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Courtesy of Skin Graft Records
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The legendary Skin Graft Records actually started as a fanzine—well, punk comics more specifically—in 1986, then evolved into a music label in the early ’90s after co-founder Mark Fischer moved to Chicago. Its first releases were 7-inch singles tucked inside comic book sleeves, but the label was soon releasing some of the most groundbreaking albums of that era, from the Dazzling Killmen’s Face of Collapse to U.S. Maple’s Long Hair in Three Stages (packaged in a shiny metal sleeve) to the debut disc from Japan’s Melt-Banana. (They’ve also released discs from Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Arab on Radar, Cheer-Accident, Ruins, and St. Louis’ own Yowie....here is the full list.) Fischer’s now in Vienna, though SKiN GRAFT’s shipping facilities—and its roots—are still here in St. Louis.
Still, it’s been about 10 years since Skin Graft sent a multi-band tour through town (that was the Oops! Tour, which included Arab on Radar and berserkers The Locust; it made a stop at the late, great Creepy Crawl). So, it's been a while since the label has done a big blow-out show in St. Louis. That'll be remedied this Friday: Fischer’s back in the States for a short spell, and has several Skin Graft bands booked for what’s being dubbed a Homecoming Show at the Schlafly Tap Room. On the docket: Yowie (who have a new album out, Damning With Faint Praise), Lovely Little Girls (driving up from Chicago), Decent Al Johnson, former frontman for U.S. Maple (who’s billed as “host”) and Xaddax, who are flying in from New York.
Xaddax has St. Louis, roots too—one half of the duo is STL native and early Skin Graft guy Nick Sakes (Dazzling Killmen, Colossamite, Sicbay). The other half is percussionist Chrissie Rossettie Sakes (Iyaxia, My Name is Rar-Rar) whose signature is her (in Skin Graft's words) “mad-scientist electroacoustic drum set-up” and "lurching math-disco rhythms, haloed in scuzzy sci-fi FX." We talked to the band by email in advance of Friday’s show about holding band practice in their New York apartment, their new record, Counterclockwise, and long-ago weirdo St. Louis gigs.
You can find more info and sound files for all the bands at the show’s Facebook event page. For further reading: The Village Voice did a nice little Q&A with Xaddax here. Also check out Joe Hess’ Q&A with Decent Al Johnson at the RFT, which contains interesting quips about Friday’s show, as well as some riffing on the virtues of the TUMS building. And if you’re out and about, hunt down a copy of the current ELEVEN magazine for Evan Sult’s preview, which is hard copy only, alas, or we’d link to it here.
For St. Louis folks who are coming to the Tap Room, who haven't had the benefit of hearing Xaddax live—can you talk about the band's sound, since it differs a little from the bands both of you have been in prior to now (Since those projects'll probably be what St. Louis people are familiar with)?
NS: Xaddax has more of a barrage of harsh herky-jerky electronic synth-y sounds than any of my previous bands. Not much in the way of melody. We employ a lot of spastic song structure—oddly numbered segments within songs, noisy guitar chords, pre-recorded keyboard sounds, electronic cymbals and scared-man-trapped-in-a-box vocals.
The last band I was in that played St. Louis was called Sicbay. We were definitely a rock band in the style of “indie.” perhaps. We had a loud screamy sound but there was a lot of melody. Colossamite before that had kind of a hardcore-meets-improv sound. Dazzling Killmen was kind of a powerhouse machine type of thing. Full take-no-prisoner cathartic blast.
CRS: Yeah, Xaddax is different from any of our previous bands—kind of a unique hybrid of our musical parts. I can say that the synth parts (and the idea of playing to pre-recorded parts) are a direct descendent of the stuff I was doing in Iyaxia, my solo band before Xaddax. And my drumming style/ sensibilities are probably still influenced a lot by My Name is Rar-Rar, because I liked what we had been doing in that one, but Xaddax sounds less circus-y somehow.
And for those clever people who have found sound files online—how does Xaddax live differ from the recordings?
NS: hopefully we don't differ much, if at all. There isn't much room for error because we play along with pre-recorded parts. Sometimes we get out of synch and that gets a little weird.
Talk a bit about the equipment setup—I know Chrissy in particular has a fairly particular setup with drums, pedals, keys, etc…
CRS: I play a regular drumkit but use electronic cymbals, and I trigger synth parts I’ve pre-recorded (Casio, Korg, etc) on a jam man pedal as we play.
I also (silly question, but I was curious) was wondering about the significance of the band's name, & where it came from.
CRS: We wanted it to be a word that we invented and not a combination of existing words. Something that sounded and looked cool. We liked the idea of a palindrome, and Nick definitely wanted it to have pointy letters.
Where do you guys play in NYC, what bands do you tend to share bills with?
CRS: Our favorite NY spot is Death By Audio. Edan’s great and they treat bands well, unlike so many other places in NY.
NS: We have shared bills with Child Abuse, Vaz, Cellular Chaos (Weasel Walter’s current band. Weasel is also a Skin GraftRecords alum) We got to open for Rorschach and Converge last year. That was the biggest show we ever played. We also got to tour Europe last year and played 15 shows. That was really great.
So in other interviews, you guys have talked about practicing in your apartment in Brooklyn (apparently because the basement was under construction—which may not be the case now?) and recording practice on your iPhone. Can you talk a little bit about the rehearsal/songwriting process?
CRS: Yep, still practicing at conversational volumes in our studio apartment. Looking forward to see how our songwriting changes someday when we can write at full volume!
NS: We tend to write parts together and document them on the iPhone video. After that we have a bunch of random IMG files and then we sift through those and weed out all the crappy takes. THEN we start to put together riffs and various parts and stitch together songs. More iPhone videos, confusion, etc….song!
And since Xaddax is newish—can you talk about how the songwriting is evolving, what new stuff you guys are working on? How you guys collaborate?
CRS: Our process is pretty organic at first—we each come up with parts that we like and then try to add to what the other person wrote. Then, once we have a few guitar/drum combinations we start fitting them together into a song and finding new things to add/bridge the gaps, etc. Once we have a basic structure, Nick will go off and work on lyrics and I’ll work on the synth track. The hard part is learning to actually play it once we add the pre-recorded synth parts and vocals.
Can you talk about working with Skin Graft, past, present, future?
NS: Skin Graft and I go waaay back. My first Dazzling Killmen had a 7” record / comic that was their very first release. I don’t know what to say. The history is pretty huge—about 25 years! It’s part of my legacy and personal history.
CRS: For me it’s a real honor. Skin Graft has always been my favorite label. It’s so great to have put something out on the same label as most of my all-time favorite albums.
So—I found this snippet on Hey Drummer, You Rule! and was proud that St. Louis ranked up there for weird show moments:
“Once Rar-Rar was playing a show at a bar in St. Louis and halfway through the set someone came up on stage and gave me my driver's license. Apparently we'd whipped people into such a wild dancing frenzy that it had gotten to my bag (which I'd hidden away under a chair near the stage) and it's contents ended up all over the floor of the bar. I didn't know whether to keep playing or look for my wallet. I kept playing.”
CRS: Ha! I forgot about that. What a weird night. I remember it was the winter and the place had no heat. Maybe the frenzied dancing was to keep warm.
The Skin Graft St. Louis Homecoming 2013 show happens Friday, June 21 upstairs in the Club Room at The Schlafly Tap Room (2100 Locust). It’s an all-ages show, with no cover charge; there will also be a bountiful merch table featuring current as well as past releases. More info at the Skin Graft website and at the Facebook Event Page.