November 29th, 2007 | Interviews

christine hale

Pete Quirk, singer in the Cave Singers, talks to Rena Kosnett about bedroom pleasures, Asbury Park, and his advanced application for antique bacon presses from his big house in Seattle. This Saturday he’ll venture out with band mates Derek Fudesco and Marty Lund to start a West Coast tour. The Cave Singers’ most recent album Invitation Songs is out now on Matador.

So in your bio, Brian Barr says ‘…they never listened to much folk music, they never intended to play folk music…’ I find this really difficult to believe.
I think what Brian means is that we never really focused on folk music. I don’t think we’re a folk band, even though people like to call us that. It’s a nice compliment, to say that we sound studied, but it wasn’t intentional.
‘New Monuments’ seems to have an almost Alan Lomax-level application of southern roost music, specifically Leadbelly. You can hear it in the lyrics, the tone, even the structure of the song.
As far as those lyrics, I wrote them about New Jersey, where I’m originally from. I’m from Middletown—it’s this city along the New Jersey shore. The lyrics in ‘New Monuments’ are about the imagery there. Lots of lighthouses, bridges, beaches.
Asbury Park?
Yeah, Asbury Park! I used to go there all the time. It’s kind of run-down, and destroyed. It’s a beach but it’s got this gothic vibe. Us kids would go there in high school to hang out.
To drink and smoke pot?
Of course.
How long were you and Derek living together before you started playing music?
I’d known him for 4 or 5 years. He was living in this crappy house, and needed another person to move in.
How is he as a roommate?
Really good, actually. He doesn’t have any bad habits. What happened was, I started recording a ton of music alone in my room, while he and my other roommate, Andrea, weren’t around—they were touring all the time with Pretty Girls Make Graves. Then one day he was at home, and we were downstairs together. I had my acoustic guitar with me, and Derek just asked, ‘Can I borrow that?’ So he started playing with it, and I started singing over what he was playing, and that became the first Cave Singers song.
Is that first song on the new album?
No, it’s not on the album, but we play it live. It’s called ‘Delmar.’
Were you worried that Derek was a novice on the guitar?
No, because I’m a novice too! We were just messing around in my room. It was nothing serious, so we didn’t really care. It was just fun for us. Also, I wouldn’t say Derek was a novice. He’s played bass for fifteen years, so it wasn’t a new thing for him. What he was doing with the guitar sounded right. Otherwise I wouldn’t have recorded over it. Derek uses a lot of finger-picking, but his way of playing—his style—has a kind of a fluid-bass line—a rhythmic train—that I really enjoy singing over.
Almost all the songs also have Marty Lund’s name on them. How long were you developing material under the sheets before you started recording with Marty?
After I wrote ‘Delmar,’ Derek and I wrote a bunch of songs together that we were passing back and forth with this crappy 4-track recording device, and that went on for two or three months. Then we brought Marty in.
From across the street?
Right across the street. We brought him in to play the parts of the songs that we couldn’t play. He started out on drums, but then he picked up the guitar, and started adding parts. He was into it, so he eventually grew into a full-fledged member… after the initiation process.
What does that entail?
Blood letting. Some branding.
Would that be with a hot iron poker?
No, actually we use one of those antique bacon presses. He’s got a pig permanently engraved on his skin. It really shows his level of commitment.
PopMatters called Cave Singers as a spin-off band—a good one, but a spin-off nonetheless. Do you agree with that?
I don’t think it’s a spin-off. Cave Singers has nothing to do with any of our previous bands. There’s nothing wrong with those groups, but this project has its own identity as far as music. Derek would say the same thing. Music is kind of its own process. If I hadn’t played with those other bands, I wouldn’t have met Derek, so it’s all meant to be, you know? Any music that you play will leave a little bit of a trace on what you do next. Hopefully the good things you’ve done will add up eventually.
Why did Invitation Songs end up being such a departure from the other punk bands you and Derek played with before?
If you play music one way, even for years, you’re going to want to try something different. When I was in Hint Hint, I said to myself, ‘In two or three years, I better be playing some unplugged kind of music.’ It wasn’t intentionally folky, but when recording in bedrooms, it’s better to unplug. It just sounds nicer. And Derek and I both wanted to play more minimal music…quieter. No rock-pops. Less electrified.
There’s a tradition of punk groups evolving into psych-folk acts in Los Angeles—so your transitions don’t seem unnatural to me. But how about in Seattle?
I guess what we’re doing is sort of different. Maybe a little unusual? Seattle has so many bands, and so many different types of music—the straight tractor-bluegrass, and pure country—as far as folk music, it is getting more apparent. But we’re a little bit older, so we’re kind of removed. We live in this big house, and we’re kind of off the grid. So it’s almost inevitable that we’d just be making music for ourselves. And we’re happy with the result. When we started playing live, people who knew us were surprised because the music was stark and bare. We’re quieter than most rock bands, but louder than most traditional folk bands. We’re right in the middle.