What happens when you bring together two musically inventive, botany-obsessed Seattleites? You get Pikefruit, a local duo that draws on the techniques of electronic production and their love of the Pacific Northwest’s lush natural world, in the pursuit of dynamic, orchestrated chamber pop.
Pikefruit, named for Pike Street in Seattle and the duo’s shared love of plants, released their first EP, Sprig, in 2019. Their debut full-length Inflorescence drops May 14, 2021, and last week they shared the album’s first single, “Wish You Were Here.”
“Wish You Were Here,” epitomizes why Pikefruit are one of the most exciting up-and-coming groups in the area today. The unique, shimmering synth creates a metallic underpinning for high, reverberant vocals. The result is alluringly catchy—even dancey, at times—without sounding cheap or overly-commercial.
Pikefruit’s otherworldly production is the work of Alex, who started getting interested in production as a kid, after witnessing an elementary school music teacher demoing a MIDI keyboard.
“I remember…being enchanted (and baffled) by how it changed from a piano to a flute to an accordion to whatever other (probably awful) presets were built in to it,” says Alex, who, along with singer Nicole, prefer to keep their last names anonymous. “It felt like there were limitless possibilities within the keyboard, though in retrospect there were probably only like 50 instruments. It was a long time before I understood what that keyboard was actually doing, but I never really lost that sense of wonder.”
Alex’s interest in making electronic music grew exponentially – he liked school band, but not playing other people’s music. Once he got his hands on music notation software Sibelius, he began learning to arrange, at first for a bassoon trio (of all things).
He soon found himself wanting to explore a larger pallet of sounds than the existing instruments he had access to could offer him, so he turned to production. By 2013, as his list of loops, samples, and textures grew, he began to seek a vocalist to add lyrics to his sonic landscapes. He scoured the internet and found Nicole, who until that point had only sung karaoke with friends or a solo in the shower.
“He messaged me and said he wanted to hear my voice, and I was like, ‘I’m not a professional, but sure,’ and he’s like, ‘That’s okay, I just want to hear it,'” remembers Nicole. “He was looking specifically for something between Passion Pit’s Chunk of Change, Beach House, and the vocals from Chvrches. He had a really specific idea of what he wanted to create and he was looking for, basically, the missing piece – which I guess was me.”
At the time, Nicole wasn’t necessarily looking to perform, though she did enjoy singing. In fact, she says she was really embarrassed when she recorded a short audition tape for Alex and shared it with him. “I went to his apartment and let him listen to it on my phone with headphones and I threw a blanket over my head and I was like, ‘Okay, just don’t look at me while you’re listening to it.’ I’ve come a long way from there.”
She definitely has. Almost a decade later and Pikefruit has grown from a fun hobby project to an actual professional group, with an EP, and now an LP, to their name. Still, there’s a note of surprise in Nicole’s voice when she discusses how far they’ve come.
“I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere. I thought we were just making music for fun. I didn’t realize he wanted to actually show it to people. But then he was like, no, people need to hear this,” says Nicole. “He really drove us from super amateur, like recorded on our laptops, to being professionally recorded and shared with other people.”
Sure enough, Inflorescence, is their most polished album to date—even as they handled all the recording, producing, songwriting and instrumentation themselves. All the while, they manage to skillfully grow an album from a subtle and malleable concept—Inflorescence is about the different moods we all go through, and aims to have them flow organically from one song to the next, as a mood would change in life.
“It’s different emotional expressions. Every song is a different idea, in a way. We didn’t write all love songs, or we didn’t write all of one particular theme,” says Nicole. “‘We Begin’ has recordings from a playground and [represents] the freshness of the really early morning and that crispness when the sun is just rising and there might be dew on the grass and the flowers around you as you’re walking. And then it kind of morphs and evolves through not even a fraction of the ideas and states that people are in throughout the day.”
That said, Nicole and Alex don’t like to make it too obvious what their songs are about. They leave that element of mystery intact, so as not to impede the listener’s own interpretation of their music. “The catalyst for each of the songs on Inflorescence can be traced back to some particular experience Nicole or I had, but the main exercise during the songwriting process was to incorporate other related experiences and build a more abstract or conceptual interpretation of the experience,” explains Alex.
Still, “Wish You Were Here,” has a concrete birthplace—in the booth of a restaurant where Alex, who was eating with someone glued to their phone, felt like he was competing with a social media feed. “I don’t remember who it even was at this point – it was many years ago – and the song in its final form isn’t really about them specifically. As Nicole and I developed the idea into a full song, we incorporated other similar experiences of longing for significant others who just weren’t paying attention,” says Alex.
It makes sense that a lack of awareness from a friend or lover would bother Pikefruit enough to inspire one of their songs—their careful attention to each layered detail, vocal part, and lyric is exactly what makes Inflorescence such a lush, interesting delight.