A muffled whooshing fills the last 20 seconds of Citrus Clouds’ 2017 album Ultra Sound. At first, it seems like a nostalgic outro effect, imitating a warped vinyl record. That wouldn’t be surprising coming from a band whose shoegaze songs evoke past decades. But then a rhythmic pulse grows louder and clearer until the sound of a tiny heartbeat is unmistakable. The album closes by making its title literal.
The baby in the recording is Solomon Pineda, the son of Erick Pineda, Citrus Clouds’ vocalist and guitarist, and Stacie Huttleston, the band’s vocalist and bassist. The couple recorded it with their childhood friend and drummer Angelica Pedrego while Huttleston was pregnant. Producer Jalipaz Nelson helped them capture the ultrasound, using a machine on loan from his wife Selena for the session. She’s a midwife.
Nelson was able to get a three-minute recording. Pineda says, “When that kid grows up, he’ll always have that. [Stacie] might not be around. I might not be around. But forever, he’ll have that.”
For Pineda, the idea of creating something permanent for his son was especially poignant. He was coping with the death of his father at the same time. Ultra Sound is dedicated not only to Solomon, but also to his late grandfather, Heriberto Pineda. All the songs oscillate between joy and grief in a seesaw whirl of ethereal tones.
“How do you deal with someone that close to you passing away and then someone that close to you being born?” Pineda reflects. “There was this really intense juxtaposition. You’re super-happy and then depressed as fuck. And it’s like, how do you balance that?”
Citrus Clouds’ mixture of bright sounds with grim lines — and darker tones with more uplifting lyrics — gives the record a dreamlike quality. Layers of distortion and reverb add to the surreality, and one refrain even repeats, “Is this real?” It’s shoegaze to the core, and listeners have compared them to acts like My Bloody Valentine and The Cranberries. Achieving that style wasn’t easy.
The trio jokes about it now, but recording Ultra Sound pushed them to their limits.
There were physical challenges. Playing bass became harder for Huttleston as she approached her due date. Pineda also has back aches and sciatic pain in his legs.
Pedrego was new to the band, and it was her first time making a full-length with Citrus Clouds. They were up against a major time crunch, and even though it was draining, it helped them process the life changes they were going through. They look back on those days with tender playfulness.
“[Erick] was like, ‘Can you sound sadder?’ And I was like, ‘Dude, I cannot make my voice sound any sadder than it is!’” Huttleston says of one session.
“‘Can you make your drums cry?’” Pedrego says, doing an exaggerated impression of Pineda, who takes the ribbing with a laugh.
Since the album’s release in September 2017, Citrus Clouds have stayed busy. Not only are two of the members new parents, but they also have demanding job schedules. Pedrego works 10-hour day shifts at the Forensic Science Center for Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner, and Pineda spends his nights as a chef at the Phoenix restaurant Céntrico getting a new dinner menu off the ground. It can be tough getting everyone together at the same time, but they make it work.
“Grandmas,” Huttleston says of their secret. Thanks to a strong family support system, Citrus Clouds continues to be a regular presence on stages around town.
During a recent show at The Rebel Lounge, Citrus Clouds fit right in on a shoegaze-centric lineup that featured local groups Shallow, Sun System, and Soft Deadlines. They’re glad to see more Phoenix bands getting into the genre, since Citrus Clouds helped pioneer its resurgence in the Valley when they started playing in 2014. The local shoegaze scene had its heyday in the ’90s thanks to breakout Tempe-based band Alison’s Halo, but in the past few years there’s been a renewed interest.
“Internationally, shoegaze has swelled up,” Pineda says. “So we were just lucky to be in the first wave of it coming back, and then it’s just hopefully going to keep growing.”
Citrus Clouds’ members all play glittery instruments, a fitting visual complement to their sparkly tones. Sometimes they refer to their specific brand as “desertgaze,” a tagline a friend gave them when she used to run the band’s Twitter account.
What started off as a hashtag to get them to stand out online has grown more meaningful over time. Now, they think of “desertgaze” as the auditory escape hatch to another world that their music offers when the summer heat becomes unbearable. It’s helped them win over followers in real life, too.
A few weeks after the Rebel Lounge show, Citrus Clouds are on the bill at Psych Haus, the living room-turned-venue where members of The Psychedelephants and other musicians live. Before their set, as the three chill by the pool talking with Phoenix New Times, an enthusiastic fan interrupts the interview to gush, “I came here for you. I listened to the album all the way through. You guys are fucking great. It really is good, so good, so good. Really good.”
We’re guessing he’ll be in the crowd at the band’s upcoming concert at Last Exit Live. Close Encounter, a dreampop group from Seattle, invited them to play along with Shallow and Panic Baby on March 14.
Along with continuing to book gigs in town, Citrus Clouds are starting to think about their next album. Pedrego is excited to play a larger part in the songwriting process, and she’s working on some lyrics about personal experiences. She also hopes that her distinct style of drumming will be showcased in the new songs, as she brings more of a rock influence with her love of Interpol and Cursive.
Pineda is experimenting with some new guitar pedals that he hopes will push Citrus Clouds’ aesthetic to be even dreamier and heavier. “But still us,” he says. “Not force anything but make different textures and colors.” And Huttleston kids that she might write about her upcoming 30th birthday and the impending horror she feels about it.
A lullaby might be in the works, too, as Pineda is working on a song inspired by the struggle to get Solomon to sleep. Though, Huttleston says their existing material is pretty effective.
“When we’re riding in the car, if I put [Ultra Sound] on, our baby will fall asleep,” she says. “Just because he’s so used to hearing it in the womb, you know. If he hears us singing or playing the music, it’s super-crazy, he’ll just calm down.”
Citrus Clouds are scheduled to perform at Last Exit Live on Wednesday, March 14. Tickets to the 21-and-over show are $7 to $8.
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