FROM INDIE ROCK to classic rock in 10 short years? My, how time flies. These days it seems that Silkworm would work as well on a compilation entitled Monster Hits from the Golden Age of Rock as they would have on Gimme Indie Rock, had they been included on that recent, rather incomplete K-Tel anthology. With the release of the new album Lifestyle, Silkworm now have a pretty good shot at interrupting a rerun of The Courtship of Eddie's Father in one of those cheesy late-night commercials for a double-CD collection with a really dorky name.
Lifestyle (Touch and Go)
"It's becoming more classic rock-y. It's not 'punk' or 'weird.'" Over a plate of General Tsao's chicken in the International District, drummer Michael Dahlquist explains the essence of the pure, unadulterated rock on their latest release as bass and guitar player Tim Midgett scoops himself some rice. "We're playing rock songs. And that's what sounds like good music to me."
Considering the Seattle-by-way-of-Montana band's cover of the Faces' "Ooh La La," it's certainly not a stretch to imagine the songs on their seventh studio album fitting in real nicely on any classic rock radio station. With its refined yet simple guitar-based aesthetic, the album recalls the Stones circa Exile on Main Street, the Jeff Beck Group, and those kings of timeless rock 'n' roll, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
For a band whose sound has often been referred to as an "acquired taste" to produce something so straightforward and accessible is perhaps surprising, but the less-is-more approach is hardly a revelation coming from Silkworm. With perfectly punctuated guitar riffs, unabashed drum bashing, moments of acoustic beauty, and lyrics that meander around the truth and occasionally hit it straight between the eyes, the album's bluesy, traditional rock flavor is the logical progression of an indie band all grown up. Where the single from 1994's Libertine, "Couldn't You Wait," threatened to knock the band out of its near-obscurity, Lifestyle aims to secure the band's spot on classic rock radio playlists of the future.
"I don't think our approach has changed," explains Michael. "But I think we're becoming a sort of bare-bones rock band. There's less desire to be tricky or fancy. We've never really done that, but more and more it's becoming—"
"Automatic," offers Tim. Along with guitar player Andy Cohen (who's in London this summer and thus unable to join us for our lunch date), Midgett pens the songs, so he oughta know.
"We've never really been driven by things like major label deals," Tim continues. "So I think I've always felt that it's kinda like buying a lottery ticket or something, only you don't even have to buy the ticket, you just get it for free. When you put out a record, your chances of winning are miniscule, so you don't even think about it."
Silkworm isn't out buying lottery tickets—and everyone knows that playing in an indie rock band isn't exactly a get-rich-quick scheme—so Tim's studying electrical engineering at the UW, Andy's ticket is the University of Chicago law school, and Michael has himself a very respectable high-tech career. What's with all this grown-up, responsible behavior?
Referring to the period when they were on Matador Records, crashing on friends' couches, and moonlighting as cabbies in order to afford the business of making rock music, Tim explains, "What I realized is that it wasn't necessary for us to do that in order to continue being a good band. We had sorta cut our teeth musically, so the only reason to continue doing that is if we were bent on hitting it big, which we really weren't. We were, like, well, we might as well develop ourselves as human beings."
"Which we had avoided," says Michael, laughing.
"If I was gonna be in a full-time rock band," he adds, "my ideal level of success is something like the Fall or Pavement. Established, not huge, but established. We've never really gotten to that level, but there's a lot of satisfaction just in playing the music. And we get enough positive feedback, regardless of how universally we've been embraced. I'm surprisingly satisfied. I'm not disappointed at all."
LATER THAT WEEK, in an e-mail to Andy, I tell him about my interview with his bandmates, the shrimp fried rice at Sea Garden, and how much I love the new album. I wondered what he would have had to say about Silkworm's new, improved classic rock sound had he been with us. Maybe it's the Chinese food talking, but I end by telling him to let me know if he gets his hands on any good fortune cookies.
Referencing the Faces cover, and obliquely and cleverly addressing Silkworm's future, Andy has this to say in his reply, "I went down to Chinatown here in London town to have a Chinese meal and get my fortune out of a cookie. The fortune said, 'In your next life, you will know then what you know now.'"
For more information, or just for the heck of it, visit Silkworm's official web site.