Derek Fudesco isn’t used to playing classy joints. Growing up on the punk circuit, the Seattle musician has performed in countless dive bars, all-ages clubs, and grungy art spaces for crusty kids worldwide. He figured things would be the same for the Cave Singers, his current folk-oriented group, but a recent gallery show in Seattle has the guitarist bemused by the places his band finds itself these days.
“Dude, that was really weird,” he tells the Straight from his Washington home. Surrounded by art buyers scouring the room for pricey blown-glass sculptures, the Cave Singers’ humble Americana-inspired ditties were all but ignored. “No one even noticed we were there.”¦At first it was super awkward, but it just got funny.”
The trio, rounded out by vocalist Peter Quirk and drummer Marty Lund, has adopted a play-anywhere-and-everywhere attitude that has led to several unorthodox tour stops. Highlights include a private jam session for Fudesco’s mother at her Fresno, California, home and a wedding in Port Orchard, Washington.
“We played right after the ceremony while people were in line to eat,” the guitarist says with a hearty laugh. “I have this picture of Pete singing next to a woman that’s 90 years old. They’re both sitting on a bench.”
The airy simplicity of the Cave Singers’ debut disc, Invitation Songs, demonstrates the group’s generation-spanning appeal; the band’s sound will resonate with neofolkies weaned on Devendra Banhart and Will Oldham, as well as older folk fans raised on the traditional American songbook.
Playing off delicately plucked six-strings and lightly brushed snares, the breezy album opener “Seeds of Night” boasts a cozy campfire melody. Like much of the album, the toe-tapper finds each performer making rudimentary yet essential contributions to tunes which feature simple structures.
This skeletal approach is a welcome change for its members. Prior to the Cave Singers, Fudesco fought to shine playing bass among the dizzying emo riffery of Pretty Girls Make Graves, while Quirk’s crooning for buzzy new wave outfit Hint Hint was often drowned out by synthesizer lines.
“We had both been in bands where the whole idea was layering and fitting as much as possible into a song,” Fudesco says. “When we started playing together, we wanted it as bare bones as possible. Some of them [the songs] are just shells.”¦that space is kind of nice.”
The slow-building album highlight “Helen” may be the sparsest of Invitation Songs’ 10 tracks; the tune finds Quirk sounding like the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano fronting a barnyard jug band as he calls out to a lover atop a ramblin’, chicken-picked guitar line.
Taking the volume down from his punk rock past, Fudesco feels rejuvenated by the Cave Singers’ laid-back stylings, and is anxious for what’s next.
“This is the easiest thing I’ve ever done playing music,” he admits. “We have 19 song ideas for the next record. A lot of them are throwaways, but the fact that there’s that much going on”¦I’m really happy where I’m at playing with these dudes.”
The Cave Singers play the Media Club next Thursday (January 31).