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Skerik: Concept is All Anyone Cares About

By Published: October 16, 2006
AAJ: So was the choice of personnel for the group based on an idea of instrumentation or was it more about the people? Did you have a notion of, say, a "Hammond band? A "no-bass band? Or anything like that?

S: In my world, and in a lot of my friends' world, personalities dictate a band more than instrumentation. I find that works both ways, too, in terms of the people that hire me. Les Claypool wasn't looking for a saxophonist for his band, but he likes what I do with music. Those are the kinds of gigs I get hired for, because it's just kind of that way. So the people in this band were chosen for their personalities and their musical concepts more than their instrumentation. Instrumentation is totally random. These people were chosen for their opinions on music or their view of music. So whether they're playing bassoon or sousaphone or alto sax doesn't really matter.

AAJ: Just like your instrument doesn't matter when you get hired by someone? So you're just hired as a professional Skerik more than a professional saxophonist?

S: Oh, yeah. If people ever call or email me and they're looking for a saxophonist, I usually give them the names and numbers of some really good saxophone players. But if people want me to come play on something, I'll come check out the music.

AAJ: Well, despite the fact that this band came together organically, as human beings, and not out of any sort of professional ambitions—it's a pretty fantastic band.

S: Well, that's how you always get the best bands.

AAJ: So as the ostensible leader of the group, are you in any way guiding the direction of the group's sound?

S: Well, I'm not a composer. And there are some really amazing musicians in the band—great writers and arrangers. So I just kind of do what my strengths allow me to do, which is facilitate the music and enable us to play music together. Get the band a trailer, book the gigs, make sure everyone has a bed to sleep in at night, make sure everyone gets paid. I mean, that stuff is not to be underestimated, because if any one of those things is not happening, it's going to make it difficult to play music. So I'm just kind of the spokesperson for the group. But having said that, I do try to make musical suggestions to people—only when absolutely necessary. I feel that choosing engineers, choosing the studios in which we record, stuff like that—that's a creative act too, that has a lot to do with result. Not so much process, but actual result. So a lot of my actions help define the results, and sometimes processes too. But everyone has their strengths, and hopefully together, we have enough strengths to create a circle.

AAJ: Well, sometimes those sorts of skills that you describe produce quality, because they create an absence of fucked-upedness.

S: Exactly. It's all quality control. It's about putting everyone in a position where they feel comfortable, where they feel that they can create, where they feel excited and inspired.

AAJ: A lot has been made in some quarters of this music owing as much in its rhythms to, say, funk or hip-hop as it does to jazz music. Do you have any opinions about genre, about whether music is "jazz or not, at this point in your career?

S: Well, I subscribe to a couple different beliefs. One is that there are only two kinds of music: good and bad music. And everyone knows what that is to themselves. I used to live in Paris, France, and the record stores there were just alphabetical. So, it's like, "what genre of music do you play? And the answer is, "Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet.

Then, also, I read this great quote—something Kenny Werner said: "It used to be that the music defined itself. And now critics appear to want to define what the music is for the musicians.

AAJ: Sometimes I wish that I as a critic actually had that much power. I do think that that can be a menace for a musician, but at the same time, it's the record companies and other people that sell music that define it the most rigorously.

S: Yeah. Well, I just don't really pay attention to it. It doesn't have anything to do with me.

AAJ: Your first record, Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, which came out in 2003 on Ropeadope, was a live record. That was a very utilitarian way to make a record. But for the new Husky, you went in and recorded in the studio with recording engineer S. Husky Höskulds. Tell me about making this recording.

S: Well, we had a lot of material that we'd been playing for about a year. So we were really comfortable with it and we were just in a real groove—everyone was playing really great and the band was a real band. We had done a couple of tours, so we were a well-oiled machine. So it was easy for us to go into the studio. We were all on a West Coast tour, and we were like one organ. So I said, "Hey, we've got a day off in L.A. Want me to book a little gig somewhere? Because we hate taking days off. We like to play every day, seven days a week, when we're on tour. So our front house engineer— and life coach—Randall Dunn, said, "Why don't you guys record? He's an engineer in Seattle, so he's always thinking about recording. I thought that was a great idea, so I called up Husky, and he had the day off. I called up the studio, and they had the day off. Everything just came together perfectly; it was just meant to be.

So we just went in there and tracked the record in a few hours on a Sunday, and then Husky took two days to mix it. I would have liked him to have three or four. But we tracked it to analog two-inch tape and it got mixed to half-inch tape—at the Sound Factory in L.A., no expense spared. It's one of the great studios in L.A. and in the country. Custom API console, all these great old mikes, amazing sounding rooms. So we just tracked it live in the studio—it sounds incredible. And Husky's this two- time Grammy-winning engineer—not that I really give a shit about the Grammies or the people that he's won them with, but let's put it this way: most of his mixes are refused by major labels. And that's always a good sign. So I just told him, "I want you to be as much a part of this record as us. Whatever you're hearing, and whatever you want to experiment with, production-wise—just go for it with no restrictions at all. So he did some really cool things, and I'm just super happy with it. It was just one of those moments where the music meets the musicians meets the studio meets the engineer meets the production, and everything just lines up perfectly. You don't get very many of those in your life, so I'm happy.

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Download jazz mp3 “Don't Wanna” by Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet