Though they never set out to be part of Seattle's folk revival, The Cave Singers' sparse, dark sound provided an opposing palette from the upbeat sound of Fleet Foxes and The Head and the Heart. The Cave Singers' third record, and first for Jagjaguwar, No Witch, took the band's sound in a new, heavier direction. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we caught up with singer Pete Quirk to talk about No Witch, how he ended up shirtless on its cover, and the joys of playing the Showbox at the Market, where the band will perform on Dec. 7th.
To what do you attribute that change? Did you simply get bored of playing them the way they were written? Invitation Songs in particular, a lot of that was written before we even played live as a band. And then Welcome Joy was sort of a continuation of that but we were starting to play shows. By the time No Witch came, I feel like we were pretty comfortable playing live and fleshing out what we were like as a live band. Having that be the intention, maybe not even consciously, is what influenced the songs themselves for No Witch.
Do you take care to ensure that your sound is sparse and not over-produced or self-indulgent? Is keeping things bare-bones part of the vision? The origin of the band was low-key, to capture the initial intimacy of what the band was in the beginning, which was just me and [guitarist Derek Fudesco] at our old house. It wasn't very orchestrated. It was just something that happened that we thought was neat. We wanted to keep it as precious as possible in the beginning, but over time we've added things. But we're conscious of not adding things unless they need to be added. There's also trying to make a powerful song with less. I think that's been an unspoken pursuit of ours.
Where did the title No Witch come from and why did you like it? No Witch is a little snippet from a line of poetry that I wrote a while ago. I think the full line is, "No witch knocking at your door." The whole No Witch record is like being at a crossroads of darkness and light and trying to determine which is the right path to take.
How does the album naming process usually go? Usually I just dig through poems and bust out a bunch of different phrases and then I'll try to whittle them down. With No Witch, it seemed kind of ominous and haunting, like someone approaching you with a mystical presence but being not ready to accept that. As far as coming up with a title, I feel like that's the hardest part of being in the band, but also rewarding if you get something good. Like getting The Cave Singers name, I was like, "Yeah, I think this is a good band name."
Can you talk about the image on the cover? I feel like the image is reveling in that time of chaos and being crazy. Being lost but happy about it somehow. It's also me shirtless in China on top of a table dancing to traditional Chinese music pumping out of the TV.
At what point did you decide on that image? Did someone in the band take the photo? I wasn't like, "Hey, how about this topless photo of me?" [Laughs.] Derek is the band photographer. He's a photojournalist and he took that photo. He just picked that one out and it seemed kind of cool and weird. I like the angles in it.
Your current run of dates has you guys going pretty deep into the Pacific Northwest, playing in Spokane, Pullman, Yakima, Missoula, which aren't usually on big rock tours, but you've always seemed to pay attention to the cities surrounding your home. Why is this important to you? There are people there that want to see us play! We had this thing where we said, "We should just do a tour of Washington State." Plus, we can make these really rad t-shirts. I tried to get a shirtless photo of me on there but it didn't work out [Laughs.] We're just tied to this area and inspired to write about it so we decided to travel around to places like Pullman. We'll go anywhere to play. Last time we went to Missoula was totally crazy. I don't think bands go there that often so I think it feels special to go there. And people are doing all types of stuff out there. It's such a motley crew of people that come to the show. They're all unanimously music fans, but they're all from different walks of life and there's something where you feel a lot of gratitude and it feels important going there and meeting these people who are taking something away from your music. It makes you feel good.
Is playing the Showbox a big deal for you guys? It's definitely one of Seattle's seminal rock rooms. It's such a great venue. The few times we've played there it always feels like a special night. Even at band practice sometimes I'm like, "Man, that Showbox show, there's going to be a lot of people there." It just sounds amazing in there and I've been to shows there that have a special vibe. Our first show was at the Sunset to like five people, mostly people that were already there drinking, so to play at the Showbox filled with people is not lost on us.