Skeletons – Video Anthology
“Music was my first love – and it will be my last. – Music of the future – and music of the past. – To live without my music – would be impossible to do. – In this world of troubles, – my music pulls me through” (John Miles). All cheesiness aside, thanks to Skeletons for reminding me of this simple truth. There was a time in my life during which I had forgotten what music means to me. But along came Skeletons, a band that is constantly exploring, evolving and rearranging itself – both compositionally and constitutionally. Sometimes a duo, sometimes an orchestral big band but mostly a quintet, the only constant in this gleeful Brooklyn outfit remains a never ending procession into the artistically unknown. Skeletons create pop songs for people who recoil from simple structured shallowness. Songs that exercise a lust for riveting creativity and songs that evaporate a colorful bouquet of styles and influences through a gazillion pores with every note played. If there is beauty in music – and I’m talkin’ unconditionally transcending beauty, not just some superficial pretty surface – then Skeletons are right at the heart of it. It is a very special gift that this band calls their own. Matthew Mehlan and company are able to reignite long lost sparks in self-proclaimed oversaturated burnouts like myself. Being talented alone hardly does the trick. To elevate mind-boggling craftsmanship to a higher level of seductive artistry one must also be part of the dedicated and rarely found few to whom music is their first love, and to whom it will be their last. In Skeletons’ case said dedication over the years intertwined with communal aspects such as the creation of their own independent and free-spirited art space, “The Silent Barn”, and taking upcoming Hip Hop crew Nine 11 Thesaurus under their guiding wings. If you will, Skeletons are 21st century hippies, a fine group of people who have overcome antiquated fashions and styles while keeping the general idea of a community driven sensibility for working with one another very much alive. Over the course of the last five years (((unartig))) documented the many faces of Skeletons both in New York City and Europe, the highlights of which are presented with this anthology. Alongside these A/V capsules come words by Jonathan Pfeffer/Capillary Action, Jocelyn Soubiran/Zebulon, Charlie Looker/Extra Life and Andreas Schnell/Trust/TAZ.
[Jonathan Pfeffer | Capillary Action]
Skeletons are one of the finest, most inspirational groups on the planet right now. Over the years, I’ve watched Matt and co. evolve from a loose-limbed collective equal parts Arto Lindsay and Detroit house (they were definitely the coolest kids on campus when I was a freshman) to a ferocious, telepathic quartet crafting chamber-pop-worldbeat-grunge-prog-what-the-fuck songs of the highest order. Skeletons have always seemed hell-bent getting to whatever the next signpost in their evolution was, pushing themselves (and listeners) into virgin sonic territory with every record and every show. It’s hard not to get swept up in the frenzy with music this fresh, infectious, and that risks so much. There’s not a band on earth that sounds like them but in their inimitability, they make other bands trying to mine their own musical paths feel, as I told Tony once, less alone in the world. I think my favorite Skeletons song is a three-way tie between “Let It Out,” “Eleven (It’ll Rain),” and “See the Way.”
Jonathan Pfeffer | Philadelphia, February 2010
[Jocelyn Soubiran | Zebulon]
Talk about a BAND! The Skeletons… The energy of these guys… Even beyond the music: Their spirit and their desire to artistically go anywhere, incorporating a wide variety of styles into their mélange. There’s rock of course, alongside jazz, avant-garde, free form and so much more. It’s always good news to witness a band like that in action… It is inspiring! We at Zebulon are glad, glad to have met them, and glad to have shared so many nights with them. Skeletons’ journey is far from being over. Their legacy is still growing as they continue to be a smoking hot outfit. They are constantly extending their formula… occasionally adding manpower to evolve from a standard four piece into a big band with many horns, keys, several drummers, and additional strings. I am sure that some day we will even see them include a berimbau player, a sitar player and whatever else takes them to the next level. That’s what Skeletons is, a group of people who love and live music with every breath they take.
Jocelyn Soubiran | Brooklyn, March 2010
[Charlie Looker | Extra Life]
I first met Skeletons when Zs (profiled here) was paired with them at a college gig upstate back in ‘06. While their sound was of course different from Zs’, it was immediately apparent that we were deeply kindred spirits. Their set blew me away, and they consistently blow me away every time I see them. Now that I think of it, I’ve probably seen Skeletons live more times than any other band in the world (with Aa being a close second).
Skeletons pull off so many different artistic currents at once it’s unbelievable. Their music is both funky and evil at the same time. This is a rare combination indeed, with 70’s Miles Davis being the only precursor that springs immediately to mind. Skeletons could seriously be described as a Fusion band! How, then, are they the greatest band around??? It’s about the way they’re doing it. Their ensemble feel is both loose and tight at once. That’s a rare joy to experience. They are all impeccable musicians playing really intricate parts, but it never has a flashy wanky feel. Unlike a jam band, they rarely take extended individual solos. When they do solo, it’s not jazz chops vocabulary, but harshly funky shards. There is collective improvisation always weaving in and out of the pop-song structures in very natural ways.
Skeletons’ groove/jam/funk sensibility is definitely sexy and uplifting, but it’s far from blindly optimistic escapism. There is fun in the music, but it’s not “for the kids” late 00’s indie fare. Their songs of sex and money have all the crass realism of adult life. They definitely could be described as “psychedelic”, but it’s not all peace, rainbows and the beach. It’s more like the actual psychedelic experience, which is a far more problematic trip. There is also a serious political strain to their lyrics and their general position. Skeletons want you to make love, dance and enjoy the world, but they keep it very real about the nastiness of this world you’re dancing in. Long live this incredible band!
Charlie Looker | Brooklyn, April 2010
[Stone | Trust]
Skeletons – The greatest nation is the donation! What a trip! When I heard of the band referred to as “The Skeletons“ for the first time, it was when “Money“ came out. A little while before that, a new album on the same label by Parenthetical Girls caught my attention as it linked Pop and Avantgarde almost effortlessly. But Skeletons were much more mindblowing, their compositions morphing into free form, roaming wide open spaces. A little like Free Jazz but not really, of course. Then there were Bossa rhythms, a Latin breeze, weird metres, folky fingerpicking and what not. So I started to explore the world of this band, only to end up with more questions – and it wasn’t easy to get the answers, let me tell you… But thanks to our modern and virtual means of communication, I got hold of Matt Mehlan, the main composer of the band. And while I am still waiting for the CDs to arrive, I can already give you answers! Here they are…
What and who is Skeletons? And what’s with the name? When you look up the band on the web there seem to be several incarnations … Mehlan says: „Right now there are two versions of Skeletons – SKELETON$ and SKELETON$ BIG BAND. The “little” band has just gone from a quartet to a trio to a quintet in the past five months or so – it’s been Jason McMahon, Jon Leland and I – throughout… We have two new members: Mike Gallope on organ and Pete Vogl on bass… The Big Band ranges between 12 and 18 people with players from tons of other bands who are all amazing players (Extra Life, Pull, Mike Pride, Little Women, Afuche, PC Worship, Teeth Mountain, Sparks Orchestra, Nomo, and others). We’ve gone through at least 11 different versions of the band – so there were periods and records that seemed like they needed a different FLAVOR on the name…“
Let’s dig into this a little deeper. Not knowing all of the associated bands, I know for sure that between the prog rock leanings of Extra Life, Nomo’s Afrobeat and Little Women’s sax and guitar free raging madness, Skeletons, as they shall be referred to here, seem to be a focal point of the most adventurous and eclectic Brooklyn minds. So it’s no surprise that „Money“, being my moment of epiphany, contains wild combinations of styles and at one point even a piece of music reminding me of Soundgarden’s „Jesus Christ Pose“. So I asked Mehlan if there was any music at all that he and his fellers wouldn’t want to explore. „Soundgarden must just be an aural hallucination due to the long hair in all the videos (((unartig))) shot“, he says. „We really don’t try to shy away from any KINDS of music – it’s more trying to not fall into the musical/stylistic ruts that allow those kinds of music to be pigeonholed…“
Accomplished. Even though I would argue that there IS a certain Soundgarden vibe in the mix somewhere. As versatile as their compositions are Skeletons‘ organisational structures. They released albums on several different labels, but there also seems to be some center of the whole scene called Shinkoyo Collective. Which part do Skeletons play in there? „Shinkoyo is a group of artists who met at Oberlin – that since have splintered off (mostly to here (NYC/Brooklyn), Oakland, and Baltimore) but still work together constantly in various shapes and forms“, explains Mehlan. „We started as a normal “record label” but now have become more of a glue holding all these various people together and helping each other out and inspiring each other…“
Running a record label these days – we all heard about that – really isn’t easier than it was ten years ago. Shinkoyo asks people to donate for otherwise free downloads. Surprise: it works. Well, to some extent… „We make enough from donations to cover our costs of maintaining the site, etc (which is super minimal) but I think our Jukebox/donation based store is a super important idea/operational standard for Shinkoyo… Unfortunately it’s difficult to get the word out about new music we post when everyone is SO busy trying to make their own art AND pay rent.“
Okay, how do Skeletons manage to do so? „I work at Roulette where I mix recordings of all the concerts and make Roulette TV shows, Jason is a waiter and he also works for the Census, Jon works at Zebulon, Mike is getting his doctorate in ethnomusicology, Pete moves Art.“
Talking about what’s new in the Skeletons camp, I‘m proud to have the opportunity to bring you the good word: „We’ve just finished two new records: one is called “PEOPLE” which is the last set of tunes written during the quartet period – most of them we’ve been playing now for about a year and a half… The other is a Big Band record that is yet to be titled. They SHOULD be out later this year, but we’ll see.“
I sure do hope so. Almost as much as I hope to see the guys live – hey, why not Europe? „To be honest, touring doesn’t always even bring in enough money to pay rent for the month you’re away… In Europe it’s a little better, but the cost of flying 4 or 5 people over and renting a van and equipment means the overhead is very high. We toured two to three months every year until 2009 (even so, we did 2 tours and 2 fly in festivals in Europe in 2009 alone plus some week long things in the States) but it gets impossible to have work that pays enough to allow you to continue even THAT pace. We love touring, there is nothing more intense than the places you can reach when you get to play music every night in front of an audience and it’s amazing to travel and meet people. That’s why we will keep doing it.“
Folks, I’m really glad to hear that. And I advise you strongly to check Skeletons out! If you live in an area where they’re not playing due to circumstances you know about by now, jump head first into the videos on this page. It’s free.
Stone | Bremen, Germany, April 2009