There was a moment in my conversation with Jima, frontman of Seattle band the Purrs, when I expressed how inadequate it is to simply call the Purrs a psychedelic indie rock band. While that might be ultimately accurate, it just doesn't quite do justice to what the band does. Let's take a moment, for instance, to consider the bands that the Purrs have shared stages with: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pearl Jam and Okkervil River, just to name three markedly disparate acts. The Purrs are able to drift among scenes in a manner befitting of their intangible sound.
"I don't think it does a band very much good to just play with bands in your own genre," says Jima. "You're not going to ever be exposed to new sounds, and you're not going to be exposing your band to new people."
While the Purrs certainly do adorn their songs with psychedelic fringe, there are deeper ingrained layers of influences at play, here. On the top level, British post-punk is what most readily pops out, inspiring the comparisons the band has long received to bands such as the Church and Echo and the Bunnymen. Comparisons to the Verve are reductive, but somewhat accurate in the way that the Purrs similarly mine classic rock for inspiration - picking up heavy blues, mod attitude and bright jangle along the way. Meanwhile, the spirit of Tommy James and the Shondells lingers in the background.
"We started in the year 2000," says Jima. "We all met through the classifieds in The Stranger. I had just moved here from Cincinnati, that year. When I got here, at that time, I'd just scrounge The Stranger every week, looking for auditions with various bands, just looking for someone that I could play with, that I could stand being around - just like you do whenever you get to a new town. I found these guys, and they didn't have any direction for what they wanted to do, and I did."
After joining up with Jason Milne, Liz Herrin and Craig Keller, the Purrs were under way. Fourteen years later, the Purrs have a lived-in sound that speaks volumes to how quickly they found their groove, and how these years have lent them the luxury of exploring that groove.
"I'm pretty sure that we haven't become that much better, playing-wise," says Jima, "but I think we're better songwriters, now. We're certainly more conscious of what you should put your effort toward, to make your songs sound better. There are a lot of dead ends in production, where we had to get our songwriting process down, and that took a couple years to do. There was a point where we would try different things, like everyone would get high and we'd have a practice. We did that for a couple months and realized we weren't producing. We realized that some of us needed to have more alcohol than others. That sort of thing. (Laughs.)"
The Purrs' most recent album is The Boy with Astronaut Eyes. While the sounds are not strikingly similar, I'm reminded of the (sadly defunct) Speedwobbles and their album, Bourgeoisie Marmalade. Both albums are remarkable in the ability they have to sound instantly classic, as if you'd heard all of these songs years ago, and the album exists to remind you. "Cemetery Johnny" sounds like the kind of scratchy one-off that you might've caught on John Peel in the early '90s. "Rotting on the Vine" could've come from the vaults of James or any number of swaggering Britpop troubadors.
Psych rock may not define the Purrs, but the psych that skirts the edges lends a woozy appeal to their music. In the end, maybe it's best to just throw up your hands and say what the Purrs really are: a damn good rock band.
THE PURRS, w/ Trees and Timber, People Under the Sun, DJ Melodica, 9 p.m., Saturday, March 29, The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, $5, 253.572.4020