From the Cure to compas
Jeff Pitcher reinvents the ’80s—with a surprising twist
Credit Christian Kiefer, another local musician who’s been profiled in these pages, for the tip-off. “Ever hear of Jeff Pitcher?” he was asking over the phone one day. “He’s this guy over in Davis, and no one else from around here is making music anything like what he’s doing.”
True. The only thing close might be Birthday, and it’s uncertain whether they’re still together.
On his CD A Terrible Beauty, Pitcher writes and performs music that recalls at least one major strand of guitar-based pop that got swept aside in the wake of the early ’90s indie-rock revolution. Listening to a few of the songs’ earnest, melancholic strains, it’s easy to get a palpable sense of déjà vu. Once again, there’s a suit named Bush occupying the White House, and, once again, it’s OK to go for that grand, sweeping rock moment without worrying about some ironic indie-band Holden Caulfield snickering from the sidelines.
Which itself is not without irony: Pitcher—who grew up in Redwood City, went to UC Davis, left to travel in Europe, then returned to Davis by way of San Francisco to form a band project that didn’t quite pan out—recorded and released A Terrible Beauty on his own Mudita label, which probably qualifies him as a bona-fide indie rocker.
But, despite an early passion for Minor Threat, and despite hanging around North Berkeley’s Gilman Street punk scene in the late ’90s, checking out such bands as Operation Ivy, Samiam and a very early Green Day, Pitcher wound up pursuing a different muse. “I sort of went through this phase where I fell really in love with the Smiths and the Cure,” he confesses. “Which was kind of not cool, in the punk-rock scene, to listen to those bands.”
He pauses. “And then I heard flamenco.”
Captivated by that musical style, which appealed to him for its spiritual intensity, emotional complexity and technical precision along with its Spanish gypsy-sourced romanticism, Pitcher immersed himself in the genre while in college. He learned some picked adaptations of flamenco’s finger-style approach to the guitar from Jorge Strunz of the world-fusion duo Strunz & Farah.
Then Pitcher took off—to Seville, in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, where he could seek out a mentor and become a master of the form. There, he quickly realized that he was at a disadvantage—when confronted with guitarists who’d begun to learn it in early childhood. So he returned to the United States.
But his trip was not for naught; he believes that his experiences have informed his music—not overtly, as in a hackneyed attempt at coining a fusion of glam and flamenco, but on a more subtle, emotional level.
“I’ve tried to be really conscious of silence and space in my music,” he says, adding that his ratio of success there is still hit-and-miss. “The greatest flamenco guitarists alive today, one of the things I’ve noticed is their use of silence. There’ll be parts where they play—and then there will be silence for almost two seconds. And it’s a really powerful thing to use those balances.”
These days, Pitcher supports himself by substitute teaching in Davis, but he plans to move to Sacramento soon. He’s started performing locally, because a band that can recreate the sound of A Terrible Beauty has yet to materialize.
But that doesn’t faze him. Mudita, the name of his label, is a Buddhist term for the opposite of jealousy. Before he came across the word, he’d been looking sideways at other local musicians, wondering why what he was finding to be so difficult seemed to come so easily to them. “Since then,” he admits, “my path has become much more graceful.”
And once people start catching on to what Pitcher is doing, that path should become even more so.