When JoDee Purkeypile decided to pursue a solo career after his band, The Alice Rose, ran its course, he saw no need to give himself a mysterious pseudonym or odd nickname. When you’re born with a name as distinctive as his, Purkeypile notes, why would you? And with a new album titled MESSENGER (Feb. 19, 2013), it makes sense to let people know just who that messenger really is. Purkeypile also has heritage to consider: Though he was raised in Austin, he was born in Lubbock, where his father, Dee Purkeypile, played organ with Jesse “Guitar” Taylor, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. And Dee’s musician great-grandfather was a master of many instruments.
But don’t expect to hear the usual Texas twang in Purkeypile’s music. His influences emanate from more distant locales — most notably Seattle and the United Kingdom. Captivated early on by both ‘60s British invaders and grunge, he adapted a sound that’s part power pop, part rock riffage and part Beatles-meet-Kinks on a sunny afternoon.
MESSENGER is a natural progression from his first solo album, 2011’s OCTOBER HOUSE, and his previous work with The Alice Rose, which included national touring, an NPR Song of the Day (in 2006, for “West,” a track from their debut, PHONOGRAPHIC MEMORY) and inclusion in Austin Monthly magazine’s “Eight to Watch in 2008” music feature. “West” also landed in the horror film, “Splinter.” In 2011, Purkeypile’s solo work earned him the distinction of being the only artist featured twice in that magazine’s annual up-and-comers music feature. That led to official City of Austin recognition of its release date, July 28, 2011, as JoDee Purkeypile Day. International airplay and inclusion on several bloggers’ year-end best-of lists followed.
Though Purkeypile recorded every part of OCTOBER HOUSE on his own, MESSENGER features contributions by several players, including two former Alice Rose members — keyboardist Brendan Rogers and bassist Sean Crooks, Purkeypile’s oldest musical cohort besides his dad.
“I met Sean at middle school,” Purkeypile recalls. “He had on a Metallica shirt; he was kind of a geeky guy tryin’ to look cool. I had long hair, so he was like, ‘I’ll go talk to this guy.’”
Purkeypile already had some musical skill by then; he’d been banging away since age 5 on a Ludwig drumkit his father had obtained in trade for a Leslie speaker.
“That was my thing till I was about 12, and then I heard Nirvana,” he relates. The first day his family got cable, he saw their “Heart-Shaped Box” video on MTV and knew that’s what he wanted to do. He also figured he should pick up a guitar.
It just so happened that Crooks’ father owned the Steamboat, a legendary Austin music club, and sometimes brought home gear that had been left behind. When Purkeypile saw Crooks’ garage full of instruments, he realized, “This might not be too bad a guy to hook up with.”
They’ve been friends and musical collaborators ever since. At first, they played Nirvana covers and “easy punk stuff,” Purkeypile remembers. Then he got a Beatles song book, learned the chords, started connecting the dots, and began writing his own songs.
His Mersey-meets-Britpop sensibilities translate into a melodic lilt that filters from Peter & Gordon through the Zombies and early Fleetwood Mac to Nick Lowe and Squeeze. With forays into territory inhabited by Free and the Faces. (Apparently, it’s just coincidence that his illustrator girlfriend is from Market Drayton, in Shropshire, England, and OCTOBER HOUSE is named after a residence there.)
But Purkeypile, who explored acting as a child and has crafted several music videos, is hardly a one-dimensional retro artist. He also cites the impact of performers such as Roky Erickson, the late Richard Manuel of the Band, Mick Jagger, Glenn Danzig and Johnny Marr, and mentions how much he likes artists such as Spoon and Fleet Foxes. And no one who’s listened to Purkeypile’s work — solo, with The Alice Rose or even in his very first band, PigGie Hat — would make the mistake of writing him off as derivative.
“I’m trying to combine the ‘60s influences I heard growing up with some of the contemporary influences I might pick up on just through the radio or at clubs and shows,” he explains. “I take bits of everything I hear and try to approach it in my own way.”
That would include his subject matter. While OCTOBER HOUSE focused on “the struggles of long-distance relationships,” MESSENGER, co-produced by Matt Smith at Hot Tracks Studio in Bastrop, outside of Austin, channels a variety of themes. The title tune, in fact, was inspired by the work of horror/sci-fi novelist H.P. Lovecraft. (“I’m still not sure what it’s about,” confesses Purkeypile, an avid reader and book collector.) “Cruel Movements” was composed on piano in the aftermath of a “strange” night out with old friends. “I Think It’s Alright” explores some self-doubts; the harpsichord-laced “Storm on the Sea of You and Me,” his personal favorite among the album’s 10 tracks, came from a dream and the Smiths song, “Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.”
Purkeypile does want to convey that even though “pop” is among the words used to describe his indie pop-rock sound, it has nothing to do with the product churned out by today’s mass-marketed purveyors. Purkeypile says he thinks of pop in terms of those brilliant ‘60s and ‘70s tunesmiths who experimented freely with melody and lyrics — and who could record entire songs in one day, as he and co-producer Matt Smith did for MESSENGER.
You know who they are. And if Purkeypile reminds you of them, as he notes, “That classic influence, I mean, you can’t deny it anyway. It’s everywhere. And it’s better than being compared to somebody not as cool.”
With this MESSENGER, there’s no danger of that.