Wakefield outfit, Piskie Sits, belie their background and serve up a diet of Pavement and Sonic Youth influenced music, Jamie Stephenson talks to the band.
Ah, Wakefield! The city of my birth; smaller and less ostentatious than its elder sibling Leeds. Always having to make do with the hand-me-downs of cafes, trendy wine bars etc. As Tom Goodhand pointed out in his feature on The Research, in the November 2004 issue of Sandman Leeds, Wakefield is home to “little of note, but The Cribs and The Blueskins and an alarming number of Pound Shops.”
The men in suits didn't exactly come flocking to the Snooty Fox or Escobar waving their chequebooks in the aftermath of the Blueskins and Cribs signing spree, did they? It’s an unfortunate truth that Wakefield is still best known for the bad music it has produced (Jane McDonald, Black Lace) rather than the good (Leafcutter John, Bill Nelson). Enter Piskie Sits...
The band's formation dates back to mid-2002, although they have gone through numerous line-up changes since then. Besides the recent addition of Nick Howes on rhythm guitar, the current roll call of Craig Hale (vocals), Mark Wilson (bass), Alan Donlon (key-boards), Paul Joyce (lead guitar) and Chris Lambert (drums) has been together for around a year.
"The band have been friends for a long time," explains Mark.
"Myself and Craig have been playing in bands together for around eight years now. We had previously played with Paul in another band so we roped him in and we were really good friends with Alan and Chris."
The tired musical trend of late has been the diminishing returns of each new US fashionista import recycling the genuine excitement and innovation of that late 1970s / early 1980s axis, and their shameless coals-to-Newcastle sales pitch, selling us what we originally sold them 20 years ago. The sad truth is that Mr and Mrs. Consumer Public UK are lapping it up like parched kittens at a saucer of milk.
One of the things that sets the Piskies apart from the crowd is that they reference a rarely-tapped era of music; that early 90s seam of lo-fi US/UK bands such as the Pastels, Urusei Yatsura, the Breeders and Pavement.
We are heavily influenced by Pavement, admits Mark, "so maybe that comes over in the way we play. Many people say that the band's sound is American. This is not a conscious decision at all. It’s the farthest thing from it. It's just the way we sound. We are very influenced by American bands as well as English and Scottish bands."
There are also sombre melancholic tinges to some of their material. The bones of country and folk jut through the slanted skewed punk flesh. It's no surprise, then, that the band are also big fans of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Oh, and an early song goes by the name of 'Country Stomp'.
The addition of Nick Hawes has really invigorated the band on stage, freeing Craig from the responsibilities of rhythm guitar to languish in his new role as bona-fide R*ck St*r. The quantum leap in quality and confidence from their mid-bill set at the Packhorse in January to a recent headline gig at the Escobar is screamingly obvious. Their constant gigging is honing them a sharp, killer set of dynamic pop gems.
"We are sounding together as a band now," says Mark (stating the bleeding obvious in typically modest fashion).
"We have been playing in Leeds and Wakefield for a little while and working our way up the bill. Kindly getting asked back to play again and again by promoters and now we feel we can cut it with the best of them anywhere. So we will be spreading our wings further afield shortly."
Piskie Sits recorded their first demo at Wakefield's Diamond Studios in March 2003. Since that time they have gone through a number of line-up changes. The songs on their second demo bore witness to a band now with a sizeable amount of gigs under their belts.
Less naive and more sure footed, they still had that slacker-pop mentality, but more refined, allowing the hooks to sink in. They recently started circulating their third demo, which is another giant leap in quality. Their sound has expanded in scope, now referencing classic British guitar pop such as Blur, the Stone Roses and early Oasis, as well as their beloved lo-fi indie rock.
Songs like 'Jelly Ring' evidence Paul Joyce's guitar ability as both a soloist and accompanist, adding light and shade where necessary. Mark, himself, adds some drop-dead-cool bass lines into their sonic cauldron, harking back to Elastica's bottom-end Wire-isms of 10 years ago, as on the latest CD's highlight 'Lotto Bad Things'. The bass lines are pinned down by Chris Lambert's metronomic drums, which bring to mind the tight, funky percus-sion of Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley. And if you get bored of all that - which you won't - there's Alan Donlon's Clint Boon keyboards to keep your ears on.
I just wish they would reprise the song 'Country Stomp' from their debut demo CD. It was that very song which got me hooked on these guys in the first place. Sure, it is the Piskies at their most-Pavementine, but Malkmus and co would have killed for a song as good as this in the fallow days of their later period (when they only seemed capable of conjuring up the old magic for sublime comeback singles like 'Carrot Rope').
So what now for the band? "We would like to get signed to a label be it an independent one or not," Mark admits. "We will continue to play in Leeds and Wakefield as this is our base. We will be going to play in Manchester and also a trip down to London to play some gigs is a must."
"Coming from Wakefield is a bit of a hindrance, 'cause of there being no scene," admits Mark, echoing the sentiments of other bands from the area.
"There is nowhere to play really except Escobar and The Snooty Fox. The good thing is that Leeds is so close by. There have been a few bands recently who have been successful such as The Cribs, The Blueskins and The Research. This is really encouraging."
And that just about wraps things up, but before we go, I just have to ask the burning unanswered question... What - pray tell - is a Piskie and why does it sit?
Mark: "Craig has a love of going to Cornwall and brought us a good luck charm each which was a little Cornish Piskie sat on a toad stool." Consider yourselves told.
To paraphrase an old Pavement t-shirt: The Piskie Sits ist rad!
words: Jamie Stephenson