Q: I believe I saw you at the Grog Shop in Cleveland years ago … maybe 2003 or 2004 or something. Just though I'd start this whole thing off with that note — I'm from Cleveland, you're from Oberlin. Tell me a little about the city, what you think of the place …
A: Oh! 2003! What'd you think of the show?… feels like a long time ago… Mostly places are about the people in them, and the time I was in Oberlin there were great people moving in and around. The school sort of had this "bubble" thing? The minute you arrived everyone was like, "Don't get stuck in the bubble!". But sometimes it was a great bubble! Just talking about and making things, monthly concerts in the recital halls and try to make them as bizarre as possible, all nights in the studio, instruments filling the living room for anytime jams, and then going to the one bar in town because it was the only place to go. I also spent a lot of time on Greyhound busses… I highly recommend a good five hour sit at the Elyria Greyhound sometime. We'd go into Cleveland pretty frequently for the Bent Crayon and that thrift store Unique. We had our first big shows in Cleveland… I really like that stretch on 90 I think? Where you're elevated over all the industrial gunk, flames burning out of smoke stacks? Then you come up on the stadium! I didn't grow up in Oberlin though, I think I have only a glimpse of it.
Q: You released a bunch of records, before signing to Ghostly in 2005, via the Oberlin collective you co-founded, Shinkoyo. Where did that name come from and what's the underlying purpose or mission statement of Shinkoyo?
A: Shinkoyo came out of all those things… I think we wanted to have some vessel to send things out of the bubble? Seve Martinez and I got "loans" to put out the first three records (Skeletons, Peter Blasser's "sound of doves in a cave", and Seve's "Clocks and Psandas") and we'd have big round table "board meetings"… really heated discussions between 8 or 9 people, amazing! Seve had a dream that he was going to start a fashion company called Shin12koyo, but the 12 was silent… We found out that Shinkoyo sort of means "new employment" in Japanese. Then Doron Sadja put out a record with 12k… We were talking about a logo with two dead birds, and Seve and Peter found this flag that we adopted as the logo… which ended up being Pennsylvania Dutch – a sign to ward off evil spirits – we had been using it upside-down! We spent one meeting writing up our "mission statement" which said something about newness and collaboration and technology without "tech or retro – fetishism"!? We never really had any money though, or distribution beyond bringing records to record stores while we were on tour, which we still do. We've also put most of that music up to be listened to on the Shinkoyo site.
Q: Any cool projects coming up with that?
A: So many if only we had money and time! We co-released a new Sejayno (Peter B., Seve, and Carson Garhart) record. Doron and Zeljko McMullen are running a performance space in NY called Paris London West Nile, recording and archiving much great music played there. I've been preparing video for internet TV shows. And we have albums and albums waiting to be put out into the world, gathering lovely dust…
Q: You're clearly an eclectic musician. Your lyrics, continually-rotating and enlarging line-up, tremendous array of musical styles and these, and overarching ambitious, completely unique sound make that very clear. So tell me a little about your musical background!
A: Hmm… I started pretty young playing music, but never practiced enough. My major in college was Technology in Music and Related Arts.
Q: Regardless of how many influences you cite and how many instruments you throw into your arrangements, your songs continually wind up sounding sort of lo-fi. Not necessarily bedroom recording lo-fi, but just quieter and more restrained than what one would assume you sound like on paper. What the writing, recording, and producing process like for you?
A: I think it depends how loud you listen to it! I've always wanted the records to be their own thing… they have to be, considering the space and the tools you have to make it. It means the process is always changing… when we made Lucas we moved into a new place (The Silent Barn, they have shows at now…) and sort of halted recording in order to build our rooms. Set up the "studio" in the basement, which had the biggest effect on the sound of the record. Every track recorded in that room sounded like that room, so you sort of have to learn how to use it to your benefit. Everything beyond the "sound" has an effect too… the place and time and people. Now we're recording at a place in Times Square, only at night, only a few days sporadically, paying for time. So where Lucas was more like sculpting, long hours adding and taking away things – the process now is much more planning, every part, every sound, every experiment. Oh, and I think what you're talking about is trying to keep things multidimensional? Trying to make something BOTH loud and soft at the same time or funky and fucked up and the same time… so the focus becomes finding the overall feel of the record that differs from a description of it's parts, it's own thing?
Q: And speaking of influences … Skeletons is routinely compared to the likes of Sonic Youth, free jazz groups, no-wave bands, Can, and Prince. How accurate would you say these parallels are and how well do you personally identify with them? What are you own influences?
A: I like all of those things very much, so I appreciate the parallels… but I hope that it always takes a few parallels to sort of deliver a picture. I'm always searching for something that hits me so hard I can only listen and gather up everything that band or person did for a while… it keeps happening!
Q: Why all the regularly-altering band names? Skeletons & the Girl-Faced Boys; Skeletons & the Kings Of All Cities … where did the monikers come from?
A: It's nice to have a name that can change a l'il bit, no?
Q: I love the video you most recently made for "Sickness." Who directed that and what was the aim with the film? It's a pretty eerie film … like a David Lynch-inspired quest done Hunter S. Thompson style. (Was that way off?)
A: Thanks! The video was directed by Jojo the King, Minister of the New New Heavy, Senior VP of Development for Skeletons, INC. It was filmed between Nevada and Kansas for no money. We started filming at 3am when we ran out of gas in the middle of the desert. The story finished itself! You start to notice all the abandoned gas stations more when you run out of gas once or twice.
Q: From what I understand, you've a history with the visual arts, too. How does this affect your musical work and what stuff are you currently working on now outside of Skeletons?
A: I'm working on quite a bit of video… When Skeletons first started, there was an idea to keep it multimedia. The first record we did with Shinkoyo was originally an album with videos from start to finish, mostly from educational videos about driving and growing up. It sort of fell to the side when we started touring so much, but in the past year or so I've tried to always have a camera around. Lately I've been shooting various things, little ideas, TV shows, etc. I'd like to make musicals.
Q: Aside from touring next year, what else is on the horizon for you? Are you recording a new record? Working on some sort of collaboration?
A: We're right in the middle of a record right now, and starting another one if time permits before we go on a big tour in the Spring, plus there's another one that's about 90 percent done that I recorded a while back more solo style. I'm hoping to get them all out in the next year, that's my resolution. That and maybe exercising. And keeping my job.
Q: I think that's about it. Thanks so much for doing this interview. Hope to see you soon!