Matador office, NYC
Tuesday, July 8, 2003
Interview and photos by Cameron Cook
The first thing Nick Dewitt and Jay Clark of Seattle-based art-punks
Pretty Girls Make Graves do before sitting down for our interview is
apologize for being hungover. As you can probably imagine, interviewing
a hungover rock star is not fun. When you bust out that really awesome
question about the agressive universe created by their new album, you
really want a cooler answer then: “Uh... huh? Yeah... yeah.”
But I forgive Nick and Jay. First off, they weren’t really that
hungover. Second, even if they were, their behavior would have been
vindicated by Pretty Girls Make Graves’ brilliant new album, The
New Romance (Matador). Nick (drums) and Jay (guitar, keyboards),
along with Derek Fudesco (bass, vocals), Nathan Thelen (guitars, vocals)
and Andrea Zolo (vocals) have upped the ante on hardcore music as we
know it, taking harsh melodies and heartfelt lyrics and melding them
into punk-rock masterpieces. They’ve released rcords on such well-renowned
inde labels as Dim Mak and Lookout! before deciding to settle down at
Matador, who signed them after checking out one of their notoriously
spastic and effervescent live shows.
How’s it going with the new album and tour and all?
Nick: We’re going to be touring all of August. We’re out
here for a show at Pier 54. We have a tour in August and then we go
to Europe for a little under a month, and then we come back here. I
think we have most of September off, and then we tour the U.S. in October.
Are you guys excited about the Euro tour?
Jay: The tour’s going to be cool because we’re going to
be with our friends, the Blood Brothers.
Nick: Yeah, that’s very cool. It’s our first time on a tour
bus. We get to share a bus with them.
So before it was just vans and stuff? You guys didn’t
have a jacuzzi in the back or anything?
Nick: Oh, no!
Jay: We just have a van.
Nick: We rent a trailer from Andy Andy. The floor is about to rot out
of the trailer and everything gets wet when we drive in the rain.
I wanted to ask you about the music scene in Seattle. Is it
becoming fashionable again, after the demise of the whole grunge era?
There seem to be a lot of aggressive sounding bands coming out of the
Jay: That seems to be the question on everbody’s lips. I don’t
Nick: I think it was always there. People just didn’t really pay
any attention to it. There’s always been a consistency, as far
as I am concerned, of really good bands coming out of the Northwest.
I don’t know why all of a sudden, people are all gung-ho about
the Northwest. It’s weird.
I think in part it might be because of you guys. There’s
a huge buzz on you right now. You’re one of the bands to talk
about, I guess. Two years ago when the Strokes were the band to talk
about, all of a sudden people started flocking to NYC in search of good
So maybe in the next couple of years, all eyes will be on the
Jay: Let’s hope. There are a lot of great bands.
Nick: Cobra High is one of my favorite bands in Seattle right now, who
actually have a record out. Derek put out their first record, which
Jay: Hint Hint.
Nick: Yeah, Hint Hint is a really good band. There are other bands like
Carp, who are not really from Seattle, but the Northwest area, and there’s
the Gossip, Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. There’s been a lot
of truly inspiring stuff coming out of Seattle for a long time.
Pretty Girls has a sort of aggressive sound. Is that sound
brutal partly because you’re from Seattle? I’ve been out
of the country for 10 years, so I kind of have an outsider perspective,
but it seems a lot of bands from that area have a sort of aggressive/depressive
mood to them.
Nick: To some degree we all have a background in hard rock or loud music
and things like that. I don’t think it’s necesarily regional.
There’s a lot of good music coming from everywhere, but as far
as the depressed thing, that probably just has to do with the atmosphere.
Nick: Which isn’t as band as everybody says it is.
Jay: It really isn’t.
Nick: It’s actually quite nice.
Jay: Um...Sorry, my mind’s just fried right now. I’m trying
to pull it together. (laughs) None of us are really technically from
Seattle. I don’t think. I mean, I don’t know, are we that
agressive? Have you heard our new record?
I thought it kind of was aggressive and edgy, compared to what’s
been popular the last couple of years. I’m totally speculating,
but it might be because you guys are from these really cool hardcore
bands, Death Wish Kids and Murder City Devils. I dunno, it might just
be that being from that scene, that hardcore sound is present in your
music... (They give me blank stares.) Just a personal opinion.
Jay: Oh no, it definitely is at times.
Nick: Yeah, it is. But I don’t think it is a regional thing. It’s
not exclusive to one area.
You guys come from different bands; were you all friends before
Jay: I met Nathan, and we kind of had the blues from [being in] the
Midwest. We had a few mutual friends in Minneapolis. I think he was
dating my roommate at the time and we’d just sit around and listen
to music. We had a lot of common interests. Nick moved into my house,
so that’s how I met him. At that point [members of PGMG] had already
started playing and had been talking about it for a while. I was like,
“Whoa, this is my perspective. I’d like to come down and
play with you guys for fun.” (To Nick) You can tell how they came
to be, before me.
Nick: Me and Derek had always talked about getting together and doing
something. We got the chance to play a little bit down in my practice
space and we both thought something could come out of it. He was really
busy, so it didn’t really all come together until a few months
after that. He suggested that Andrea should sing and I suggested that
Nathan play guitar, because they’d played previously before. It
was just an experiment. When we finally did all play together it just
felt right. Then we got Jay and made everything a little bit better.
I was living with Jay then.
What kind of expectations have you guys put on The New
Romance? Do you think your fans will like it, as compared to your
first album, Good Health?
Nick: In regards to our last record, we’re probably going to –
I can see us losing fans because there are elements from the last record
missing on this one, but I’m happy they aren’t there.
Like what elements?
Nick: I hesitate to say pop-punk, but yeah. Let’s just say there’s
less of those sort of bouncy, tounge-in-cheek bad-ass overtones or whatever.
It’s just not there, and I’m glad it’s not. I think
the music is a lot more developed. Everything about the record is just
a lot better to me. I’m happy with it, and I don’t know
what it’s going to do, or whether everyone’s building it
up to have it self-destruct or not do anything. I’m just happy
enough that I made it. It’s the best thing we’ve done so
far, and I’m really happy with it.
Jay: Regardless of how it does, on a personal level I’m just a
lot more proud of it. If it sells 2000 copies, 500, I don’t really
care. The songs and everything about it, I’m just a lot more proud
Nick: I’m happy with it now; I’m secure with the results.
Just erase that whole beginning and sum it up right there. (Laughs)
I wanted to ask you about the cover art of The New Romance.
Is that a goat eye?
Nick: It’s a horse eye.
Horse eye. Oh.
Nick: The focus is on the composition as a landscape. Taking a close-up
shot, and maybe taking the focus off of an ordinary thing, and putting
it into a particular perspective that makes it… something else?
OK. [Turning to Jay, who is zoning out on the cover of a copy
of The Source, which features Neptunes/N.E.R.D. frontman Pharell Williams
flanked by a pair of scantily-clad “extras.”] Are you getting
Jay: No, no, not distracted at all. (Laughs, pushing mag away) Just
Nick: I think it’s really interesting the way the cover art is
put together. It’s something you’d stop and look at.
Jay: It’s bold.
Nick: It’s very bold and simple and…anyway…(Laughs)
Nathan originally brought the idea to us, and explained to us the way
he saw it. As a landscape and not as some big ugly eye. It’s just
a new way of looking at it.
How did you guys sign to Matador? Why did you decide to release
the new album on this label?
Nick: They started emailing us. God, I’ve heard Derek say this
so many times.
Jay: And you’re saying the exact same thing.
Nick: It’s ridiculous. [Laughs] So yeah, Chris from Matador emailed
us to tell us he’s a fan, to let us know. We kid of kept in touch
after a while, and he started coming to shows. He eventually made a
proposal after his partner in England, Gerard, saw us play, and gave
the green light. Naturally, we jumped on the chance to be on one of
the most incredible labels in the past two decades.
This is my little personal question I like to ask at the end
of an interview: You are part of the first colony to be sent to Mars,
and in your little space pod that they shoot you off with, you only
have room for one album. iPods don’t count.
Nick: Well, my answer might change over the years, but I’d have
to say the one thing I could continualy listen to and not get sick of
would be Jonathan Fire*Eater’s Wolf Songs for Lambs because it’s
fulfilling on so mant different levels. It’s in my all-time top
Jay: I don’t know. Actually, I just got this really great comp
not to long ago called Darker Than Blue and it’s soul, and kind
of reggae/dub. I’d probably bring that, because it’s just
an amazing record, and then I’d have some variety.
Any final thoughts?
Jay: I’d like to apologize for my current state.
Nick: I’m just trying to think clearly.
Don’t worry, I’ll edit all strange stuff out.
Nick: Do whatever you need to. That was my closing statement.