Band readies for big gig at Bumbershoot
August 24, 2010
The night before Great Waves played a make-or-break set, the Sammamish band stumbled through the worst performance members could remember.
Holed up in Ballard, the band played to a room empty except for a brooding hipster nursing a beer. Great Waves had not rehearsed in two weeks — and the rustiness crept into the show through botched intros and forgotten lyrics.
The band remembers the night as “unbelievably awful.”
The next day, the folk-infused rock band delivered a flawless Sound Off! set at the Experience Music Project. The turnaround continued a week later: Great Waves took the top spot in the competition for musicians 21 and younger. The prize: the opening slot at Bumbershoot on Sept. 4.
“Our expectations were not very high,” singer Ashley Bullock said. “We didn’t think we were going to get in.”
Great Waves originated after bassist Paul Beeman and guitarist Will Holmes formed a “really awful band” in eighth grade at Pine Lake Middle School. The duo added Bullock at Skyline High School. Eastside Catholic High School drummer Ryan Sprute completed the group.
For Bumbershoot, the band departs from the basement parties and school functions of the past to appear on a bill alongside Bob Dylan, Neko Case and The Decemberists.
Despite the post-Sound Off! attention — the gigs at the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and the Crocodile Cafe, the radio performances and a niche in the Seattle music scene — Great Waves members remain humble and self-deprecating.
Maybe a little too self-deprecating.
“It’s rare that we don’t make some sort of catastrophic mistake,” Beeman said.
Great Waves, good manners
The lineup solidified in high school, after Beeman and Bullock started dating. The future singer had performed in the school choir before her boyfriend recruited her.
The band “leaks into our relationship more than the relationship leaks into the band,” Beeman said.
Members scattered to colleges across the West Coast, and the distance took a toll on the band. Great Waves took a backseat to college, but the members decided last August to take a year off from school and plunge into writing, recording and performing full time.
“We got a chance to see what it was like to be musicians at a professional level,” Bullock said. “You get the ins and outs you don’t really get in high school.”
The competition prize included recording time at Jupiter Studios, a dim warren of rooms tucked into Wallingford. The band has been hunkered in the studio recording a still-untitled third EP.
“Being in a band is like having a bunch of girlfriends you can’t sleep with,” Sprute said.
Great Waves picked up another plum from the Sound Off! goody bag: “Rock Band” agreed to make one of its songs available for download to the game.
But the group seldom acts like a real-life rock band. Great Waves plays few gigs. The polite members spend most of their time penning lyrics.
“We feel like we made a lot of strides this year and we want to keep getting better,” Beeman said.
Though band members can be a little too quick to criticize songs and performances, the musicianship is tight and the band has attracted ample attention. The show at Sound Off! set Seattle music bloggers atwitter.
However, guitarist Holmes admitted he prefers the quiet of the studio to the unpredictable stage environment.
Inside Jupiter Studios, the band recorded amid vintage music posters and scattered amps and guitars. Members sunk into a green velvet sofa in the mixing room to listen as producer and engineer Joe LaRosee polished rough tracks.
“Some songs come easy and some songs do not at all,” Sprute said.
Many of the pieces members pen for recording sessions end up scrapped. Great Waves released the EPs “Blue Blood” in late 2009 and “At the Bottom of the Well” in April.
“The painful part is, there are some ideas we really like that just don’t work out,” Beeman said.
Bullock often prompts comparisons to Regina Spektor, but the sound defies easy categorization. Flecks of bluegrass, folk and rock shine on the band’s EPs and soon-to-be-released tracks.
The band name comes from a song title by Australian instrumental trio Dirty Three.
Onstage, Bullock prefers songs to banter. Holmes, a classical guitarist used to looking at his frets, has to remember to smile and look into the crowd.
Playing at Bumbershoot offers Great Waves a chance to introduce their music to a broader audience.
“We just hope people will come,” Bullock said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or email@example.com. Tim Pfarr: 392-6434, ext. 239, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.