Interview: Pretty Girls Make Graves

interview by mike bushman

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“Do you remember when we couldn’t put it away… do you remember what the music meant?” Seems to be the goal and focus of this band. Melodies sweetly defined by singer Andrea Zollo and given an indie rock guitar edge, shake and polish. Working in the music industry, my ears hear a lot of music. I know the feeling they reference in that lyric. I rarely feel it. “The Get Away” is the fourth track on their brilliant debut ‘Good Health’. That song induced precisely that scarce feeling that this music is somehow… important. A mix of painful reminiscing and optimistic future prospecting. Entirely a personal take, but that’s the point. If any music moves a listener to the point of making an effort to make a personal connection, the world is most definitely a better place.

Although the pedigree of bands that make up the list of players here is quite impressive, that is all past tense. All focus now lies in Pretty Girls Make Graves. A project fresh to the world, but years in the making. Andrea Zollo played off her connections from a previous band Area 51 which featured bassist Derek Fudesco. This relationship eventually blossomed into a romantic interest. Zollo was also a member of the Death Wish Kids. That band featured future members of the Murder City Devils (Spencer Moody and Dann Gallucci). The groundwork for Pretty Girls Make Graves was forged years ago. It reflects in the music and impacts the listener. True to Andrea’s greatest wish, it does move people. Every time they play. Every time a fan plays their album.

Every time I play their album.

Seattle is where this band formed. Possibly the last greatest movement in music that was so closely associated with a city/region, it’s been a decade since the spotlight wandered somewhere else. But there was a brilliant scene before it got mainstream, and there’s a brilliant scene after the noise all died down. Andrea Zollo has been there through the whole ride and now offers one of the most defining voices of the contemporary scene.

You are from Seattle originally? You were just a teenager when the whole ‘Seattle Scene’ was exploding.
Andrea: Growing up in Seattle for those teenage years, there was always a huge music scene all over. There were actually a lot of all ages places as well. When I was a teenager I didn’t necessarily appreciate what we had. There was a lot of all ages club like the Velvet Elvis and the A-Ok Hotel, places that aren’t in existence anymore. There are a lot of festivals every year. Also at the Seattle Center, there was a radio station that did free shows every Friday called ‘pain in the grass’. They would do free shows with any number of local bands. And those were mostly like grunge bands. So there were so many sort of free music things going on all the time, it was all around you. But when I was a teenager that was the popular music of the moment. I was really anti-that. There was some of it that I did like, but I just couldn’t appreciate it because I didn’t think it was punk enough at that point. It was mainstream and everyone loved it, therefore I had to hate it. Obviously now it’s funny I can look back on it and laugh because there was lots of great music that I just didn’t give a chance.

Something like Mother Love Bone, was that just too cool for it’s own good in your world at the time?
Yeah, that was not my thing. I hated it all. But there were so many free shows like that and I might be at one of their shows, but I would hate it the whole time and complain about it. Like our friends would go because you were a kid and there’s nothing to do. But there were also lots of other great bands that were around during that time, but just didn’t get as much attention because it wasn’t like in the grunge type of music.

What bands blew up that you knew where going to? Any bands surprise you that did get popular? (probably due to the region more than the talent).
I actually thought that Mudhoney would have been way larger. I mean they have a huge underground cult following and they were very very successful, but still would have thought that they would have been sort of Pearl Jam size. And they are an awesome band and really cool guys and really good musicians. If you look at any of the big bands, I was surprised that they all made it. Not Nirvana obviously. They had something that appealed to all different kids of people. Punk kids liked Nirvana as well and it wasn’t such a segregated thing. Like when Soundgarden had their ‘Spoonman’ video that was hilarious. The Spoonman was just like one of these street performers that you could see everyday. When we were younger, I was just floored that this was on a video and everyone across the nation could see this Spoonman.

That must have been interesting to be in highschool in that area during that time when you are so defined by the music you listen to.
I actually went to a really funny alternative high school. It was mostly musicians for whatever weird reason. If you could see our highschool yearbook, there are a lot of people who have their guitars in their pictures with them. It’s hilarious. So because I went to this school that was all either rockers or grungers, it was all the more reason I thought that this music was the normal mainstream type of music.

So do you think your path to music might be a bit reactionary to your surroundings?
Probably to an extent. Maybe it’s likely. For sure. Yeah. I would have to say so. But the Northwest, as a whole, for whatever reason, has always been this Mecca for people to make music. There have always been a lot of different types of music going on here constantly. It’s something I didn’t appreciate until I got older. I didn’t realize this didn’t happen a lot in other places. Still to this day… a friend of ours flew in from Philly, and she was supposed to go see a band. And there was like three different shows going on in the same night of bands that she all wanted to see. And she was just like, ‘Oh my god. What do you do? I don’t understand, this is crazy. Does this normally happen?’ If you really want to hear any kind of music, there are always a couple shows going on that you’d love to go see.

Were you a ‘cool kid’ in highschool?
(laughing) I don’t know what that would mean. A ‘cool kid’, I don’t think so. I don’t know many people who were cool kids in high school.

What sub-set of highschool strata would define yourself as being?
Well the sad thing really about my highschool years was that I got into a lot of trouble when I was in junior highschool. I was like an early boozer trouble kid. Therefore I had to go through all these cheesy therapy rehabilitation kind of things. So when I got to highschool, I was pretty square. So like while everyone else was living it up, I was really boring. I was kind of a goodie-goodie. I was trying to distance myself from my bad youth.

Is that were music really fell into focus for you?
Probably so. At that same time period, the music scene in Olympia was getting really big. I got really into that. Like you said, that could have been a direct result of not wanting to be involved in the mainstream scene that was exploding in Seattle. So I drove to Olympia almost every weekend. That was a much more grass level. Even though you could still have that in Seattle, it was really attainable for me being young to drive to Olympia and find all ages shows. A lot of bands that I liked would always play in Olympia and not as often in Seattle.

What was one of the best bands to come out of Olympia?
Mukilteo Fairies. Mukilteo is a city in Washington, and that’s where you catch the ferry. So that was their play on words. It was like a queer hardcore band. Only the singer was gay actually. But they were absolutely one of the best bands of all time. The drummer of that band went on to play in The Trail of the Dead. The singer and the bass player played in a band called Behead the Prophet, No Lord Shall Live. And now some of them are in The Tight Bros from Way Back When. It’s all these same people and they have these great ideas.

When you wrote the line, ‘Do you remember when we couldn’t put it away… do you remember what the music meant?’ What band(s) where you thinking of?
Derek and I wrote that song together on a train in Italy. (Leaning of the phone to address Derek, ‘I thought that was kind of interesting to tell’). He thinks that’s so ridiculous, but it’s kind of an interesting detail.

I think that’s a very romantic, dramatic detail. I think that people like to envision rock stars traveling about Europe and writing songs on trains.
That was just pure vacation. But we were on a really long ass train ride that wasn’t supposed to be so long. I think we just decided the idea of trying to capture music that turns you in a specific direction in your life. We were into that idea of that being a song. Derek’s idea’s were probably different that mine. There are so many bands. It’s hard to pinpoint. When I was younger, Jawbreaker was really a phenomenal band. There was a time in my life that I just though they were the be all end all of everything. I went to every single show that they would play. But I can relate it back to when I was a lot younger.

And at what age are you in this visualization of this life changing music?
When I was in junior highschool, in my degenerate days, I was mainly into metal. I had a lot of older friends. I had this older neighbor that was like this older rocker woman, so she would play all this music for me, so I was really into all this metal music. Which was awesome. But there was like no punk rockers in my school, and I had a friend from another school that was like a skater. He played me the Circle Jerks and I remember thinking, ‘wow this sounds really different than what I listen to, but it has the same aggression’ and I was kind of into that. It was angry like a lot of the music I liked. But it was a little bit different. That didn’t change my life, but that was some of the first music like that I heard. But there is one record that I can definitely attribute turning me in a different in those same years when I was till a raging hesher. I went into a record store that had punk records and there was this music playing. From the moment I walked in I could feel it in my stomach that it was awesome. It was different. I had to know who it was because it made me feel different. It ended up being The Cramps from their album “Songs The Lord Taught Us”. It was kind of dark and sleazy, but nothing like anything I had ever heard. So I bought that record right away, and from then on out I started going into that store and picking out every record I could find that was different, or looked different. I was trying to find a common theme in all these records that sounded really good.

In a relatively short time, you’ve managed to create quite a buzz for your band? Do you feel there is a ‘buzz’ about your band?
I don’t know. That’s kind of a hard question. I know because of Derek’s old band, The Murder City Devils that old MCD fans were definitely waiting to see what the next project would be for sure.

I think there might have been that initially, but the buzz I read is more warranted based around the music you’ve released and toured for.
That’s really awesome to hear. We started this band while he was still in the Murder City Devils and he was doing both bands simultaneously. We always tried from the beginning to keep all mention of the Murder City Devils out of anything that had to do with us, like any flyers or anything like that, because we just wanted to take any out expectations based on another band and have an open mind about it.

So you attribute at least some of this attention to previous band member’s involvement in other bands?
As far as when we started this band, it caused question. A lot of Murder City fans wondered if Derek would leave that band for this band. There was a tension that shouldn’t have been there because we were all friends. I don’t know, but I’m sure there are these die-hard Murder City Devil fans who probably think Derek is the reason that band broke up or something. But it really was completely something different.

There is something to all of you being in bands, maybe not as visible as Murder City Devils, but toured and released in their own rights.
It had been a number of years since I’ve been in a band, and I know there are kids who are fans of the other bands I had been in previously with Derek. A couple of the previous bands I was in before this band were all with Derek. And Dan and Spencer who were in Murder City Devils. There were kids who were waiting to see what would come out next. I had been trying to start a band for so long, for a number or years, but it was never really panning out into anything. I tried playing with tons of different people, but it never starting growing until we all started playing together that is the lineup that is now Pretty Girls Make Graves.

That is something that should be pointed out to any disgruntled Murder City Devils fans who think you stole Derek from that band, because really, you had him first, and Murder City Devils came out of that. So you are just getting him back essentially.
Derek could have totally done both of those bands, as hard as it was, because he just loved them both. And obviously Murder City Devils were so busy, and whenever he was on tour, our band would be put on the back burner for sure because he was out of town a lot. Jay as well, our guitar player, was in two other bands when we started Pretty Girls Make Graves. And his band was not happy about it either. Everyone got like weird, and threatened, which is terrible. He had been in a band called Kill Sadie for about 5 years and had toured extensively a lot. Everyone gets a little worried probably naturally about new projects instead of being excited about it. It doesn’t necessarily mean the demise of anything. Like Murder City Devils, they had their own reasons for breaking up.

With so many members having previous bands to work with, what is it about PGMG that made them commit full time to this project?
I guess in the beginning, nobody had. Derek was trying to balance out both bands. With Murder City Devils touring so much, it made it really difficult for us to plan even our first little west coast tour. Same with Jay (Jason, but referred to by Andrea as ‘Jay’). Same with practicing because Kill Sadie was still very busy, and Murder City Devils were very busy. And Jay was also in a band called Sharks Keep Moving that he plays drums in. And they were more a side project for Kill Sadie, because Kill Sadie was his priority. So it was getting pretty hard with Derek going out of town. We tried to practice like mad, every day, every second we got. Like any hour I wasn’t at work, or in-between everyone’s shifts at work. And then Jay would go on tour. So we would work like mad. We’ve done so much within the last year, but I think what started that mentality was us being so pressured to get something done before someone went out of town.

There had to be a certain logistic of even approaching this band? Or was it a very natural coming together?
It was very natural. It was very weird. Derek and I had been trying to start a band together because we always liked playing music together. So that was something we wanted to do. Throughout the time he was in Murder City Devils, we tried to start other bands that were just like side projects for him with other people. We went through numbers of lineups and I tried playing drums in the band. We really tried a lot of things and it was just a matter of not getting discouraged and trying it again and again. When Leslie left the Murder City Devils during one of their tours, Nick was able to fill in for her on keyboards. And Nick had come with them a couple of times to sell merch. And Derek and Nick always got along real well. For the last tour when he had filled in on the keyboards, Nick would kind of be on the drums and play around and they thought they should totally get together and try it out. And he had been in this band with Nathan so he was bringing him to the table. So Nick and Nathan and me and Derek were actually a band for a least a month or two before we decided we wanted a second guitar player, and Jay was named for an idea.

So you are Derek are a couple? How do the other members feel about that? Any fear of a Yoko Syndrome if you get in a ‘spat’. Cause that’s like Yoko Syndrome Simplex 10 if you are both in the band.
You would probably have to ask them. That’s something I wonder myself. Derek and I were both in bands before we ever dated. The reason I think it works is because we were friends for a number of years first, then played in bands together for a number of years as well before we ever thought about dating. I had boyfriends and he had girlfriends. So that was how I knew him first. If we had just started dating, I would be much more apprehensive about starting a band together. But because that’s what we have fun doing together, and that’s how we know each other. That’s why it totally works and it’s fun for us.

‘Bring it on Golden Pond’ has basically four lines of lyrics, two sung by you and two sung by the rest of the band then sung together. I take it you felt that was enough to get the point of the number across?
The story with that song is it was written in the studio. One drunken night recording. That was like this little piece that everyone kind of would jam on and have fun with. We’d just play it sometimes at practice just to rock out to it a little bit. One of the nights we were recording with Phil Ek (recorded Built To Spill stuff), he’s amazing actually. And besides being talented at what he does, we totally hit it off with him like personality wise. He had the same sense of humor and we were just having a blast. Spending like 12-13 hours a day in the studio. One night we just needed a break and it was really late at night. So we went and bought a bunch of beer and just got drunk and started playing it and then some how it came up like, ‘Well, why don’t we put this on the album’. And then we were like, ‘We can’t put this on the album it’s not really a song.’ But then we were like, ‘Why CAN’T we put it on the album.’ So we really just came up with it on the spot. There was actually, not like ‘real’ lyrics, but there was a whole alternate song that lyrically came up through our drunken haze that we just thought it was hilarious. So we had this one night where the song was about every endangered animal. We just thought it was hysterical and if you’re drunk and writing a song, it seems like a riot. It’s really good that we didn’t record that, but we can still laugh about it. We had fun with it and we just like it to be on the album and just this random number.

While the bulk of the music is pushed dynamically by the guitars and broken apart by the moodier drum breaks, there are subtle keys and small studio tracking for an extra touch to a break or intro (especially in the little midi track breakdown at the end of ‘The Get Away’). Do you see more of this more experimental element coming into your music?
Yeah. Totally. It started happening when we recorded that and Nick got a sampler. We were having fun with all this weird shit. There will totally be more of that going on for sure because we all love that and are having a lot of fun with that.

Speaking of that track, what inspired the direction that song (“The Get Away”) formed around? It seems to be the most personal offering on the disk.
Well actually, Derek wrote the lyrics to that song. That’s the only one that he wrote the lyrics to. People are really surprised, and that’s a lot of people’s favorite song. When we just got done with this tour in Europe, there was like two or three different people who said we reminded them of Husker Du, Candy Apple Grey period.

That’s a high compliment.
I know, that’s incredible. When the first person said that, I was like, ‘That’s the coolest compliment I’ve ever gotten’. Then when someone else said it, and I was like, whoa, this is totally bizarre. But it all came back to that song.

What drives you to be a musician and make those sacrifices as opposed to… whatever you were doing before you were a musician?
It comes down to that we all truly love music and love to make music. I love the interaction between any fans, anybody that gets something out of our music. That to me is really inspiring. I could care less if there is 50 people at our show or 5. As long there is somebody there and they are waiting to see this, or waiting to hear a song, or our music actually means something to them. So anytime I can see somebody that our music means something to, that’s what makes me happy. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. Music had such a profound affect on me when I was younger and if any music I would make would have an effect on someone, that’s so exciting for me. That’s really cool.

Do you take in much of mass media, TV, Internet, Movies, etc.? Or are you guys all so driven you are locked up in basements all the time creating music?
We have tons of mass media. In fact, I quit this job that I worked at for the last four and half years to go on this European tour. I was the only one who still had a 40-hour a week job still at that point. I was like holding on to the last minute. But Derek and Nathan virtually go to the movies every single day. We all love the movies, but they really go almost every day. They will go to any garbage because they ran out of things to see.

What TV show should be taken off the air. Now.
I probably don’t watch enough prime time TV to know… but there is obviously so much crap on television. But I would be lying if I said I don’t love TV. I love watching TV for the escape factor of the whole thing. We went to this wedding up in the mountains and there was no TV anywhere. We tried to switch hotels, but it didn’t matter because there are not any TVs in Big Sur. But I’m kind of out of the loop on TV, but I love Sopranos. Which I try to rent all those and start from the beginning because I only get to see it once and awhile. Wait, Mr. Show. Everybody loved Mr. Show. All those came out on DVD. Derek just bought it, but it got stolen before we watched it so none of us got to see it. But Sub Pop just released a David Cross two-disk live CD. We listened to it all the way down here. It was funny. And I love Saturday Night Live. I’m a fan of sketch comedy.

What live show changed your life?
The Jawbreaker show that I went to that the Mukilteo Fairies opened. That was the first time I had ever heard of them (Mukilteo Fairies) before and saw them play and it was on Gay Pride Day. That was a show that will forever stand out in my memory. Mukilteo Fairies just blew me away. I had never seen anything like them and I just thought they were amazing. And Josh, their singer, was just like… awesome. I don’t know how to describe them. He used to always play with something on his face that was sort of his shtick. Be it a mustache or bandana or a mask or something always had to be sort of a disguise when he played. And that was Gay Pride Day, and he was this really effeminate singer of this crazy loud agro loud hardcore band. And that was the first time I had ever seen the combination of the two things. And he was like ‘It’s Gay Pride Day! We are going to have a Parade”, because he thought there were no room for punks in the Gay Pride Parade. Queer Punk wasn’t being acknowledged in the Gay community at that point, he felt. So he pulled the three gay or lesbian people out of the audience and they had their own parade around the show and went through the audience. They were so awesome and when they played, he was just like running into people, picking them up, throwing them in the air, he was all over the place. It was just awesome. It was the greatest band I have ever seen. I wish I had so many of those old demo tapes. I used to live in house in Seattle that we put on shows for a really long time, before all of us were 21. There was some people in the house that were of age, we were all so under 21 and we would put on shows in the basement. It was really awesome because there were points when we had a show almost every weekend. We had a lot of great punk bands come and play there. We had a really good basement actually that had a separate entrance to the house. We had a trampoline in the house, it was really fun. There was a band called Los Crudos that came and played there and that show will always stand out in my memory. They were this really political hardcore band from Mexico. I was a big fan of their music and it was a huge honor to have them come and play in our basement. They could have played anywhere. I think that was one of the most fun shows we ever had.

Define success as a band.
That’s going to mean different things to different people in the band, but it goes back what I was saying, and it sounds cheese cornball, but if our music can move anybody in a way that I was moved by somebody’s music, then that to me, is total success. It doesn’t have to be massive. It can be one person. We dealt with that a lot on this European Tour because nobody knows who we are there. A lot of the countries, no one had ever heard of us before so no one wanted to necessarily give us a chance or a listen. A lot of the shows we did were hardcore shows, and we are not a hardcore band. So that was another reason people were not as open to us. That tour was the hardest tour we had ever been on so far. We had people who were walking out, people who are crossing their arms and they would leave. Watching that all the time was so hard. But there was always like the one kid who was dancing. We’d be like, ‘oh we are terrible and everyone hates us and nobody cares’. And this one kid would be like, ‘Hey I drove from Hamburg to come see you.’ And I’d be like, “Yes, there’s this one person!” So if anybody is moved by our music, that’s successful.

How have your perceptions of making music changed as you’ve gained experience in the industry? What is different then you thought it would be as far as choosing ‘musician’ as a career.
I guess what’s probably different, is that every band that I was in previously, didn’t get to play for as many people. No other band have I been in have I worked as hard as this one. So it’s interesting to see how hard it is to work, really hard work. It’s definitely a lot harder work being a touring band than I thought that it would be. Every other band I was in, we would tour a couple of time a year. Working at this, we realized the more places we get to go, the more people will get to hear you, and people who would never thought to hear you or hear of you before. It’s always trying to go somewhere new. I like to travel, and because of the band I got to go to a lot of cities I’ve never been to before. There are some cities in the US I have never seen before, and I want to see everywhere. So that’s a big trade off. As far as the industry goes, nothing probably changed about the way we write music. This is the first time my music has been put out by somebody other than just my friends. Like Lookout! is an independent label but we had to sign contracts. I’ve never dealt with that and that’s totally new and weird. I think we are still trying to get used to that kind of thing because we have to make decisions about things. We tried to read our contract for like months thinking we could decipher it all. But then we broke down and were like, “Ok, we really don’t know what these words mean”. So we had to send it to a lawyer. Things like that, getting a lawyer to read our contract, that was a big deal.

Are you offered a lot of drugs when you tour?
No. Sometimes we wish that we were.

People should approach you more with drugs?
Maybe. It might make our life more exciting.

If you could be anywhere right now, where were you be?
Probably in Italy. I love Italy and I want to live there. Really badly. I have to figure out some way in my life that I can live there for some certain amount of time.

Feel like talking trash on anything? People seem to like it when you hate something.
I’m gonna talk trash on people who talk trash. People who hate you or talk trash about you because something good happens to you is like my biggest pet peeve in the world. A classic example, and this will sound so trivial, but it was a huge thing in Seattle. We got to open for Fugazi and it was like our 4th show. And some specific people were so appalled and thought we didn’t deserve this in any way. It turned out that the promoter of the show was a huge fan of The Death Wish Kids, which was a band I was in a really long time ago. And he had been waiting to hear whatever my new band would be. So he asked us to play and it caused this huge conflict. It was such an eye opener to see because of lot of it was people who we considered friends and they just got so vicious and so nasty. There are always a lot of people who always want to point a finger about something about how you don’t deserve it or it’s not worthy. Any other reason than the fact that you earned it. Like, maybe somebody likes our band. That’s never an option. They always have another reason why you don’t deserve something. It drives me crazy. Usually people who talk shit on people who are doing something exciting, it’s because they don’t have anything going on in their life to be excited about. That’s just the way I have to think about it because a lot of people who talk shit on our band, or won’t give our band a chance purely because I am a woman.

Really? That’s still a factor?
Yeah, people write letters. You would be so surprised. In this day and age, I’m like, why is this happening. But it happens a lot more than you think. I’m always taken aback. I’m like, ‘Do these people even deserve a response?’ Do I try to educate them because they are so far removed from the world or something? I’ve met drunk people at shows that will be like, “yeah, your band is awesome, but I hate chick singers.” People will always want to give me their two cents about how they don’t like chick singers. I’ve lost it before. I got in a big fight with somebody once in like Cleveland before I realized it was just a big waste of time. They actually ended up getting thrown out our show because they just wouldn’t leave me alone. He was like chasing me all around this bar going, “Make me a tape of any bands that are good that have girls in them!” And I’m just like, “What?!” How did it get to that point? Like I’m going to make a tape for them and give them the time of day. So the easiest way for me to deal with that is just to realize that these people don’t have a lot of shit going on in their life. And they are just choosing me to pick on for any bizarre thing, like my gender.

What’s the coolest thing to happen to you this week?
It’s pretty cool that we are going to be on a cover of Modern Fix. We’ve never been on the cover of a magazine before.

(aw shucks) *looks at ground and kicks small stone.

What has made it all worth the effort?
All of it is worth the effort. Going on tour again is very exciting. Going back and seeing the kids who went to our shows the last time who choose to come back now. That’s going to be awesome.