Pure X serenade Sophie Coletta from an Arizonian desert road


Somewhere on the southern outskirts of Austin, Texas, there is a concrete fortress that lies within a stone’s throw from the highway. Termed ‘The Ditch’, its sloping grey drop-ins provide a haven for skaters, not concerned with tricks or technique, but who instead prefer to surf its contours, gliding smooth lines across the hard grey surface. “It’s just a beautiful skate ditch that is like… it’s the perfect dream come to life in the form of concrete,” recalls Nate Grace, one third of Pure X, who responds with an enraptured “Ohhhh the Ditch!” when the topic is initially broached, his Texan accent languorously drawling out each and every syllable.

Right now the band are hurtling across the Arizona desert, making their way to Tucson for the second in a series of trans-American tour dates. “We’re still skating on tour. We’ve got all of our boards with us, we’re gonna stop, everytime we see a ditch we stop,” bassist Jesse Jenkins calls out from somewhere in the depths of the speeding van. “We have our boards but I can’t really skate now I guess,” Nate adds. “I got hurt. I had surgery and all that shit, but I can still hang out and drink beer while they skate.”

The injury, an ACL tear that tormented a sans medical insurance Grace throughout a large part of last year, would provide much inspiration for Pure X’s second album. After many sleepless nights fuelled by physical and emotional turmoil, the experience’s proverbial ashes would give rise to ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’, full of sticky bass, lethargic guitar riffs and anxiety-ridden lyrics that sprawl out languidly from your speakers. “We had a lot more time,” Grace says of the album’s recording process, which all in all took over a year. “I was laid up. I was on crutches for like six months and we were working on the record at the same time. Basically working on the record was the only thing happening in life really.”

The album captures the change in human state as the orange lines of morning bleed slowly into the ever-fading night sky. If 2011’s ‘Pleasure’, with its seductive red and black cover that featured a photo from an ’80s bondage catalogue was an homage to late night hook ups, ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’ depicts the ominous morning after, the splaying out in bed, the alcohol-wrenched stomachs and post-coital tristesse, before the bleary eyed stumbling out into the blinding daylight. The same sludgy indication is there, but the output seems more defined; a little less fuzzy round the edges, something that perhaps stems from this album not being predominantly recorded live. “The last record was pretty much almost 100% live, and then this one was, shit, maybe like 20/30% live,” Grace explains. “We did way more improvising this time,” adds Jenkins. “We wrote way more songs. At least 3-4 of the songs on this record were written in the studio. They sort of just came out of nowhere, whereas [with] ‘Pleasure’ we sort of wrote it and then recorded the songs we already had, we experimented a lot more this time.”

“We would just jam until like whatever o’clock in the morning and come back next day and then just be like, ‘oh this is cool – take this little part and work that up into a song from that’,” says Grace. Despite the album being recorded over a long stretch of time, it still retains the same cohesiveness that ran throughout ‘Pleasure’; each track sliding into the other, building on a relentless syrupy sound that resonates throughout the record. Grace singles out ‘Something Else’ as a track that evolved continually throughout the recording process. “We started it at the very beginning of the project and then we didn’t finish the fucking song until like a year and a half later. It went through all these mutations.”

The band worked on the album in the studio with Larry Seyer, an Austin based producer who Jenkins refers to as “this old Nashville producer guy. He helped us do a lot of the mixing and stuff. We were trying to go for a glossy like George Strait production style, you know…” he trails off and Grace automatically picks up the threads of his spiel. “[He] used to work with like George Strait, Garth Brooks and he had all these Grammys. Now he’s into like all this New Age shit.”

‘Shit’ is an abundant word in the Pure X vernacular, and judging by their sigh-prefaced, fleeting answers it’s pretty clear that Grace et al. are more keen on absorbing the Arizona landscape whirling past their windows than answering questions about their music over a crackly transatlantic phone line. Like their music, this is a band that are concerned with living the now, not deliberating, not discussing, not looking back.

“I wish you could see the fucking beautiful desert mountains that I see right now because it’s really awesome,” burrs Grace longingly. He breaks into song suddenly, impromptu lyrics that have a distinct country lilt to them. “Purple mountain majesty / babe it’s just you and me / you’re British that’s okay / cos I like you anyway / Baby Purple Mountain Majesty…” The improvisation falters and he breaks off. “That’s a song I just wrote for you. I hope you’re recording this, cos that was gold.” He sings some more and there’s giggling from the van, followed by rapturous applause. “Email that to me, I’ll make that into a song.” I promise him I will. It’s gone midnight so I decide to leave them to their afternoon Arizonian rapture. “Have a beautiful day, eat a Popsicle,” Grace cheerfully calls out as I sign off.

Outside, the rain thunders down from an ever-bleak sky onto my grimy window. We’re due snow this weekend. I might give the Popsicle a miss.

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