Minnesota maximalists in space
I met with representatives of local space rock out-fit Skye Klad the other day, the self-proclaimed “mobile multipurpose unit specializing in the avenues of sonic-research and experimentation,” who cite such influences as Can and Sonic Youth, and oddly enough no iridescent spaceship or smoking delorean was at the coffee shop to meet me when I arrived.
Instead I sat outside in the Minneapolis twilight with deceptively normal and criminally laid back Jason Kesselring and Matt Zaun, drank domestic coffee, and discussed, among other things, the artistic process and the wiley world of rock and roll genres.
Skye Klad is a contradiction in terms in all respects. Where its music is loud and unabashed, it is also home to bright sharply excuted guitar work, quivering theremin and penetrating lyrics. Where their stage show is a wild entanglement of mood lighting, pure adrenalin, and most recently, carnivalesque performance art, the bands’ off-stage demeanor is so soft and sane it belies even the notion of wildness.
Much in the same way that David Lynch’s wholesome upbringing was the perfect inspiration for his sardonic film noir, Skye Klad is a group of five artists who seek to give their audience music that rescues them from the banality of everyday life. Or do they …?
The Lens: How long have you guys been playing together?
Skye Klad: Since 1997 I think — when we first started out. It was initially just myself [Jason Kesselring] and Matt [Zaun]. Before we got together under the name Skye Klad, it was something that was more or less kind of “arty” — a lot of soundscapes. The whole ambient music craze was just starting to catch on then.
T.L.: How long ago did Skye Klad, your album, come out?
S.K.: It just came out. Actually Friday June 1st was the CD release party.
T.L.: Did you put out an EP before you put out Skye Klad?
S.K.: We had an EP that was around 1998 probably, about a year and a half after we started, around the same time when we got our singer. That was when everything started heading in this direction, away from the really experimental — experimenting for the sake of experimenting.
T.L.: Outside of the fact that your music was “arty,” how else would you describe it? Did you have songs or did you just sort of go out there and make noise?
S.K.: We had songs that were more like structures and frameworks — we did a lot of improvising. We played a lot of art opening shows, with free jazz groups, and with Savage Aural Hotbed. We played this underground art music showcase called “The New Atlantis” that used to happen at Jitters on Nicollet Mall.
T.L.: Would you say that musically you’re a lot different now then when you started?
S.K.: No, not really. The kernel of our sort of sonic experimentation is basically to go and be as modern as possible. At the same time we try to keep that spirit of really classic recordings — you know, psychedelic recording from the sixties — early Pink Floyd and Syd Barret stuff which is about songs. We’re working with the pop format, but shoving this heavy electronic sound into it.
T.L.: How would you define your sound – I mean if you had to pick a genre? I read an article on you that referred to your music as sci-fi or space rock.
S.K.: We’ve always kind of termed it space rock — sci-fi is a little weird. We’re not really into science fiction. I guess we’re more or less maximalists — minimalism kind of lulls you and seduces you. We’re very much in your face — not ambiguous or oblique. We’re really influenced by early industrial music like Throbbing Gristle — stuff that’s really jarring. We kind of look at psychedelic music and space rock from those angels — more harsh, a little cynical, a little subversive, a little twisted.
T.L.: You have a lot strange song names — “Toxaphene” for instance. That’s a pesticide?
S.K.: Yeah, “Toxaphene” is a weird one. That’s Adam, our singer’s, song — he writes the lyrics. It’s kind of a scenario song, a scene seen through the eyes of a murderer.It’s not meant to be gruesome — its just viewing things from a different perspective and writing a song about it. When we write songs we’re trying not to be didactic. It’s very much like trying to tell a story.
A lot of times we won’t even know what the lyrics are until we’ve been playing the songs for a while and then one of us will ask Adam, and then the song really takes on its form. “Toxaphene” is one of the more laid back songs instrumentally on the album, but the lyrical content at the same time contrasts the music. It’s a perfect example of how the words can change the song.
T.L.: What’s up with that strange metaphysical definition of Skye Klad on your Web site? Is it meant to be tongue and cheek or …?
S.K.: It’s a way to look at it. [T.L.: A way to look at your music?] Yeah, like we’re trying to achieve something other than just writing songs. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. It means a lot of things. That was written more during our experimental phase, but it stays there because, even though the first song on the new album “Mind’s Eye” is a three or four chord pop song in the traditional manner we want to address things and go beyond “baby I love you,” or singing about absurd things. We want to talk about things that are little more intellectual or even mythological.
T.L.: To be honest, it kind of reminded me of something from the X-Files — something Mulder would say?
S.K.: (Matt — chuckling) Yeah, we all have an interest in stuff like that. Take it for what it’s worth.
T.L.: Where did you guys get the name Skye Klad?
S.K.: It comes from pagan culture — it’s a pagan term for going nude in a ritual setting: “sky clad.” When I was starting a band I thought it was a cool word — I liked how it sounded, and I changed the spelling – stylized it I guess.
T.L.: How would you say you fit into the Twin Cities scene? Would you say that it’s embracing of sort of yours and other bands’ “unorthodox” music stylings?
S.K.: I think it is. In fact I’m kind of shocked by the adulation we’ve received thus far. There’s a lot of little scenes in town, I’d say we work outside of that. We don’t really look at scenes though, we’re more interested in getting our music out globally — especially through the site — it’s amazing how many people catch on to it through that. There’s lots of networks of just ravenous collector types who are really interested in our type of music. For example, one of the members of our band is in a group called Salamander, they’re pretty much unknown around here — they couldn’t get arrested, and yet he gets write-ups in countless magazines in Europe.
There’s a lot of things here that go unnoticed as far as music as music goes — a lot of little events that take place where there’s phenomenal stuff going on, and a lot of people don’t know about it.