[ there's no place like home ]
page 2

What's become of Chris?

Erik: Chris is still doing the commercial music thing, and he's loving it. Chris really hated touring -- it just wore him down, and it was beating up his hearing.

I remember seeing Skeleton Key play at the Crocodile here in Seattle back in (I think) '96 with Railroad Jerk and Come. I spoke with Chris briefly after the show and he just seemed completely burned out from life on the road at the time.

Erik: Yeah, he was burnt -- absolutely burnt. He's been doing this for almost 20 years now, since he was 19-years-old. But we're still really good friends. In fact, I played a solo show a couple of months ago and he played with me.

Who is replacing him?

Erik: A guy by the name of Craig Leblang, whom I met recently through a mutual friend.

Is Stephen Calhoon still in the band?

Erik: Steve is not in the band. Steve got politely asked to step down at the end of the first long leg of touring. Steve is an amazing drummer and an amazing guy, but he drove us all bananas. He was replaced by Colin Brooks, who is the drummer that plays on most of Obtainium.

Colin is still with us and, of course, Rick is back.

[ obtainium ]
[ give a listen! ] "Barker of the
Dupes" MP3

Along with Elfman, I noticed that there are a number of other contributors on Obtainium, like Tod Ashley (Cop Shoot Cop, Firewater). Listening to the album's first track, "Sawdust," reminded me of an old Cop Shoot Cop track, "Surprise, Surprise."

Erik: Oh, really?

Yeah. When I first heard "Sawdust" I thought it had a very similar bass line to the Cop Shoot Cop track, but after putting the two on back-to-back I realized that wasn't the case, and that they both just had the same feel to them. Maybe it's just how my brain categorizes songs, I dunno...

Erik: [Laughs] That's interesting. All the people listed in the liner notes are all people that contributed to the record in one way or another -- many of them not musically. Todd, my wife, and I did all the layout for the art together, but Todd didn't play any of the music on the album. Danny lent me the video camera that did the night vision photographs on there, which my wife took.

Mike Patton's Ipecac label seems like a pretty natural home for a band such as Skeleton Key. How did you end up in his stable?

Erik: It was through the recommendation of Buzz [Osbourne] of the Melvins. I was first really, honestly, so depressed and so uninspired with the music business that I was really about to hang it up.

That would have been a sad day.

Erik: Well, I was entertaining millions of different ideas about what to do. At one point I was ready to move to Denmark and become a banker. When Mike [Patton] got back in touch with me, I realized what an incredible opportunity it was. And frankly, it means so much more to me to be selected to be on Ipecac than it did being on Capitol, because Capitol... I mean, face it. Capitol has Everclear! [Laughs] There's a ton of bands on there for no particular reason.

And it's indicative of the rest of the major labels. They're not interested about artistic development so much as they are about the bottom line -- the cash flow -- and whether or not Everclear can pimp enough schlocky alterna-pop songs to make the cash register go cha-ching.

Erik: Absolutely. And we, like many people, got tricked into thinking that they did care about us. Skeleton Key signed with Capitol because The Jesus Lizard had signed with them, and we thought, "Well, they must be really art-band friendly to sign a band like The Jesus Lizard."

I realize now in retrospect that Capitol never had any intention of doing anything with our records -- we were really there just to flesh out the roster. Live and learn!

Very unfortunate -- for Capitol, that is.

How do you go about writing songs for Skeleton Key? Obviously, Rick's "junk" percussion adds a big dynamic to the band, and you also use a lot of other antiquated instruments and equipment. I'm wondering how this affects the songwriting process, and how you go about incorporating these oddities into your songs.

[ enon ]

Erik: Rick is not strictly relegated to playing "garbage" -- he also does a lot of the sampling stuff. If I come up with an idea for a song we start working on it collectively. Rick has such an incredible and natural gift that he just writes his part for it. Sometimes I have a part in mind and he starts either playing or creating something that he thinks sonically matches where the song is headed.

I have this vision of him going, "Wait, let me bang on the wagon first and see how it works! No, wait... Now let me try banging on the propane tank!"

Erik: That's pretty much how it is! Or he just sits there for a long time not saying anything, just pushing buttons, and then says, "I dunno, what do you think about this?" And what comes out is the most bone rattling, beautiful sound you've ever heard! [Laughs] All out of his little, shitty sampler.

Sometimes the rhythmic things are really tied into the songs on sort of a primal level -- like they're really inherent in the nuts and bolts of the songs -- in which case I've thought of them before. But oftentimes he just does whatever he wants.

Besides Rick's junk collection, what other things do you throw into the mix that are out of the ordinary?

Erik: On this record there is a lot of short wave radio, which I'm obsessed with -- some of which I lifted from other places, and some of which I made myself. There's also this modified Speak & Spell that this friend-slash-fan gave to me as a wedding gift. The idea behind this record was to make it simultaneously more hi-tech and more low-tech. I felt that, sonically, our first record was very narrow in its bandwidth and I wanted this one to be more shiny and sleek, as well as more rusty and greasy. So we introduced more electronic sounds, and other stuff that falls into that kind of category.

A lot of what Skeleton Key does reminds me in part of some of the stuff that avant-garde guitarist Nels Cline does. Cline has a fetish for running kids toys and other strange devices through his guitar pickups. I don't know if you've seen him play or are familiar with him.

Erik: I haven't.

He's an amazing guitarist to watch and listen to. The sounds he creates with his guitar and with the help of his box of toys, and just watching him physically pull those sounds out, is an amazing experience.

Erik: Are you familiar with David Torn's playing?

No, I'm not familiar with him.

Erik: He does a similar thing where he has guitars built with radios mounted in them.

[ nels cline - photo by karen cline ]
photo by karen cline


Erik: Yeah! Or he has these microphones built into the guitars. Oftentimes, guys rely on having really microphonic pickups, but David has these actual microphones built into his guitars so he can bang on it, or play anything from tape, or edit any kind of sound source and put it right into the guitar, and as a result be able to run it through all of his effects loops. It's really cool.

Sounds very similar to Nels. You should check him out. He was the guitarist for the [Geraldine] Fibbers, and did an album with Fibbers' singer Carla Bozulich a few years ago under the moniker Scarnella. The atmospherics they create with the toys on that album reminds me a lot of Skeleton Key.

I saw Nels use this toy ray gun when he was touring with Mike Watt for Watt's album Contemplating the Engine Room, and you could tell that he knew every sound that thing made, and knew exactly how to run ray gun through his guitar to pull out the sound poltergeists he was after.

Erik: Ah! I've seen Rick use that same type of ray gun!

There you go!

Erik: I'll have to check him out.

Around the time Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon came out, you said something that really stood out to me: "There was a sound in my head that I couldn't get out. I had this idea that I wanted to sound like a big broken piece of farm machinery." The quote reminded me of something Bob Mould said in an interview around the same time. In it he talked about a garbage truck strike that was occurring in New York and mentioned hearing the sound of 50 garbage truck horns blaring in unison outside his apartment building, saying, "That's the sound that I'm trying to get out of my head!"

That "sound," I think, is similar to what you're trying to achieve with your music in Skeleton Key. Or, at least, that's the way I perceive it. My question is: have you been able to effectively capture and express those sounds?

Erik: Yeah... It's getting closer. [Chuckles] Thanks for asking. It's still there, and I don't know why it is. I guess it's because I grew up in New York. It seems like the city is so full of its own inherent music -- music that's both horrible and beautiful at the same time that it needs to be shared.

[ erik sanko at the hiss factory ]
[ give a listen! ] "The Needle Never
Ends" MP3

PAGE 1 | PAGE 2 | PAGE 3
[ go ]
[ reviews ]
[ features ]
[ links ]
[ noise control ]
[ art ]
[ subscribe to the eP mailing list  ]
[ eP 1.0 ]