THE CAVE SINGERS opening for BLACK MOUNTAIN and OAKLEY HALL at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (October 5), 9 pm. $15.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Giving a blind listen to the haunting Appalachian-style folk hymns that come creaking out of the Cave Singers, you'd never guess that guitarist Derek Fudesco had any connection to the trend-conscious Pretty Girls Make Graves.
The bluesy, ancient-sounding ballads on the just-released Invitation Songs (Matador) debut disc are about as far from the angular art punk of his previous group as you can get using stringed instruments. Had some of the stripped-down tunes like Seeds Of Night or Oh Christine appeared on a Dust To Digital old-timey compilation, they could probably pass for pre-war 78 sides found stashed away in a West Virginia hay loft.
But the Cave Singers aren't any sort of traditional-minded students of arcane folklore styles trying to recreate the past. In fact, until just a couple of months ago, Fudesco hadn't even heard Harry Smith's Anthology Of American Folk Music.
"It's kind of weird to see these write-ups about our record where the reviewer makes reference to these artists from the 30s we've never heard before," says Fudesco on his way to Boise, Idaho. "I don't think of what we're doing as a revival of any kind. It's just like pop music to me.
"This whole thing started when I did some recording in my bedroom using this weird little acoustic guitar. Being a bass player, I'd done all my writing on the bass, so trying to compose on the guitar was completely new to me. I didn't know too many chords, but I got down something that sounded good to me.
"While I was on tour with Pretty Girls, Pete Quirk, whose guitar I was using, listened to what I'd been recording and added some vocals to it. When I got back, he played it for me, and it sounded totally rad, so we worked out a few more things in a similar style. Once we had five songs done, we began thinking about performing them for people. There was nothing premeditated about it. We weren't trying to recapture the authentic sound of any old recordings. We're definitely not traditionalists."
It becomes clear the Cave Singers aren't fanatical string band purists as soon as the synthesizer begins squealing in the background of the song Helen, the second track on Invitation Songs, which was masterfully produced by Colin Stewart (Black Mountain).
Upon closer inspection, the structure of their compositions reveals more modern pop-like progressions than you might expect from the folk tradition. But the Cave Singers' irreverant approach has only caused more confusion for critics who would prefer to interpret what they hear as getting folk music wrong rather than a modern variation on ancient themes, which is completely in line with the folk tradition.
"Early on, when it was still just the two of us writing songs, everything was sounding so bare that I wanted to fill things out somehow without adding more musicians. Initially, I thought of getting a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer, but they were way too expensive, so I settled on using a microKORG for the recording, which worked pretty good.
"I grew up going to punk rock shows because I found the energy inspiring. This is a whole new world of music that I'm discovering with the Cave Singers, and that's what's exciting to me right now."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Cave Singers guitarist Derek Fudesco explains why Colin Stewart (Black Mountain) was hired to produce the group's Invitation songs debut.
According to Fudesco, the recording sessions required a whole new approach to working in the studio.