Digging graves for pretty girls

By Kevin DeVlaming

Derek Fudesco, bassist and founding member of Pretty Girls Make Graves, has a lot to say about change.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the recent history of the eclectic five-piece from Seattle. Between the release of 2003’s critically acclaimed the New Romance and their latest, Élan Vital, released in April, Pretty Girls have experienced their share of transition. The wild success of the New Romance, in conjunction with a tireless touring schedule has transformed the band from a relatively under-the-radar patchwork sewn together from the remnants of several Seattle punk bands into an internationally lauded “in” band. Factoring the 2004 departure of guitarist Nathan Thelen with a desire to pursue a bolder tapestry of sound explains the musical journey which Pretty Girls embarked on with the recording of Élan Vital.

“[When] Nathan quit the band, we weren’t sure what we were going to do,” says Fudesco, who started the band with vocalist Andrea Zollo. “Then we just got Leona [Marrs, former keyboardist for Hint Hint] and decided to rethink everything. It felt like a new beginning.”

A fresh start is exactly what comes to mind on a first listen of the musical mish-mash Élan Vital, which is a significant departure from the cohesive pop of the New Romance. While the gear shift might be jarring at first, the band claims they’re just trying to break their own mould.

“We’d had this formula for years, of five of us contributing to every single song, and the whole band was a collaboration,” says Fudesco. “Then, this record we decided that all of us make music and all of us write on our own. We decided to work that into Pretty Girls. I think the reason the record sounds so different is because we each brought our own songs to the band for the first time ever, and worked with each others’ individual ideas.”

Élan Vital might be less accessible to fans of their older music, but Fudesco remains unconcerned. Instead, he’s excited to gain the new exposure.

“We have been doing that since we started,” says Fudesco. “We put out Good Health (Pretty Girls’ debut EP, released in 2001 on Lookout! Records), and a certain type of person really found something in that record, and when we released New Romance, it was just like a big ‘fuck you.’ I found that the people who were into our old records don’t like this record, and aren’t really coming to see us play, and then people that are just discovering this record are really enthusiastic about it.”

The age of the audience members chanting along to Pretty Girls’ notoriously anthemic music has suffered an upheaval as well, moving from an almost-exclusive teen crowd to twenty-something adults. The shift in demographic is welcome, though.

“It’s great, because I’m 31 years old, and I don’t want to be playing shows for 15-year-old kids who are the only people who can relate to what I’m doing musically,” says Fudesco. “[It’s all about] peace, love, and happiness. We’re all very loving, nice people, and we just want to spread that love, and share it.”

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