Seattle's Pretty Girls Make Graves is one of those bands that kind of flirts with mainstream success but is ultimately happy to remain on that fringe between independent rock and the supposed greener pastures on the other side of the music biz. As this band has learned over time, it's not necessarily who you know, but what you know. Pretty Girls Make Graves will be making its Spokane debut this Saturday, June 12, at Club Soda. (Note: this show was originally scheduled to go down at the Detour.)
The band arose in 2001 from the ashes of a few West Side favorites (most notably, Murder City Devils and Kill Sadie) and has been forging its way through the arguably overcrowded genre of indie rock (or whatever we're calling it these days) ever since. Yet there are a few things that set this band apart. For one, they are fronted by a female vocalist. But Andrea Zollo doesn't offer a faint voice; she's up front and center with a vocal style that is reminiscent of a young Debbie Harry but with a lot more rock 'n' roll attitude. Also noteworthy is the fact that PGMG hadn't been together long before things started clicking. After sporadic EP and seven-inch releases, the band released one album on Lookout! Records and then it was on to bigger and better things at high-profile indie label Matador.
Bassist Derek Fudesco was waiting to see the latest Harry Potter movie when I settled in with him for an interview via telephone. He clarifies that he's not necessarily a fan of Potter, just looking to kill some time. He also reveals that although he was never a fan of the Spice Girls, he could name two of them offhand. And he apparently hates the Southwest, namely Arizona and New Mexico. "It dries me all out," he says.
In 2003, Pretty Girls Make Graves released The New Romance on Matador and proceeded to "blow up" to some extent. So many factors go into making a band successful -- musical climate, having a fresh sound, marketability. Fudesco has his own spin.
"I like to think that the record was good," he says.
It certainly is. The mix of sonic dynamics and Zollo's lush yet abrasive vocal style combine for hard-hitting, almost riotous songs imbued with an oddly placed, upbeat outlook on life. The album captures a raw, intense side of the band. But while many of its contemporaries are monotonously screaming or nasally assaulting the listener, PGMG are easing in and out with stutter steps of guitar and synthesizer onslaughts sprinkled with vocals that alternate from heavy to understated.
The strength of the album has spawned a non-stop U.S. touring schedule as well as stints in Europe. Fudesco elaborates: "That has been the most notable thing, having our album released through Matador. I mean, the album is on a label in France, places like Sweden. People don't have to buy it as an expensive import because it's distributed worldwide. It makes it a lot easier for us to tour over there."
However, that isn't the only thing that has been working well for the band since they hooked up with their label.
"Matador has been unreal," Fudesco enthuses. "It's kind of like everything I've ever wanted in a record label. They are all awesome people." Much to Fudesco's delight and surprise, even the owners of the label are down with Pretty Girls Make Graves. "One of the owners has been to every one of the shows we've played in New York. They're probably the best indie label there is."
But he also admits that everything hasn't been a bed of roses for the band. The hard work and constant touring has taken its toll on the members. "I haven't been home for more than a week and half in the last nine months," Fudesco explains. "This is all I do."
That demanding schedule was just too much for one member of the group. Guitarist Nathan Thelen had to bow out to fulfill family obligations. And while the other members were certainly disappointed by the loss, they knew it was the right thing to do.
In the meantime, the band is taking a couple of months off and recording some tracks for a seven-inch with plans to start work on their next album soon. In the past, the group has had a rudimentary writing style that has evolved out of practice sessions, but this time around they are going at it bit differently.
"Now we're trying to write in a different way where someone will bring in an idea and we'll develop it that way instead of having to go back through all these recordings of practice and pick stuff out that we like," Fudesco says. "We're gonna record the full-length for Matador, and that will hopefully be out in the spring of next year."
If all goes according to plan, you may be seeing a lot more of Pretty Girls Make Graves in the very near future.
Teen Rocks -- In the mood for a little rock 'n' roll with a side of teen angst? Then check out the musical self-expression on view at the annual Battle of the Bands (BOB) Fest at Riverfront Park's Clocktower Meadow this Saturday afternoon. Twelve teen bands from various genres and with diverse musical styles will compete for the title this year.
The event is put on by the Teen Advisory Council and is sponsored by Hoffman's Music and College Road Recording (the latter two will be supplying the prizes: gear and studio time). Event coordinator Wendy Acosta says that BOBfest is a perfect opportunity for all members of the community to experience the talent that our area's teens possess.
"Each year," she says, "the talent on display gets bigger and better. No other event in the area lets 12 bands get on stage and perform for free in a family-friendly, all-ages environment."
The bands competing this year: Intermission, a trio of alt-rockers from Lake City High School who have played a few local shows in the past year and who hope to release their first CD soon.
Hijacked Royalty, a multi-genre band that has played at the Detour and at last year's BOBfest. They also hope to put out a CD in the near future.
Haphazard is a bluegrass-rock band made up of a home-schooler, a Gonzaga Prep student and a University high school student. They not only play traditional rock instruments, but they also incorporate the fiddle and mandolin, making for a more original, unusual sound than the average teen band.
Milestone, who formerly went by the name "Cuz'n," and used to be a cover band, now perform rock originals. The band is made up of Lewis and Clark students and has performed at the Met and at First Night Spokane.
Angry Mushroom Tribe, an indie/alt-rock band made up of Lewis and Clark and Gonzaga Prep students, isn't as intimidating as their name might suggest. They cite influences like Modest Mouse and Radiohead.
Three's a Crowd, an emo-punk band comprised of Mt. Spokane high school students, performed at Bloomsday this year.
Thalamos, progressive rockers who finished third in last year's BOBfest, has performed at places like the Detour and Club Soda. The Gonzaga Prep students also recently released a full-length album.
Perhaps the most experienced of the bunch, Wide-Eyed Wonder, has played at venues both in this area and in Portland. Band members attend Spokane Falls Community College and Ferris High School, while one is a home schooler. They play idiosyncratic rock.
The Agitators are probably the most political of the bands playing this year's fest. They write songs about social issues that challenge authority and advocate for change. This band, made up of students from Ferris, Lewis and Clark, Washington State University, and Eastern Washington University, play music that is mostly reggae and blues-influenced. The Agitators have already released two CDs.
For Years Blue has played at the Detour, Club Soda, and the Big Easy, and is made up of Ferris and Lewis and Clark students. They play alt-rock music and played in last year's BOBfest under a different name, Hubris Youth.
Dimercaprol plays metal/punk and is made up of Rogers and Mt. Spokane students and one high school graduate. Their name is a word that means, perhaps ironically, an antidote for poisoning caused by heavy metals (ha!).
The Big Wang Theory are garage rockers who aim to play with all the energy of the over-the-top hair-metal bands of the '80s. This band is made up of Cheney-area students.
The events kick off with the band No Cover (a former BOBfest People's Choice recipient). After the competition, Eloi (winner of last year's BOBfest) will perform. This year's winners will be announced at 7 pm.
There will also be a BOBfest 2004 CD available for purchase at the show, featuring an original single by each band. In addition, there will be other free activities throughout the day, such as tie-dying, hemp jewelry making and tattoo art.