Mark Pickerel's evolving fortunes

Mild-mannered, sensitive and soft spoken, Mark Pickerel cleverly disguises the power and potency of his words both as a lyricist and in general conversation. His explanations are in turn deep and profound, his descriptions verge on the poetic and poignant.

One thread binds such thoughts and conversations. Pickerel's artistic expression is inspired by his work and residence on Capitol Hill.

As many are aware, Pickerel was the original drummer for the Screaming Trees, the successful grunge band from Ellensburg. He's also played on albums by Mark Lanegan, Brandi Carlile and Nirvana. Among his many accomplishments he has toured with Neko Case and contributed to her track on the "Hard-Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson" compilation.

Pickerel's points to musical influences he started absorbing early on: Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, Fritz Lang, David Bowie, Tom Waits, Jelly Roll Morton, Leonard Cohen, bands such as Devo, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Clash. Not to mention drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. He also cites influences learned first hand working with the likes of Gary Lee Conner, Mark Lanegan, Robert Roth and Kurt Cobain.

Pickerel recently released a new CD. "Snake in the Radio," by Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands," a compilation of his lyrical and musical talents with band members Johnny Sangster, Micah Hulscher, Margrethe Bjorklund and Jim Sangster.

It's a collection rock-country inspired tunes. The song "Snake In the Radio" was inspired by Mark's reaction to the way corporate radio punished the Dixie Chicks for their Bush bashing statement on the eve of the Iraq war. Pickerel said that, "Country radio had a very conservative based listenership and the corporate sponsors with economic ties to the Bush administration unofficially boycotted the Dixie Chicks."

In the new CD "Snake in the Radio" as well as in all his work Mark affirms his country tastes.


"The creative aspect of my work originates on Capitol Hill," he said returning from his practice space in the Chophouse Rehearsal Studios to his Capitol Hill residence. The Hill, he said, has been his "creative home" for more than 20 years.

Capitol Hill, he said, is a great place to live and be creative. Its central location, proximity to both I-5 and I-90 allows for easy travel both to Eastern Washingon, Portland, and the rest of the world.

"As an artist I have to leave my home space to feed creative energy; finding inspiration on Capitol Hill is easy," he said. He likes the coffee shops, the shopping, proximity that allows for walking nearly everywhere. Not to mention being around many creative people.

"There is a higher expectation to finish projects, display artworks and perform," he said of being around a compact, urban artistic community.

Digging deeper, another factor of the Capitol Hill community that feeds Mark's artistic creativity is the Hill's diversity of the population.

"The juxtaposition of wealth and beauty surrounded by homelessness and a strong radical element is a constant inspiration for themes that a wide variety of people can relate to," he said. "Being on Capitol Hill reveals and affirms basic human similarities."

As a lyricist who "doesn't want to write bubble gum pop songs," Pickerel said that despite absorbing a variety of urban influences, he feels sometimes stuck in 1975, still stuck in the desert of Eastern Washington as a prepubescent or adolescent, in some very lonely place. Even such ominous feelings contribute greatly to his music, which appeals to a wide variety of listeners. In Pickerel's opinion, being stuck in the desert is not so far removed from what many people experience in a highly populated city.

With the new CD's release, Pickerel is taking to the stage. He's getting ready to makes his way to Austin, Texas, where he will perform three times this week.

Pickerel's artistic evolution from drummer to frontman has raised some eyebrows from those who wonder if the move was such a good idea. Especially given that musicians such as Don Henley, Dave Grohl, Phil Collins, Ringo Starr and Peter Criss have had varying degrees of phenomenal success at a similar evolution. But he's unconcerned about these questions and possesses an air of confidence and an attitude of determined sophistication.

Bruce Magnotti and Simonne Garrigues write about music periodically in the Capitol Hill Times. Reach them at or 461-1308.

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