The Bad Juju Lounge is unusually crowded for a Wednesday night, so I head to the end of the bar where the crowd is thinnest. From the stage, Whalebones frontman Justin Deary is yelling something about, "Willie Nelson motherfuckers," before the band kicks into a set that swaggers with ballsy blues jams and wailing, woodsy laments.

Throughout the night, the room is flush with Whalebones' groaning string bends, lysergic grooves, and shack-shaking boogies. Before the show I talked with Deary about Whalebones' sprawling classic-rock influences and his desire to escape to the country. Wearing a straw cowboy hat and leaning against the wall, nice guy Justin Deary still cares what his mother thinks of him, but doesn't give a fuck about critics and comparisons.

"I've played in other bands that are more punk focused or whatever," Deary says, "but I've always loved heavy, blues-based rock, classic rock. And when I was at [my] height of listening to hardcore, punk, or noise, I still loved Black Sabbath, the Stones, Neil Young... I mean all the obvious kinds of things you would think, probably." Whalebones played their first show in April 2005 at the SS Marie Antoinette. Besides vocalist/guitarist Deary, the band's core members include Jon Treneff on drums, Kenneth Carl Gates on bass, and Amy Blaschke on vocals and keys. "Jon and I are the only original members. We've had like five bass players, many of whom have only played one show, for whatever reason. Not intentionally, but we turned into sort of a collective, a larger loose-knit group of friends who know the songs."

Live, Blaschke's harmonies cut with a songbird's clarity through Deary's warm drawl as her Night Canopy partner Nick DeWitt (also of Pretty Girls Makes Graves/Dutch Dub) alternates between strutting guitar lines and swirling keyboard flourishes. Along with DeWitt, Whalebones' rotating cast of satellite members and contributors includes Ben Cissner (Windsor for the Derby) and guitarist Joram Young of the psyched-out Bats of Belfry (in which Deary also plays).

Even with many obvious reference points, Whalebones have a distinct sound from other bands that draw on a similar combination of stoner riffs and outdoorsy inspiration. With squalling guitars and crashing rhythms, Whalebones sound oceanic and expansive in a way that distinguishes them from contemporaries like Black Mountain and upcoming billmates Oakley Hall.

"I feel like a lot of it has to do with a social influence, because we all like a lot of the same kind of stuff. When we go up to Vancouver, we'll stay with them and Stephen [McBean, of Black Mountain] will put on a record and there are certain grooves we all feel pulled toward. I don't want to try to sound like anyone else, but sometimes something does and I won't change it just for that reason."

Whalebones' self-released Spirit Quest EP, which alternates between tight riffs and spacious jams, collects rough home recordings of the band from last year along with some recent work done at DeWitt's Bainbridge Island studio. The disc's standout song is the dark and lurching "Blood Bank," in which Deary accentuates his vowels with a howl, as he sings, "Wife and family drove me to drink/So I drove/Passed out on the side of the road/And now I'm sleeping on the floor of the city drunk tank."

Recently back from a tour opening for Wolf Parade and Frog Eyes, Deary raved about a stop at Utah's Zion National Park. "It wasn't until I moved [to Seattle] that I discovered the woods, the big woods and the mountains. I try to go camping as many times in a year as possible. Amy [Blaschke] and I, we go backpacking for something like three days, a week out to the mountains or the coast. To tell you the truth, it's sort of the place where I feel the best."

With a distaste and distrust for urban life present in his lyrics, Deary aspires to retire to the country. "The reason most of us haven't completely relocated [away from the city] is the problem with making enough income to live in the kind of place you'd want out there. A little farm out on the peninsula or out in the Skagit Valley or something. [I'd] have some pigs, some goats, some chickens, and try to grow a lot of my own food and not be so reliant on... plastic."

editor@thestranger.com