Skye Klad (Interview)

By Jerry Kranitz

From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)

Minnesota's Skye Klad plays spacerock that is sometimes dreamy and sometimes aggressive. Backed by complex instrumentation, the band is firmly in space, but incorporates a more than noticeable King Crimson influence into their music. To date, the band has released one CDEP entitled "Extreme Vacuum Person". The band was gracious enough to send me some demos and live music they are working on and after hearing these I can confidently say that the spacerock community would be well served by a full length Skye Klad release. The recorded music is all original, though their version of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" is not only the best cover of that song I've heard, but possibly one of the best cover songs I've ever heard period. Aural Innovations shot off some questions to Skye Klad guitarist Jason Kesselring who gave us the lowdown on the band and its current activities.

AI: When did Skye Klad start?

JK: Skye Klad started initially as solo project, started after the demise of the group I was in previously, which incidentally was nothing like Skye Klad. In fact Skye Klad was initially started on my part as a reaction against the guitar and the cliches that usually go along with the instrument. I recorded a handful of experimental guitar material (inspired by Frith, Fripp, Gamelan music, John Cage, and Stravinsky) with various musicians I knew (the title was Skye Klad - Atmospheric Disturbances). While I was recording this stuff I started to book shows under the name Skye Klad with drummers Matt Zaun, Rob May, and bassist Tim Donahue. It is in this group line up where the sound of the group began to be formulated and experimented with. Everybody in the group was incredibly experimental and irreverent with their musical approach. Matt Zaun even designed his own drum set consisting of an array of tom-toms, metal barrels, brake drums, and digeridoos made from PVC pipe. The initial shows were a great success with audiences and from there the group turned into a trio. (*Drummer Rob May left to travel in Europe and anywhere else he has a liking to*) Our singer Adam Backstrom joined shortly before the recording of Extreme Vacuum Person and his presence took the group to another level of mood and atmosphere. Two months after recording EVP, bassist Dave Onnen (*a member of the local ambient Space band-Ousia*) joined to replace Tim on bass.

AI: Tell me about your various musical backgrounds.

JK: I started out playing in a Jazz group as well as a Blues-rock group in High School. In fact it was in the Jazz group where I met Matt Zaun. In the Blues-rock group I pretty much played the part of a tweaked out Jeff Beck or Hendrix. Very fast, very bluesy, very loud, and very psychedelic... and very one dimensional. The Jazz Group allowed me to be a little more subtle and atmospheric and I was even able to pursue an experimental acoustic guitar approach ( la Davey Graham and Bert Jansch). I am currently inspired by: Arabic music, Celtic music, Bert Jansch, Fripp, Dick Dale, Brian Eno, Umm Kaltoum (the great Egyptian singer) and Gypsy music.

Matt also has a very broad background. He has played in Jazz groups (we were both lucky enough to play the Montreux Jazz festival when we were in High School) with me and has also done a variety of other projects on his own (some very traditional and very well done). He is really into North African music, some electronic stuff (Aphex Twin, Third Eye Foundation, etc..) and has even played Gamelan music in a local orchestra (along with our singer Adam). For me, he is the perfect drummer and has an unbelievable sense of restraint and the groove.

Our vocalist Adam, has a very eclectic background as well. He started out with Skye Klad doing spoken word stuff on occasion and jelled so well with the group that we asked him to join (and lucky for us, he did). His vocal concepts and lyrical ideas fit extremely well with us and our mindset. Adam's joining seemed to bring a real cohesion to Skye Klad. Lyrically, he is inspired by everything from Sci-Fi to the French Symbolists to strange Medieval texts. He's got loads of notebooks containing poems and stories that are really fantastic (some are fantastically funny too). Musically his experience was in high school rock groups and later he made loads of home recordings that were along the lines of 60's pop-psych. Lately he has been into Coil, Pakistani music, the Beatles, and the Teletubbies (just kidding....kinda).

Dave our bass player is the seasoned veteran of the group and has played in many different groups. From Jazz to Prog Rock to Ambient Space music to Electro-pop. His last group before joining was Ousia, who were an unbelievable space music group that were absolutely fantastic. Dave is really into Bitches Brew era Miles Davis and likes to pursue that sort of "vibe" when jamming.

AI: Did Skye Klad come together with the intention of being a spacerock band or did that just happen to manifest itself as part of your sound?

JK: Yes, we literally tried to aurally create far off distant planetscapes, quasars, and UFO landings for the listener. At the beginning we would even go as far as to discuss a "scene" from some imaginary space movie that we would then make the soundtrack to. "The amplification of Stephen Hawking's Brain" was created that way as were many others. We now jam with an approach we roughly based on the five elements of alchemy (fire, water, air, earth, and the etheric plane). We basically construct a song or around a given element. This is what we did in the Somnium (water) and Inner Space (air). In fact, the whole CD we did is that way, as is the live tape you have. The way we achieve a lot of this elemental sound is through the use of sounds we collect on DAT and later sample for performance. Anyway the basic effect we strive for is to soothe or maybe even hypnotize a listener. It's kind of our version of "psychic hygiene."

AI: One of the elements that (for me) is a trademark of the Skye Klad sound is the incorporation of classic heavy King Crimson influences into a spacerock context. Is this intentional or does it just work out that way?

JK: I was really into Fripp's guitar approach at one point, but I was more into it as a extension of psychedelia. I love those soaring fuzz leads that he plays and I was very interested in his use of alternative scales (whole tone and Arabic scales) in a rock context. But as far as Skye Klad having any interest in pursuing prog rock there is none.

AI: The tape you sent features a variety of styles and instrumentation beyond that heard in Extreme Vacuum Person (dig that sax and flute!). Has the band widened it's horizons since that recording or did that release not really display all of Skye Klad's possibilities?

JK: Actually the tape you are referring to contains a fair share of experiments (such as the pseudo Arabic and Gnawa cuts) Songs like "Air" and the live set are really what we are all about. The CD, Extreme Vacuum Person, is more of a sampler of the basic sound of Skye Klad. As far as the sax, flute, and synths on the tape, they are all done by local musician Ari Rosenthal, who is frequently a guest musician with Skye Klad during performances. Ari use to play with a local group called Sacred Chao (Spacey and Progressive) and is currently building his own digital studio to begin recording solo compositions (spacey and very funky).

AI: Reading the Solarium schedule on your web page I see where you did a duo guitar loops performance with another guitarist. Tell me about this... is it like Frippoid soundscapes?

JK: Basically there are a group of local guitarists interested in space music and avant guitar techniques who gravitate towards each other and that's how those collaborations came about. People like: Paul Horn, Fred Teasley, (of Ousia) Damian Neubauer (of the dream pop group February) Eric Wivinus (of Salamander) and myself all seem to gravitate towards the same basic approach on guitar. These guitar loop performances sound kind of like a cross section of Frippertronics, Flying Saucer Attack, Labradford, and sometimes even Pentangle! From my perspective it is an incredible honor to be able to play with players like that and it seems to always be fruitful when we get together and jam.

AI: Tell me about the Solarium shows. Is Skye Klad the organizer? They sound like mini-festivals. Some of the comments on the tape imply this is a take the bull by the horns effort to promote local talent.

JK: Solarium is an event created and organized by Skye Klad with the intent of showcasing anomalous forms of music and visual stimulation. It is inspired by people like paranormalist, Charles Fort and Robert Anton Wilson. Its intent is to glorify all that is unexplainable. Solarium is a series of shows which will end after the sixth one (that will take place around Fall '99). We just finished Solarium III which was once again highly successful. In fact Solarium III was a benefit for Simeon of Silver Apples (recently paralyzed in a car wreck) and the event was highly supported in the local music scene. Solarium is also intended to act as a gathering of like-minded individuals in the local scene and to showcase their talents. It's also a lot of fun... especially with Optical Alchemy who does an amazing light show.

AI: Tell me about the Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene. Is it spacerock friendly? Any support from radio or the press?

JK: Local radio has been lacking in support for the most part. But aside from that the rest of the music scene has become more and more supportive. Local musicians, the press, and fans seem to really appreciate what we do and are really dedicated. The thing that needs to happen is for the music business guys to realize that there is something new going on.

AI: Does Skye Klad get to play live much? Any tours or performances outside your area?

JK: We actually are tentatively planning an East coast tour with Salamander (local psych-rock) in the late Summer and hope to progress to bigger tours from there.

AI: Tell me about the Skye Klad Manifesto. How did that come about?

JK: Actually, the Manifesto is created by a subversive group that goes under the name EOS. The contact person that we usually deal with goes under the name Fritz and he is the one who drops off the publication to us. EOS are a very secretive organization and pretty much want to avoid their allotted 15 min of fame at all costs so they use our group to siphon information out. That's pretty much all I know about their organization. Also their motto is: "Sshhhhhhh! Power Through Silence."

AI: You or someone in the band has a serious interest in UFO's which is prevalent in the Skye Klad Manifesto and in the Skye Klad emailings I periodically get. Are UFO's out there at all times? Does the government cover up UFO/alien evidence as the conspiracy theorists contend? Are we probably intellectual dumbfucks relative to our astral neighbors?

JK: Everyone in Skye Klad has some sort of interest in the UFO phenomena and it's definitely common ground for us all. I personally have an interest in it stemming from my greater interest in Charles Fort and the Occult. I've attended MUFON meetings and have done some minor research on my own (stemming from psychology studies in Collage). But the whole band pretty much is fascinated by any sort of anomalous phenomena, not just UFO (we're all big fans of the Yeti). As far as any specific beliefs concerning UFOs... we choose to keep that to ourselves simply for the reason that we can never really be sure. The thing that is fascinating about the phenomena though is that once you delve into it you realize what a fragile creature every day reality is.

AI: The tape you sent has some new studio material. Is there a new CD in the works? Any release dates?

JK: What you heard on those tapes are simply demos done in our studio space. There are no definite plans concerning a new CD. In the next few months we are going to decide whether or not we will release music independently or go through a record label. The band has just recently upgraded its sound and we are getting together our most cohesive set of music yet.

AI: Any parting news future events you'd like to share?

JK: Actually, we just gained a new member of the group a month ago. His name is Eric Wivinus and he is hails from the Camera Obscura psych-rock group Salamander (highly praised by Ptolemaic Terrascope). He is coming aboard Skye Klad as an additional guitarist and has clicked really well with my style (as well as the whole band). The great thing is that we work together very much like Arabic musicians rather than the "classic" dual guitar line-ups (Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, etc). The guitars flow around each other and overall have a very Eastern sound. Also, Solarium IV will be Sun. May 13 and should contain a few surprises (most of them being completely unintentional).