Seattle's Pickwick dodges neo-soul tag on discofied LoveJoys
You would never guess, given how texturally rich and nuanced it is, that Pickwick’s LoveJoys comes as the result of a back-to-the-drawing-board approach, quickly written and recorded, but that’s exactly the case.
“We released our first record, Can’t Talk Medicine, in 2013,” vocalist Galen Disston tells the Straight in a call to his Seattle home. “We toured it for about a year and a half, and came home and recorded about 30 or 40 songs. And then we scrapped ’em.”
That material, he explains, was “a little more garage” than their previous release—“not fully punk, but a lot of that early Northwest-influenced, raw, rock ’n’ roll, R&B stuff. Initially, we kinda thought that was the direction we were going to go, but a lot of that music was a little too masculine-feeling, and us trying too hard, I think, to be something we weren’t.”
Almost everything you hear on LoveJoys, Disston says, is “new creations that we took not fully formed into the studio” to work with award-winning Seattle producer Erik Blood. “We wrote the album in about three months, and three weeks later it was recorded and finished.”
Partially thanks to Blood’s keen ear, the album breaks Pickwick out of the 1960s mould of Can’t Talk Medicine.
“I think we were trying to find a way out of the soul tag that we’d been pigeonholed with—‘neo-soul throwback’ or ‘retro’ or whatever. Erik helped ease us into the 1970s. He made such a cool universe in his studio for us, and the songs were this kind of separate escapist universe, too.”
Different listeners will hear different influences. The Rickshaw’s owner and booker Mo Tarmohamed, bringing Pickwick back to town to celebrate the venue’s upcoming eighth anniversary, hears Prince, Macy Gray, and even Talking Heads and Jimi Hendrix, though he notes “the album is so beautifully crafted that all of the musical elements work perfectly.”
But there’s also a notable disco influence, a form being rehabilitated since the “disco sucks” backlash of the late 1970s and ’80s, which even Disston took part in.
“I was pretty prejudiced against disco and even ’70s soul,” Disston admits, “like with the saxophones on ‘What’s Going On’. But something happened to me in the last couple of years.”
He began exploring left-field disco pioneers like Arthur Russell, and learned to appreciate the amazing restraint that Marvin Gaye shows in his vocal stylings.
“It just sort of eased me up,” Disston says.
“In Time” features an obvious riff on Andrea True’s “More More More”. (“And even the drums are pretty ABBA,” Disston adds.) The strutting bass lines that kick off “Turncoat” suggest a grooved-out “Stayin’ Alive”, and the vocal harmonies are pure Bee Gees, circa 1978.
And that’s where the real difference with Can’t Talk Medicine comes to light: while songs like “Hacienda Motel” foregrounded Disston’s charisma and strength as a lead singer, the layered approach to songcraft on LoveJoys allows him to lean back into the sound.
“After touring the first record, I kind of felt the effects of singing my balls off every night for six nights a week,” he says. “Can’t Talk Medicine is kind of exhausting for me to listen to because I’m singing so hard, if that makes any sense.”
The ethereal escapes and quasi hedonism of LoveJoys are a welcome relief and may just prevent Pickwick from being pigeonholed again.
“Up to this point we’ve been known mainly as a live act,” Disston acknowledges. “Our first record, I don’t think, succeeded in establishing us as more than that. This was an opportunity to make a product you can listen to, something that can have a life in your car.”
Pickwick plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday (July 29).