Trick or treat
Seattle band Faith & Disease still carries the torch for that much-maligned genre goth
Few bands release eight albums in 10 years. Even fewer bands can say that their eighth CD is their best. Seattle-based goth quintet Faith & Disease, whose new CD Passport to Kunming was recently released on Projekt Records, is one of them.
Formed in 1991, the year Seattle’s so-called grunge scene exploded with bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden, Faith & Disease looked past the fuss being made over its now-famous contemporaries; the group released five CDs in six years on Ivy Records. Formed by a 29-year-old Microsoft millionaire, Ivy had an eccentric lineup that included Ninth Circle, Hoover Cain and Hominy, the latter being the former band of Jesse Sykes (of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter).
“I have no problem embracing goth,” said Eric Cooley, bassist and arranger of Faith & Disease. “The people who show up at our shows and are buying our records, for the most part, match the description of someone who is ‘gothic.’ We have no problem with it, and I think that we are one of the best examples of goth.”
Unlike many bands of the grunge era, Faith & Disease wasn’t wedded to a musical trend. The band’s orchestrated and ethereal “darkwave” style allowed it to evolve as a musical unit, and it has sailed on a steady course—selling records and pulling in the goth crowd and lovers of poignant music wherever it played. Losing and gaining members along the way, the band performed at the 1998 CMJ Music Marathon; had five songs used on soundtracks for the 2001-2002 season of MTV’s The Real World; toured the United States six times; and opened for the Spinanes, Gong, Red House Painters, Harvey Danger and Sky Cries Mary.
Cooley and vocalist Dara Rosenwasser are the only original members of the band. Cooley, whose father played in the legendary Northwest garage band the Nomads, received an invitation for Faith & Disease to perform at a music festival in Kunming, China. The entire band was going to be flown to Kunming and paid a considerable sum to perform. The band members got their shots and visas together and made arrangements to be out of the country for a couple of weeks, when the show was mysteriously canceled. “We were all set to go,” said Cooley with detectable anger in his voice. “Took time off from everything, and less than a week before we were ready to leave, we got an e-mail from the promoter saying that ‘for complicated political reasons, all western bands will not be performing in Kunming.’ That’s all he would say. Didn’t elaborate on it or anything.”
To soothe band morale, Cooley decided to record a new record with minimal preparation. He frantically searched for a Seattle recording studio that wasn’t booked, and then he turned the band loose. “We were all looking forward to this trip,” said Cooley. “So, I got the bright idea to try to find an available studio in Seattle to record, just to see what we could come up with. We didn’t really know what that would be.”
The result is Faith & Disease’s most adventurous and listenable record. Passport to Kunming is powerful and moving, with Rosenwasser’s trademark dreamy vocals sounding more relaxed and less operatic. The opener, “She’s Got a Halo,” is a Cure-like, snappy little number that could be Faith & Disease’s freak radio hit, the way “Flagpole Sitta” was a hit for Harvey Danger in 1998. The melodic yet melancholy “How Far Does the Sky Go,” “Between the Folds” and “Girl at the Window” might bring tears to Nick Cave’s eyes. A cover of Sykes’ “Made of Wood” tops off the disc.
“Passport to Kunming is our least-prepared album,” said Rosenwasser. “It is one big lump of emotion. There is stuff that we did in the studio that we can’t do live because we don’t know how we did it. It was like the third eye.”