Mike Pitts Facebook
Mike Pitts, the local musician who recorded lo-fi experimental psych rock under the name Neptune Skyline and, for a time in the early ’90s, fronted the Seattle-based garage rock band the Kent 3, has died. He was 49 years old.
Born March 4, 1970, Pitts grew up in the suburbs outside Bellingham, Washington where he had, according to his nephew Jason Nix, an “unusual upbringing.” Pitts’ uncle was Hal Robinson, an illustrator whose work appeared frequently in the pages of motorcycle magazine like Easyriders and Cycletoons, which meant, “there were a lot of bikers and flower children around,” says Nix. Along the way, Pitts cultivated a deep love of music, collecting records as a teen and picking up the bass and guitar at around age 16. He also remained dedicated to his education, as he was chosen as valedictorian for his high school graduating class in 1988.
In the early ’90s, Pitts made his way down to Seattle, where he lived in the U District and connected with a few friends from his former hometown to start the Kent 3. During his short time as the band’s singer, the group released a handful of singles through small indie labels and a full-length album, 1994’s Screaming Youth Fantastic. The group dissolved for a while and reconnected a few years later, but by that point, Pitts had returned to Bellingham. Through that time, Pitts had also begun struggling with drug addiction, spending a stint in rehab that, Nix says, “didn’t take.”
But by the time Pitts had relocated to Portland, he “seemed to get away from that,” Nix says. “He poured himself into making music.” Pitts was a keen experimenter, buying up cheap instruments from thrift stores and garage sales that he would rewire and reprogram to find new noises within them. There’s some evidence of that on the Neptune Skyline material he released through Bandcamp, but the first recordings that came out under that name, the Elliott Smith-like Secret Fields from 2009, were far more clear and open.
As Pitts continued to record, the music got cloudier, with a haze of tape hiss and reverb over nearly every track on 2012’s The Personality Disorder Temperance League. It was an album that owed as much to the tripped out explorations of Spacemen 3 as it did to the charmed outsider art of The Space Lady.
The news of Pitts’ death has been slowly moving around social media since it was announced this past Friday, with friends from here and Seattle remembering his thorough music knowledge and the deep impression he left on them. “He was the rare thing,” one post reads, “a Renaissance man who knew so much about so many things. I didn’t understand how he knew so much.”
For Nix, Pitts’ death is sad but not completely unexpected. Though they grew up together “essentially as brothers,” (Nix says they were born only a year apart), their relationship had grown strained in recent years. Through it all, though, Nix never lost his appreciation for his uncle’s singular devotion to his art and his “delightfully antagonistic attitude toward everything in this life.”
“When I went to see him in the hospital for the last time,” Nix continues, “he still had glitter on his face. To me, that says everything you need to know about him.”