By Timothy Dwenger
The revival of the last several years has seen soul infiltrate mainstream playlists. From Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings to Bruno Mars and from Alabama Shakes to Mayer Hawthorne, a wide swath of genres has been cut allowing soul a broader fan base than ever before. Punchy horn fills coupled with a sultry growl, a dazzling frontman, or the driving beat from the rhythm section are only the jumping off points for many soul artists and the turns they’ve taken the music on are as twisted as a trumpet. Soul revivalists are simply utilizing the building blocks of the great American musical pantheon and it’s only fitting that soul has made a triumphant return to the mainstream.
While the genre has its roots in the South, from the gritty alleys of Brooklyn to the fog shrouded streets of Seattle, the revival is sweeping from coast to coast. Seattle may be known for the grunge movement of the early ’90s, but today there is a whole new sound capturing the hearts and minds of Pacific Northwest music lovers, courtesy of up and comers Pickwick. While their name isn’t generally mentioned in the same sentence as artists on the Dap-Tone, Motown or Stax labels, that may be about to change. In a world where straight ahead soul music is moving albums, the Seattle band is taking things a step further as they blend ’70s soul with indie rock to create a gritty new hybrid that is as unique as it is daring.
In a recent interview with The Marquee, frontman Galen Disston revealed that the band’s sonic persona has changed a lot since he first moved to Seattle and an early incarnation of Pickwick was born. “We went on a small California tour in 2008 and then we just kind of had an epiphany and consciously threw out all of our old material, which was more folk leaning and had some pedal steel in it, and went for what we’re doing now,” Disston said on a conference call with The Marquee and bandmate Kory Kruckenberg from the stairwell of his day job at a cancer research facility. “The major change was that before, I was writing the majority of the music just on acoustic guitar and this new incarnation is more collaborative with the songwriting and I think we all agree that the product is far superior to our boring folk music of old.”
A quick look at their sales statistics will prove that the band aren’t the only ones who are loving the new sound. In 2011 the band released a three volume, 7-inch series of demos they dubbed Myths, and the reaction in the Pacific Northwest was nothing short of glowing. The CD collection of these demos held Seattle’s Sonic Boom Records number one sales spot for several weeks and the band has been selling out shows around their home region with more and more regularity over the last year.
Myths has taken on a fitting legacy as the band’s popularity has spread across the country. The series is a difficult find for folks outside the Seattle region, but this month the group’s official debut album, Can’t Talk Medicine, which includes a few of the Myths gems, hits stores nationwide.
“‘Hacienda Motel’ has become a live staple for us so it made sense to put it on the record, and then ‘The Round’ and ‘Staged Names’ are two of the other songs that we like the most from those seven inches,” Disston said. “They were the songs that we felt stood the test of time, at least this limited period of time that we’ve been a band.”
Disston’s bandmate, and the engineer behind the group’s debut, Kruckenberg chimed in, “I think the Myths seven inches, and the six songs included in that, were just the beginning of this band figuring out who we are. We’ve grown a lot since then, and written a bunch of new songs, but those are still a part of who we are and a part of what we’re doing as a band. I think that they are very cohesive with the rest of the record.”
In keeping with their indie/DIY esthetic, Pickwick recorded Can’t Talk Medicine in the house that many of the band members live in North of Seattle. “It’s a really big old house on a pretty big lot with tons of huge trees around it that keep it pretty isolated,” Kruckenberg explained. “When we were moving in we would go down this little dirt driveway around a bunch of shrubs and trees and we were like, ‘Wow, this looks like the Endor moon from Star Wars,’ so we ended up calling the house Endor.”
Fittingly, the band dubbed the recording sessions for Can’t Talk Medicine “The Endor Sessions.” From recording background vocals in the kitchen to giving the drums a unique sound by recording them in a carpeted room, Pickwick went out of their way to ensure that the character of the house was represented in the songs that were recorded there. “Recording in the house was obviously a huge limitation as opposed to using a studio, so the sounds are really unique in that they are not sounds that you get in the studio,” Kruckenberg said. While it may be a stretch to call the house a ‘band member,’ there is no doubt that it had a profound impact on the final product.
From the opening track “Halls Of Columbia” to the closing notes of “Santa Rosa,” Can’t Talk Medicine showcases a rich, warm, analog sound as it slips tender, haunting ballads in alongside funky barroom rockers.
The album’s first single, “Lady Luck,” is already making the rounds on iTunes and social media as part of a three song EP of cover tunes the group dropped in January to rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Pickwick’s version of the Richard Swift tune features the angelic voice of indie songstress Sharon Van Etten atop a lush bed of organ and a pulsing bassline. “I think we got kind of lucky to have Sharon agree to sing on that tune,” Disston admitted. “Her little brother had heard of us and when we asked her to do it she was here in Seattle playing a show at the Neptune Theater and I think her brother was the one that convinced her. It was incredible to pick her up and bring her over to our crappy house and then have her do the vocals in our living room.”
The end result is an infectious song that worms its way into the subconscious and whets the appetite for more from Pickwick. While the band is only just starting to break outside of the Pacific Northwest, it is songs like “Lady Luck” and “Hacienda Motel” that could very well land them on mainstream radio in the coming months as they spend the spring spreading their own brand of soul from coast to coast.
:: Pickwick ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: March 19 ::
Recommended if you Like:
• Alabama Shakes
• Richard Swift
• Wilson Picket