When Pickwick vocalist Galen Disston is on the microphone, he's a spark away from flame. Onstage, just like fire, you never know which way he'll go. Will he be engulfed? Or will he aim the flamethrower's nozzle your way? At any given moment, the band's vintage soul and rock 'n' roll elements can set him off screaming like a hungry wolf. His voice contains equal parts Dan Auerbach, Charles Bradley, Freddie Mercury, and Buddy Holly.
As of late, Pickwick have been writing and recording the follow-up to their 2013 release, Can't Talk Medicine. For this interview, Disston took me for a ride in the band's van—a 2003 Ford Super Duty—after he finished up cleaning gutters and windows at his day job.
Let's give you a trucker CB handle, since we're driving. What do you want to be called? I'm Rubber Ducky.
I'll be Glove Tan. I wear gloves in the sun, therefore Glove Tan. It's work related. Don't look at my pale hand. I just bought a watch to divert people's attention from this firmly established hint at my place in the serving class. It's a Timex, and it's loud. Sometimes you want to put it under a pillow, or in a shoe box to give yourself a break from the ticking and tocking.
Your vocals get unhinged. You scream like an animal. Is that your inner Jaguar Fire God? Where does it come from?
I think we all have pockets of latent anger we're trying to get out. My counselor's been trying to help me metabolize my anger. I'm not into working out or anything. I don't box at a gym [laughs], so this is my way for that energy to come out. It's what I respond to when I go see a live band. When someone is willing to go there. Like the Future Islands guy. He's willing to go there, and I'm game. Me going to that place, or taking it that far, or writing music that draws the unknown out of me has always been part of the mission. It keeps things exciting. You get that rush, the scary moment of adrenaline. To push it to that point where you don't quite know what's going to happen. Hopefully the audience feels it, and that's the point of connection. Where you're both a little terrified, and there's risk on both sides.
Your song "Brother Roland," the words are "A baby is to be loved/I'll watch your baby/I could use the money." What's happening there? Whose baby?
I'm talking about babysitting, dog. Have you ever heard of Mingering Mike? This guy from the 1960s had an entire fictional soul career in his mind. He painted and made 40 or 50 fake records, which ended up in a thrift store somewhere. Finally, people were like, "Who IS this guy?" He'd refused to go to Vietnam, and he couldn't get a job. So he babysat to make money. All of Can't Talk Medicine is stories about other people. I myself made some money babysitting. I hated it as a job. Although I was pretty good at getting kids to go to bed when it was bedtime. I'd shame them into sleep. "You think you're going to add any more value to this universe by being awake for another 15 minutes?"
So Can't Talk Medicine was stories—has your writing method changed for the new songs?
Yes. I'm trying to write from a more autobiographical place. It's slightly uncomfortable. It's my wife and me lying in bed looking up at a glass light fixture that's cracked in this house we rent, talking about how we're stressed about money. That's where a song will start. I love Bob Dylan as a lyricist. He has this amazing distance when he's writing. It's like he's sitting above himself at a typewriter. There's some difficulty being a musician and getting older and staying creative, while making a living. Our music has evolved a bit too. We're not compensating anymore. We were doing the sonic equivalent of an oversize truck before. That truck that's jacked up and has monster wheels for no reason. Now we're writing the songs that actually come out of us. When we write, there's a humanist, utilitarian groove to it, I think, where it feels good.
How did your song "Lady Luck" happen with Sharon Van Etten? Every hair on my body stands on end when I hear it. So pretty and ghostly. What does every hair on your body do when you play it?
The ghosts tell all my hairs to renew my Coast to Coast Insider subscription. Sharon is so great. We got to know her brother from Montreal, and he sent her our way.
What's the new album going to be like? Get us up to date.
We finished touring for Can't Talk Medicine. We did a tour supporting Black Joe Lewis. After that, we had written a bunch of songs, trying to work out all the things we hated about ourselves as a band and to differentiate ourselves. I think we tried too hard to be as masculine as possible. Then we kind of softened over the course of the year. We have a lot of songs recorded, but we're still tinkering away at them. Not sure exactly when it will be released. We did a session at the end of 2014 at Soundhouse in Ballard. Mostly we record at home. Our multi-instrumentalist, Kory Kruckenberg, is a producer/engineer, so he's got some tricks. He worked on J Tillman's records before he was Father John Misty. He did the first Maldives record, and he did Damien Jurado's Caught in the Trees. Sometimes it's nice to record in a studio, but that costs money.
You're playing the KEXP John in the Morning at Night show. What comes to mind when you think about Mr. John Richards?
John has been incredible for our band. He and KEXP are big reasons why we've been able to play to as many people as we have. My favorite John Richards moment happened before I met him. I think I was driving to Renton, where I worked, listening to his show, and he started talking about how childbirth smells. He said, "No one ever tells you that the room stinks." John Richards speaks a lot of truths. Then, when my firstborn was being born, John's words rang in my ear. But what ended up smelling worse for us didn't have anything to do with the blood or placenta or baby goop. The worse smell was one of the aids' breath [laughs]. This woman helping the midwife had the worst halitosis in the world, much worse than the birth. Pickwick might be naming the new album Placenta Halitosis Glove Tan, as a matter of fact.