Freeway Park: Poetry and noise

by BRENT COLE

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. Graham Isaac, lead poet for Seattle’s Freeway Park, used to work for What’s Up! In fact, for a few years a decade ago, he probably wrote more about local bands than anyone else working for the magazine – he was a machine whose way with words made a lot of bands sound better than they probably were. He even did one cover, but that’s a different story for a different day. And there was the time he hosted the awards show… wowza. But I digress.

Eventually, Graham moved out of town, spending time in Wales before relocating back to his hometown of Seattle. Graham never stopped writing, instead turning his focus to poetry and honing his craft while performing and publishing his work.

While Graham loved, wrote about and was inspired by music, it wasn’t until 2011 that Graham reached out to other musicians in hopes of forming some type of project that combined his poetry and music. The idea initially came to him during a reading in the University District when Chris Gusta of Bellingham’s Scum Eating went on stage while Graham was performing and began improving guitar behind his words. Before then, he’d had fleeting “what if” thoughts about a band, but he was now sincerely interested in getting something going. “I sent out an email in 2011 to a bunch of friends who played music. I was thinking about making spoken word album as a noise project,” Graham said with a hint of a laugh, “Not a lot of people got back to me but a few did.”

One of the few people who got back to Graham was Adam Mugrunk, who has played in such local (and local-ish) bands as Can I Be She Ra? and Police Teeth. The project never materialized, but Adam suggested they form a band. Two years passed before the time was right and Freeway Park slowly became a reality. Initially, Freeway Park consisted of Graham, Adam, and Meghan Kissinger, formerly of the LEGENDARY Racetrack. The trio initially worked together in Adam’s living room on acoustic guitars. Soon Pat Gill was added on drums, he’d recently moved over from Missoula after playing in Victory Smoke. After Meghan suffered a shoulder injury and could no longer hold a guitar, she bowed out of the project and John Jernigan was added on bass. Freeway Park was officially a band.

As with every new band, the four-piece needed songs, but for Freeway Park, that ended up being a daunting task. With a more traditional band, the singer will work within the melody of the song, compose lyrics (or utilize what they’ve already had) and a song materializes. There is, for lack of a better term, a blueprint for  making a song. With Freeway Park, though, the process is different as Graham isn’t following a melody of the song, instead conveying the words as a poet with the music developing behind him.

“I had Graham just read some pieces and recorded them,” Adam said, “Then I’d go home and try and structure something out.”

After going home while listening to the pieces, many of which came from Graham’s book Filthy Jerry’s Guide to Parking Lot, Adam began figuring out how to write in a new fashion. “I’m listening to Graham’s vocals and wondering ‘How do we do this?’ It wasn’t a skill set that I had built up. I spent months and months forcing myself to think about how you write a song that people want to hear.” Over the next year, Freeway Park worked diligently to develop their sound – working with different styles of writing, experimenting with different passages, chopping up poems, all to create their brand of song.

In June of 2014, Freeway Park made their debut at Vermillion in Seattle and have continued to play a show or so a month, growing their sound and their fan base. Playing primarily in Seattle, they’ve also ventured out to Seattle as well as a noise festival in San Francisco – all the while receiving positive feedback from those in attendance. Their sound, while unconventional, is inspired and the love show is a fantastic representation with the normally mild mannered Graham finding a level of lunacy on stage that adds even more depth to their already complicated existence.

As to the future, the band, who are all in their 30s, are just happy making music they enjoy and playing shows, though they hope to release some seven inches in the upcoming year. But more than anything, they’re just enjoying their creativity.

“I feel very fortune to be working with these guys,” Graham said.

LIVE SHOW: Catch Freeway Park on July 18 at The Swillery. For more about the band, see facebook.com/frwyprksounds. 

Published in the July 2015 issue of What’s Up!