Once upon a time, no one outside of Seattle had heard of Pretty Girls Make Graves, Modest Mouse, or Death Cab for Cutie. Way back in March of 2006, local superstars Thee Emergency, Speaker Speaker, the Pharmacy, and Common Market were little names on our Big Shot ballot.
Seattle's music scene seems to rejuvenate itself annually with a fresh crop of bands—and this year is no exception. There's a new flock of young bands in town who are playing their first shows in basements and making their first records in living rooms. We wanted to introduce you to some of the most exciting ones. There may not be any familiar names on this list of emerging bands—some of the best in the city—but thanks to their drive and talent, you'll be hearing from them in 2007.
KAY KAY AND HIS WEATHERED UNDERGROUND
In times of worry and malaise, nothing hits the spot quite like a warm shot of nostalgia. Enter Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, a sepia-toned pop orchestra led by Kirk Huffman of Gatsby's American Dream. Like his Fearless-signed "full-time" band, this new project is built upon nerdy references—the band's moniker nods to the 1960s infamous bombers (now safely past tense) and the music is suffused with vintage pop. But unlike Gatsby's, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground don't attempt to cram those references into the confines of teen-friendly, post–Dashboard Confessional emo—the result is both more classic and more interesting. It doesn't hurt that he has a gorgeous voice or that his three-man band is frequently aided by a host of talented players (including both Thomas Hunter of Forgive Durden and Andy Lum of Surrounded by Lions). The band—also featuring Gatsby's bandmate Kyle O'Quin and Phillip A. Peterson—recently recorded an album's worth of tracks at the House of Breaking Glass, opened for comedian Todd Barry, and shot a video at Seattle's Pretty Parlor. So plans are laid: 2007 should be the year Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground blow up. ERIC GRANDY
Forged over a bond built on a mutual love of instrumental underground icons Swarming Hordes and christened with an unforgettable—if questionable—moniker, Lesbian bring together psychedelic metal and prog rock with unexpectedly agile and concise results. Like King Crimson locked in a room and ordered to deconstruct Metallica's Ride the Lightning, guitarists Arran McInnis and Daniel LaRochelle, bassist/cryptic vocalist Peter Hodous, and drummer Benjamin Kennedy take more than their share of stylistic chances with ornately constructed dirges and time changes that make hairpin turns when you least expect it. It was undoubtedly this adventurous approach that recently attracted the attention of the forward-thinking Holy Mountain label, which plans to release Lesbian's long-anticipated full-length debut this March. Lesbian also recently wrapped up a split LP with like-minded locals Book of Black Earth. HANNAH LEVIN
Why should you, the discriminating hiphop fan, be interested in Dyme Def? Simple, chief—the trio of MCs (Brainstorm, Fearce Vill, and S.E.V.) make witty and catchy street-oriented brag rap, backed up by the rep and the sure-shot heat of Seatown's own beat bully BeanOne. Dyme Def can rock a helluva show; their tag-team trade-offs and stage swagger convinced many a skeptical 206 crowd in the last year. Why? Cuz it's hiphop—fun, sneering, and holding its nuts. Even people that make hiphop in this town are excited about this crew's potential—and coming from Seattle's chronically indifferent scene, that says a lot. ("It seems there was a buzz around the group before people even heard the music," says BeanOne.) Their infectious energy owes not a little bit to the crew's young age (the members are all only 20 years old), which also makes them some of the hungriest cats at the table right now. And they've got plans to release a debut album within the first few months of the New Year. That right there is the most interesting thing about Dyme Def—the fact that they're just getting started. LARRY MIZELL JR.
For those who gravitate toward acoustic, folk-type organics and lonely shimmering wonder, Night Canopy are a band to take in for 2007. With weathered, desolate, and refined sounds and lyrics, the duo—singer Amy Blaschke and Nick deWitt (of Pretty Girls Make Graves)—hold and haunt you with the quaint isolation of Patsy Cline or Cat Power. Jenny Jiménez (formerly of the Catch) joins the two for live performances, rounding out the songs with her fluid, soft melodies. Their debut full length, Of Honey and Country, was recorded at deWitt's Cupcake Studio where he and Blaschke evolved and carefully built on compositions. "Nick poured himself into [the record]," says Jiménez. "It wasn't rushed or forced at all; he gave the songs the time and space they needed. The only thing Amy and Nick wanted was to make good music." Which is exactly what they did. The album will be released this spring on Go Midnight Records, a label cofounded by the Blood Brothers' Mark Gajadhar. TRENT MOORMAN
Judging by the soft-spoken tone that comes through the phone line, you'd never guess that Ricky Claudon is the same charismatic cat who shreds his vocal cords and mercilessly batters his guitar while fronting promising punk trio Pleasureboaters. You also probably wouldn't guess he'd describe himself and his bandmates, bassist Erik Baldwin and drummer Tim Cady, as "music department geeks" who met in high school and had no real intention of starting a band. "We've all been friends since we were 14 or 15," says Claudon, describing their high-school years in choir and band classes. What started out as a joking suggestion while the friends were hanging out at last year's Sasquatch festival has rapidly morphed into one of the most viscerally thrilling bands on the local garage-punk circuit, thanks in part to Claudon's utterly unhinged stage presence (he kicked his leg so hard at a recent Comet show that his shoe flew off, inadvertently pegging some poor girl in the head). The band plans to record a full-length this winter in the home studio of Austin Thomason, a local engineer who has previously done live sound for Jeremy Enigk and Stars of Track and Field. HANNAH LEVIN
Grand Hallway, the new project from former Asahi frontman Tomo Nakayama, is an ambitious baroque pop band that began in early 2005 as a collaboration between himself and Voyager One's Jeramy Koepping. Known for his hefty tenor range and delicate piano pop songwriting, Nakayama's style blends seamlessly with Koepping's ethereal guitar moans. Moreover, the two share an interest in working outside of the standard rock-band format. "We didn't really have any [specific] ideas," says Nakayama about the songwriting process. "We tried different combinations of instruments that we hadn't used in other bands before."
The pair recorded a demo together, which led to the formation of a live band that included Erik Neumann (formerly of Lillydale and the Maldives) on bass and Bob Roberts (formerly of Joules) on drums. The Harbinger EP dropped in December of 2005, and in the ensuing year Grand Hallway played a handful of shows while working on their full-length debut, Yes Is the Answer—a lush collection of sophisticated pop songs that shows the influence of jazz and musical theater, complete with string and woodwind arrangements. The album's recording is finished and ready for release, while the band is in talks with an independent label or two about making the record available in both the U.S. and Japan. Meanwhile, Koepping relocated to Los Angeles, leaving Grand Hallway to move forward as a three-piece live. They expect to see the album out by the spring of 2007, followed by a tour. "It would be rad if we could tour in Japan, too, but that's sort of a long-term goal." MATT GARMAN
BOW & ARROW
In the grip of a rainy Seattle winter, it's hard to feel too close to Washington, D.C.'s legendary Revolution Summer of 1985—that electrically charged season when punk and hardcore evolved into something else entirely. But Seattle upstarts Bow & Arrow aim to keep the revolution alive during the dark days by playing ferociously raw music and humbly living their politics. The band traces their lineage to Rites of Spring, Cap'n Jazz, and Drive Like Jehu, but cites "bicycles, basement shows, quality friendships, and the DIY ethos" as more important inspirations. The songs are rough with the kind of sloppy, honest energy most bands abandon for boring, bar-rock professionalism. At a time when music feels ever more mediated and commercial, and Seattle's punk/emo/hardcore scene is sleepwalking (if not comatose), Bow & Arrow sound a much-needed alarm. The band has a couple all-ages shows scheduled for early 2007, and they recently recorded several songs with producer (and guest vocalist) Matt Doctor, ensuring that we can expect amazing sounds and big things (but not too big for a basement) from this band. ERIC GRANDY
Arthur & Yu
Comprising local audiophile Grant Olsen and Sonya Westcott, Arthur & Yu are poised to become local masters of luscious Sunday-morning make-out music that holds up all week long. A dreamy blend of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, meets the Velvet Underground, meets Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, A&Y's sound is the musical equivalent of butter melting into hot maple syrup on a fresh stack of warm pancakes—a combination perfectly suited, completely satisfying, and utterly delicious.
Releasing a self-titled EP this summer with three of the most repeat-worthy tracks in recent memory (you can find them on MySpace), A&Y strive to keep their live shows interesting by varying the number of performers that grace the stage with them (head count for a past show at the Comet, seven—while a recent show at the High Dive boasted only two to three). Perhaps Arthur & Yu's most amazing quality, though, is their simultaneous multi-instrumentalism—when playing out as a duo, Olsen manages lead vocals, guitar, and drums, while Westcott ably backs him with vocals, keys, and additional percussion. In a town where it's common to see a musician struggling to tame one instrument, Arthur & Yu are refreshing indeed. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR
If you use the number of MySpace friends a band has to judge whether or not they're worthy of your attention, well first of all, fuck you, and second, no wonder Nazca Lines are so far off your radar of cool—this local quintet claims an unimpressive 78 cyberbuddies as their own. But dude, they're so good! Nazca Lines are the band I've been aching for since Waxwing officially disbanded. With a turbulent storm of drums and bass being attacked by swarming guitars that blaze through passionate sonic tapestries like bullets, band members Brad Curran, Scot Porter, Garin Wedeking, Cory Alfano, and Brett Wedeking mix that post-hardcore emotional burst of fervor with the same burning urgency of East Coast punk rock. They've been together for just over a year, their songs are still works in progress, and they have only a handful of shows under their belts, but 2007 brings plans to record a full-length with Slender Means' bassist Paul Pugliese. Still, the band is thinking locally. "The last few months we've been writing furiously and we're going to be recording a full-length in March to be self-released, at least initially," says guitarist Wedeking. "Right now we're just trying, with mild success, to book shows locally. All we really want to do is play shows and have fun." MEGAN SELING
THE HEAVY HEARTS
Their self-titled EP, released last summer on the Swingline (also home to the Valley and the Lights), has already garnered the Heavy Hearts some airplay on both 107.7 The End and KEXP's local shows, so they're not exactly the best-kept secret in town, but they've only just begun to make sparks with their ferociously delivered rock that boasts double bass, dueling male and female vocals and influences from Pixies, Mclusky, and really early Pretty Girls Make Graves (in that it's both catchy and unpolished). You might remember them as the band Triple X Audio, but the Heavy Hearts shed their old moniker, cranked up the amps, and threw in some Fugazi-ish guitar, which makes their songs both jarring and haunting (check out "Leeches" for proof). Right now the band is currently working on new material, and they hope to follow up the EP with their debut full-length in the fall. For now, your best Heavy Hearts fix will come from the band's blistering live performances, which always leave the ears ringing in a really satisfying way. MEGAN SELING