You have to be true to yourself. That’s what the guys in the Seattle-based band Pickwick discovered several years ago after they decided they didn’t want to be a folk band anymore. Too many bands there were playing the same style of music, and they were growing tired of writing emotional folk songs anyway. So, they opted to go in a more interesting direction.
“I heard a lot of stories, watched a lot of documentaries and read a lot of books that showed me these people who seemed completely original in their experiences, and that really interested me,” says Galen Disston, Pickwick’s principal songwriter. “Upon further investigation, though, I discovered there is a context to these ideas, and I just found it more interesting to deconstruct those moments and try to put those into songs.”
Pickwick’s latest release, Can’t Talk Medicine, is 13 tracks of energetic neo-soul music that has a gritty, recorded-in-the-early-’70s feel to it, yet, simultaneously, has a very modern indie-rock sensibility. Recorded mostly live in the band’s living room and centered around people who have mental illnesses, the album has a markedly different tone and quality than previous releases. Even their breakout release, 2011’s Myths, which started their musical transition, pales in comparison.
“These recordings are rawer and a lot dirtier and grittier because of the recording process,” Disston says. “But I feel like we wanted to make a record that was more fully realized than Myths was. So, we went in a lot of directions that we didn’t go with Myths.”
Bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Kory Kruckenberg agrees.
“Myths was our first attempt at doing what we’re doing as a band because we learned a lot about ourselves and our identities,” Kruckenberg says. “We’ve grown and we hope to continue to grow and change and challenge ourselves, because that’s what’s exciting as musicians—being able to reach further than where we’re at. We’ve had a lot of really great feedback and a lot of people supporting us because of Myths, but we’re going to keep growing as a band and changing and evolving.”
In line with that desire to evolve as artists, not only is the album completely non-autobiographical, but the band is hesitant to say much about the album’s content beyond the mental-illness clue. They appreciate being able to come up with their own interpretations of what songs mean, and they want fans to be able to do the same thing with their music.
“We’re all about mystery, weird indirect references and all that kind of stuff,” Kruckenberg says. “We’re into the stories underneath the stories, like the weird stuff that you have to seek out.”
In January, Pickwick released an EP called Covers, which features covers of Damien Jurado’s “I Am the Greatest of All Liars,” Richard Swift’s “Lady Luck”—which includes a guest appearance by Sharon Van Etten—and “The Ostrich.” They are proud of all three covers, but this last one means the most to them.
“ ‘The Ostrich’ is an historical song for us,” Disston says. “It’s important to us, because the song was written by Lou Reed before he was in The Velvet Underground. I just loved the story of him being a staff songwriter at Pickwick Records in the ’60s, and the heads at Pickwick Records commissioning him to write a dance song that’s supposed to commercially rival ‘The Twist.’ ”
For those who are unfamiliar with “The Ostrich,” here’s the punch line: “So, he comes out with ‘The Ostrich,’” Disston says with a laugh, “which is this subversive, insane dance song that no one in the world can follow. So, in that sense, I felt like it was an appropriate song for us to cover.”
Between obscure, subversive covers and making listeners dig for song meanings, Pickwick is taking the idea of “Seek and ye shall find” to a different level. And that’s fine with them.
w/ Radiation City
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Thursday, March 21, 9 p.m.