A good metaphor for describing the Cave Singers would be something along the lines of an iris growing among thistles. Or maybe a really beautiful sweater knit out of rope.
Pete Quirk and Derek Fudesco, the founding members of Seattle's the Cave Singers, were in very different bands before forming the Cave Singers. Fudesco was in the post-punk (and now-defunct) Pretty Girls Make Graves; Quirk's previous band, Hint Hint, was also a more-electric-guitar-driven, experimental outfit. But the Cave Singers' wardrobe is far more cotton and denim—stripped-down drums and guitars, vocal harmonies and the occasional flute.
A good portion of the more-minimal texture of the Cave Singers, Quirk explained over the phone, has to do with how the band got its start.
"I moved into Derek Fudesco's house, and I was making music on my own on four-track, and then Derek was sort of doing the same, so we just started collaborating for fun during the evenings," Quirk said. "We just kind of organically devoted more time to making music together. And that's how it started—in the bedroom, for fun."
Because Quirk and Fudesco were collaborating in the proverbial bedroom, the instrumentation naturally was quieter and more minimal. "Since it was a bedroom thing, it was quieter in the beginning, because of where we were at, but we were all in louder bands before, so maybe we were kind of tired of that," Quirk said. "And I was trying to sing—less yelling, more singing, like a beautiful bird."
Quirk and Fudesco also made a conscious decision to write songs with a more-traditional structure. "We wanted to write more classic songs, kind of verse-chorus songs, which I hadn't done very much of, through our Cave Singers filter," Quirk said. "That's what we were listening to; that's what I was enjoying at the time for myself. That was something that I'd never tried."
The Cave Singers' first two albums for Matador Records, Invitation Songs (2007) and Welcome Joy (2009), are woven with guitar arpeggios both acoustic and electric, with lots of soulful hollering and shuffling drums.
"It's almost minimal; it's not the volume level so much as a minimalist approach," Quirk explained. "I feel like you kind of just get to the base, the simple nature, of whatever you're working on. If it's only a guitar and a voice ... it's like: What's the simple origin of this? It's like having too many thoughts in your head. You can never get anything done if you're thinking too much, but if you can clear your mind and focus, you can be like, 'Oh, I just need to do the dishes.' It's simpler, and I think that it gives you an ability to add instead of remove things from a song, which is a lot easier."
No Witch, the band's most-recent release (Jagjaguwar, 2011), does even more with the Cave Singers' minimalist approach: It's louder, darker and heavier, but with all of the same musical elements as their two previous records.
"I think it's a natural progression. Thematically, it has a lot of the things we touch upon in terms of lyrical content, and mood and motif and stuff, but it's influenced by where we were at that time, and what kind of moods we were all in, and the weather, and breakups," Quirk said. "That being said, we feel we're getting better at what we do as the Cave Singers, which is really exciting. Instead of trying to direct the progression too much, we follow it intuitively, so that record (No Witch) became a rock record, a bit of a heavier record, maybe a little more psychedelic—maybe because that's where our trajectory led us, and we followed without questioning it."
That approach of following without questioning is what allowed Quirk and Fudesco to create such divergent music from band to band, but it's also what allows them to weave the louder rock roots into the fabric of the more-threadbare Cave Singers sound. In some ways, the darker, heavier trend isn't so much a trajectory as a looping back, picking up an older thread and then moving along. As Quirk put it, "We had become a rock band again."
Quirk continued, "From the first record to the second record, we hadn't really played live very much. We had, but by the time we made the third record, we had been a touring band, so we had just become louder, and our live show was coming together, so we were writing songs that we wanted to play live, and louder, and that were sort of more propulsive and more rocking. Then people would listen to the first record and be like, 'Man, your records are good, but you guys sound way different when you play live,' so we were like, 'OK, let's make a record that sounds like us when we play live.'"
Quirk said their new record, which is set to be released next spring, has the Cave Singers moving even further ahead.
"Getting darker and heavier with No Witch influenced these new songs," Quirk said. "This new record is different, too, a bigger change."
Another change: Beyond the band's third member, drummer Marty Lund, the Cave Singers recently became a quartet with the addition of bassist Morgan Henderson (Fleet Foxes), who has been recording the new songs with the group and will accompany them on tour.
Ultimately, the true nature of the Cave Singers is an organic, relaxed approach to making music. "We don't put any guidelines or parameters on anything that we do. It's really more fun and free and open sort of writing, jamming, to find ideas that become songs," Quirk said.
"The majority of the time, we're over there kicking it at Derek's house, just happy to see each other," Quirk continued. "We've been friends for a long time, so it's all invested in our lives, and it's kind of just influenced by everything. The songs themselves are influenced by everything that's going on in our lives—touring and hanging out with each other, people having kids or whatever, stuff like that."