Pete Quirk has perfectly formed calves—the kind really vain guys dream about and plastic surgeons promise to deliver. His, of course, are real. And they should be. The guy has been sprinting up and down the steep hills of Seattle for years, delivering packages and legal papers as a one of the city’s myriad bike messengers. His legs are basically rock. “Though I am getting a little slow these days,” he chuckles. “I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
Quirk might not be doing it for much longer. In the last few weeks, his life has started to get more and more crazy. His band The Cave Singers are getting smacked with wave after wave of hype—the kind Seattle hasn’t seen in nearly two decades. The press is drooling over the group’s just-released debut, the rustic and riveting Invitation Songs. Hipsters are giddy over the trio’s pedigree—particularly bassist Derek Fudesco’s connection to Pretty Girls Make Graves and the Murder City Devils, as well as the occasional appearance of PGMG singer Andrea Zollo, who sometimes plays washboard for the band. And those lucky enough to catch the group’s shows around the Emerald City, particularly their set a few weeks ago at Bumbershoot, usually complain of having to reattach their jaws. Needless to say, Quirk’s calves are poised to slacken.
Which is fine with him. Like most Seattle indie-rockers, Quirk has been struggling to score this kind of attention for years. But most folks would have put money on his former band Hint Hint and its post-punk gothic roar to yank Quirk off his bike, not some odd bedroom project. The Cave Singers was just a whim. Fudesco had been screwing around with a couple hushed guitar licks. He recorded a few and left them with his roommate Quirk while PGMG went on tour. Quirk decided to add some vocals.
“The result really surprised us,” he says. “Neither one of us was used to playing music like this. We weren’t quite sure what was going on for a while.”
But then, Quirk and Fudesco unintentionally snagged some extra time to figure things out. At the beginning of the year, PGMG called it quits, drummer Nick DeWitt opting to shelve his kit, and the rest of the band deciding not to go on without him. Quirk and Fudesco, along with Cobra High drummer Marty Lund, sprinted into the studio, hoping to suss out exactly what was going on while tape was rolling.
The result is a tense album that owes as much to the terse post-punk of Quirk and Fudesco’s roots as it does to folk pioneers Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. The guitars rarely rise above a hush, with Fudesco finger-picking his way through the kind of blues-inspired licks that Ry Cooder’s monopolized for decades. And Lund’s sparse rhythms—often little more than a kick drum and an odd assortment of shakers and noisemakers—give tracks like “Dancing on Our Graves” a decidedly backwoods, porch-stomp feel. But Quirk’s vocals—a nasal snarl that could slice through steel—add a shocking element to both gravel-dust ballads (“Royal Lawns”) and more galloping tracks (“Elephant Clouds”). Considering his source material—Guthrie, Dylan, Neil Young, et al—the nearly sinister edge seems almost contrived. Yet, when he starts yowling about watching an old girlfriend drink during “Oh Christine,” you can’t help but both see through his eyes—and get a little chill for doing so. Quirk chalks it up to letting loose.
“This band is freeing,” he says. “We do what we want to in this band, which includes me singing the way I’ve always wanted to. I’m getting closer and closer to what I really want my voice to sound like, and there are things in my voice I’ve never heard before. It’s hard to explain, but I just try to let it come out.”
Quirk applied the same logic to Invitation Songs—just release the album and see what happens. The hype has been nice, that’s for sure. It’s always better to have a curious audience than one that’s completely unaware. And if things do take off, if The Cave Singers suddenly find themselves in the middle of a folk revival, then Quirk will deal with it. If not, he’s always got his calves to fall back on.
“It’s great people are embracing the band,” he says. “Some people have tried to pigeonhole us as some throwback or whatever, and we don’t really pay attention to that. We’re going to see where this surprise takes us, see what kind of music we can come up with. It’s going to be fun to see what happens.”
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