By Sarah Bennett
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By Nate Jackson
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By Alex Distefano
Feel free to tell ex-Murder City Devils bass player Derek Fudesco how much you like his new band, Pretty Girls Make Graves. If, on the other hand, you plan to give him a bunch of shit because you blame him for breaking up Murder City Devils, then keep walking; he's heard it all before.
On the final Murder City Devils tour, fans held nothing back. "It was ridiculous," Fudesco says. "Everywhere we went, every single day, every single show, there was always some asshole who would come up and say, 'Thank you for fucking breaking up the band.' It was really amazing."
The irony, of course, is that he didn't break up the band. "It was never like I quit. That was never the case," he says. "I wanted to do both bands."
But the Seattle heavyweights broke up nonetheless. The other members have gone on to new projects, and Fudesco's stuck answering questions. Just today he had a conversation with his record label—the new quintet will release an EP on Lookout! in April—about keeping the name Murder City Devils out of the promotional materials for Pretty Girls Make Graves. It's not that he wants to get away from it—"I'm totally proud of that band," he says, "it was five years of my life"—but at the same time, "I would rather completely start from scratch. I don't think we need that shoulder to lean on. It's not fair to the people I play music with now. There are four other people in this band."
Plus, fans eager to hear Murder City Devils Continued are in for a rude awakening. The bands are nothing alike. Pretty Girls Make Graves are raw and frenetic and feverish. Think At the Drive-In meets Fugazi—edgy post-punk with blunt, honest lyrics and the explosive back-and-forth vocals of Andrea Zollo and boyfriend Fudesco.
Zollo and Fudesco played in noted hardcore bands Area 51 and Death Wish Kids. Their guitarist—and recent South Dakota transplant—Nathen Thelen is more concerned with living up to the expectations of these fans than Murder City Devils fans. "It's weird," Thelen says of the former. "There's a lot of kids who were really into those bands. It's like a cult."
Fudesco is especially enthusiastic about his girlfriend's instinct for language. "A lot of it comes down to the way Andrea writes lyrics," he gushes. "There's this kind of rad honesty about it all." He talks about "By the Throat," a song she wrote about having a panic attack in a room full of people. Zollo penned the lyrics, but most of the band has dealt with anxiety at some time or another. "It's a really terrible thing," says Fudesco. "You think you're going to die, and you don't know what's wrong with you, and it adds to it that you're around a bunch of people. Everything plays off everything else, and you start to feel weird and think, 'Wow, I'm going to die in the middle of all these strangers.'"
Zollo favors a half-screaming, half-singing vocal style, arresting without being abrasive. Her lyrics are straightforward but not simplistic. On "Head South" from the band's eponymous debut four-song EP, Zollo sings, "You're walking away/Seems like I know the back of your head/Better than the front."
Zollo and Fudesco had tried to form a band together for five years, perhaps working with 10 different groups of people. But, Fudesco says, "nothing really worked out." Things started falling into place when Fudesco started talking with drummer Nick DeWitt, a longtime friend who was on tour with Murder City Devils to sell merchandise. Once home, they began jamming with Thelen (with whom DeWitt played in Beehive Vault). The lineup was complete with the addition of guitarist Jason Clark from Kill Sadie. The band's been together for about a year but, due to Clark's and Fudesco's touring schedules, Thelen says they've only "effectively been a band for about five months."
Thelen was concerned about this at first. "I didn't want to be in a side project," he says. "It's hard to play music with someone who's always on tour. But for some reason it worked out this time."
Thelen recently made the decision to move out of his house and "couch surf" so he can constantly tour with Pretty Girls Make Graves. "I really don't have anything else in my life besides music that's important, and I don't think anyone else does," he says. "I've never felt this creative in my entire life."Pretty Girls Make Graves play with Bullet Train to Vegas, Three Summers Gone, Days Like Razors and the Hatebreeders at Koo's Art Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937. Thurs., Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m. $6. All ages.