"I THINK IT COMES with playing music that was a little bit different than our past bands," says Pete Quirk of the Cave Singers' unusual take on American folk music. Their rewarding third album, No Witch, possesses the broadest sound of any of their recordings thus far, ranging from humble folk to muddy, amped-up deconstructions of jumping electric blues.
When the first Cave Singers demo appeared in 2007, its eerie placidity was something of a shock, coming not long after the dissolution of Seattle dance-punk band Pretty Girls Make Graves. That band's bassist, Derek Fudesco—also an alumnus of Murder City Devils—picked up a guitar for the first time and began writing and playing songs with Quirk, his housemate. Their first demo was a tranquil, haunted take on backwoods folk, and the first Cave Singers album, Invitation Songs, came shortly after, with the group rounded out by drummer Marty Lund.
"It was just me and Derek at first," says Quirk of the band's beginning, "and none of those songs were written with a drummer. But this third record was written with Marty, so there's a lot more emphasis on his beats. It's a more percussive record. I like the progression of it, and then getting to the point that we're at now, where our show is a little more lively, more rocking. But it took five years to do that."
Quirk didn't play much music as a kid in New Jersey, and didn't join his first band until he was 26. But he'd always been a writer, composing words and poetry throughout high school. Before he moved to Seattle, he'd often record with an old Farfisa organ in his Philadelphia apartment, making noise so that he'd have something to put words on top of. "I was always into the idea of making music, but not necessarily the idea of being in a band," he explains. "I never thought about being in a touring band, because I didn't really know anybody that did that; it wasn't a reality that I ever thought about. And then in my 20s, it seemed like everybody that I knew was in a band. But it didn't seem like that much fun, because they'd always be arguing—like, getting mad or someone would leave the tour early. So I was like, 'I'm not going to do that. But I will record weird stuff in my room.'"
No Witch still retains that homespun charm; the scale of the Cave Singers' music remains intimate and communal. But for this outing, which was recorded in their hometown of Seattle for the first time, the group worked with producer Randall Dunn, whose other works include monolithic sounds by Sunn O))) and Boris.
"Randall had ideas and input that he thought could add to the record as a whole," says Quirk. "When one of us wanted to do an overdub, he'd be like, 'Yeah, I think you should definitely do that. Also, I think we should maybe put some alto flute on there.' We were like, 'Wait, what? All right, yeah, fuck it!' And then he'd be like, 'I know this alto flute guy,' and we'd be like, of course you know an alto flute guy... He knows all these crazy trained eccentric musicians that are all around Seattle. Which was cool, because the band was conceived and has a good following in Seattle, so to have all these local musicians play on it makes me feel good."