Michael Coss/Submitted Photo
SPOKANE — Krist Novoselic knows that the majority of people who came to the Big Dipper last Friday night, or to Republic Brewing on Saturday, were there to see him.
They will know little to nothing about the band he’ll be playing with, Giants in the Trees. The simple fact is that for fans of Novoselic’s previous band, the landmark ’90s grunge trio Nirvana, the chance to see him in an intimate setting like the Dipper or rural Republic will be impossible to ignore.
Novoselic, 52, is OK with this. Because as Giants in the Trees is finding out, curiosity may bring the crowds in, the music makes them stick around.
“It seems like people are into it,” Novoselic said in a recent phone interview from his home in Western Wahkiakum County, where he is a familiar community leader. “We get good applause. I appreciate that people stick through all the songs they’ve never heard before. When I go see a band, I expect to see songs that I like of theirs. With this band, we’re asking a lot more. Here’s this whole-new band, so I appreciate people coming out and sticking around.”
Novoselic is a familiar visitor to Astoria, appearing occasionally on Coast Community Radio as DJ-Know. Giants in the Trees performed at the Merry Time Bar & Grill in downtown Astoria earlier this year.
Next month, the band will perform at Fort George Brewery’s annual Block Party, following an afternoon of live music in the brewery’s courtyard after the Astoria Regatta Grand Land Parade that afternoon Aug. 12. The band is scheduled to take the stage at 8 p.m.
Novoselic said he “fell in with” these musicians in Wahkiakum County, all fellow Skamokawa grange members, and what began as a jam session last spring turned into something more.
“We had a good connection right off the bat. We didn’t waste any time,” he said. “We started to put songs together. We had musical ideas. It just felt right.”
The band, which features Novoselic on bass and accordion, vocalist Jillian Raye, drummer Erik Friend and Ray Prestegard on guitar and harmonica, first performed last summer in a benefit show for Skamokawa Grange. Since then, they’ve gigged here and there, playing clubs in Portland, Olympia and Eugene, and have been at work on an album with Jack Endino. (Novoselic calls the Seattle producer “the godfather of grunge” for his work with Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana.) A single, “Sasquatch,” should be out soon, with the self-released album to follow later this summer.
Judging from the music that’s available — mainly clips on YouTube, the band’s Facebook page and tweeted out by fans — Giants in the Trees plays Northwest indie pop rock that’s flavored with generous doses of roots and Americana music.
While the band’s description of itself on Facebook seems whimsical (“The band is not offended by terms like schmaltz. On the other hand, there are heavy groove numbers, screaming slide guitar and accordion.”), Novoselic said they’re serious when they say they’re “inspired by the environment and culture of the lower Columbia River.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do is present that image to people, so people can get an idea of where we’re from and what we’re about,” he said. “It’s roots and Americana, through a modern lens.”
They bring together a host of different sounds. Raye and Friend once played electronica in a band called Laser Trash. Prestegard, Novoselic said, is a skilled guitarist who plays box and slide guitar. And “I do my thing on bass,” he said. “And this mix just comes together … you get this roots sound.”
Wahkiakum County hugs the Columbia River in southwestern Washington, bordered by Pacific, Cowlitz and Lewis counties, and Oregon to the south. It’s rural, home to one incorporated town, Cathlamet, and roughly 4,100 people who work in fishing, timber and agriculture. Only Garfield County in Eastern Washington has fewer people.
“There are a lot of trees. There’s a lot of clearcuts, too,” Novoselic said. “That’s just what it is. That’s our life and our culture. We know loggers. We know farmers. We’re grangers.”
Performing live, whether it’s at the grange hall or in a local bar, is something that thrills Novoselic and his colleagues.
“We get great energy off the crowd. That’s the magic of rock and roll. It’s a reciprocal relationship,” he said. “When the crowd is hot, and the band is hot, then you make this moment. It’s an experience.”
Novoselic, of course, knows all about that rock ’n’ roll magic. As the founding bass player for Nirvana, widely regarded as one of the best rock bands in history, Novoselic saw the world from the stages of tiny bars and huge stadiums with bandmates Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl. They sold more than 75 million albums and scored hit after hit with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are,” “In Bloom,” and “Heart Shaped Box,” among many others. At one point, the band’s breakthrough album, 1991’s “Nevermind,” was selling 400,000 copies a week.
Since Cobain’s 1994 suicide brought an end to Nirvana, Novoselic has played music. He released albums with the bands Eyes Adrift (2002) and Sweet 75 (1997). His last record was released in 2008 with the punk band Flipper. He guested on Foo Fighters’ “Wasting Light” LP in 2011, and he’s been known to sit in with the Filthy Friends, a Portland-based supergroup that includes Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and Peter Buck of R.E.M.
“It always seems like I fall back into it,” Novoselic said, calling music a habit. “I still play finger-style guitar and accordion, and I play bass when I can.”
He stays busy in other ways. He is master of the Grays River Grange. He’s chairman of the board of Fair Vote, a national election reform group. He and his wife grow food on their place near Deep River.
In 2010, he enrolled in an online program through Washington State University. “I did it on a whim,” he said. “My nephew was going off to enroll in community college and I jumped in the car with him. It was crazy. … My only regret was that I didn’t do it sooner.”
Six years later, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. As he worked through his classes, he was playing music: being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, touring with Dave Grohl’s Sound City project, earning a Grammy with Paul McCartney, Grohl and Pat Smear for their 2014 rock song “Cut Me Some Slack.” When he needed a break from logarithms, he’d pick up a guitar or his accordion and let music work the other parts of his brain.
After all this time, music remains something that he enjoys. And while the industry has changed dramatically since Nirvana, he’s happy to keep at it, playing with friends and meeting fans new and old.
“We can survive if we find our niche,” he said, “and a lot of that is keeping it local.”