A Fiendish Conversation with Pickwick's Galen Disston
One of Seattle's best vocalists talks about Pickwick's busy 2013 and plans for a new record.
After years of building an adoring fan base around Seattle with frenetic live shows (but sans a full length record), 2013 finally saw the release of Pickwick’s first LP, Can’t Talk Medicine. The collection of sharply honed garage R&B bangers (the band shies away from the ubiquitous labeling of its music as soul) has further helped the band carve a new niche in the Seattle sound. Pickwick has spent a good chunk of the year touring, including opening spots for Neko Case, so the group is sure to receive a warm hometown welcome when it plays two sold out shows at The Crocodile this week (December 13 and 14). In return for the admiration, the band will treat fans to some new tunes, a surprise or two, plenty of dancing, and some animalistic howling from lead singer Galen Disston.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation we chatted with Disston about plans for a new Pickwick record, bad times at SXSW, and Grateful Dead archivists.
What are your feelings about the songs on Can’t Talk Medicine now that the record has been out there for a while?
I mean sometimes they’re made new when we play them for a new group of people, and sometimes it feels like shit, because nobody wants to play that song. We’re kind of looking ahead and really investing in songs we’re working on. So it’s sort of strange sometimes to go back to a song like “The Round,” because we were in a weird position where that song had been released and out for almost two years before Can’t Talk Medicine came out. Those recordings were available locally from our Myths EP. I think in some ways we’re excited to release record two, which we’re currently demoing, just because I think it feels like it’s a lot more present.
So what are the plans for the next record?
Realistically, it’s probably looking like a fall release. We’re going to play a bunch of shows here over the next month. We have that West Coast tour in January with Rose Windows, which we’re thrilled about. And then depending on how these demos that we’re completing this week pan out, we’ll see what the recording process of the official record is going to look like. But we hope to just kind of knock it out, as opposed to the way we—for a number of reasons—had to drag out the recording of Can’t Talk Medicine.
With the year winding down, what are your lasting Pickwick memories from 2013?
I guess as in most things the negative memories stand out the clearest. While we’re really thankful for the opportunities, I think South by Southwest was awful. So that was something.
Definitely the touring stands out as the clearest. I think I kind of blacked out the previous year: The recording and any promo leading up to the release. The touring was amazing. I think getting to go to the East Coast and having people already being invested in our music just based off of YouTube videos was totally surreal. All those clubs selling out; that was crazy with it being our first headlining East Coast tour. Then, later this fall, I dunno… just getting to talk to Neko Case about Antony and the Johnsons and his eco-feminism; that was pretty surreal.
What was so awful about South by Southwest?
We just played, I don’t know, nine, ten, twelve times or something? All within a span of four or five days. And it just was a lot of me warming up in the van outside of the makeshift venue, sort of stressed about if my voice would hold up. It was just the inexperience of not having done that before to that sort of caliber. I personally have relaxed a lot since then about this whole endeavor. So that was really good.
I also got to see Radiation City in a backyard, and they were singing without mics. And it might have been the most impressive things I’ve ever seen; just the way they’re able to balance the dynamics between their six members. They’re just an incredible band.
You mentioned the YouTube performance videos. How do you feel those video have impacted Pickwick’s success?
I honestly feel like they have fueled our endeavor as much as any other individual aspect of it; whether that be the reputation of the live shows or our released music. I think that the live videos have done as much. I don’t know… this maybe a blanket statement, but I usually don’t go to see a band live based on a YouTube video. But people do!
We played a show in Alberta, Canada, and I watched a couple off to the left at one of those sort of bar tables that are higher. They were well meaning and had obviously had learned about our band through YouTube and sort of a tamer representation of our band from those videos. I think that’s what they were expecting. And then by the second song, when I was sort of seizuring and making animal sounds into the microphone… I think she was very displeased. (Laughs) I don’t think they stayed for the whole set. I think they were not prepared for those sounds. So in some ways, I feel like just the YouTube videos are misleading. I appreciate people who sort of work a little harder and don’t leave when I start making animal noises because they’re expecting at least a small quota of animal noises.
That’s another thing that’s been fun about demoing and getting ready for record two, sort of expanding the sound the ways that we are trying to look forward artistically. But at the same time, I think there’s already a record there that’s pretty cohesive. I think that has been interesting. It hasn’t necessarily been conscious, but it’s been really exciting for all of us—individually and together—to sit in front of our instruments and then watch these songs materialize. Not that we don’t have control over it, because we’re obviously vessels, but it’s just been pretty interesting to watch these songs come about whether we’re really trying to make a song or not.
Do you have a favorite show or two you’ve seen over the past year?
I went to go see Radiation City at Neumos recently and they were headlining. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen them headline, and it was really refreshing to see them fill that space and have a full headlining treatment with projections and the respect that headliners get, just by default, by playing last.
Probably one of my favorite moments was getting to see Basia Bulat open up one of our shows in Cleveland, I think. It was just this room full of, like, 200 rowdy-ish people. And she just stepped up with this south American string instrument and just her voice, and the entire room fell silent almost instantly. She’s just a very captivating performer.
I also saw The Book of Mormon. Does that count? That was unbelievable.
If you weren’t a musician is there any other line of work you’d want to pursue?
Librarian or archivist, hands down. Did you know that UC Santa Cruz hired a Grateful Dead archivist? That’s that guy’s job! That’s just my favorite thing, to go down those rabbit holes. And I really envy what (archival record labels) The Numero Group and Light in the Attic get to do. I know it’s not easy, but the things they get to dig for, I think, are really valuable for society. And I think there should just be people who are ordained to do the Lord’s work like that.
Dec 13 & 14 at 9, The Crocodile, Sold out