Prior to the unexpected disbandment of the much-loved Seattle band Pretty Girls Make Graves (news here) Derek Fudesco, the band’s bassist, would regularly spend stoned evenings with his housemate Pete Quirk (formerly of post-punk rockers Hint Hint) jamming on an acoustic guitar in their basement, just as a way to relax and unwind. But, unexpectedly both finding themselves without a main musical project, these informal jams soon morphed, unexpectedly through the to and fro of a 4-track recorder between bedrooms, into an accomplished body of sparse folk-style songs. What had begun as little more than a bit of fun quickly became something more serious.
This bare-bones sound the pair were creating came as a major turning point for Fudesco, who had prior to forming Pretty Girls… played in local Seattle punk legends Murder City Devils and spent his youth immersed in San Francisco’s East Bay punk and hardcore scene. Naming themselves The Cave Singers, the pair drafted in guitarist and friend Marty Lund (formerly of local band Cobra High) and quickly readied their debut album entitled Invitation Songs for Pretty Girls Make Graves’ former label Matador; it was released in February 2008. Through prior connections and friendships the band then embarked upon high-profile support slots with Black Mountain in the US and Band of Horses around the UK.
Within this line-up Fudesco finds himself returning to the drawing board in every sense, trading his long affiliated bass for a six-string guitar. Furthermore, The Cave Singers is a band which represents full artistic freedom for Fudesco.
DiS recently caught up with Fudesco and found out that, after many years in a ‘democratic’ five-piece band environment, the writing process of him and housemate Quirk has not only simplified his life, but has also led to an uncluttered sound that could allow him to breathe again - not only as an artist but as a human being.
So let’s start at the beginning. You have been a part of the Seattle music scene for over ten years now. It seems that Seattle is a place that people move to in order to find players. So much so that it’s easy to unwittingly end up in three bands at once… is that why you originally moved from Fresno, California?
Well, I moved to the East Bay when I was 16. I did that because Fresno is just kind of a dead-end place and I was completely obsessed with the East Bay music scene and I wanted to play music. So I got out and I lived in Oakland for about two and a half years. I met a girl in Oakland who lived in Seattle and we went hitchhiking across country and kind of, you know, fell in love and when we got back she was gonna go back to school at the University of Washington and I didn’t really have anything going on in Oakland, so I moved up to Seattle. Actually, first to Portland, but I hated it when I first moved there so I then moved to Seattle.
Seems a lot of people are getting priced out of Seattle now and moving down to Portland.
Well, that’s the thing. When I first moved there it was the same thing: I couldn’t find anyone to play music with and I didn’t have any friends [in Portland], and all the friends I did have were all in the northwest in Seattle, so it just made sense to move there.
And it’s certainly the place to go to find people.
Yeah! I got lucky, as soon as I moved here I met a lot of people and was in a band within, like, a month.
Was it the punk scene that you went to Oakland for?
The Cave Singers (l-r): Marty Lund, Pete Quirk, Derek Fudesco
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I’ve read you say that as a music fan you’d generally steer towards heavier bands like Born Against, and more recently Les Savy Fav, rather than something folk-orientated. What do you consider your influences to be with The Cave Singers? What informs this music?
I don’t know! Nothing, really. It started out with just Pete and I jamming. We live together and were both in bands, he was doing a lot of bedroom recording, like vocal stuff and I was doing recordings, and seriously the entire band came from me going in his room and jamming on his parlour guitar. I wrote something and as soon as I wrote it I took it in my room and I recorded it and gave it to him. It’s funny, because since we’ve been in this band I’ve discovered a lot of stuff that I never really paid attention to. Really obvious stuff, but because of growing up listening to punk bands and hardcore I just never paid any attention to. But even now the stuff that I like and the stuff that I’m listening to, I don’t find it has a big influence on what we’re doing ‘cause I don’t wanna make that kind of music, you know?
Yeah, it’s not obvious folk music, but obviously if someone wants to tag it that’s the most obvious one for The Cave Singers. So, would you say this lack of ‘subliminal’ folk knowledge, if you like, helps sculpt the sound into something more unique?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I play a lot of single-note stuff and I’m a bass player so when I started with a guitar, especially on the first record, all the songs could be bass lines. Just now on the new record, on this new stuff, I am beginning to play the guitar a little more like a guitar I guess (laughs). The more I play it, the more I learn and become comfortable but in the beginning, yeah, it was all one and two strings, just sort of basslines.
And I think that stands out listening to Invitation Songs - in the sense that the groove is often based more around a bass-led structure and this adds to the sparse vibe. Which sounds quite unique again, nowadays. So are you are saying that you feel the new album is set to be a little more filled-out?
Well, I don’t want to say ‘filled-out’ because the one thing we all agree on, the one key to the writing, is that we really like to keep a lot of space. What works best for us is really minimalist writing, bare bones, just down to the skeleton of the song. And, you know, there could be a lot of keyboard in there. There could be a lot of anything really, but we prefer to have the space, a lot of space between instruments. I guess it does feel filled-out more; I just think we’re becoming better songwriters with each other and I’ve practised guitar a lot so I’m playing more chords than I did before. It’s now about half-and-half with single note and chords rather than [just] one song with chords on the first record.
“This band has been the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done musically”
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You’ve said you would have ideally liked to have continued Pretty Girls Make Graves and have done The Cave Singers on the side, because they were so different from one another. Do you find you miss playing bass in that type of a band, or are you happy doing this and don’t have as much of an urge to ‘rock out’ as you used to, if you like?
(laughs) I still rock out man!
Yeah, you still rock out?
(laughs) Nah, honestly I don’t miss it at all. This band has been the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done musically, in just the sense that this is the first band where primarily there’s two writers and it’s as simple as Pete and I just getting high and going in the basement and playing for a couple of hours and making songs, rather than five people all organising a practise and getting together and then on a bad day fighting our way through a song. And even on a good day, you gotta sort of push and pull and everybody has to have their say on it. So it’s not always going to be the way you wanted it to be. I guess that sounds a little ridiculous (laughs), but it’s true. Every song The Cave Singers have, I’m completely satisfied with the way it came out. It’s not like, “Oh I love that one part, but then we had to do that because so and so had to do this and now I’m not so psyched on this one” – so it’s that, and touring with three people is amazing! Everything is super easy and we’re close friends and this is the first time we’re able to go on tour and enjoy ourselves in more of a road trip type of vacation, where we stop and we go swimming or whatever. That’s hard to do when you’re travelling with five or six people.
I suppose touring now, as far as equipment goes, it must be easier in terms of not having to ship and fly loads of gear?
It is, and it isn’t, because the one thing that kinda sucks with this band is that I have a pretty unique set-up. Like, I play a Spanish classical electrified and the thing that is awful is that it doesn’t really work through a lot of amps. With almost every guitar amp it sounds thin and weird. So at home I have a ‘70s Bassman combo, and when we did the Fun, Fun, Fun fest in Austin, Texas last year it was a disaster! They had to rent us gear, and I was like, “Get us a [Fender] Twin Reverb,” because that’s pretty common and figured that would work and then they had some back-up amps, and I went through three amps before the show just while we were doing the sound check and none of them sounded good. I ended up having to use a Super Reverb that sounded terrible. The first time we came overseas I searched every rental company number of every tour manager friend I could get, and I found one guy who has the same amp as me. So now every time I come over there we have to rent from Amsterdam. I don’t understand why it’s [so difficult]. Maybe I’m crazy and my ears just hear it in a different way, but it doesn’t seem to sound good through anything else. But yeah, apart from that we only have to fly over there with a couple of guitars and I have bass pedals that I play, but that’s like the biggest thing I have to travel with.
Do you think your opinion of playing in a larger band environment nowadays is only because you’ve experienced the negatives for so long?
Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve basically been playing in bands since I was about 14 or 15 years old and it’s always been that way. I’ve never been in a band where there’s been a ‘songwriter’. It’s always been: I write stuff, the guitar player writes stuff, the singer writes stuff, the drummer writes stuff and we all collaborate. And it’s been that way my whole life, so yeah, if it’d always been this way [as it is with the Cave Singers] then I’m sure I’d want to experience it.
“It’s as simple as Pete and I just getting high and going in the basement and playing for a couple of hours and making songs.”
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As you said, you’ve been playing in bands for many years. I read something where Pete said: “Any music that you play [in a previous bands] will leave a little bit of a trace on what you do next. Hopefully the good things you’ve done will add up eventually.” Do you think this is the case, that often it takes time to really reach that point where a song, a riff or part, whatever, becomes more of a science and less by-chance art?
That’s a good question. I don’t think of it…(pauses) …well, I dunno, it’s weird. The way I write, like right now we’re working on the new record, if I go home and be like: “I’m gonna write something” – it never works! I’ll just sit and I’ll mess around, and I can mess around for like six hours and nothing will come. And then when it does come, it comes at the most random time. Like my girlfriend and I are going to dinner, and I’m waiting for her and I pick up my guitar and I start to play something and all of a sudden there it is. So I dunno, it’s weird; it also never seems to work when I want to write a certain type of song. Like, I’d like to write a fast song – that never really works out (laughs). It just comes at random times.
Do you think there is a case with songwriting that “the harder I practise the luckier I get” is mixed with that by-chance element most artists talk of?
It’s weird. I can obviously only speak for myself but there are people who are insanely gifted – like Jack White, that guy writes so many songs and for the most part they are all incredible. He’s an insanely talented and gifted songwriter. And then where I sort of follow that is I’ve been lucky enough to hook up with someone like Pete where the two of us together can make something, and the more we play together and the more comfortable we are with each we sort of know how to work with each other. Pete and I often joke that we’re one songwriter – I do the guitar parts and he does the vocal parts. It’s definitely something that one really gifted person can do, because I can’t sing, at all. Pete can play a little bit of guitar, but we get together and we can make these songs that we both really like.
How has the difficulty, and in converse the ease, of making a living as a musician changed over the years from when you were in Murder City Devils, to Pretty Girls Make Graves, and now to The Cave Singers?
Well it’s not a good way to make a living, that’s for sure! We all work [still] and when we go on tour sometimes we make enough money to not have to go to work immediately as soon as we get home. And sometimes, especially when we go to Europe, it’s like the minute we get home we all have to start working. I was really fortunate in both Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls that both those bands, well Murder City didn’t, but Pretty Girls took off kinda fast and we were able to fund ourselves while we played.
It’s just the only thing that I am really passionate about, making music, so I can’t look at it in a sense of making a living with it, you know – it’s like I’ll struggle to play because it’s what I love and it’s what makes me happy. Touring and all that, it’s just part of it; I love playing live, I love writing – everything about it. With The Cave Singers it’s a new band, we have to struggle but it’s awesome! It’s so rewarding to go play so far away from where we live and have people know our songs. It’s just awesome!
Whilst you are a new band, you’ve been fortunate to pick up some good tour slots, like Band of Horses and Black Mountain…
Yeah, those Band of Horses guys are amazing. We knew a few of them from when they lived in Seattle of course, and when they asked us to do the tour we were honoured, it’s a good experience for us. But we’ve been lucky to be able to tour with our friends who happen to be in good bands (laughs). We did the Black Mountain tour over here [in the US] which was incredible and they’re all the sweetest people. Then we did the Band of Horses tour over there [in the UK] and it’s just kinda like a rolling party, you know, when you’re touring with your friends and everybody’s just having a good time and paying for each other.
You are a tall guy. How does being six foot six inches tall in a tour bus work?
(laughs) Well we’re in a sprinter, so it’s been okay!
So you said you are working on a new album currently – are you in the studio at the moment?
No, but we just booked studio dates. We start on October 27. We’re just finishing the writing, we have about 11 finished songs and then another like 12–15 things that aren’t really songs, but we’re ticking which ones we want to finish, solidify and get ready now.
So the plan is to take complete songs in?
Yeah. That first record was mostly done in the studio and we hadn’t really played a lot of the songs live, and we’re trying to do the opposite with this record. Like every tour we bring out some new songs, last tour we bought out like five new songs, this tour we’re gonna try and do the whole 11, but just sort of alternating every night. But yeah we want to go in having played them a lot and give them a chance to change before we get them into the studio and record them.
If you’d like to be one of the first to hear brand new Cave Singers material on these shores be sure to catch them on their August tour of the UK and Ireland – which includes a performance at the forthcoming DiS-sponsored Green Man festival.
14 London Cargo - Buy tickets here now
15 Breacon Beacons Green Man Festival - Buy tickets here now
16 Hull The Adelphi Club
17 Newcastle The Cluny - Buy tickets here now
18 London Roundhouse with Alela Diane
20 Dublin Crawdaddy
21 Cork Cyprus Avenue
22 Galway Roisin Dubh
23 Belfast Speakeasy - Buy tickets here now