Pete Quirk can tell you about the East Coast, the industrial landscapes of Philadelphia, and surfers' gathering places in central New Jersey. He can also tell you about the cross-country trip he took five years ago that brought him to Seattle, the city he now calls home.
"I wanted to see what a city set in the woods, more or less, was like," he says. There, he played in a band called Hint Hint, and across record releases and tours, befriended likeminded musicians Derek Fudesco and Marty Lund, eventually forming the Cave Singers, whose music represents a sharp break from anything its members had done before.
"Before I started playing with Derek," Quirk says, "I was doing a lot of four-track recordings where it was three tracks of vocals and no music. So I was really into the idea of music with vocals, or very sparse accompaniment." A Cave Singers song is generally stark, a minimal and precise guitar part from Fudesco, a rhythmic pattern from Lund, then Quirk's expressive and controlled voice atop it all. It's a combination of deeply familiar elements that come together in an unexpected way, although Quirk is quick to add, "I don't think our record sounds very folk."
Their Matador Records debut, Invitation Songs, is a subtle work that draws from influences that span continents—a theme that doesn't seem to be changing with their new work. "Marty has this new drumbeat on this new song, and I feel like it sounds... like [African pop acts] Tinariwen or Ali Farka Touré," Quirk says. Yet as a songwriter, Quirk's lyrics stem from the band's unique songwriting method. "We play all of the music together, improvisationally, to begin with. A lot of the lyrics are subconscious; they'll start playing, I'll be playing something and Derek will start playing something, and I'll start to sing off the top of my head and see what comes out." It's a more instinctual approach than you might expect, but it may help explain why the work of the Cave Singers is so hard to shake.