Pink Skull's press release for their second album, Endless Bummer (RVNG International―pre-order it now!), reads like the synopsis of a Philip K. Dick novel, something very appealing to us Anthem staffers. “The dystopian frontier is near, but never fear. In the new era of endlessness where we hide ourselves as humans among androids, there is hope.” Now, the narrative of the LP isn't quite as explicit as Dick's work, but there's an aesthetic similarity that underscores the whole thing. Recorded live to 8-tracks on 1″ tape at Alex Ounsworth's 200-year-old-barn-cum-studio on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the record positions itself as a sort of dance album for the apocalypse. Imagine the merging of the dense kraut of Cluster & Eno, the mechanized grit of PIL's Metal Box, and some of the Orb's choicer electronic efforts and you've approximated the tone of Endless Bummer.
We talked with Julian Grefe, half of the producer duo, about the release, it's killer (and laboriously crafted) artwork, where he got his awesome voice from, and how they come up with such nutty song titles. Afterward, Grefe asked us some unusual questions, which we urge you to check out as well.
In addition to getting all cerebral with Pink Skull, we're delivering to you the exclusive debut of “Endless Bummer” one of our favorite jams on the disc. Be sure to pre-order the gem right here too.
I love the name of your new album, Endless Bummer. It's immediately understandable and funny, but I wonder what personally drove you two to name it such.
I'm glad you like it. I was going for both immediately understandable and funny―a bit of a break from the more obtuse references of yore. And it summed up the last year-and-a-half of my life―my car got stolen; my girlfriend got attacked by a pitbull; I sort of overdosed (long story); and someone dropped an air conditioner out of a second story window, which grazed my head (and which would have killed me for certain) and then smashed on the sidewalk; working my dead-end job. Blah blah… But, I did want to give it a little wistfullness―didn't want to be construed as some sort of super downer…. plus it kinda sounds like Endless Summer―a bit like our lives (without the surfy part).
Relatedly, I love what you did with the album art. To most people, hand typesetting every cover would be ludicrous, but you decided to go for it. What was the motivation behind that?
We left the art up to Kevin O'neill and Matt Werth. I was really excited to have the record come out on RVNG and i love Kevin's aesthetics. They came up with the concept and went for it. Really impressive task and they look super cool. You'd have to ask Matt himself about the motivation behind it…
Okay, on to the music! You use a lot of heavy, deep vocals on this record that give it an almost intimidating feel. Can you tell me a little about how you worked on that aspect of the music and how the approach is different from your previous work?
Hrm… intimidating, huh? After a lot of dicking around with other vocalists and effects and that kind of shit I just kind of went for it. That's just my register, I guess. I mean, its not like Type O Negative― maybe a little Bowie/Eno-ish?
We cut the basic tracks to tape (on a 1″ 8-track courtesy of handsome Quentin Stolfus from Mazarin at Alex [Ounsworth]'s place and then i went back and did vocals at our studio to digital. I spent alot of time thinking about how to accent the vocals without going overboard and decided that it would be nice to use different backing vocalists to work with on different songs (my friends Mike Robinson, Joe Tagg, and Rose Luardo). They provide the higher harmonies on the tracks to give them a more uplifting feel, as lower register vocals can be perceived as sinister or brooding or just plain too masculine to be poppy. Sinister and brooding I am not. Nor is Justin [Geller―the other half of Pink Skull]. Maybe a bit of a “dude,” though. Totally. And some people find that intimidating. Previously, I just kinda mumbled/whispered. There's too much of that in the world already.
There's something very uplifting about the album (the melodies, the pacing, the arrangements). What sort of mindset were you in when you wrote and recorded it? Why were you at this place and how did it affect your output?
Just wanted to here some uplifting-ish stuff, I guess. I find electronic music to be oddly, uh, at the risk of sounding like some sort of shit-wig Goa enthusiast, spiritual. Shit just kept piling up as we worked on this record and maybe it was just me keeping my head above water, subconsciously. I guess it all just kind of seeped out. But, I might point out, a couple of the songs are almost three years old. I finally was able to record them the way I wanted, with a live band.
You still have really weird song titles. What's the deal with those!? (I love them… )
They just kind of fall out of my mouth all day and J.G. keeps a list of them. When the time comes, we'll go through and pick out the best ones. Some suck, some rule―and some really rule! Many are puns, some are just plays on assonance or alliteration, some are just exactly what they say they are.
I can imagine it's tough for you to do live shows considering the complexity of these tunes. What's your plan for touring and all?
We do play live, and have for the last year-and-a-half… it's a bit complex―both live and [in terms of] programmed instruments. A four- or five-piece band, laptop, and sometimes visuals… but, lately I've tired of the video show. It's too distracting and everyone in the audience just appears to be watching TV from our standpoint. I'm working on fabricating a more interactive light rig with actual lights, as the light-play interacting with the audience and the band allow everyone to be part of the same experience at the same moment. Watching a video made weeks before projected on a two dimensional screen [doesn't do that]. You [can] just stay at home get stoned and watch Fractals on VHS if that's what you're after.
Oh, yeah, tour… yeah, for now, some small weekend jaunts… if something proper comes along we'd definitely take it. But I'm not about to load up a van with five grown men with families and jobs and schlep across America for weeks at a time playing dumps to “get the word out.” I don't mean to sound like a prima donna of sorts, but fuck that. We do love playing shows, otherwise we wouldn't be in a band.
A lot of artists visualize an audience or a feeling or a scene or something when they work on music. Do you? If so, what place are you in with Endless Bummer? What party are you playing to?
Interesting. That has never crossed my mind. Ever. I do like small-/medium-sized capacity venues―like 200 people. 200 really stoked people. Dancing. 200 really stoked people dancing in a small, dark venue. Who want to give me drugs and money and not talk about fucking techno for four hours at a clip.
Here's what Grefe had to ask our Associate Editor, Nik Mercer.
If you had to pick one 1980s Japanese import car to become, which make and model would it be? Most of Pink Skull would go with a 1980 Datsun 280ZX. Sharp. But the 1987 Subaru XT's are also rad. Murphy would probably say some sort of pick up, but whatever on him.
Interesting! I always loved the names of the first wave of Mitubishis (Mighty Max being the funniest), so I'd probably go with the Cordia from 1988, but I could be persuaded to get an earlier model.
What was your first summer job? I worked for the grounds-keeping offices for Kormansuites. Pretty cool huh?
That's a pretty good summer job! I might one-up you, though! I worked as the “irrigation manager” for a llama farm in the southeast part of Oregon. The owner had bought a whole mess of llama in the hopes of exponentially growing his investment through breeding and reselling, but alas, this did not work. He was stuck with about 100 llamas whose land needed to be properly irrigated!
Carne asada or carnitas? Pink Skull says carnitas.
I'm not a huge meat-eater to begin with, but since I lived in L.A. after growing up in Cleveland for about six, seven years, I inevitably got sucked in to Mexican cuisine. I'd go with carnitas too, though.
True or false: Pink Floyd was better after Syd Barrett left? Totally True! Apples and Oranges should have been enough for everyone to call bullshit on the guy.
I'd agree with you. I think Barrett brought a legacy with him that only takes the band so far in terms of sheer creativity. He was a pretty spectacular guy, but I'm hard pressed to say that the entire post-S.B. trope is worse than the one LP they did with his drugged-out self on board.
Is anyone in your family OCD? If so, what do they do that drives you insane? No one in mine is.
Haha. No one in my family has been diagnosed as being obsessive-compulsive (we're scared to know if we are?), but I'd say my father and I have certain OCD tendencies. I think the most annoying thing we do is organize things in neat and tidy piles that only we understand and that make the spaces they occupy look chaotic. We're not messy, we just have our own really difficult-to-grasp filing systems. I also used to obsessively collect things―primarily comics―but I don't know if any of this constitutes as OCD.
As I write this, though, I'm looking at my books, which have been organized by my girlfriend, not in alphabetical order (the sensible way, right?), but by color. I have no idea where anything is, although I find it hilarious that a Francis Bacon monograph is positioned next to All-Star Superman vol. 2 (a wonderful comic, by the way).