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?
Nick: Absolutely.
Jay: The tour’s going to be cool because we’re going to be with our friends, the Blood Brothers.

Oh, cool.
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 area now.
Jay: That seems to be the question on everbody’s lips. I don’t really –
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 music.
Nick: Right.

So maybe in the next couple of years, all eyes will be on the Northwest.
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 is awesome.
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.

The weather?
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 the band?
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 of.
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 distracted here?
Jay: No, no, not distracted at all. (Laughs, pushing mag away) Just listening.
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 five.
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.