I first found out about Pretty Girls from my friend and audio engineer, Dan Maier (Audio Design Recording). He played the self-titled 12″ for me and it blew me away. Immediately I went out and picked it up. Plus I was a fan of Murder City Devils and Sharks Keep Moving. I had set this interview up through Hopper PR and went to the Casbah to see them play. Of course it would have been rad to interview any member of the band but I’ve always been fond of the peculiarities of drummers. They’re usually more talkative than singers or guitarists or ‘leaders’ of bands, mostly because they sort of get passed over in the whole interview process. Plus they never have boilerplate bullshit answers like their more press friendly band mates. Drummers rule! Now the band is broken up, which is unfortunate. Their last record just didn’t cut it for me personally though there were a few stand out tracks. They had a good run and it’ll be exciting to see what this talented group will do next.
It’s always a venture saying that a band is ahead of its time during its present incarnation. It could present some awful paradoxes, rips in the time space continuum and worst of all it has an air of pretension usually reserved for store bought publications. All that aside, Seattle, WA based Pretty Girls Make Graves is ahead of themselves in song composition, structure and lyrics. Three aspects that would normally sound contrived in any context, especially to the scrutinizing ears of music aficionados, but in this case they make a good concoction for what many would consider by most standards a ‘punk band.’
That sonic concoction is made up of five people who were all part of decent Seattle indi-rock and punk bands at one time. Members from bands as diverse as The Death Wish Kids and Area 51(Andrea Zollo, Derek Fudesco), Murder City Devils (Derek Fudesco), Kill Sadie and Sharks Keep Moving (Jay Clark), and the Bee Hive Vaults (Nathan Thelen and Nick DeWitt) came together in what began as a side project and has since escalated into PGMG getting signed to indie powerhouse, Matador Records, and going on a couple giant tours. Zollo (Vocals) who once lent her vocal chords and youthful optimism to The Death Wish Kids has not only grown as a vocalist but as a songwriter as well. Even on their eponymous debut, when Zollo sings (on “3 Away”), “Too often we sit back and take what life gives us/like holding a bad hand of cards/always folding instead of raising the stakes/never wanna bluff and go for it/afraid that you’ll lose all you’ve got,” you can hear an intelligence and positivism in the lyrics that has rightfully established PGMG as a band to watch.
PGMG released 5 various single 7″ and a box set of 7″ after the first EP, most of them on Dimmak Records and respectively on Lookout! Records in colorful vinyl. It’s that aesthetic of individualism they hold dear through hard work and lots of touring, that PGMG eventually released the full length Health. Health featured a more mature PGMG with the same rock and roll attitude that made their previous records good. The track, “Speakers Push the Air,” is a rock and roll anthem that should be played whenever one gets discouraged about music. Essentially, music that makes you think, wow what a concept!
Soon after the release of Health, PGMG went on a giant tour, supporting great bands like Les Savy Fav and began work on their current release, The New Romance. The record, produced by indie veteran Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, Built To Spill, Les Savy Fav), plunges into familiar territory without rehashing old material. The latest single, “This is Our Emergency,” from the record has been getting some play on MTV2 and on college and alternative radio.
Drummer Nick DeWitt has the charisma and chops yet drums aren’t the only instrument in his repertoire; DeWitt also played keys for Seattle rock outfit, The Murder City Devils on their final tour. He began on the guitar, learning songs from tablature books such as Metallica’s Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All. His friends who played guitar turned him on to Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, where he says cryptically, “I learned some weird things from them.”
When he was younger he wanted a Tama Rock Star Drum Kit, but his brother talked him into buying the Gretsch kit he plays now. “I’m thankful he steered me in that direction, especially now, it’s much nicer. I still have it and I still play it. I started playing when I was 15 and it was perfect for me. I had some attention problems over the years – I’m a selective listener I guess. But it helped when I started to play.”
DeWitt’s influences vary as much as the tempo changes in a Pretty Girls album track. The idea that all the members of PGMG have come together from different musical backgrounds holds true, especially for him. “What initially got me interested in playing music on my own was Metal. Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, that kind of stuff. Megadeth and Anthrax. Really operatic types of stuff. When I was younger, it was more of the technical drummers that inspired me like Neil Pert (Rush) and Bill Bruford (Yes)-anything that was especially technically derivative. It wasn’t until later that I started to appreciate creativity in spaciousness and simplicity. The things that I appreciate now are so much different. Metal drummers were part of the building blocks of what I appreciated later.”
Eccentricity in taste is what makes Pretty Girls Make Graves so unique. Each member brings something new and exciting to the table, combining influences and technique to create interesting new arrangements. Variant music genre’s was part of DeWitt’s childhood. “My dad played a lot of jazz when I was growing up. Dexter Gordon, Donald Byrd. I really love Chico Hamilton. A lot of the Stan Getz samba stuff.”
It is somewhat difficult to properly pigeonhole PGMG into any given rock style, as it should be with any good band. One can’t pinpoint the exact style without skewing the actual feeling of the music. It was similar on the first PGMG record and has evolved on Health and now on The New Romance. It’s in those early songs that the foundation was laid, of which drummer DeWitt says, “I don’t think we had any real idea of what we wanted to do when we first started. That early stuff sounds so foreign to me, it was almost like we hadn’t considered taking it seriously. I think that is apparent with the direction we’ve taken and the thought we put into the songs. We spend a lot more time picking apart each other’s songs, and we’ve also learned to work with one another especially well. Progression can be attributed to several different factors. When we came together we weren’t all close friends so we didn’t know where we each [of us] came from musically, now that we’ve spent so much time together and worked together-its part of the process.”
For more on Pretty Girls Make Graves, please visit www.prettygirlsmakegraves.com
For more on Matador bands, please visit www.matadorrecords.com