The immediacy of Pretty Girls Make Graves' post-punk anthems will always captivate, even in a room filled with very few people. As the band sound-checked before their recent headlining show at NYC's Bowery Ballroom, nonchalantly playing "Chemical, Chemical," the night's opening bands the Prosaics and the Panthers filed in, along with press and club staff. PGMG wasn't even trying, but they managed to entrance everyone in the room.
Such is the power of PGMG. Comprised of some of the best elements of Seattle's post-punk scene, the band makes fundamental punk elements sound fresh and rousing. It helped catch the ear of New York's Matador Records, one of indie rock's most prominent labels, who released the band's sophomore full-length, the critically acclaimed New Romance, in 2003.
PGMG's rhythm section, Derek Fudesco and Nick Dewitt, sat down with Prefix's Kevin Dolak before the sold-out show to discuss the band's monumental year, the ups and downs, and to try to find out what's up next.
Prefix Magazine: Tell me about the tour.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: Derek Fudesco (bass, vocals): We're not technically on the road now. We're playing London tomorrow and doing a two-week tour. We booked the New York show 'cause it's been ... We've never really played a New York show. PM: You guys played over at the pier this summer ...
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: CMJ, the Pier, yeah ... but never actually played just a show. It seems like we've played here a lot, it's just always CMJ or something. This is just our first headlining show. PM: Tell me about the move from Lookout! to Matador. What prompted that?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: Basically, just the fact that we think Matador is an awesome label. They got a hold of us, they wrote us and said, "You know, we really like the (2002 debut) Good Health record, and we'd like to meet you guys." So we met 'em. PM: Gerard (Cosloy, co-president) and all them ...
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: We actually didn't meet Gerard for a while; we met Chris (Lombardi, co-president) and met Nils (Bernstein, director of publicity). And then we went over to London and we met Gerard when we played a show over there. When we came back, they asked us to do a record. It was kind of like they were waiting to have Gerard see us. PM: It seems they've been doing a lot if shifting lately in their roster.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: Yeah. I think they're a really smart label. I think they make really good decisions. They don't let themselves become stagnant. PM: Tell me about the recording of The New Romance and working with producer Phil Ek on another record.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: We worked with Phil on the first one, and this time we actually really got the whole experience. It wasn't rushed, and we were all able to experiment. He was great. He's a friend of ours. Probably the best part was the studio we recorded in. It's called Bear Creek, and it's probably about 45 minutes outside Seattle, out in the woods. Actually it's a barn that was built in the '70s. This couple bought it and built another barn on top of it. So when you walk into it, it's a really old barn, and that's where we track the drums, and you can sleep there. There's a salmon stream, and it's really far out from the city, so when we were recording we were smokin' grass. It was awesome. [Laughs.] PM: Very nature-y.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: Yeah. PM: Let's talk about how you guys formed. Each of you was in several different Seattle bands before this: Murder City Devils, Area 51, Death Wish Kids, Bee Hive Vaults. You guys all knew each other?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: There's a big timeline there. I moved to Seattle, met Andrea (Zollo, singer). We started Area 51 with Dann (Gallucci) and Spencer (Moody), who later on turned into the Death Wish Kids. The Death Wish Kids turned into the Hookers, the Hookers lost Andrea and turned into the Murder City Devils. Then Nathan (Thelen) and Nick (Dewitt) both moved to Seattle and started the Bee Hive Vaults. I knew Nick, who was a good friend. He came on tour with the Murder City Devils, and we talked about being in a band together. The Bee Hive Vaults broke up, and Nick said, "I have a guitar player." I said I have a singer. Andrea, me, Nick and Nathan practiced for about three weeks. Jay (Clark) was living with Nick, and Jay said, "I wanna come down and jam sometime." Jay came down with us and it really pulled it together. Once we had our first four songs, it was kind of apparent that all things were gonna ... fall by the wayside. I mean, the chemistry was amazing. PM: How, as a band, do you guys describe your sound, your influences.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: You know, I can't really describe our sound. I wouldn't really know what to say. I think as far as influences, all of us are influenced by such different things. I think when we we're recording Jay was listening to a lot of Mos Def and French soundtracks. And we all kind of listened to different things all the time and we definitely are influenced by that. It's kind of this melting pot of ideas. PM: I think that comes through. Who are some of your favorite people to play with?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: We toured with Les Savy Fav, and they were one of my favorite bands. Being able to see them play, having them play all the songs I want to hear ... PM: You never know what to expect from those guys.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: Yeah. We toured with the Blood Brothers, that was like summer vacation. It was all of us, swimming ... It wasn't like a tour, it was one of the best summers I've ever had. [Laughs.] Very realizing. PM: Who else goes out on the road with you guys?
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: We have people who sell our merchandise at different shows, there's always someone different, like Pat, and Ace does it, and Brock. It's kind of a rotating thing. There's not someone who's with us all the time ... Julian (the band's sound engineer, who sat in on the interview) has been with us since May. PM: You were talking about combining all of your influences. Tell me about the songwriting process. How does that breakdown? It sounds like everyone contributed equally.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: Yeah, we get into our practice space and we all just start ... jamming, for lack of a better word. We set up a four track and we usually tape a lot of our practices. This is how it worked in the past. Now we're gonna try new things, 'cause sometimes it takes us a month to write a song, because there's someone coming in going, "Hey, I've got this idea for a song," which is literally compiled of parts. We'll record, we'll practice for six hours and take all these different parts and try and mash them together ... For the new record, and for this new song we're writing now, we're gonna do telephone with our songs, where Nick's gonna record a drum beat in it's entirety. He may have an idea in his head how the music will go, and then he's gonna give it to me, and I'm going to hear the drum beat for the first time, and write an entire bass line over it. And I'm gonna give it to Nathan, he's gonna give it to Jay. PM: That's a really original way of breaking things down ...
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Part 1: DF: We're kind of, for the new record, so we don't get stuck in our own formula of doing things, we just want it to keep evolving. We also have a thing where one of us is gonna write, and sort of dictate how the song goes, like one single idea, and everyone can work within that. That's probably how most bands write songs, but that's a foreign concept to us.