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Interview with Skerik (English version)

(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - April 2012)

Skerik's discography is as easy to follow as an invisible tiger's trail in the melting snow... so do not even try. This untamable Seattle-born but ubiquitous saxophonist's output could be compared to John Zorn or Mike Patton's discography in that respect. Besides, he shares with the californian singer a common taste for noisy experiments and funny provocation. Skerik (aka Eric Walton, aka El Guzano, aka Nalgas Sin Carne) has been playing (sax, but also grand piano, vibes and guitar) and has featured on more than a hundred records in every genre from jazz to psychedelic pop, from doom metal to post punk, from avant-groove to New Orleans brass band. His bands and projects include Skerik's Bandalabra (with whom he's just released a fantastic Live At the Royal Room on The Royal Potato Family Records), Skerik's Syncopated Tainted Septet, Critters Buggin', Tuatara, Garage à Trois, Ponga, Crack Sabbath, Midnite Disturbers, The Dead Kenny G's (Gorelick is their brand new punk rock EP on The Royal Potato Family, and it's not really what you would call an antidote to headaches)... just to mention the bare minimum without delving into his myriad of cameos. In each of his performances, Skerik brings some unique energy spiced with an idiosyncratic sense of humour. He masters the art of putting effects on his sax (palying saxophonics in the great tradition of Rashaan Roland Kirk), allowing him to sound very loud, just like the heaviest and meanest distorted guitar or like a groovy and equally nasty keyboard. The man has become something of a cult figure in his native country, but has yet to be discovered in Europe - where he lived years ago, and where he'd love to perform. Skerik has been on Paris DJs' list of musicians to interview since we started doing this. So we are quite proud to catch up at last with the man while he's doing overdubs for his next record, a collaboration with drummer Adam Deitch and keys master John Medeski. This Skerik special would not be complete without a mix, so stay tuned for a podcasted introduction to be posted this Saturday 14th of April.

(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - April 2012)

01. Is Skerik a portemanteau made of 'Scary' and 'Erik'?
My given name was Serge Gainsbourg, my foster parents didn't like that name so they legally changed it to Skerik.

02. Sax is your main instrument, but you play also keyboards, and drums. Was there a moment you had to chose between various instruments?
I was raised in a windowless basement, and I was told what to do on a regular basis. Sax was the only instrument I was allowed to play until I was rescued later in life.

03.There seems to be two sides of Skerik. The first side is a traditional sax player with a 'classic' jazz sound (for instance the one we can hear on the Skerik Syncopated Septet 'Live at the the Triple Door'). The second one is a wild, free, devilish and experimental player (the one we can hear on Garage à Trois' last albums or The Dead Kenny G's). Do you agree with this black-and-white description terms?
It's important to confuse people and yourself as often as possible. Variety is the spice of life.

04. You've played on more than 100 records, you're involved in numerous projects. As the cliché says, you have many children… Do you still love them which an equal affection?
Yes! I don't get to revisit very often, but when something like Critters Buggin comes up, I feel very good, I'm really glad we had that opportunity. We'll be mixing a record of new material this spring.

05. Being in many projects means meeting new people all the time. So you're also a very social animal, aren't you?
Yes, I guess so, my dad is a 'headhunter' (gets people jobs) so it's in my blood. I like to collaborate with as many people as possible, they're my Sorbonne!!

06. What is punk or being punk today? What does it mean to you musically or politically speaking?
We're inspired by punk rock created by Dead Kennedy's, Minutemen, Mike Watt, Bad Brains, Sun City Girls etc., so we look for a powerful musical statement and an equally powerful social/political statement. I don't see it much today, comedians like Chris Rock, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert (who all owe the great Bill Hicks) have taken over the social comment aspect, so we get inspiration from them.

07. I wouldn't like to be you assistant or the person in charge of your schedule… where do find the energy to achieve all this? Is there a secret or particular way of life behind this?
If I don't write it down, I'm fucked. Pretty simple actually, just write it down on the calendar. Energy comes from survival, if I don't work, my daughter doesn't eat, and I like to work. But I'm not rich, every month is hand to mouth for sure!!

08. Let's talk about your contribution to saxophonics. With you, sax sound has turned to distorted guitars, noisy and groovy keyboards...
Necessity is the mother of invention, I needed to be loud when I was playing with certain rock bands, and effects helped me achieve that. So I studied effects as I would anything else, I learned a lot from some amazing people, engineers, etc. as for keyboards etc, sometimes I want to play a rhythmic part that doesn't steal the focus, and I can play chords etc. I want to sound like Keefus Ciancia and Bernie Worrell as well as Eddie Harris and Albert Ayler!!

09. Do you thing new sounds could still be invented on sax?
The acoustic possibilities have not been fully explored yet. Rahsaan Roland Kirk started a direction, now Colin Stetson is doing something else amazing with circular breathing, can't wait to hear what he does next.

10. You've lived in Europe (Paris, London…). What have you learned from this experience?
Well one of the biggest unintentional learnings was being able to see where I came from. I saw the USA with a whole different perspective. That taught me a lot. Then of course there are the new cultures you discover. I was very fortunate to work with many African musicians in Europe, I'm still learning from those experiences!!

11. In Europe you've also played with African musicians. Has this influenced your way of seeing/making music?
Very much so, I have a whole rhythmic vocabulary that I learned from those experiences, rhythm is limitless, and combining it with other ideas is what we do. I'm really trying to explore that in my new group BANDALABRA.

12. Tell us about Skerik's Bandalabra.
Bandalabra is all about rhythm, and specifically danceable or dance related rhythms. I am trying to build a vocabulary for the saxophone so that I can use it as a rhythm instrument as well as a melodic instrument. We're on tour right now as I write this.

13. Then the New Dead Kenny Gs, Gorelick, quite a suprising record and very different from the previous albums.
It's more raw, we wanted a more garage/punk sound, I play heavey guitar on a song, etc lots of vocals, it's crazy. They're songs that we play at our live show, so it's good to have them recorded.

14. Last summer you began to play with Adam Deitch and John Medeski. An album comes soon. What can we expect?
We didn't know what we wanted to do, then we stated playing in the studio and it just came, we call it dark wave. Haha. It's gonna be really trippy I think, but based in big beats. We start overdubs next week.

15. The final word?
Listen to John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Dead Kennedy's, Mr. Bungle, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Messiaen, Grisey, Eyvind Kang.

Links :
Skerik : official | bandcamp | discogs | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | soundcloud | twitter | wikipedia | youtube
Skerik's Bandalabra (new record 'Live At The Royal Room' dropped marched 13 on Royal Potato Family records) : facebook | kickstarter | myspace | ragman | soundcloud
The Dead Kenny G's : official | facebook | myspace
Garage à Trois : officialarchive | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | soundcloud | wikipedia

Mile Marker: Garage A Trois by StealThisTrack

Beast Crusher | Skerik's Bandalabra by Royal Potato Family

Charlie Don't Like It | Skerik's Bandalabra by Royal Potato Family
Nicolas Ragonneau

Nicolas Ragonneau

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