Skerik: Uncanny Syncopation

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Skerik’s public persona is as colorful as his performances, incorporating vast music knowledge, humor, the strange and offbeat, complete with a spiritual undertone. From his work with Garage-a-Trois, Critters Buggin, Ponga (with Wayne Horovitz & Bobby Previte), Black Frames, Roger Waters, Tuatara, John Scofield, Medeski Martin & Wood, Beta Popes, Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, Galactic, Crack Sabbath and the aptly named Dead Kenny G’s; Skerik has played it all. His playing has been deemed "Saxophonics," defined as the creation of sounds (both musical and non-musical) through the use of a saxophone and one or more electronic effects, often altering the acoustic sound of the horn beyond recognition.

Although you may know the Seattle sax vet as the bug-eyed, soul patched stage oddity with occasional devil horns, musically however, Skerik is all business. His latest album Husky – recorded at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles – features his Syncopated Taint Septet, a collaboration he describes as a “punk-jazz version of the Thelonious Monk Octet. ” In between all his mad-cap musical adventures, Skerik had a chance to give Glide a call and tell it like it is.

If you had to pick a theme song for a Summer Tour 2006 with Les Claypool montage, what would it be?

It would probably be a song from Boots Randolph or Fats Waller. Like the theme song from Benny Hill, yakkity sax.

You’re about to start a tour in support of The Syncopated Taint Septet. Do you have a different mind-set when you perform with different musicians, or do you go out there with the same approach?

I think it’s the same, because you’re immersed 24 hours a day in the process of playing music. For me, there really isn’t a result. Music is not a result-oriented art form. It’s really all about process. You’re constantly in a state of preparation, practice, rehearsal, writing, getting ready…the gig is just kind of a temporary summation of those activities.

So it’s more of an intellectual approach rather than just going out there and playing?

Playing a gig and practicing can both be very spiritually connective activities. I have to be immersed in the music, whether I’m practicing or playing a gig. Every night is so different.

What was your training like? Did you go to music school?

No, I took mostly private lessons. I went to a music school in Paris for a year, and then some private lessons in Seattle. That and playing along with records and a lot of books.

Music books?

Oh yeah. And then after a certain while there’s an amount of mechanical knowledge absorbed. It’s mostly like a mental state. You can practice all you want, music theory and technical stuff, but unless you have a philosophical idea on what music should be and what life is, then none of that theory is going to help you because you’re not going to have any context for it. So you get to a certain age, after a certain amount of study, it’s more about building context and philosophies for the music to exist in. Raison d’être, a reason to be. A French term.

What are you listening to and reading right now?

I’m reading Wayne Shorter’s bio called Footprints, written by Michelle Mercer. I just got done reading a brief history of the saxophone, The Devil’s Horn. I’ve been listening to a lot of Messiaen.

It seems like the most intelligent musicians listen to classical composers

(Laughing) Well, it’s like listening to a hundred bands. I also really like the new Deerhoof record. I love all their records. And then, of course, the new Septet record…

Was there an overall concept you wanted to convey with the new album?

Yeah, just the sound of 1 – the record, and 2 – a band playing live together that really owns the music they’re playing. Playing without fear, improvising together and performing compositions together, and not being afraid to interpret it differently every time you play. I hope that sentiment comes across. I hope the music makes people less submissive.

It seems even the political notions get that mentality across.

It’s good to think for yourself. Otherwise someone else will be more than happy to do it for you. It’s probably going to be some power freak motivated by greed.

Are there things to be optimistic about besides music?

I always have hope that things will change. I have hope in younger people, kids, I see my daughter, hope she doesn’t grow up to be a money grubbing power freak greedy whore like George Bush (not a spiritual bone in his body).

With all the musicians you’ve worked with, is there a dream collaboration that you’d like to take part in?

Well, I think my bands are pretty much…if I could just do them more often it would be great. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get eight people together, and really expensive. You can only go into so much debt. I wish we could do the Septet more.

What kind of band was Sadhappy?

We started out as a duo, just bass and drums. And the bass player [Paul Hinklin] is amazing, he could play anything. He could play Bach violin concertos on his bass. So he wrote all these original compositions and hooked up with the drummer [Evan Schiller], and they would just play all the time. I would go see them play. They were a blast to watch because it was so intense. So crazy, so gifted. I never really wanted to join their band and they weren’t necessarily looking for a sax player so I just started jamming with them once in awhile in the late 80’s. Then we just started playing. One day I went to the studio with them and played and made this record. The bass player looked at me and said, “Well, I guess you’re a member of Sadhappy now.” Definitely very unintentional, and very incredible. Every gig was just a melting ball of energy, it was insane. It was really great, I really miss that. Then all these labels tried to sign us and we had these managers who tried to rip us off. It was a real initiation to the music business. Then the bassist got really sick and I don’t think he plays anymore. It was a sad demise. It was incredible while it lasted and it was really powerful what we did.

After an experience like that, do you purposefully avoid any kind of major label affiliation now?

No, but it generally is a good idea, because they pay people to not play independent music. That’s just a fact. There’s an article at downhillbattle.org.

It’s always a good idea to support independent labels. I notice you mainly stick with those.

Yes, like Hyena records, my new favorite label. Kevin [Calabro] is probably the best publicist in the country.

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