Pillowinde (pillow-wind) is an indie-rock trio fronted by Claire Ruiz. They’ve played as many basement/showhouse gigs in the New Brunswick scene in the past two years as anyone. In April, Pillowinde released their second full-length album, titled “Jets to Brunswick.” Our music reporter caught up with Claire by phone in June. 

Bennett Kelly: Alright, today is Sunday. You had a New Brunswick show on Friday that you booked? Where was that and who was on it?

Claire Ruiz: It was at a friend’s house in the Cook-Doug area, I guess you’d say, outside of the college area. More so in the art school section of town. It was in a basement. And we had some really cool bands. We had High, which is a shoegaze band from North Jersey. They’re really popular right now, I think. They released on this cool indie label called Julia’s War, which is from Philly. Prettier Now, which is really funny, which is where I believe I subconsciously, [laughs] semi-subconsciously got the name for that one song [“prettier now,” the opener on their new album]. I read that title at some point and it came into my mind. We played with them a year ago and it was great to play with them again, pretty much. 

And Speakeasy was on the bill. They’re one of the more popular bands in New Brunswick right now as well. Dead Sure was on the bill. They’re like a screamo, Midwest-emo kind of band. They’ve got really talented members as well. And they’re really new, their first show ever was at Cinco de Mayo a few weeks back on this really heavy bill. Their first show was that, and so I got to book their second show. 

And last but not least, the touring act was Bruiser and Bicycle, who just released on this label called Topshelf. They’re from Albany and they’re really the most amazing thing I’ve ever booked. They remind me a lot of Supertramp, The Beach Boys, of Montreal, XTC. Really cool psychedelic pop, but with a lot of different influences. And they reached out to me trying to get a show for that date and I was able to, luckily, get it all to come together. 

I tried, like, ten different houses, but none of the houses could do it other than my friend Deena’s. And I suppose it’s because of the schedule of the time. This weekend was the beginning of many people’s leases, like a day or two after. So a lot of houses were like, Sorry, we can’t do it because we have new tenants moving in. And in the basement scene world, they don’t want to scare off people, I guess, by having a show the day somebody moves in [laughs].

But I was lucky enough to get it to come together, and we had a good turnout. Probably eighty to a hundred people showed up. And actually the cops came [laughs] right before High was supposed to go on. And they told, you know, they told them to shut down, and then they left. I don’t know if you can talk about that in the magazine, but basically the band just played a little quieter, and the show just continued as soon as the cops left [laughs]. It was kind of funny.

BK: And you played too, right? 

CR: Yeah Pillowinde was on the bill as well. We played third.

BK: That’s the sweet spot.

CR: Yeah, I guess I gave myself a good spot. But we had a good night. It was really successful. A lot of people showed up, and I was just happy to have thrown it together. It was like my first real booking or good booking, I guess I was just happy to. Cause I also booked the release show we did in February at Mill Hill basement in Trenton. But this bill was really good. Every band on it was amazing.

BK: That Trenton show, I skipped because it was like five degrees out that weekend.

CR: Yeah. No, I don’t blame you. Not that many people showed up unfortunately [laughs]. Mostly our friends.

BK: I’m not punk rock enough. When and where was your first New Brunswick performance that you played?

Pillowinde on the digital cover of the mid-year review, playing a New Brunswick backyard show last summer

CR: When? August 27th, 2021. So coming up on two years ago at this point. It was in a basement on Baldwin Street. They used to be called Ghoul Lagoon. It doesn’t exist anymore. And it was thrown together by my friends and my ex-bassist David. He’s starting a new project soon, I believe. But yeah he put it together because he was living there, and lo and behold, that’s how Pillowinde started, pretty much, as a band.

BK: I know David has left, and I will always think fondly of his covers of “Ocean Man” and “Muffin Man,” Ween and Zappa. What’s the current status of your lineup? David left amicably and is just doing different stuff?

CR: Yeah, he just needed to do his own stuff. Because it was all my material, and we played like 60 shows together. It’s a lot. And he just wanted to be able to express his own music. And we had creative differences once in a while, but it was just him wanting to lead his own bands. 

Now the lineup is me and my friend Chelsea, who’s on bass now. I met them at a Daddy’s Closet show [a New Brunswick performer] and we immediately hit it off as well. And it’s been really nice. Currently we are in the midst of another drummer search [laughs], trying somebody out on Wednesday, but as always, it’s a little bit of a jumping around kind of thing until we have somebody solid. 

But we’re pretty much figuring it out again. It’s getting put together, the band lineup again. I had my fellow musician friends, Daddy’s Closet, you may have heard of, really popular in the New Brunswick scene right now, has played guitar for us. Played bass for Pillowinde on a guitar for a show like a month ago. That was really fun. She’s been helping out, just playing shows. But she’s not in the lineup-lineup. She’s not a permanent fixture. But we’ve been having fun, kind of tackle each show as its own little quest.

BK: Quest is a good word for it. Do you think you’ve played all the showhouses of the last year or two? How many do you think that is?

CR: The only showhouse we didn’t play, which also doesn’t exist anymore, I believe, is Milky Mansion. We just never ended up playing there. And they usually play really soft acts. They’re more like twee, really light poppy stuff. So I wasn’t offended we didn’t play there, but I’m pretty sure they closed down. And Rock Bottom, which also just closed down. Those two venues are the only ones, but otherwise we’ve played pretty much every venue.

BK: And there’s probably, what were there, ten or so in the last year or two?

CR: Probably ten or eleven. I’d have to think, count all of them.

BK: And how many times would you say that the cops had to bust them open? How often does that happen? Sometimes in the middle of the bill, where two bands have played and then two more don’t get to.

CR: I think Pillowinde at this point has played like 70 shows, which is crazy. In New Brunswick, probably more like 45, maybe 50. I’d say out of those 50, we’ve been lucky, but we’ve only been shut down, well. The show on Friday semi got shut down, but they kept going anyway. And maybe one or two other times has it happened. But I know a lot of other times, it depends on the location. Because I know College Avenue and the central area, where Rutgers is more centralized, is nowhere near as much of a problem. Whereas in a residential zone, which happens like on, let’s say, Hamilton Street or Lewis Street, where a couple houses were, the areas that are more residential have a higher rate of cops getting calls. As opposed to, for example, College Avenue, or stuff that’s just acknowledged as a college area where there’s a lot of partying. Those areas are less likely to have cops call. So I’d say we’ve been lucky in that we’ve never had to not play. But most other bands you’ll ask have probably been shut down before they could play at least once or twice.

BK: “Jets to Brunswick,” your second full length album, came out in April. I think you’ve said in the past that this one captures your live sound better than your debut last year. And that when people look you up and listen to this, this exemplifies your sound better.

CR: It definitely exemplifies a closer image than the first album. I’d still say that the album is much more produced and it’s a little more all over the place than what we sound like live. But it’s definitely a closer image, and it has all the songs we play live. The first album, we usually only play “Courtney” and “Sans Soleil” I’d say. And “Cheerios.” But this album, we play almost all the songs from this album and we have been for a year and a half or so. So it’s nice to finally have representation of what we are live on the streaming’s now. 

And now a touring band can come listen to us and be like, Okay, I want to play with that band because they sound like that, and it won’t be us leading on, or not leading on, but the first album had more light, psyche music, whereas the second album hits harder and is more poppy I’d say.

BK: When this album came out, it really blew me away. Every time I listen to it, there’s a new surprise. It’s always fresh. You might have said it’s over-produced or produced more than your live sound, but I think the production is great. It’s got your classic, New Brunswick guitar-band shredding, then it’s got some synth effects, it’s got some ska, it’s got some bass scales, bass playing. Songs that shred, songs that are melancholy. And it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of humor in there, too. I just think it’s the best thing I’ve heard in a while. And I hope others feel that way. And I hope you feel that way. What do you think about all of it?

CR: Well, thank you for those kind words. I definitely think it’s a little… I hope the word eclectic applies to it. I think it’s probably going to be one of the things I’ll be most proud of for the rest of my life unless I’m able to surpass it somehow. But I’m glad for all the people that have heard it so far. We’re still a small band, I’d say, because I think the most listened-to song on it is still “prettier now,” and it’s only been like maybe 200 people have heard it. Which is pretty small, but at the same time, it’s something for sure. I’m just happy to finally have a representation of the variety of what we can do. And Chelsea and I, Chelsea having just joined, we’re going to start writing new material, hopefully soon and be able to push forward, because we’ve been playing that material for so long. So it would be nice to have fresh stuff, hopefully at the end of the summer, fall.

BK: On the album cover, the little stick figure is saying, Now I can finally rest. Was this a whole lot of trouble for you to get this mixed and released? 

CR: Yeah, it’s a lot of relief. Because I spent the entirety of 2022 working on it and it was always the pain. Well, not the pain, but it was always the one thing at the back of my mind, I was always thinking, I’ve got to finish this. I’ve got to keep working on this, I’ve got to get these vocals done, I’ve gotta get these guitars recorded. I was constantly just worrying about this album because I was just playing a ton of shows, and I’d always want to have something to show for it, for all the music we had been playing live. Because every set we play “baby yr mine,” “yuri’s lipstick,” “jets to brunswick,” “only four hours away,” these songs that people love live. But we’d always finish the show, and then somebody would look us up, and the only song that we had that had that energy was “Courtney.” And it was a little frustrating. So I had this internal clock and this internal struggle of just wanting to finish this album. And I just spent so much time worrying about it and needing it to become, to be perfect, and I wanted it to be everything.

I mean, I still don’t think it’s perfect. I think there’s definitely things that I wish came across better, certain elements that, I don’t know. As an artist, there’s always going to be stuff. You surrender it, you don’t just finish it. So I definitely love it. But at the same time, it was definitely a lot of work to get it done and I’m very relieved. 

So the cover is a little bit of a double entendre in a sense, because you have the little guy saying he finally can rest. And you could look at that in some sort of negative, sad way, kind of like some indie, you know, some sort of indie sad girl or whatever [laughs]. But in reality it’s just I’m so done with this and I’m so glad it’s finally done. 

And the photo is actually taken when I was in maybe high school, from right outside of my house. In the weeks following up, before I was going to upload the album for distribution, my friend was making album covers for me. And they just all didn’t feel right for some reason. I was having a lot of struggle with it, but I just needed something. I really wanted something simple. So I just went through my old computer and looked at all my old photos I had taken. And that was the one that really resonated with me. I just really liked it. So in about two minutes, I just drew that little stick figure on top of it in Photoshop. And that was that. I just uploaded it.

BK: “jets to brunswick” is the title track. What’s the meaning behind the title and the lyrics, and the whole notion of “Jets to Brunswick” as the album title?

CR: “Jets to Brunswick,” the cover I guess, is an image of me coming home after a show, maybe. I’ve thought about it that way. But “Jets to Brunswick” was just like, all of a sudden, this was my life. Going to New Brunswick and taking the train to it, or just like spending a week there with my friends. It just became my life. And essentially, I write in that song about how all these feelings I have, they’re really intense. And [laughs] as a sad person that I am, I don’t know how long it’s going to last. You can’t play these college shows forever, especially as somebody who didn’t go to Rutgers. I can’t just live in this ecosystem forever. So I was just feeling really existential. And in the chorus, I say, “but I begin to feel that time will come and take me, erase me and carry on.” I think that’s one of the choruses. And it’s just this idea of the sad concept of your place in the world and how time conquers all, pretty much. And Brunswick is just maybe one era of my life or something. So it’s simply a rumination, or just like me looking at time pass really quickly and all these things happening.

BK: I caught your May show on [WRSU program] Overnight Sensations. You played acoustic and you had your friend there with a synth.

CR: My brother, yeah.

BK: Oh, cool. One of the things that stood out was how you said your lyrical style is to write songs that only you could write. Some are very specific, some personal events whether it’s humorous or confessional. Does the personal side make it easier, or harder to write them and then to perform them?

CR: I think when I’m performing the songs, I’m not always thinking about all the lyrics. Some songs are definitely sad. For example, I guess “jets,” or “you get the axe, bud” is it’s the saddest song in there, if not “former future stranger.” But I don’t know if it’s an ego thing, but I just want to feel like I’m doing something unique as an artist. So that’s why I write songs with hyper-specific to my life lyrics. Especially I think “celia” is a good example of that. 

BK: One thing that was cool was to hear these songs played on just acoustic. With a little synth. Did you write them on acoustic? And you know how Mac DeMarco would release a follow-up demo album? A companion album. Do you have that stuff lying around?

CR: So the funny thing you say about acoustic is a good amount of the songs were definitely demoed acoustic. I’d say “celia” originally was acoustic entirely, and had just the acoustic guitar and my vocals all pitched up. I would record the songs at a slow speed, and then bring it up to normal speed with the pitch also shifting up. And I would basically create the effect you hear on “breakup.” I have demos of “celia” and “yuri’s” and “jets” and the original demo of “only four hours away.” I have them all, and they are to varying extents finished, I’d say. 

But I’ve thought about it too. I think I’m going to wait till the possibility of Pillowinde getting a little bigger before I do that because I don’t want to look like I’m stroking my own ego by posting my demos [laughs]. But I do start off often acoustic, and play it slowed down, so that I can process the information faster and then speed it up to the tempo I would play it live.

BK: And another thing you said, I think you said this on that show, was that when you started coming to shows in New Brunswick and started seeing them in the basements, it changed what music you wanted to perform live. You wanted to play some more energetic, guitar-heavy, fun stuff. Is that the case now even?

CR: For sure. It’s actually even more so the case to some extent now. Because, well. It’s definitely the case. I’m very easily imprinted by my environment. So I’ve been going to a lot of shows with screamo bands and hardcore bands lately. And I’ve been having a lot of fun at those shows and it gives me this itch of like, Oh, I can do that too, I should do that too and maybe I would fit in a bit. And so I guess I’m very malleable. Because I like a lot of music. I like really light stuff and I like really heavy stuff, and I could see myself doing anything of all that stuff. So I’m very much a product of my environment. But I do know that I still like certain things, like my Mac DeMarco or of Montreal influences or the Pixies or Ween. But at the same time, I have fun with everything.

BK: A little production question. I know in the past you said you’ve written songs that are kind of pieced together. You’ll have one part and then you’ll mix it and you have another part and you’ll see if they fit together. Did that figure into this album as well?

CR: Yeah.

BK: Do you have any examples of it?

CR: Yeah. “yuri’s lipstick” was its own demo. It was its own song, that was more like a three minute song originally. And then for “yuri,” it’s only a verse, chorus, verse, chorus. It’s very simple. I originally was trying to make it a longer song, but I was writing a bridge for it, and I came up with the riff for “jets to brunswick” while making “yuri’s lipstick.” 

So those songs, they’re always played together almost. And they’re tied together because “jets to brunswick”’s riff was originally just a riff. It was just a bridge that was meant for “yuri’s lipstick.” It was all instrumental and I hadn’t tracked vocals for it when all of a sudden I think David was like, Oh, you should just treat “yuri’s” as an intro for “jets.” And that was a revelation that it would be fun to have a song that’s really fast, and then you go into this heavy song that is slower and more shoegazey and heavy. 

I think “beckon the windy pillows” also was a case that just went through a lot of changes, where I was trying a lot of different things with the parts. And originally there’s a point where it was like an emo song or it had more of that emo sounds. And I kept switching it until I went back to the original, [plays it and laughs] which was like the guitar, the funky kind of thing. Funk rock.

BK: That one’s really cool. It goes from “only four hours away” and drops right into “beckon the windy pillows,” I think that’s the one. So some of those breaks into the next song are just superb. It’s almost like they’re sequenced like a rock opera, like a Tommy or Sgt. Pepper’s. And then with the themes that it takes you on. Did you consider it like that when you were putting this together, how the stories and how the songs go into each other? Because sometimes a song, you have a ska bit and then it goes a little harder in the next song and then it breaks into kind of, I don’t want to say funny, but almost like a humorous little shift mid-song.

CR: Yeah, sequencing this album was one of the most happy things. I loved how it came together. Because I didn’t write them in any order other than “yuri’s” and “jets” being together. Originally I think “baby yr mine” was supposed to be track number two. But I arranged it within this narrative of “jets to brunswick” as the concept of, this is the concept album of Claire hanging around in New Brunswick and being friends with all these people and playing shows and having this weird, crazy, fun life. So you can call it a pseudo concept album, because it’s just me being very specific about things. 

But it wasn’t written that way. The songs just came together and I never went out of my way to write something for some sort of narrative. They just came to me. I wrote “celia” and “yuri’s” at different times and they were just songs that I would just get the idea to write. Like Oh, this night I didn’t want to go to a show [as in “celia”]. Or it was really funny how I stole lipstick from somebody [“yuri’s lipstick”]. So it was just a case of it all coming together under Claire’s narrative.

BK: “baby yr mine” was the single and it has a slightly different feel, I think, than some of the others. Was it recorded separately?

CR: It was definitely a case of, we tried recording it with real drums multiple times. And we just couldn’t get them to sound right, because we didn’t use a studio. And at the last minute, Super Jack – who I just met, I met him at a basement show, the Grander Canyon. He offered to mix the songs for me. And that was the first thing he ever did with us when he was in the band for a little bit, he wanted to mix stuff. So he took the drum machine track that was just there, and he kind of made a creative decision to, Why don’t we just simply take the drum machine and just mess with it a bunch? It’s actually a LinnDrum emulation. And he just messed with this plugin called the Harmonizer that David Bowie would use a lot in the 70s with Brian Eno. And he just made it sound more like a post-punky beat. And it’s definitely an interesting production because it’s a little different. I wouldn’t say it’s raw, I’d say it’s very interestingly… it’s produced, as a single. it doesn’t have a live feel to it I know.

And that was Super Jack’s first contribution. And he went on to mixing the rest of the album. And I got it mastered by somebody else who mastered this band I’m really into right now called, Feeble Little Horse. They were able to finish up the album for me in the ways I couldn’t do myself. I’m just not very good at mixing.

BK: The “baby yr mine” lyrics, I thought these were really clever. The second verse goes, “I’m reading up on paths to stardom, I’m looking for an easy way out, I’ll sign up with any label, I’ll be the next commodity, I’m selling out my fragile little soul.” So obviously, it seems like something you were wrestling with while putting this all together. Where do you stand with seeking representation or signing to a label kind of thing? Is that a part of your drive at this point?

CR: I’d definitely say that my ambitions are really high, in general. But when I wrote that song, the song in general, I’d say is a self parody, or me poking fun at myself. Because at the end of the day, I have those thoughts of just feeling inadequate or just wanting to fit in or just be successful. And I just made a fun pop song out of it [laughs]. And through all this, my girlfriend, I’m just happy to still have her, even though I’m not everything I wish I was [laughs].

BK: Yeah, “I don’t know how we manage, but baby you’re mine.” And “Don’t worry, baby we’ll get there eventually.”

CR: Eventually, maybe [laughs]. Yeah. I guess one of the older songs from the album. That’s even before I played, like, 60 shows. But definitely it’s the staple live, and I’m really tired of playing it [laughs].

BK: Oh no.

CR: I’ve played it 70 times. I would love to write a song that can replace it in the lineup, but I haven’t yet.

BK: Hey well, you’ll get there eventually.

CR: Yeah [chuckles].

BK: And Froggy Tapes. What’s that? That’s what you publish this stuff on?

CR: I believe Froggy Tapes was published for “baby.” But Froggy Tapes was David’s label that he made up about a year ago. He made a few different releases, but it’s not active right now really. It was used for the first Pillowinde album as well as releasing, I think, a Jag One album and maybe an Eric Raven album. But I don’t think it’s active right now anymore.

BK: I know you play at places like the Meatlocker in Montclair and Mill Hill Saloon in Trenton. What are the differences between a showhouse basement or backyard, to a more public venue like those other two? And then where else can people see you if they can’t make it into a basement in New Brunswick?

At the Meatlocker in Montclair last July

CR: So I would say it really depends on the venue. Because, for example, the Meatlocker, the sound there can be really bad sometimes, and other times it’s really good. So I’d say certain venues are good for being venues, and you do get an advantage in sound quality, but at the cost of sometimes they take a large cut of the money. Or they’re just very strict about things, or they’re more annoying to book.

Basements, you know you’re talking to a real person when you book a basement. And you don’t feel like they’re seeing you as just another number on a page, or something like that. I truly appreciate the DIY element of basements. Venues can also be bad sounding, so that isn’t always a huge advantage, because they can sound better or worse than each other. 

But if you can’t see us at a basement, we do definitely play at real venues as well. It just depends on if we got asked to play that week or not [laughs]. But there’s pros and cons for sure. Our next show is this Saturday. It won’t be published by then, probably, but our next show is at a bar in New York City, in Brooklyn, I’m pretty sure. We just play wherever we’re asked to play. It’s just that sound quality really does vary on what equipment they have and what the room sounds like. 

BK: We’ve come to the end of my questions. I really mean it when I say I love this album. A band will have a new album out, and I’ll always check it out, but yours is one that I play all the way through again and again. And I can’t say that for a lot of the, even the rockstar albums that come out that don’t cut it for a whole album. So I just really love being able to put it on and, and something hits different hits each time, whether it’s a sound or a lyric. There’s so much variety to it, I keep coming back. It’s just really great. Thanks for doing it.

Return to the main music recap here, or skip to another interview: The Cynz – Cliff and Ivy – Gary Kaplan/RGD – Eric Harrison – Dinosaur Eyelids – Tula Vera – San Tropez – Super Jack

CR: Thank you. It means a lot to me because not that many people have heard it, really. But it’s nice that there are people like you that listen to albums all the way through and actually appreciate it the way I did. I love this album, too, because I’ve listened to it thousands of times at this point. And just thank you for being a fan. Because we don’t have that many fans. Some of the acts we play with, the amount of monthly listeners they have is more than the amount of total listeners we’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure on Spotify, if I look at my metrics, only 1,300 people in total have ever listened to Pillowinde. And so it’s a struggle trying to get it bigger. I think we deserve it to some extent to get bigger. It’s just, I don’t know, how to get the algorithm to work for us. But thank you so much for being supportive and wanting to interview me [laughs]. It really means a lot.

BK: Of course. Is there anything you wanted to add, or speak to any listeners or readers that we didn’t touch on?

CR: Well obviously stream and listen to Pillowinde [laughs]. But also come check us out at a show. We have a few shows coming up. And support your local scene. It really means a lot to people like me who are in it, to have people that keep showing up to all these shows. There’s definitely people that stick out to me. The people that put in the effort and just go to these shows, they’re the ones that make it possible for us to play. And I’m just thankful for all the fans of the scene in general. Not even Pillowinde fans, but just people that show up and make you feel cooler about playing in a basement [laughs].

For more Pillowinde, support them on Bandcamp, stream and listen on any of the streaming’s, check out at an energetic and rocking show, and follow on Instagram

Music Reporter at New Brunswick Today | bkelly@nb.today | Website

Bennett Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. He is a two-time winner of the Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage award from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, for his features on the New Brunswick music scene in 2021 and 2022.

Bennett Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. He is a two-time winner of the Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage award from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, for his features on the New Brunswick music scene in 2021 and 2022.