TELLURIDE - Caught between the highly anticipated release of their first full length album Can’t Talk Medicine, and wrapping up the first leg of an extensive North American tour, frontman Galen Disston of Seattle's Pickwick took some time to connect with The Watch Newspapers about the early days of the band, unique recording techniques, and collaborating with always amazing Sharon Van Ettan. Catch the band performing performing Wednesday, March 20, at The Sheridan Opera House in Telluride.
Coming from the birthplace of the grunge music movement in Seattle, how much influence does that legacy still have on you as musicians, if at all, in and out of the context of Pickwick?
You know, obviously all of us listened to Nirvana, but in truth that was before our a time as musicians. The North West folk boom, with folk being the new grunge movement is what really influenced us. People like Damien Jurado and Pedro the Lion are really the North West music that influenced even more than grunge did.
The track “Lady Luck” has been out for a minute, but that collaboration with Sharon Van Ettan still stands out as some of your best composition in my opinion. How did you link up with her and what was that process like?
We were talking about people we respected and wanted to have on the record, and fittingly enough, we just got lucky. We emailed her, and her little brother had heard of our music and convinced her to do it, so when she came to the Neptune in Seattle to play a show we just picked her up and took her over to our crappy living room studio. She just laid it down and it turned out awesome.
Speaking of luck, it seems the fortune of the band has changed in the last year. What would you say was the pivotal moment where you realized Pickwick was getting traction?
We have been a band for a long time, five to six years now, and it wasn’t until a few years that we put out a video recorded in our basement on a local blog called soundonthesound.com. And then, if I can remember correctly, it was a show on March 11th, 2011 was the first one where people knew the words to the songs and were singing along. It was obvious that there were a lot more people at the show than there had ever been before, so right around then we were like shit, this could actually work, you know? People are coming.
That had to be a great feeling.
For sure, it had been a long time coming, but we also have a long way to go.
Your Dine Alone Records labelmates Deer Tick will be coming through here soon, too. Obviously there is something to that label given their roster, but what was it for you that made you go with a Canadian label?
Honestly, it is mostly our proximity to Canada. We can tour up there a lot easier than other bands from the US. The next part of our tour will actually include seven or eight dates there, so it made sense to have a partner in Canada who can help us distribute the record. We were thrilled that they were interested in us!
You recorded the new album Can’t Talk Medicine in the living room where the band resides, do you all still live there?
No, not anymore, about half of us still do though. That is now where we have our practice space, and where we record, and have our band meetings. But, in terms of recording, all the drums were done in the living room, all the vocals were done in the kitchen, and all the writing and rehearsing takes place in the basement downstairs.
So you recorded at your house and Kory Kruckenberg [vibraphone/percussion] did the engineering for the record. Is that ‘do it yourself’ mentality coming out of necessity or is there a need for creative control?
I think up until this point it was some of both. We started out by putting out 7” vinyl because we all like those, and we would book our own tours until somebody came along that we felt was a partner and got what we were doing. These days we do have a manager and booking agent, but right now it made sense to put out the record in the same way we had been putting out record before in the US.
A recent documentary directed by David Grohl, who happens to be a former Seattle music resident as you know, is about the now famous Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, and it dives into the advantages of recording on tape as opposed to modern digital technology. What made you guys take that route to achieve your desired sound?
Some of it goes back to what you were saying in terms of the DIY approach being out of necessity. We have an 80s half inch tape machine that Kory has left over from his studio, so part of it necessity, but also part of it was that we wanted to alter the sound as much as we could. All of the drum levels are pushed really hard to tape so it’s all blown out in the red. We all love analog equipment, and we wanted it to sound like a band that was pushing air in the room together, as opposed to something that sounded like it was recorded in space.
So that raw and live sounding kind of recording. That makes sense because your abilities seem to be reinforced in the live setting in a way that the albums could never do justice for.
We do our best to capture what we were into on the record, but at the same time, if people want to get an idea of where we are heading and what we are really interested in, then the live show is a better representation. I agree with you there.
What was it about the songs that you revisited from your first release Myths that are also on Can’t Talk Medicine that made you include them?
When we recorded Myths it was kind of the first shot at it, you know? We had just stumbled upon our sound, and we had not played live all that much, and we didn’t understand our limits. On Can’t Talk Medicine we wanted another chance to fully realize those songs that we felt strongly about from Myths, and we figured out what we were doing a little bit more [laughs].
That’s interesting because it provides a segue between where you were then and where you are now with this common ground, but even those tracks sound a bit different.
Yeah, like with “Hacienda Motel” we wanted to clean it up, but also focus it and make the sound dirtier by speeding it up. “Staged Names” and “The Round” also got some grittier drums with dirtier tones, which is what we wanted initially but didn’t really know how to get it.
Last you were in Telluride it was for a very well received performance at Telluride Blues & Brews. Tell me about that experience and your thoughts on playing music in this town?
We had a great time playing there last year, and I remember distinctly the two crystals that were in the dressing room before the festival, and I think those gave us all mystical powers to go on stage [laughs]. I think we are honored to be asked back, but we don’t really know what to expect from the Opera House. We are pretty comfortable playing in crappy clubs, and not to talk shit on Fly Me To The Moon, but we felt really great in that place. But we’ll see how the Opera House feels this time, but either way we are excited to come back.