Punk Goes Folk

The unlikely transformation of the Cave Singers.

The Cave Singers: (from left) Marty Lund, Pete Quirk, Derek Fudesco
The Cave Singers: (from left) Marty Lund, Pete Quirk, Derek Fudesco

We’ve got to come up with a term besides “folk” to describe the throwback, mostly acoustic music that’s been coming out of the Northwest for the past few years. Yes, the melodies and lyrics often evoke pastoral imagery. Yes, the performers often present themselves with the sorts of beards and earth tones we’d expect from “folk” singers. But they are not Peter, Paul and Mary, for crying out loud.

These emerging acts are, by and large, rock ’n’ rollers who have turned down the distortion. Like Seattle trio the Cave Singers, which is about the most unlikely “folk” act you’ll ever encounter. All three of its members had been playing in post-punk acts before forming the band. Hell, their guitarist was a hardcore rock bassist, only picking up the six-string to start the Cave Singers.

The band, now with three full-length records under its collective belt, has been purveying a hypnotically twangy sound for the past five years, becoming one of the more critically adored bands to come out of the region in recent years. Here’s the unlikely timeline of how they went from hard rockers to indie folk darlings.

2006: Derek Fudesco, bassist for the popular Seattle punk rock band Pretty Girls Make Graves, begins jamming with Pete Quirk, whose band Hint Hint had recently split up.

January 2007: Pretty Girls Make Graves announces that it will be breaking up after an upcoming spring tour. Fudesco and Quirk soon meet up with drummer Marty Lund of Cobra High. They call themselves the Cave Singers.

June 2007: Pretty Girls Make Graves plays its last show. And in the same month, despite only being a band for less than a year, the Cave Singers sign to Matador Records and start recording an album.

September 2007: The Cave Singers’ debut album, Invitation Songs, recorded in Vancouver, B.C., in the months prior, is released. The record consists of 10 tightly concentrated, subtle acoustic numbers.

October 2007: The national music press takes notice of the buzz this trio has created in its hometown of Seattle. Quirk, still working the occasional bicycle messenger gig on the side, doesn’t fully grasp the “folk” tag they keep hearing from critics. “We don’t like calling ourselves a folk band, but people keep on saying that we’re a folk band, even though none of us even listen to folk music that much,” he told Paste magazine. He’ll make this claim countless times in the months to come.

2008: The band embarks on national and international tours, both solo and with other acts, like Canadian rockers Black Mountain. They also become darlings of the summer festival circuit.

June 2009: The band’s “Seeds of the Night,” a smooth, catchy tune, is embedded into the brains of Washingtonians when it is included as the soundtrack to a television commercial for the state’s lottery. Suddenly, even your grandmother is humming a Cave Singers song.

August 2009: The Cave Singers release another full-length album, Welcome Joy, their second record within the span of a calendar year. Welcome Joy clocks in at a slim 35 minutes but features an almost ethereal, melodic strain that runs through the album.

Feb 2010: After switching to indie rock label Jagjaguwar, the band releases No Witch, an album that, more than the two prior, reflects the rock roots from which the band sprang. It’s by no means as hard-hitting as, say, a Pretty Girls Make Graves record, but it allows the trio to stretch its legs a bit with hints of blues, soul and Eastern music.

Spring 2011: If there was any remaining effort to keep the “We’re not a folk band” complaint alive, the Cave Singers effectively killed that sentiment when then signed to team up with fellow Seattle folk stars Fleet Foxes for a long-running series of dates. The two bands combine for a staggering amount of beardliness.

July 2011: The Cave Singers take the stage at the legendary Newport Folk Festival on July 30. Although the festival has becoming increasingly eclectic over the years, this seems to fully envelop the band into the folk fold. The trio’s transformation is complete.

March 2012: After a brief quiet period, the Cave Singers announce tour dates for the spring and summer, including this week’s Pullman show and an appearance at the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

The Cave Singers • Mon, April 9 at 8 pm • The Belltower • 125 SE Spring St., Pullman • $12 • All ages • belltowerpullman.com

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Sat., Jan. 23, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey is the culture editor for The Inlander. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.