MEDICINE MEN: In its earliest incarnations, Pickwick was a run-of-the-mill neo-folk band hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Their sound was driven by Galen Disston’s acoustic guitar playing, which was largely influenced by some of the region’s seminal indie-rock players. “I totally followed the lore of Damien Jurado and David Bazan,” said Disston, who moved from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest a decade ago. “I just wanted to be in the same place as those guys.”
After years of toiling in and around the Seattle circuit, though, Disston and his Pickwick comrades felt it was time for a change. In 2011 the band, which now includes brothers Michael and Garrett Parker, Cassady Lillstrom, Alex Westcoat, and Grammy winner Kory Kruckenberg, started experimenting with new sounds and, for the first time ever, writing songs collaboratively.
“We used to sound ambient, folky, very Seattle — we had a pedal steel,” said Disston, laughing. “I like to say that it wasn’t until I stopped writing our songs that Pickwick kinda started to take off.”
The switch in gears brought with it a fair share of surprises, too. Not long after they started to write as a band, Pickwick’s songbook grew to incorporate elements of blues rock and soul, and Disston’s patient croons blossomed into forceful, bellowing howls.
The fans started turning out, too. In 2011 the band self-released its Myths EP to heaps of buzz. Shows with Bon Iver and The Head and the Heart followed shortly thereafter.
Earlier this year, Pickwick unveiled Can’t Talk Medicine, their first proper full-length for Canadian label Dine Alone Records. Written in collaboration with one of Disston’s longtime producer heroes, Richard Swift, and recorded in the band’s shared house just north of Seattle, Can’t Talk Medicine is Pickwick’s new vision fully realized.
“The character of the house really comes through on the record,” said Disston. “Some of the background vocals were done in the kitchen; the drums were done in this carpeted room with really low ceilings, so it feels really familiar.”
Sonically speaking, the album offers a potent mix of Americana and soul. The drums are fat and heavy, the organs are lovingly laid down with a reverence for old Stax recordings, and Disston’s vocals occupy a glorious space somewhere between Sam Cooke and Dan Auerbach. Thematically, Medicine pulls from some oddly dark source material, topics and characters that Disston researched and compiled for inspiration. “All of the subjects had to do with the subject of art and mental illness and that pendulum and how we fit into it. I think the correlation between [the two] is really interesting,” Disston explained.
This week, Pickwick makes its Santa Barbara debut at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club in support of Can’t Talk Medicine. The band will follow it up with a string of dates supporting Neko Case and Black Joe Lewis, before heading back home to finish album number two, which Disston hopes will further expand on Pickwick’s recent growth.
“The music we were making before was cool, but I’m really glad that we’re doing what we’re doing now,” he said. “We’re really thankful for all the opportunities we have gotten, but I think we all still feel like we have a long way to go.”
Pickwick plays SOhO with Ghost Tiger on Tuesday, July 16, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com.
SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE: Also this week, New Noise presents the first annual Summer Shakedown at Haley Ashbury studios (412 E. Haley St.) on Sunday, July 14. The daylong outdoor music fest features performances by Lompoc’s Saint Anne’s Place, Santa Barbara’s Indian Trading Furs and The Kinds, Los Angelenos Torches, and Phoenix, Arizona’s Jared & The Mill. The show runs noon-6:30 p.m. with beer, wine, and food available for purchase on-site. Visit newnoisesb.org for tickets and info.