Photo by Laura Musselman

Seattle Weekly 10.14.09

The Cave Singers make music in the basement of a house on Capitol Hill. It’s a cozy basement, for the most part—low-slung ceiling, wood-paneled walls, old lamps. Tucked in a corner are amplifiers, an acoustic guitar, a set of drums, a tambourine, and a microphone. The rest of the house is big and old and occupied by two-thirds of the group: vocalist Peter Quirk and guitarist Derek Fudesco (drummer Marty Lund lives nearby). Both Quirk and Fudesco stress that if they didn’t have this basement, the Cave Singers would not make the music they do: rustic folk played by guys who spent more time with punk and Fleetwood Mac records than with anything by Joan Baez or Phil Ochs.

“Living together makes it so we can play music together more than most people in bands probably do,” says Fudesco. “Any time [Quirk and I] are just sitting around, we come down and make music.”

That sense of ease and unhurriedness is the glue that holds the Cave Singers together as a band, and can be heard on their latest record,Welcome Joy. From the sunlit folk-pop of “Summer Light” and “Beach House” to the revved-up evangelist-stomp of “Shrine,” it’s a record by a band that isn’t pretending.

“We just do what we do,” says Fudesco. “We’re not trying to be anything.”

That might sound like the usual indie-rock disclaimer, but it actually gets to the heart of what makes the Cave Singers unique. On the surface, they resemble countless other bands currently saturating the indie market: unshaven guys playing music that sounds as if it could have been made in the 1970s. But whereas plenty of bands today can be broken into pieces in terms of who they sound like—a little Beach Boys here (Fleet Foxes), a little Velvet Underground there (the Kills), a little Eagles over there (the Moondoggies)—the music of the Cave Singers has only one point of reference: Bob Dylan, whom they don’t even listen to.

The band formed by accident in 2006. Quirk, who had previously played in Hint Hint, had recently moved into the house Fudesco was sharing with his Pretty Girls Make Graves bandmate Andrea Zollo. At the time, Fudesco, who had never played guitar, plucked out a folky melody on a cheap little acoustic and recorded it for fun.

One day while Fudesco was out of town, Quirk decided to sing some poetry he’d written on top of the melody. When Fudesco returned, Quirk said, “Hey, I sung over that thing you (recorded).” Recalls Fudesco: “We played it back and were both like, ‘Wow, this is really good.'”

Their creative well has been spilling over since. Matador released the Cave Singers’ debut, Invitation Songs, in 2007. With Fudesco’s guitar rolling along like a river—his finger-plucks reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt—and Lund’s percussion punctuating the melodies, Quirk sang songs that were rife with memories of the good times he’s had, the girls he’s loved, and the places he’s lived. His lyrics were as vivid as they were hazy, and his vocals were otherworldly, somewhere between Arlo Guthrie‘s nasal twang and a hummingbird’s buzz.

Since the release of Invitation Songs, Fudesco says he and Quirk have written 60 songs, 10 of which made the cut for Welcome Joy. Produced by VancouverB.C.–based Colin Stewart, the album possesses all the warmth and simplicity of its predecessor. But where Invitation Songs was engineered to sound somewhat dim and murky, Welcome Joy radiates with clarity. Fudesco’s melodies conjure the places Quirk’s bleary-eyed lyrics inhabit: breezy afternoons, open-air car rides, cabins, rugged coastlines, the woods as darkness becomes dawn.

A true poet, Quirk embodies what he writes so fully that, as with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, it’s hard to imagine anyone else singing his songs. His word choices are simple, but still strangely obscure, due to the way he twists and stretches syllables around Fudesco’s hypnotic guitar. Like déjà vu, Quirk’s lyrics take you places you know you’ve never been, but which seem somehow familiar. They are full of calm and good times—the latter a result, no doubt, of the enjoyment the three get from playing together.

“No matter how shitty the day is,” Quirk says, “I know when I get home Derek’s gonna be there and we’re gonna drink some beers and play music.”

It’s fitting, then, that the cover of Welcome Joy is a sepia-toned photo of their instruments in the basement framed by illustrations of tree branches and a rocky coastline. “For me, it’s an escape,” Quirk says of their music. “It’s what I look forward to every day.”