Granted, the story lacks all the glitz and glam of major labels, huge discoveries at SXSW, or songs being handpicked for television commercials, but after the trio of Pete Quirk, Derek Fudesco, and Marty Lund began playing its brand of woodsy folk rock under the moniker of The Cave Singers, it was apparent they were onto something. The band, fueled by Quirk’s laid-back vocals, sounds more like one to be discovered busking on the streets of Jackson, Mississippi, than in Seattle, Washington.
Matador Records took notice — and so did many respectable music publications, as the trio toured across the nation, and onwards to Europe and even China. Now, the band is back with No Witch, its third full-length and first release for Jagjaguwar, which has a grander and slightly heavier sound than most people might expect from the band. But, at the same time, it is still has The Cave Singers’ hypnotically catchy sound, evidenced by Fudesco’s clever guitars to Quirk’s throaty drawl.
Listen to “Swim Club” – DOWNLOAD MP3
On paper, it is clear that No Witch was intended to be a more rock-oriented album than the band’s previous two. The album was produced by Randall Dunn, a man more known for bringing the sludge out of the swamps of Boris, Sunn O))), and Black Mountain than he is for bringing the chirping birds out of the forest. For The Cave Singers, though, the pairing was a no-brainer.
“In our live show, even the more quiet numbers can be more rocking; there is just more energy,” Lund says. “So we told [Dunn] right off the bat that we would like to try and capture that. He ran with it, and he nailed it, I think.”
Dunn took a very hands-on approach to the making of No Witch, providing a crucial third-party viewpoint on the evolution of the band’s sound. It was a quick romance, but one which the band has nothing but positive things to say about.
“[Dunn] was great,” Quirk says. “We had demos for all the songs and had visions for how we wanted them to sound: more live-sounding, louder, just bigger. Working with him… was more of a collaboration in terms of ideas.
“He had his own original ideas for things he wanted to try,” Quirk continues. “Once he heard the songs as they were building in the studio, we kind of just let him run with it, cause I was just curious. It’s our third record; I just want to see what kind of things would happen, and see what would happen if we did his ideas, or Derek’s weird ideas, or Marty’s ideas, or whatever. That is more or less what we did, and it doesn’t seem like too much.”
Listen to “Black Leaf” – DOWNLOAD MP3
The casual creative process of No Witch is mirrored in the band’s formation, as well. The Cave Singers formed when Quirk and Fudesco lived together and Lund lived close by; they simply began playing music together by proximity.
“I don’t even know why we started playing what became our Cave Singers style. It just happened that we would play a show, and meet, and play a show, and meet,” Quirk says. That form eventually became a moody style of folk rock fitting for a town known just as much for its dreary clouds and rain as it is for its music.
“I mean, we live in a rainforest; I imagine that the natural environments have somewhat to do with it,” Quirk says.
Fudesco’s previous work with Pretty Girls Make Graves and Murder City Devils brings the biggest change of pace to The Cave Singer’s musical style this time around. As the bassist in both of his previous bands, Fudesco picked up the guitar for No Witch — something that Quirk points out comes pretty naturally to people who have played music their whole lives.
“It wasn’t like he was holding it backwards, saying, ‘How do I play this crazy thing?’ or hitting it with drumsticks or anything,” Quirk says, laughing. “I think it was just something different — to start at a lower level and learn how to play it again — to revitalize it. Now, [Fudesco] is the best guitar player; he is so good.”
Quirk insists that being in The Cave Singers has been a learning process for all three band members, and even as he admits that “Invitation Songs” isn’t perfect, he wouldn’t take it back. “If anything,” he says, “it’s cool because you write songs at wherever you are playing at the time… I’m glad [Fudesco] wrote guitar lines like he did for ‘Invitation Songs.'”
“Because then that album has a very specific charm to it,” Lund adds, “because we are learning how to make this sound.”
“I wouldn’t want Derek from the future to come back and replay those parts. I think it worked out perfect, actually. We were all kind of learning how to play with each other,” Quirk says. “We are learning how to play, and learning a style that would work better for the three of us.”
That realized style of No Witch finds the band adding a bit of Seattle noise attitude to the tones and moods of classical folk sounds from the South. After a long tour across the States, The Cave Singers will be skipping across the pond to Europe, where the reception is surprisingly great.
Lund recalls someone in Europe once asking him if the band was from Mississippi. “They don’t even know what Mississippi is,” he says. “They just know that it is backwoods and bluesy. It’s this really exotic thing.”
The Cave Singers will take its campfire rock sounds to all ends of the Earth as long as someone is willing to listen. The band recently did a grueling tour of China, playing in front of concertgoers who Lund says probably had no idea what to make of the band’s sound. But as long as people are enjoying themselves, that is all that matters.
“I’m hoping for the same reaction from everyone — energetic — and that it is an interactive experience,” Quirk says. “And if people aren’t having fun, then it doesn’t matter, because we are having fun. I feel like the reception, ideally, should be universal.”
It’s a very traditional, blue-collar approach to the ideals of music — something not seen in too many individuals nowadays. But it fits The Cave Singers upbringing in an often rainy Pacific Northwest town known just as much for its coffee and operating systems as its imprint on the musical world.
The band’s story arc may lack any real page turners, but there is something inspirational in seeing people work hard and succeed in something they believe in. And it is even more satisfying when genuinely honest bands, like The Cave Singers, are the ones doing it.