The New Sound of Seattle

From lyrical hip-hop to garage R&B, these three acts have what it takes to deliver our distinctly Seattle sound to the world.

By Laura Dannen and Seth Sommerfeld June 14, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Brandon Hill

We’re not even going to mention the g-word. Seattle’s music scene is so much more these days, from lyrical hip-hop to garage R&B. And like singer-songwriter Damien Jurado or hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis before them, these three acts have what it takes to break out beyond the Northwest, delivering our distinctly Seattle sound to the world.


Image: Brandon Hill

Pickwick has finally made it. It’s officially a hipster band. 

“Oh god, that was a nightmare,” moaned guitarist Michael Parker, recalling how the phrase “Seattle hipster band” flashed across the TV screen during a pregame concert for Mariners opening day at Safeco Field in April. It begs the question: What does a hipster band even sound like? Bassist
Garrett Parker, without missing a beat: “Sounds like irony.” 

Pickwick’s sound has evolved significantly since the band’s early days in 2007 as folksy indie rockers—the kind of omnipresent act in Seattle that everyone listens to and no one remembers. Things weren’t going well; they even considered breaking up the band. Thankfully, the solution was simple rather than terminal: They just had to play to their strengths and turn up the bass—they call it “garage R&B.” Pickwick’s not-so-secret weapon is front man Galen Disston, a curly-haired Californian whose soulful vocals could bring a Southern Baptist congregation to its feet. Harder still is to get Seattleites to bust a move, but with its mix of indie-rock instrumentals and ’60s gospel and blues, Pickwick provokes dance parties wherever it goes.

This year, for the first time, the sextet took its soul machine on a national tour, promoting its debut album, Can’t Talk Medicine. This record was years in coming, given the band’s saga of contract negotiations with several different labels. “Any one of them would have been a great offer, but we decided we were better off on our own,” said percussionist and Grammy-winning engineer Kory Kruckenberg, a late and game-changing addition to the band. They haven’t written off representation—they’re currently with indie label Dine Alone Records in Canada—but, for now, they keep busy as independent artists. In addition to a Safeco concert, a coast-to-coast tour, and magazine interviews, they’re headlining Capitol Hill Block Party in late July—and doing what twenty- and thirtysomething guys in Seattle are wont to do: Dissecting Game of Thrones. Maybe Pickwick is a hipster band after all. —Laura Dannen

Who they are 
Kory Kruckenberg (percussion, vibraphone, producer/engineer), 
Alex Westcoat (drummer), Galen Disston (vocals), Michael Parker (guitar), Cassady Lillstrom (keyboard), Garrett Parker (bass). 

Who came before them 
Hippie with soul Allen Stone

New album 
Their self-released debut Can’t Talk Medicine came out in March. 

See them at 
Capitol Hill Block Party on July 27

First Seattle concert
“The first Pickwick show was at Studio Seven,” said Galen. “It was pay for play. It was awful. It was a Wednesday night, very cold.”

Dream venue
Showbox at the Market on New Year’s Eve was a big deal. So was Safeco. Maybe “Seahawks Stadium” is next, joked Alex.

Songs we wish we’d written
The consensus says: lots of Bob Dylan. “To Ramona,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Fourth Time Around,” “Ballad of a Thin Man.” 

Can we please make an album with Shabazz Palaces, but “we have nothing to offer them,” kidded Garrett.

Pickwick performs “Blackout” a capella in the UW Suzzallo Reading Room (2011):

Pickwick performs “Window Sill” live at KEXP’s Concerts at the Mural (2011):

The Physics

The Physics.

Image: Brandon Hill

Rapper OC Notes utters a seemingly throwaway line on the Physics’ “New School Mental,” on the album Tomorrow People. “I’m glad y’all are into writing songs, man, and not just writing raps.” In one sentence, he sums up the Physics—a trio making the most eclectic hip-hop in Seattle. Producer Justo’s tracks mix live instrumental samples with more traditional electronic beats, while brothers Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith (born Gathigi and Njuguna Gishuru, first-generation Americans from Kenya) deliver thoughtful lyrics about love, relationships—and, yes, partying and drinking. And thanks to Justo’s love of jazz and Thig’s taste for indie rock, these are songs fit for kicking back on a summer day and surrendering to the groove. 

The story began when Thig and Justo met as freshmen at O’Dea High School. Despite running in different circles (Justo was a jock, Thig was not), they shared an interest in Seattle hip-hop—including Tribal Production’s influential early ’90s compilation Do the Math—and started to make their own music junior year. Their collaboration continued at Central Washington University in Ellensburg and back in Seattle after graduation in 2007, where they dove headfirst into the local scene.

Of late, the rap trio has been holed up in its Belltown studio, working on its fourth full-length, Digital Wildlife. “The album’s based around the theme that the digital and analog worlds intersect nowadays,” Thig said. “How everything is done over the Internet—everything is done digitally—but at our very core, we’re still human, we’re still animals, basically. We’re approaching the process by recording it digital and bouncing it to analog tape.” 

Seattle’s rap scene—a community of collaborative, Kickstarter-savvy artists—also constantly intersects. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, now international stars, feature multiple locals as soloists; and the Physics have opened for Blue Scholars on the duo’s national tour. The time is right for Seattle hip-hop, and the Physics are poised to be its new emissaries. —Seth Sommerfeld

Who they are 
Producer Justo, MCs Monk Wordsmith and Thig Nat

Who came before them 
Blue Scholars, Shabazz Palaces, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Sir Mix-a-Lot

New album 
Digital Wildlife is due out in late 2013

See them at 
Bumbershoot on August 31

First Seattle concert
Thig: The See Sound Lounge. I remember I was hella nervous. It’s like a club set-up, so it’s not like there’s a stage; it’s just, like, an open dance floor. 

Dream venue
Justo: We got our eyes set on next year, so trying to get a show—and sell out a show—at the Showbox Market. Thig: We want to go international, too, and be able to rock shows in other cities.

Songs we wish we’d written
Justo: I feel like I hear one every day, where I’m like, “Man, that’s tight. I wish I had wrote that.” I like Miguel’s “Do You (Like Drugs)” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Thig: Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ About You.”

Can we please make an album with
Justo: Quincy Jones. Ha. Who knows, but that would be really cool. Thig: That would be tight. It would be dope to work with artists in other genres in Seattle, like Fleet Foxes or something. Justo: Ben Gibbard.


Teaser to the Physics’ Tomorrow People (2012):

The Physics’ official video for  “The Goodbye” (2012):

The Physics’ Tomorrow People (2012) in its entirety:

Shelby Earl

Image: Brandon Hill

Shelby Earl knows how to write a sad, sad song. Heartache makes a regular appearance in her lyrics, yet she never smothers listeners in sorrow. With their warm, haunting vocals and country-swept guitar strumming, Earl’s ballads unpack the harsher realities of life and offer comfort. And people are starting to take notice.

Amazon named Earl’s debut album Burn the Boats, produced by the Long Winter’s John Roderick, the number one Outstanding 2011 Album You Might Have Missed. And Rolling Stone suggested that her song “Everyone Belongs to Someone” would be ideal for the soundtrack of filmmaker Zach Braff’s followup to Garden State. Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard even messaged her through Twitter last year, out of the blue, and asked her to open a few of his solo shows. 

The praise has emboldened Earl to take a risk on her second record, Swift Arrows, which won’t exactly be a spiritual sequel to the polished sounds of Burn the Boats. Earl brought in the godfather of Seattle’s singer-songwriter scene, Damien Jurado, to produce Swift Arrows in a throwback, bare-bones fashion. The bulk of the album was recorded live over two days last July at Columbia City Theater. The results are raw and authentic. “I think people’s ears are really used to hearing things very produced these days,” said Earl. Most songs were recorded in one or two takes, as Jurado sought the most “honest” sound over perfection. “We left flaws in,” she said. “There are a couple songs on the record where I actually sang the wrong lyrics and he was like, Too bad, that’s the keeper.” It was an exercise in trust for Earl, but she seems ecstatic with the results and hopeful for the future. “[My guitarist Eric Howk] said, ‘Here’s the good news, Shelby: Everything positive that’s happened so far has happened with almost nobody having heard of you. You’re headed in a good direction. All that can happen now is the ears multiply.’ ” —SS

Who came before her 
Damien Jurado, Brandi Carlile, David Bazan  

New album 
The self-released Swift Arrows is due out July 23.

See her at 
Her album-release show at Columbia City Theater on July 13 or a free in-store concert at Sonic Boom 
Records in Ballard on July 23

First Seattle concert
“My first-ever band show was at the Monkey Pub in the U District with my first band, Ravenna. It was the perfect divey, live experience.”

Dream venue
“Probably the Paramount. I saw Gillian Welch play there eight years ago, and it was her, and her guitar, and Dave Rawlings who plays guitar with her. I couldn’t believe how big the sound was for just two acoustic players. It was awesome.”

Song I wish I’d written
“It’s gonna be Damien Jurado—his song ‘Museum of Flight,’ which is on his current record. I’ve actually been covering it on my tour. It’s just the most beautiful melody ever.”

Can I please make an album with
”He’s not technically a Seattleite anymore, but I have this new song, a duet, that’s a totally irreverent love song I wrote with J. Tillman’s [Father John Misty’s] voice in mind.”


Sample tracks from Shelby Earl:

Shelby Earl performs “The Seer” live on KEXP from the Bumbershoot Music Lounge (2011):

Shelby Earl performs “At the Start” off Burn the Boats, live on KEXP (2011):


Published: July 2013

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