Mark Pickerel: He’s got the goods

by Jared Curtis

When you talk about the music of the Pacific Northwest, Mark Pickerel’s name should be included in the conversation due to his integral part in the grunge scene, thanks to his work with Screaming Trees, among other bands including the most iconic Seattle band — Nirvana. Now he is back with his new band, Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, and they will be stopping by the Green Frog on Saturday, Oct. 17 for a rowdy rocking good time. But before we chatted about the new band, we had to chat about his time drumming with the Screaming Trees.

“I was still in high school when we recorded our first two releases so The Screaming Trees role in my life was very pivotal from the start. It basically launched my career,” Pickerel said during our interview. “I still look back on the early days with The Trees as the most special and the most exciting of all the different projects that I’m associated with — we were so young and green, every week seemed to include some interesting breakthrough or unique opportunity, and to share that with the very guys that you’ve been dreaming and building something with since your freshman year of high school is just a really joyous and exciting thing!”

Pickerel and Mark Lanegan (singer of Screaming Trees) recorded and jammed on some tunes with Nirvana members Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in the late 80s prior to the release of Nevermind. A few songs from the session, ended up on the Nirvana box set With the Lights Out.

“My brief encounter with the Nirvana gang was an incredible little chapter in my life and one that I’m proud to have participated in,” Pickerel said. “I find it ironic that something that required the least amount of my time of any of my professional endeavors, produced the largest music related income of my adult life.”

Pickerel has been apart of so many great projects; it’s hard to find space to talk about each of them. One of his projects, Truly, included original Soundgarden bassist Hiro Yamamoto, and had a song — “Hearts and Lungs — featured in the iconic film “Singles.” (It was cut from the soundtrack at the last minute, but will be included on an upcoming expanded edition.)

“Each chapter of my life has been full of rewards, whether drumming for Truly, Neko Case, Dusty 45s, Brandi Carlile, or writing and singing my own songs, I continue to grow and find so much inspiration from the friends and musicians that surround me,” he said.

With so many friends in the business, it would have been easy for Pickerel to become a background player, but he flipped the switch and came out in front of the band with his new project Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands.

“I started fooling around with an acoustic guitar in my mid 20s, it wasn’t so much out of a strong desire to be a front man, but I had endured a couple of setbacks as a drummer that sort of soured my attitude about always being in a supportive role to someone else’s career or vision,” he said. “I recognized early on that if I were to ever have any kind of consistency in terms of a career in music, that it would require me to have at least a little self-sufficiency, but these initial motivations were quickly replaced with a real passion for writing and the creative process. And that’s what motivates me the most to this day, just getting lost in a new chord progression and the immediate thrill of figuring out how I might want to develop it from its earliest hook through its final verse.”

Pickerel is the only ongoing member of His Praying Hands, with other musicians joining or leaving the group when they are able to.

“I would love nothing more than for the Praying Hands to consist of the same members year after year but the truth is, at this stage in most our lives, it’s just too difficult and financially impossible for most musicians to devote themselves to one project, especially when juggling parenting, house payments, etc., and so I find that I continually have to bring in new people for different shows or recordings,” he said. “Rarely does anyone get ‘kicked’ out or even quit the band, we all just have to make decisions based on our current situations, needs, financial or family obligations and therefor, it’s kind of become a collective of changing faces. But with that brings new opportunities for different explorations that you would never enjoy with one, single line-up so I just try and embrace it and enjoy the chance to play with so many gifted and wonderful people.”

Speaking of the gifted and wonderful people, Pickerel recently lent his voice and his hands to help with a fire relief benefit supporting all of the brave firefighters battling the horrible wildfires this past summer.

“Many years ago I lost a good friend named Tom Craven, who lost his life fighting fires out here in Eastern Washington, ever since then it’s been an issue that I can’t seem to turn away from,” he said. “So far my little make shift operation that I call Fire Country has raised close to $7,000 and we’ve forwarded all of it to an organization called the Chelan Valley Hope (chelanvalleyhope.org) so they can distribute the funds in the most effective way. They’re well established and are in a much better position to recognize the changing needs of people who’ve been the most affected by the fires. I trust that they’ll be more effective than I could ever be with their distribution of the donations.”

Pickerel will bring his big heart, big voice and plenty of good tunes to his show at the Green Frog on Oct. 17, a place he has fond memories of.

“My last solo show in town was opening for Frank Black. I had a great time and am really looking forward to the show at The Green Frog,” Pickerel said. “I’ve had some great experiences in Bellingham over the years and I always look forward to coming back.”

See Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands on Saturday, Oct. 17 at the Green Frog. For more information, follow Mark Pickerel’s Facebook page.

Published in the October 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine