for me, kinda makes me feel ashamed or something. Expect more songs about devolution and fear.” Now that Moxie Pocket has conquered fury, their possibilities are opening up in every direction.

Ahead of Moxie Pocket’s upcoming self-titled record, the band joins EveryDejaVu to talk about their sound, performance style, and magic.

Photos by Emely Truong

Cody and Jude, you’re both in a ton of other bands, a lot of them super different from Moxie. Do those other projects ever seep into this one? Who are some of your sonic influences, and how do you navigate which sounds to explore with Moxie Pocket?

Jude: Moxie is this open-ended band where we don’t go about saying, “Heh, let’s do this genre.” Something great about that is what we learn and love elsewhere—musically—we have full freedom to take into Moxie Pocket. For example, I’m very passionate about different flavors of metal, funk, and folk and incorporate sounds from those genres. The bands I draw from most for this are Sausage, Soul Coughing, Korn, bands with weird and dark bass.

Cody: I actually try to keep my playing in each project as separate as I can. There will always be an inherent “sound” when the same person plays in multiple acts, but I try to make sure each project gets a version of my drumming that fits it the best.

It’s less of a ‘who’ question and more of a ‘what’ for me. I hear rhythm everywhere I go, especially living in the city—a lot of these rhythms either influence or even make it into the way I play drums. Our single, “Relentless Machine,” that’s coming out soon, was inspired by a broken cross-walk signal. I imagine each song has a color or a personality, and find sounds or playing styles that work well within that. These associations can change at will, though, sometimes show to show, practice to practice.

The set starts with Jude on drums, Cody on guitar, and Skye on bass, then switches to the usual lineup after the first song—Cody on drums, Skye on guitar, and Jude on bass. Do you switch instruments around often in the writing process, and how did it start? What does each person add to the instrument they’re playing?

Jude: We often switch instruments when we’ve been practicing for a while and get tired. It’s a great way to shake things up if you get stuck in a rut. 

Cody: I remember we switched instruments one day during practice in some downtime, and it started to feel like something we should try to write with. It was really interesting to hear the sound of the band change when everyone was playing different instruments because it didn’t become not Moxie Pocket—it became weird Moxie Pocket. Jude is a funky drummer, Skye is a rock-solid bassist, and I like to play the guitar like I have no idea what I’m doing (I don’t). 

Skye: I think we all bring our own specific energies to the overall sound. But switching instruments really gives me the chance to understand everyone’s perspective! I already find my three bandmates talented, but walking in their shoes makes me that much more impressed and helps us communicate during the writing process.

Brenna, your performance style is so distinct and fantastic. How did it develop, and where does it come from?

Brenna: I’ve been told from a very young age that I am sort of a “bad mover.” I’m really uncoordinated. So I guess I am just moving around the only way I know how! I don’t have to worry about looking awkward or dancing badly if I’m just throwing myself around. Having limited control of my own body is also just an interesting sensation. It’s a little scary because I know I’m capable of like injuring myself on accident, but definitely also really freeing. I feel like it’s all an exaggerated reflection of how I navigate the world physically.

Have you ever hurt yourself on stage?

Brenna: I usually don’t. I chipped my tooth, smacking myself on a mic once. Other times, I’ve smacked my head or broken a heel and twisted an ankle. I don’t think too much about if it affects me mentally, but maybe, if anything, performing makes me feel the slightest bit embarrassed just because I know I look insane. My vocal cords are so beyond fucked, though. I lose my voice after pretty much all shows at this point. Gotta get that figured out.

You also play the guitar with a bone as a slide. Why did you choose to play in this unconventional way? As for the actual bone, what animal is it from, and where did you find it?

Brenna: No idea what type of animal the bone is from—wish I knew! My friend Liz, who collects bones, gave it to me when Cody broke the first one (but that’s okay because it was his bone anyway). I liked the thought of creating a blanket of texture over some of the more sparse areas in the songwriting. I also loved how—when playing in this specific way—I had to navigate the guitar as an object rather than an instrument, which I find really, really fun and challenging.

Last I checked, you didn’t play any guitar. How much has this changed? 

Brenna: I picked up guitar for a few reasons. I wanted to experiment with sound-making and improvisation and integrate that into my performance. I don’t know chords, or tuning, or theory much at all—and I sort of don’t want to. I’m not limiting myself to the rules of traditional playing or learning technical skills. When I’m fucking around with the guitar at a show, it’s me in real time trying to figure out what sounds I could get out of this thing or how far I could push it before I start to break it. It’s a lot of fun. It gives me something to be nervous about since I don’t know what I’m doing at all. Some nights it sounds like shit; sometimes it works though.

If Moxie Pocket was a band playing at a dive bar in a movie scene, what movie would it be?

Brenna: Maybe the gay bar scene from But I’m a Cheerleader.

Jude: Saw. Moxie, to me, evokes feelings of chains and hysteria and 00’s grunge-noir.

Skye: Maybe Jennifer’s Body. We would change the entire trajectory of that movie.

Cody: Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Can you expand on that?

Cody: No… I don’t remember why I said that.

To me, the music and performances are very trancelike. Do you believe in magic?

Brenna: I think so. I believe in angels.

Jude: I am an extremely firm believer in magic. Everybody knows the Crowley quote defining it as “the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with will,” and Basquiat defines music as “the decoration of time.” I think about these a lot in bass playing—in musicianship generally. For me, performance is spellcraft, shaping a moment to a collective will.

Cody: They are; it’s highly ritualistic for me. I used to be active in this project called You Bite With That, and the last single that we ever released was called “Moxie?” It came out at the same time that the original lineup of Moxie Pocket had formed, completely separately and without anyone having knowledge of either thing. So yeah, I believe in magic, especially relating to this band.

Skye: Oh, I so believe in magic. That’s something that should be shared more. That makes me feel joyous if it reflects through our sound.

What’s next for Moxie Pocket?

Brenna: One more single and then an album that has been in the works for two years now. Twelve tracks, I believe, including “Cradle,” an updated version of “The Lawman Convulses!” and “Six.”

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