INTERVIEW BY DAVE HIMELFIELD
So just what do you want from your 21st century rock? Seattle five-piece Pretty Girls Make Graves proved on their last ‘New Romance’ LP that you could take a huge array of indie rock sounds, re-arrange them and still come up smelling of fresh pop roses while simultaneous rocking damned hard..............
Perhaps I’m asking obtuse questions, but guitarist Jay Clark and drummer Nick Dewitt seem to think that the answer to everything is well, ‘everything’. Indeed in some places it’s probably the truth given Pretty Girls incredibly wide sound. But their claims to liking everything almost equally seem like apathetic answers to standard questions they may be sick of answering. Nick detects an increased frustration in my tone. “The only thing I don’t really like is the didgeridoo. I’ll take a French horn any of that stuff.” When pressed Jay attempts to be a little more explicit. “We have influences from everything from jazz to new age, reggae, dub, funk (and) soul” he says. The truth of such a claim is in no doubt however besides Dewitt’s eclectic virtuoso drumming it really isn’t obvious in Pretty Girls.
Finally I mention the strong pop tone of ‘The New Romance’ and Nick finally confesses that he’s “deep down…a pop kid at heart” and that his formative home was filled with the sounds of jazz, country and his brother’s punk records.
On the (admittedly vague) question on what the purpose of music is the responses are equally vague. I ask what Pretty Girls personally look for in an artist and while the obligatory ‘everything’ passes Nick’s lips you can draw an insightful inference. “As you discover more about the band or person certain things can definitely alter your perception. Some people think that’s shallow. I don’t agree. Everything about a person has everything to do with how you appreciate a band.”
While Pretty Girls sounds are unmistakably fresh there’s a very delicate balance between originality and still making something that still resembles a tune. “There’s bands out there that think that they need to strive for originality more so than playing what comes naturally and I don’t really appreciate that sort of thing.”
Pop music tends most often to be stagnant, formulaic bilge but notable examples including this band restore hope. This is perhaps helped by a freer definition of what ‘pop’ music actually is. Dewitt elicits, “Pop to me (means) anything that captivates the popular imagination or something with a hook. John Cage could write a pop song but it wouldn’t sound like John Cage. I wouldn’t say it’s exclusive to any particular artist. It’s a feeling, it’s an idea.”
Despite their obvious popular appeal Pretty Girls appeal has remained largely underground in the UK it seems that their reception stateside is similar. Nick is typically more philosophical after all true to indie ethics this isn’t about the number of units shifted. “As for as a major label would be concerned, we’d be complete failures! As far as our friends our concerned we’re a complete success. I don’t think any of us take that into consideration too much. We’re doing our thing and paying our rent so that’s fine.”
Something else curious about the band’s fanbase is that in Britain at least it centres largely on younger fans. This isn’t Blink 182 but neither (thank God) is it Maroon 5. Jay doesn’t see this as such a surprise considering their old records. What he finds more pleasantly surprising is that “people have maintained their interest in us in the directions that we’ve sent them to. Especially in the future it will be interesting to see if (that) stays true.”
Even among comparatively high-brow publications the ‘emo’ tag has been attached to Pretty Girls, something that hardly does them justice. Nick rationalises. “I’m not particularly fond of the ‘emo’ tag or the ‘hardcore tag’. There’s varying degrees of perception from each reviewer and they’re going to look at things on a very surface level (but) maybe that’s me in denial.”
Concerning the future things are somewhat unwritten at the moment. Again now is something of an expectant time. After this tour the band are set for a lengthy stint in the studio to record a new album pencilled for early next year. Ideas about to expect are somewhat up in the air though Nick anticipates “a lot more instrumentation on this record (and) a bit more experimenting…trying something new.”
Finally we discuss the fantasy scenario of playing in another band. Nick initially answers “none” with an almost obstinate loyalty. He continues, “I used to have that fantasy as a kid. The drummer breaks his arm during one show. There’s a lot of bands. A lot of friends’ bands.” Jay seems equally unimpressed with the question jocularly adding, “I want to be in Radiohead for one day!” Freudian perhaps?
I enquire what else the future holds and as well as the usual international tour and Nick mentions moving to another city in America. Apparently this isn’t uncommon among bands in the US but initially it sounds odd. Nick counters my puzzled look with “lot of bands do that. Modest Mouse does that.” Suddenly a crack appears perhaps out of frustration for answering an obtuse question. “I’d play with Modest Mouse.”
I conclude by asking which bands that Pretty Girls wish were still about and Nick’s reply is typically on the counter offensive. “Actually I wish they would stay away.” Jay butts in with “The Pixies?” “I can take them or leave them. When a band’s gone I wish they would stay gone. It depends how long you stay away. After you’ve done your best and people decide five years later that you’re visionary and legendary and then you come back”. Jay seems a little less rigid. “You need to at least come back with a new record.” I mention Jane’s Addiction who returned over decade later with a highly-acclaimed album. Nick again casts that away.
“That was a bad idea; most of the time it is. I’m not sure if Mission of Burma ever broke up but they’re doing awesome shit; at least on par with what they were doing before.”
Words : Dave Himelfield
Pics : (c) Rahav Segev
All promotional pictures include guitarist Nathan Thelen, who has now left the band due to family commitments, but who features on all PGMG material released to the date of the interview
Media Downloads Via Label Matador : MP3’s and Video Streams
(c )(p) oct04 - musicdash / manchestermusic.co.uk 2004