Today, a man has gunned down at least 58 people and injured hundreds more at a country music festival in Las Vegas. And when Pickwick frontman Galen Disston answers the phone from his Seattle-area home, he’s trying to make sense of it all, too. He wonders if fewer people will come out to concerts, including his, for a while, or if fans will show up in droves as an act of defiance.
“Every one of these tragedies we acknowledge from the stage, but we’re not that particularly well-spoken or intelligent,” Disston says. “All we can do is provide people with a safe place by coming together for an artistic purpose. I think the people in this band, I think we’re just as confused as anyone else. We do our best.”
For Disston, being in a band has always made the most sense. Ever since 2005, when he moved up from California to live in Seattle, he’s only ever wanted to make music — even if that meant working shitty part-time jobs to pay the bills, like a recent gig he took powerwashing moss off a houseboat.
But there was once a point Disston thought his indie-soul band may be able to go full-time. He still hopes for that day.
In 2012, Pickwick were hometown heroes. Sold-out Seattle crowds watched the clean-looking then-six-piece sweat and preen and rock hard all over town. NPR Music included them in a “Next Big Thing” article. Two years later, their debut indie album came out to critical acclaim, and they scored a national tour opening for Neko Case and Black Joe Lewis, along with a slew of festival dates.
Yet when it came time to do the dirty work and write a new record, the pressure and taste for stardom took its toll. After crafting about two albums' worth of material, tensions flared, and percussionist/producer Kory Kruckenberg left the group. Pickwick was devastated. They worried fickle fans would forget them; they worried a new record wouldn’t ever materialize. They had to begin again.
“In the scale of the universe, it wasn’t that much pressure,” Disston admits. “We got bogged down in the ‘What does it all mean?’ for a long time. We could have released a really shitty record and played to full rooms. But I’d rather play a record I love to a less-filled room.”
And this Friday, Pickwick is back at Beachland Tavern, finally braced with a fierce album, one which took four years to release. One that Disston loves.
“It felt great to finally get it out,” Disston says. “It’s a special record because it was such a difficult labor. We went through a lot personally what it took to make it … once we figured our shit out.”
While the band’s most well-known single “Hacienda Motel,” which has 4.7 million listens on Spotify, is more of a hoppin' garage-rock tune — one which got them likened to the Black Keys early on — the songs on LoveJoys
veer off the forged Pickwick path.
Produced by Seattle hotshot Erik Blood (Shabazz Palaces), the album leaves much of that scuzzy rock 'n’ roll sound behind, moving into a distinctly groovy yet futuristic feel. The leadoff track “Turncoat,” with its pulled-up bass, wouldn’t even be out of place at a disco hall, and “Never Gonna Be Enough” adds a smoldering psychedelic trip to the mix. Somehow, without exactly meaning to — although Disston admits to falling in love with Marvin Gaye during the making of this — Pickwick found a fresh sound.
“It does feel like a new thing,” Disston says. “Not all of that was deliberate, but, along with the help of Eric Blood, we wanted do what these songs needed. It became this special place or destination for us once we were there making it. It didn’t make sense to fight it.”
Already the band has a bunch of new material ready to record, and Disston promises fans won’t have to wait another four years to hear the fresh stuff, but in the meantime performing LoveJoys
is the priority.
This week, while driving through this resilient country on tour, the five guys will pass the time talking about the state of the world, throwing knives and snacking. Often, Distton says, he’ll read old French erotica aloud to the crew, just for laughs. He says that other than his wife, there’s no one else in the world with whom he’d rather be stuck in a van or on stage.
“There’s not a formula for a band to become successful or write songs; you’re always just showing up and trying to engage,” Disston says. “On the one hand that’s really scary. It’s a skillset that’s impossible to put on a resume, but it’s the thrilling experience that keeps me coming back. I’m addicted to that magic of pursuing this ... of continuing to make art as an act of defiance.”
Pickwick, the Elwins, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets:$12.50 ADV, $15 DOS, beachlandballroom.com