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Seattle band Pickwick to make Aspen debut

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kyle JohnsonSeattle rock sextet Pickwick makes its local debut Monday at Belly Up Aspen.
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ASPEN – Posters hang from the wall in the Seattle basement where the band practices: Bob Dylan on one, a failed musician from the ’70s on another. Beside the posters are handwritten notes from the neighbors. “You suck! I don’t want to hear it!” That one is the favorite of Galen Disston, lead singer of the band Pickwick. Like all the other notes, it’s framed.

Formed in 2008, Pickwick started as an alt-country group. Disston wrote all the material, predominantly acoustic songs with pedal-steel backing. As Disston recalled, “We were just sort of trying to ride Jeff Tweedy’s coattails,” a reference to the leader of the band Wilco.

There was nothing interesting about their music, and Seattle knew it.

“Nobody was coming to our shows,” Disston said. “We were boring ourselves.”

So in 2010, the six members of Pickwick decided they needed to make an abrupt change.

“Instead of giving up and deciding not to be a band anymore, it was like ‘Well let’s try something completely different,'” said Kory Kruckenberg, a multi-instrumentalist for Pickwick.

Ditching the alt-country mold, they began writing collaboratively. The emphasis became drums and bass, and Disston started singing in a high register, creating a more soulful sound. A year later, the band released “Myths,” a vinyl EP that got the attention of a local radio station and spurred Pickwick’s Seattle following. It was a “discovery period,” Kruckenberg said.

“With the idea of everybody being involved in the writing process and everybody bringing ideas to the table…that was exciting,” Kruckenberg said. “And I think that excitement kind of connected with people because we were excited about the songs in a live setting also.”

After a series of EP releases, the group began working on its first full-length album, “Can’t Talk Medicine,” released this month. It was recorded entirely in their “crappy living-room studio,” right above the basement where they practice. Most of the band has taken up residence at the house.

“It’s kind of like our little world that we’ve mostly based on financial reasons,” Kruckenberg said. “We’re all still doing what we can to support ourselves individually and try to make this band happen at the same time.”

Outside of Pickwick, Kruckenberg works as a recording engineer, a role that earned him the 2011 Grammy for best engineered album, classical (“Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works”).

Disston, on the other hand, works at a cancer treatment center in Seattle, a place he described as “a navigator for bone-marrow and blood transplants…a last resort for most patients.”

“It’s not something that’s easy to go through,” he said. “But there will be moments when patients who will come up to me – because some of them are local – and be like, ‘Holy s—, you’re in Pickwick.’ I’ll be like, ‘Yep, the glamour is right here.'”

It can be tough, Disston said of switching between his role at the treatment center and his role in Pickwick. Much of “Medicine” explores that struggle: the balance between creativity and responsibility.

“We are in a position of pushing ourselves to the limit with time and finances and energy,” Kruckenberg said. “And it’s tough.”

But Disston said they also feel fortunate to have such a struggle, to be able to get out of Seattle, tour, play music and promote the band’s record. When asked which has more influence on his life – responsibility or creativity – Disston pointed to the record.

“The pendulum is always swinging,” he said. “But I think that the songs and the subjects of the songs are most often people where that pendulum has swung more toward destroying your life for the sake of art.”

“Brother Roland,” for example, is a story about an artist who invented an imaginary career for himself. Painting fake album covers on cardboard, he built his own narrative as a soul singer. Disston describes the man – who he didn’t want to name – as an “AWOL veteran who couldn’t get a job.” Eventually, the album covers ended up in a thrift store, where years later, a vinyl collector bought them. The artist’s life is detailed in a book Disston read.

“I always have a very clear subject that I’m doing research on before I start writing lyrics,” Disston said.

The group’s name is a nod to Lou Reed’s obscure dance song “The Ostrich,” released on Pickwick Records in 1964. Made up of drummer Matt Emmett, keyboardist Cassady Lillstrom, brothers Garrett and Michael Parker, Kruckenberg and Disston, Pickwick plays Belly Up Aspen on Monday.

Like Disston and Kruckenberg, the other members have part-time jobs. One works as a designer, another as a video editor – talents that “lend themselves to the band,” Disston said. But, of course, not all outside talents lend themselves to the band.

“Like mine,” Disston said. “Until Kory needs a bone-marrow transplant, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to offer him much.”

kherchenroeder@aspentimes.com


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