Brooklyn swoon-rock trio Widowspeak mix the dreamy, staring-out-the-car-window drear of Mazzy Star and the more muscular propulsion of Kill Rock Stars-era indie. Torn between wistful and meaty, nostalgic and crunchy, their self-released cassette naturally fell into the eager hands of local melancholy merchants Captured Tracks, who will release their official, self-titled debut on August 9. The band creates Julee Cruise swirls via indie-grunt growl—a churn made all jukebox-rusty by a twangy, sprangy guitar tone that they peeled off of early Elvis and Television records. First single “Harsh Realm” was recorded at Rear House in Brooklyn, but, lyrically and musically, it’s nostalgic for the life in the Northwest that Widowspeak singer/guitarist Molly Hamilton and drummer Michael Stasiak had left behind upon moving from Washington State to the big city.
What is “Harsh Realm” about?
At first it was about someone in particular back in Tacoma. But it’s also about Tacoma itself, or the time when I was there: The pitfall of being nostalgic for a place in your past and the life there that you left behind.
What inspired it musically?
Old-fashioned ballads and their repetition and simplicity; old country and blues. We wanted it to feel spacious and restrained. But it was also the first song we wrote with the sort of call-and-response between what I’m singing and what Rob’s playing. We want the lead guitar to be vocal too.
What inspired it lyrically?
When it was still unfinished we picked the title from the New York Times “lexicon of grunge” hoax, just as a joke. “Harsh Realm” meant “bummer.” The lyrics evolved into something more serious, but the song itself is inspired by that story… The idea of the Northwest as something “other”.
What’s one thing you miss about the Northwest? Something you don’t miss at all?
I miss the environment. The rain, surprisingly; how mild the summer is; the mountains and the Puget Sound; and how much better the air tastes. I don’t miss feeling stuck and stir-crazy, with nothing to do at night but drive around in the dark, or sit in basements and drink Rainier beer. But, maybe I miss those things too.
Widowspeak ultimately came together in a Brooklyn apartment. What made it special?
That apartment was the first where I was on the lease, so it made me feel like I was really living in Brooklyn, for keeps. Having a sense of permanence really changes things. It was so hard for me to finish anything creative before, living in random sublets and rooms without real walls… The apartment itself was kind of a sad slapdash remodel of a rowhouse railroad, but my room had these high brick walls and windows overlooking Maria Hernandez Park. We practiced on the roof at first, and these crazy neighbors next door would cheer for us, and say we sounded like Twilight or True Blood. Vampire music, I guess.
Your band has a distinct guitar tone…
I lean towards the warm and low and Rob’s tone is more colorful; the balance between the two is definitely what we’re going for. We like the guitars to sound organic. Michael bought this kit amp on Craigslist that you would send away for in the fifties and put together yourself; the built-in tremolo and reverb are key ingredients to Widowspeak’s sound.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?
We loved the shows at 285 Kent. They were all killer. Or getting to play at Bowery Ballroom and being able to hear ourselves on a great sound system.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Probably The Commodore. We go there after practice sometimes. The pulled pork sandwich is definitey Widowspeak-approved.
Widowspeak play McCarren Park Summerscreen on July 20.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 14, 2011