Your hometown can leap out and grab you at the oddest of times. In this case, Isla Vista leapt out of the carpet backstage at the El Rey during the penultimate Murder City Devils’ Los Angeles gig. I was conducting an off-the-cuff interview with three-fifths of Seattle’s Pretty Girls Make Graves, when Nick DeWitt asked me where I was from.
“Isla Vista?” he said. “The Pickle Patch [was] the scariest place I’ve ever been in my life. It was the downstairs of a really bad stucco apartment building, and I actually watched a guy taking a shit in the middle of the street because he was so drunk.”
You can’t make that kind of thing up.
“We did acid that night, though. I was on tour with another band,” DeWitt said.
“Tell him what band,” band mate Derek Fudesco said.
“The Rapture,” DeWitt said. “Who did you think it was?”
“He toured with Incubus,” Fudesco said to me, and he might not have been lying.
It’s easy to get confused if your resume reads as long as Pretty Girls Make Graves’ (or even as long as their name). Drummer DeWitt also played with guitarist Nathen Johnson in Beehive Vaults; Fudesco and singer Andrea Zollo are former members of Area 51, the Death Wish Kids, and the Hookers. All three performed at some point with the recently deceased Devils (for details on Fudesco’s split with the MCDs, see “One for the Road,” Artsweek, Nov. 1, 2001). Second guitarist Jason Clark brings us full circle to, yes, I.V.
“Jay was in a band called Kill Sadie,” Fudesco said, “and they were signed to [local label] Dim Mak. We got hooked up through him.”
The hookup in question is an eponymous four-song EP that has been receiving steady – sorry, make that incessant – airplay on campus radio station KCSB-FM, as well as cracking the College Music Journal 200. As well it should. Boasting a sound that is more melodic than the musicians’ hardcore roots, more dissonant than your average girly pop-punk band, and more earnest than the glut of aimless emo, the band debuted in unique style. Although Zollo’s vocals are often comparable to X-chromosome pioneer Cinder Block’s, she is still capable of hurling the throat-tearing scream that powered her earlier bands’ recordings.
“I definitely wanted to be in a band where I could try doing different vocals,” Zollo said, “although I love doing the kind of vocals I did in Death Wish Kids. At first I was kind of meshing the two, but we’ll just see where it goes. I like variety.”
If variety is what Andrea wants, variety her band provides. The other four conjure a backdrop of edgy melody that shifts constantly between self-conscious artiness, quasi-DC grooving, and unabashed chord-hacking rock ‘n’ roll. Which is not to imply that things transition so smoothly behind the scenes.
“The songwriting process goes, like, we get in there, we tool around for a while, then we get really mad at each other and storm off,” DeWitt said.
“There’s definitely a lot of pouting,” Zollo said, “and some sulking. It kind of seems like if we really fight about it … ”
“The better it is,” Fudesco said.
The band seems to fight with creativity. Fudesco once called Clark “Tracy Chapman,” DeWitt told Johnson he was “about as useful as a football bat,” and Zollo reminisced fondly over the time “Derek’s aunt told me he looks like a girl,” before halting that line of discussion in the name of band solidarity. Some hugging and making up was in order.
“Nathan Johnson’s the man,” DeWitt said. “And Jay Clark’s the man. Because they’re both beautiful men.”
Fudesco joined in the good feelings, throwing down props to Dim Mak’s CEO. He said, “Steve Aoki’s the man … he’s just like,” and then made some enthusiastic half-growl, half-yelp than can best be transcribed as “Rrraaaugh!” though that’s still a pretty weak approximation.
“I’d have to agree with that,” Zollo said, “but since Steve Aoki’s already taken, I’d have to say that Will Farrell’s the man. He can make me laugh without saying a word. Just looking at him makes me bust up.”
The band continues to work with Aoki, planning a seven-inch record on Dim Mak. Two more seven-inches will come out on two other labels, all three of which will then be released together on a fourth label, Berkeley behemoth Lookout! Records.
And while Pretty Girls Make Graves were restoring reputations, DeWitt had another, happier Central Coast memory.
“I broke my arm in Goleta. First time on a really big half pipe at [a local] skate park, and I fell from the top doing a grind or something and the first thing to hit the bottom of the half pipe as I fell was my arm, and it just broke right there. They gave me Celeste pizza and water and told me not to sue them.”
That’s better than watching a guy publicly defecate whilst frying?
“They were really nice about it,” he said.