Pioneers West is Tacoma's answer to indie rock that does not follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, but rather forges its own blazing path into Tacoma music fans' hearts with a signature sound they have hacked away at on and off for two years - "Western doom."
"Western doom is a combination of post-rock, indie rock, noise rock, doom and metal," relayed Jason Locking, bassist for the band. "We're influenced by bands from Seattle and Tacoma in the early '90s."
Rounding out the rest of the group are Luke Larsen, guitarist and vocalist, John Patterson on drums and Mike Busch on guitar. Busch is also the purveyor of the band's name, which Larsen affirms they used to fit the band's sound and song themes around.
Diehard Tacoma music fans may recognize Locking's name from past band affiliations such as No Moving Parts, Archibald Leash and also as a current member of rock band Gold Teeth. Larsen has been playing music with Busch for about 15 years, "noodling," as he said, and they and Patterson have been friends for years, attending school together. Locking entered the equation after the band played a show at the Top of Tacoma, where both he and Larsen currently work. Larsen asked him to fill the bassist position, and the rest is history.
Larsen is the band's main lyrical songwriter and Busch is the melody maker. "Mike writes a ditty or tune, we jam on it for an hour, and it will remain the same for the rest of its life," Larsen laughed.
The band recently got together in the middle of May to put together their first recorded effort, which was laid down in the ballroom above the New Frontier Lounge with producer Kyle Brunette. The whole album was recorded live over two days, which is quite a feat for any band, regardless of how long they have been playing together. It is also frankly, quite dicey. But Locking was quick to note that Pioneers West "is a live band," and that "it's not often you get to record in a room with lots of wine and dust."
"This was the best way to capture our sound," Patterson added.
"(Recording) was a blast," Larsen said. "We got to do what we want, Kyle was chill and it was a very organic process."
Every song that the band plays at their live shows is on their new album, "Move West," except one, because the band was not feeling comfortable with the way it was sounding. "Move West" is definitely a concept album, all about the Western Expansion for land and water back in the early 1800s, but with a different viewpoint that is, naturally, quite doom-y. "Western Expansion wasn't a bright thing," Larsen said. "And we're about as far west as you can get so it's fitting that we did this."
The band unanimously agreed that the album's fourth track, "King of Beasts," is the favorite. "It's our most recent, but it feels like our most complete song. (It) feels good, and is fun to play," Patterson said. The track starts out with electric guitar layering and playing a repetitive amount of chords and then effects and drums come in, layering all of the instrumentation together in a well-placed collage before allowing Larsen's voice to pierce the music.
"Anger Mall," another group favorite, is one they say is about feeling awkward and dancing your way out of the crazy life. Heavy on the rock and guitar, the track begins with Larsen shouting exactly what the song is about. The track continues to sound smooth, a little dark, but not quite as doomy as the band wants you to think. In fact, the band gives Tacoma music listeners hope and sheds a light on the fact that our little music scene is alive and well, and not drowning in the shadows of Seattle's established roots.
Thus far, Pioneers West has played strictly Tacoma and Seattle shows, but that is not because they are shortsighted. "We're just getting our legs," Larsen said. "We love to play the Top, the Java Jive, a place that sparked a resurgence of Tacoma. We're lucky enough to know those people." Locking went on to note that in Tacoma today, there is not a ton of band rivalry of sorts, and many like and appreciate what other artists are doing. "There wasn't anything here when Seattle bands were getting huge recognition, so this is nice."
On that note, the band went on to mention Trip the Light Fantastic, Wheelies, Goldwing, Blanco Bronco, the F**king Eagles, Colonies, The Nightgowns and Manhammer all as bands that they dig and appreciate locally. "It's hard to say, because I can name bands on my 10 fingers, they're all so good," Larsen said.
In 2010, Pioneers West has played a show every week, affirming that music is their life and they want as many people to listen to their sound as possible. The band will be hitting the road in late August for a tour through Montana, Denver, Salt Lake City and back. Larsen lived in Montana for six years and has friends who play music there. He said that most bands seem to head down the West Coast during the summertime, and Pioneers West wanted to bring something to the states that might not have tons of bands coming their way when the nice weather arrives.
Bands like Pioneers West are a rarity - bringing together established genres to mix, mold and make something new and make music exciting to listen to again. When they are from your hometown, that brings a whole new level of pride into the equation. Like finding gold for 49ers, Pioneers West may take you pleasantly by surprise, and will certainly make you feel like you hit the indie rock jackpot.
Pioneers West plays the New Frontier Lounge on July 17 for their CD release event. For more information about the band, their new CD, upcoming shows and to hear their songs, visit their Myspace page at www.myspace.com/pioneerswest.