The connection between The Cave Singers’ vocals and their guitar lines is among the most satisfying in all of indie rock. It might surprise first-time listeners when they figure out that these elements are crafted by different people.
It will likely shock these novices again when they learn that these alternately mystical and menacing Seattle folk-rockers came to the style by way of post-punk (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Hint Hint) and math-rock (Cobra High). But in a way, it makes sense that The Cave Singers would claim such unexpected origins. The trio creates melodies and narratives that feel simultaneously simple and inscrutable, hinting at essential truths but refusing to pull back the metaphorical curtain.
“It doesn’t seem that strange to me,” says guitarist Derek Fudesco. “This band formed when Pete [Quirk, vocals] and I were both playing in other bands. He was living with me, and we jammed. We didn’t even have an idea to start a band. We jammed, and we wrote this one song, just kind of happened to write it one night, and it was like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome. Let’s make a band like this.’ We set up all these rules for ourselves: ‘Let’s make it really stripped down’ and just this and that. It just went from there. It didn’t seem like it was this major shift.”
Though the styles Fudesco, Quirk and drummer Marty Lund picked up might seem like such a shift to many listeners, the band’s first seven years have been defined by a more subtle evolution. The largely acoustic delicacies of the 2007 debut, Invitation Songs, were expanded with more distortion on the band’s subsequent efforts — 2009’s Welcome Joy and 2011’s No Witch — with the latter lending a cutting edge to the Singers’ loop-enthused melodic brambles.
One thing that remains constant is the chemistry between Fudesco and Quirk. The picker’s knotty, tightly wound progressions leave perfect spaces for the singer to interlay his comfortably roadworn croon — an instrument that bears a striking resemblance to that of country singer Ryan Bingham. But Quirk does far more than fill space, counterpointing Fudesco with his own ambitious melodies.
“That's how the band started,” Fudesco explains. “It started with a guitar line and Pete’s vocal melody. I feel like there’s always going to be that with our writing. The minute I get something that I like at home, I record it, and I send it to Pete, like immediately. I think for a lot of our writing, it’s just a barebones guitar line, and then Pete will add vocals to it. Then we sort of attack it later with everything else. We always joke that we’re just sort of one songwriter, but I can’t sing and he can’t really play guitar. We just sort of make up those parts for each other.”
Bereft of a bassist, The Cave Singers’ grooves have sometimes lacked such excitement. Tired of that limitation, the band expanded in 2012, adding Morgan Henderson, a fixture around the Seattle scene who has worked with such acts as Fleet Foxes, The Blood Brothers and Past Lives, among others. Though the trio had spent six years isolating its creativity, Fudesco says that Henderson fit in immediately. Joining the band when they were already deep into writing songs for the newly released Naomi, the bassist still had a powerful impact on the album.
“He came in, and on the first day that he came in, he wrote bass lines to five of the new songs and just killed,” Fudesco says. “[He didn’t] just write bass lines but made the songs awesome. It worked right away. We’ve all known him for a long time and been friends. We just got lucky that he wasn’t busy with something else.”
The new Singer has certainly expanded the band’s range. Henderson’s bass lends rhythmic muscle to Fudesco’s reggae-inspired trance on “Canopy,” while “It’s a Crime” infuses modern fire into loose CCR chooglin’. Softer numbers like “Evergreens” round out the collection, providing intimate charms that will appeal to any listener taken in by Tom Petty’s most tender offerings.
“Knowing that we were actually going to have a bass player, I felt like I could write in a different way,” Fudesco says. “All these songs, playing them, they just feel more — I don’t want to say finished, but they do. They feel more thought-out, more finished, just having more layers.”
“This opens up a whole new dynamic of writing, which is pretty awesome.”
— Jordan Lawrence is music editor at Shuffle magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: The Cave Singers with Bleeding Rainbow
where: Emerald Lounge
when: Thursday, April 11 (9 p.m., $10. http://www.emeraldlounge.com)