“It feels like each quarter of the year there’s some milestone,” says Pinch, real name Blake Sandoval, who Billboard caught up with before a Thanksgiving week Brooklyn show. “This tour we booked kind of last minute,” he explains. “Because I was supposed to drop a project, but then it got pushed back. So then we were like, ‘Well, are we still gonna do the tour?’ And I’m like, ‘Well I have to still do the tour' -- keep the fans happy, you know?”
That he did in Brooklyn, where there was a whole lot of boppin’ going on, with a more than 20-song set packed into little over an hour, Pinch in perpetual motion, in front of a backdrop with a captain’s wheel, front-loading nautical-themed tracks like “This My Wave” and “Castaway” from the third in his #4EVERFRIDAY singles series, which dropped a song per week from August through early October.
“Mainly, I said I just needed a way to get all this music out -- a large quantity, at a quick rate,” he explains of the series. "So doing a song every week was perfect -- keep it fresh, and make the fans happy. Like, they were looking forward to Friday like every week! They’d be like, ‘I can’t wait for Friday! I’ve been depressed, I’ve been going through this or that and the other thing, and I just can’t wait until you drop a new song on Friday!’”
While he’s backing off a bit from the single-a-week approach -- the latest series only featured seven tracks, as opposed to fifteen on last year’s SZN ONE -- he wants to keep #4EVERFRIDAY going from time to time throughout his career. But there’s much more music on the way in other forms: an EP-length project as soon as the current tour concludes, and a larger release at the top of 2019. “I have like over three unreleased [projects],” Pinch explains. “It’s just hard cause for an artist like me, like I always stay creating new music, and more music, and it ends up becoming better music. That’s why I drop so much. Cause I can’t just let it sit there!”
Yung Pinch in person is a lot like Yung Pinch on his records -- upbeat, open, and good-natured. And if a skinny white dude in board shorts with hair half way down to his waist, not a face tattoo in sight, and a reedy voice and woozily melodic flow isn’t exactly the prototype of a rising young SoundCloud hip hop star, no one knows that better than Pinch himself. He leans into his differences, and owns his Huntington Beach roots. “North side beach boy I really walk like this” he declared on the party track “Rock With Us”, off of #714EVER, named after the Orange County area code, and he’s lost count of how many times he’s repeated his “beach boy” nickname in lyrics since.
And why not? When you grow up making hip-hop music in Surf City, you’ve pretty much got the lane to yourself. “There was no lane! I had to pave my way!" he corrects me. “It was like walking a path that’s in the woods and no one’s walked down that path before! I cut that shit down, and I did it nice! I’m like, ‘Cut that shit down.’ I paved the motherfucking road, went and drove my car through it and was like, ‘This is how y’all do it!’ You know what I’m saying?”
It’s not like he had a lot of help doing it early on, either -- with the exception of his beatmaker, producer and fellow OC “brother," Matics. The two worked on Pinch’s 2014 debut Late Nights Early Mornings, a more boom-bap styled project with Pinch channeling his inner Nas. Pinch then very much DIY’d a follow-up 2015 mixtape, Goonie Adventure, his foray into the world of Auto-Tuned melodics. Even if it wasn’t a home run -- “All the Auto-Tune keys are wrong, it sounds terrible!” he says now -- he knew he had found his musical sweet spot. “I’ve been always trying to do what I’m doing now, the melody shit, the middle ground, you know what I mean? Singing like a rock star, but saying shit like a rapper. Rhyming like a rapper, but I don’t dress it.” Then, 2016’s #4EVERHEARTBROKE and #714EVER solidified the Pinch sound: melodic and generally as sunny as a day at the beach in HB.
So, how best to refer to the sound of Yung Pinch? There’s no doubt that he inhabits the hip-hop world -- it’s where his partnerships, collaborations, and most significantly, his fans exist. But he’s also undeniably a singer, with a distinctive style. Now more than ever, hip-hop artists do both. But it’s a question that vexes Pinch.
“It’s really hard for me,” he concedes. “I mean, I don’t want to discredit rap at all, because rap culture and rap music is what helped me to be me. You know what I’m saying? And what helped build me as well? But at the same time I’m not just rapping. I am heavily influenced by these other genres. And I do sing, so it’s like, I just want to be a star, a rock star! And to get to the point where you don’t have to categorize yourself, like I’m an artist, you know? I just love making music.”
What Orange County is very much associated with is the rock that defined mid-to-late-'90s alt and pop-punk: The Offspring, No Doubt, Sublime, Blink-182 and more. Pinch, who played drums in middle school and owned a drum set at his grandparents’ house, fesses up to those influences as well. “Like, I couldn’t help but grow up and listen in the car to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blink-182,” he recalls. “Sublime, No Doubt and all these bands -- or Weezer! That’s all my family listened to! My family would not listen to rap. But my mom and dad, they always let me listen to rap music, if I was ever with them. So that’s how I got exposed to rap. All the cuss words, all the bad stuff. Eminem, 50 Cent, stuff like that.”
Not that he was with his mom and dad that much. Since his earliest interviews, Pinch has not sugarcoated the fact that his parents were mostly absent in his life, due to drug addiction, jail, or a combination of the two. He was raised by his maternal grandparents, and after his grandpa died when he was 11, by his grandmother alone, on the working class side of a town often associated with privilege.
Less discussed is the fact that the church played a role in his upbringing -- on both sides of his family. “I grew up with my grandma on my mom’s side, and she’s Catholic,” he explains. “She had me going to the Catholic church, and then the other side of my family had me going to the Christian church. And like, I always had a relationship with God, but as a kid I never chose sides. So yeah, I did grow up going to church, but I grew out of it super quick, cause when you’re forced to go at such a young age -- it’s not like I needed to go, I already had a spiritual connection with God. I don’t need to go and sit there, I have other things I need to do! So at a super young age I just stopped going.”
What he also seems to have retained from that upbringing, though, is an almost messianic positivity to the music he makes. At a time when plenty of his peers write songs awash in confessional anxiety and even depression -- think Juice WRLD, Lil Xan, and of course, the late XXXTentacion and Lil Peep -- it’s hard to find any angst in Pinch’s songs, which is remarkable considering his past. Even when singing about fake people and latter-day, wannabe friends in “20 Years Later," or girls who “just wanna fuck me for my fame” in “I Know You," he doesn’t seem overly troubled by it all. And while he calls himself “Unstable” in his recent, infectious single of the same name, it’s bright in its sing-songiness, no more complicated at its core than “Frère Jacques."
When I point out that very little about him seems outwardly unstable, he’s quick to reply that the key word is, “outwardly.” “I just deal with it in a different way,” he says. “I mean, I been going through stuff since I was a little kid. I lost my best friend, my father figure, when I was in 6th grade, I went through it then and I’m sure if I can live through that I can live through a lot more. I mean my mom is still on the streets, I haven’t seen my mom in like two years, she could be dead or in jail right now and I might not even know. But I just channel my energy a different way. I would never—you would never be able to tell when I’m sad or mad.”
Like many people who had to fend for themselves early in life, Pinch echoes a survivor’s mentality. “All I got’s myself,” he asserts. “I don’t need to put my problems out onto you, and how I feel onto you. You’re not gonna help me and change anything. I can deal with this myself. So I’m not gonna cry about my situation, I’m gonna make it better!”
Also, two days before Thanksgiving, he looks at his glass as half-full. “I’m gonna be happy for what I do have, and appreciate the things in my life that are positive, because I’m blessed,” he says. “I could have been an orphan if my grandmother didn’t adopt me and look after me, because my mom and dad were still doing drugs. But I look at it as, I got raised by my grandma after my grandpa passed away, and my grandpa raised me right enough up until he passed away that I was able to be stable enough for my grandma after he passed, and be a man at a young-ass age. So I’ve been going through shit. That shit never stops, to this day it pops up. But like, that’s my shit -- I’ve got to deal with that. If you listen close enough to the music or you’re close enough to me, you might see that or experience that. But like, 95 percent of the time, you’re not gonna see that. I’m smiling all the time, I’ll go cry to myself."
The beach boy keeps the good vibes going in both music and his videos, which he’s made with some of the top young names in hip-hop -- Cole Bennett, Nick Jandora, Lonewolf and Chris Simmons. They’re unfailingly fun and relentlessly on-brand -- dispatches from So Cal in which beaches, waves, palm trees, In-n-Out Burgers, swimming pools, girls and skateboards abound. Also, Hennessy. Like, lots of Hennessy. “And weed!” he adds. Pinch smokes every day, and the Henny bottle was never far from view on stage at the Brooklyn show.
But that’s about it for him as far as vices go. Again, in a departure from his peers, you’re not gonna find references to molly, xans, percs and lean in Yung Pinch’s songs or visuals. “Yeah, I haven’t done any of those drugs, so that would be fake to me,” he says. “Or like, if you’re promoting drugs as if it’s cool, like it’s something that makes you cool? I don’t support that either. But I mean, if you have your own personal problems and you have a drug problem and you’re dealing with drugs and you’re talking about it as a problem and you’re not glorifying it, that I can respect. But no -- in fact, the only time I talk about pills is about other people, or girls doing it, and I’m not glorifying it, I’m making them sound dumb! Because people are doing this shit all the time and it’s like -- you look dumb! You know what I mean?”
Blake Sandoval’s life has definitely changed in the past year -- even in recent months. He’s traded life in HB for a house in Woodland Hills, north of L.A. (his home was spared from the recent fires that devastated nearby communities), though he says he’ll never stray too far from his Juice County hometown. And the once relatively shy guy who little more than a year ago landed a major hit with “When I Was Yung” -- so innocent in its nostalgia that it reminisced about his first tongue kiss -- is now making songs like “Why Would I Wait," a summertime duet with G-Eazy that in effect tells a girl that he’s just met: it’s now or never.
“Well, my whole life changed,” he explains. “Nothing is the same. Everything is different. So it’s like -- back then, girls wanted me, yeah, but best believe they want me now. So whereas before I was tripping over girls, worried about this, worried about that, now it’s like -- “I could have you right now, why the fuck would I wait?”
And yet, he still has an inner outcast living inside, typified by the new fan favorite that he’s especially proud of as a statement song, “Castaway.” “That song is like, ‘Yes! I rage and this is my song, it makes me feel good, about being a piece of shit, or a castaway, or a dirt bag, or partying every Saturday,’” he says. “You know what I’m saying? Everyone wants to shit on people who go out all the time. They’re always talking shit, right? So that song is like the flip side, telling them like, “Yeah I’m a fucking castaway/ Never nothing good about me, Always something bad to say/ Guess this is how is had to be/ Came up out of tragedy.”
Back on stage in Brooklyn, Yung Pinch puts that tragedy behind him, winding up the Lost at Sea show with a run through #714EVER standout “Look Like”, the empowered “Man In the Mirror," “Underdogs," “I Know You," and finally, “When I Was Yung.” Henny in hand, he yells, “I fuckin’ love you New York!” He’s bathed in yellow lights, not unlike the sunshine Pinch brings to hip hop itself. “I think why I’m this way,” he explains, “is that I’m supposed to be positive, and inspire people, and make them happy, and just be a positive person. So if I’m out there talking about the negative, talking about this, that and the other and trying to make people feel bad for me, that’s just gonna make them feel worse. But if I’m being happy and positive, that’s gonna inspire people. That’s the way I look at it.”
Yung Pinch’s Lost at Sea Tour concludes at Rolling Loud LA, Dec 14-15.