At band practice several months ago, Derek Fudesco of Pretty Girls Make Graves saw a man standing in his basement. The man was wearing a brown suit, waiting patiently for the band to finish a song. The landlord, a woman named Lucy, was also in the house doing some work upstairs, so Fudesco assumed the man was someone she knew. But when the band finished up, Fudesco looked over to where the man had been and noticed he'd disappeared. They asked Lucy, and she said no one else was in the house with her. It gave Fudesco the chills, but that wasn't the end of the weirdness. Doors began slamming shut. Strangers were seen in the dining room. And at one point, Fudesco even felt a presence come up and wrap itself around him.
Cave Singers at Bumbershoot 2007When: 1:45 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1Where: Wells Fargo Stage, Northwest CourtThe Cave Singers With Whalebones, Head Like a Kite, and the Divorce. Comet Tavern, 922 E. Pike St., 323-9853, www.myspace.com/thecomettavern. $7. 9 p.m. Fri., Jan. 19.
"I literally felt someone come up and lean their head in my space while we were playing," he says. "Like looking over my shoulder. Freaked me out!"
That's when they knew things were seriously strange.
For musicians, renting a house can be an arduous task. Greedy property owners are rarely responsive when they see "rock bassist" in the occupation line of a renter's application. But when Fudesco and his Pretty Girls bandmate Andrea Zollo put in an application for a house on Bellevue and Roy in Capitol Hill, the landlord immediately bumped them to top priority.
"First she told us, 'Well, there's a family that's also interested in the place; I've been talking with them for a while, and it's looking like they'll probably get it,'" says Fudesco. "And we figured, well fuck, there's no way we're getting this place. But as soon as she saw we were all musicians, we immediately went from the bottom of the list to the top of the list."
Turns out this landlord, Lucy, inherited the house from her father, a music aficionado. Not only was he a vocal coach for Ann Wilson from Heart, but he used the same basement practice space to record jazz musicians touring through Seattle in the '50s and '60s. Her hope was that the house would be filled with the same creative types her father had surrounded himself with.
If Fudesco and Zollo were the sole inhabitants, her wishes would be amply filled. Both have spent the last eight years in PGMG, and Fudesco spent the three years before that as bassist with the Murder City Devils. Adding to that creative vibe, however, is third roommate Pete Quirk, former frontman of Hint Hint. But it was only when Fudesco and Quirk (and sometimes Zollo) began working together in their new band, the Cave Singers, that the haunted spirits really started to make themselves known.
The Cave Singers sound like an updated version of the Anthology of American Folk Music. Not the graduate-student, learned interpretations of folk music circa 1962, but folk music approached by way of punk rock. It's sparse, melodic, and simultaneously creepy and alluring, like the widow mourning graveside in Johnny Cash's "Long Black Veil." Fudesco's bottom-end acoustic work sounds like Mississippi John Hurt's rolling finger plucks. Quirk's voice is nasally, echoing Arlo Guthrie and Devendra Banhart. And percussionist Marty Lund (former Cobra High) plays like he's slapping a newspaper on a kitchen table.
But herein lies the mystery behind the Cave Singers: They've never listened to folk music beyond the obvious (Bob Dylan, etc.); they never intended to play folk music; and more importantly, Fudesco has never played guitar until now.
One listen to the Cave Singers demo, however, and you're ready to call bullshit on them.
"We don't mean to sound like, 'Oh, we never meant to sound like those bands,'" says Fudesco. "But we really have never listened to folk or blues or anything. I mean, we have the same obvious folk stuff everyone else has—Dylan, stuff like that. But we never sat down and said, 'We want to sound like this stuff.' My favorite bands are still the Replacements, the Pixies, stuff like that. And Fleetwood Mac is probably our favorite band."
All of which makes their blend of eerie Americana that much more intriguing. When Quirk moved into the house with Fudesco and Zollo, he brought along his acoustic guitar. Fudesco just picked it up and started messing around with it.
"I wrote this little riff and recorded it and then went out of town for a while," says Fudesco. "And when I got back, [Quirk] was like, 'Hey, I sang on that thing you did,' and when we listened to it [we] were both looking at each other like, 'Whoa, this is really good.'"
After that, the songs just started pouring out of them. For two guys who had never worked together, it appears the creative floodgates have been let loose. "Helen" floats along with Fudesco's light-fingered plucking and a wavering, space-synth effect, making the song equally earthbound and extraterrestrial. Other cemetery waltzes, such as "Free the Bee" and "Dancing on Our Graves," are set to Lund's simple drum taps, which take on the effect of Civil War marches; and "Called" (featuring Zollo on washboard) is a spooky foot-stomper akin to Ugly Casanova's chain-gang musings. Not only is it some of the finest indie-folk music I've heard in years, but it's one of the strongest local showings since Band of Horses. They've since put finishing touches on an album in Vancouver, B.C., with producer Colin Stewart, who has also worked with PGMG and Black Mountain. A few labels have shown interest already, but the Cave Singers would prefer that those remain nameless at present time.
With all the bizarre activity in the house on Bellevue and Roy, Fudesco and Quirk are thinking their newfound gifts might have something to do with those aforementioned spirits.
"It seems like a positive presence," Quirk says of the ghosts.
"Yeah, the walls aren't bleeding or anything," adds Fudesco, laughing, "but we'd even try to conjure the spirits up, sitting down there, hunched over a candle, just playing our guitars."
Naturally, when they play live, the Cave Singers do their best to bring the vibe of their basement with them, dimming the lights and bringing along their owl-shaped lamp, which normally illuminates their underground practice space. Their performances are wickedly captivating, and Quirk's vocals slice right through any barroom chatter.
Who knows where the Cave Singers might end up. But as Quirk predicts, if the spirits of the house have their way, "We're just gonna end up sounding like Heart."