Though originally birthed in Oberlin, Skeletons are a quintessential New York amalgam, guided by a fluttery art-jazz shimmer, a minimalist aesthetic, a grab bag of post-punk grooves and those disjunctive melodies currently turning the underground into a 12-tone headfuck (cf. Dirty Projectors, Tyondai Braxton, Extra Life). Previously known as Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys, Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities, and Skeleton$, they’ve stripped down their name and their sound–their eighth-or-so album PEOPLE (out now via Shinyoko) is a mix of circular rhythms and Graceland-gone-avant cheer. “More Than The One Thing” is a bouncing ball of Philip Glass piano, Battles grooves and one dueling, polyrhythmic pennywhistle solo—it may be the most tender rumination ever spawned from road rage.
What is “More Than The One Thing” about?
I guess it’s simply about wanting more out of the most basic things we do and say.
What inspired it musically?
We wanted to make something without our typical tools, and find a sort of “minimalist” pop song structure. No bass, no guitar, the chorus not always happening over the same musical ideas. On this record, I had so many words, that I had to sort of figure out a way to kind of “rap” in a particular fashion. But I also think it’s kind of like a number from a musical. A showtune, if you will.
What inspired it lyrically?
About a year and a half ago there was a nice spring/summer day, and my girlfriend and I thought we would do something excruciatingly “cute” and take a bike ride to get ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory—black sesame ice cream is the best ice cream there is. On the way we were riding down Mott St or Mulberry—whichever is one way south—this car turned the corner and the guy in the passenger seat yells at me, “Watch out, motherfucker!” And something in me kinda snapped at that. You know the vibe, right? People in cars hating people on bikes hating people walking hating people in cars? So of course there’s traffic, and we pass by that car and I yell, “No, you watch out, motherfucker.” A yelling match ensued, which of course led both me on my bike and the car to end up at a red light at Canal Street.
The guy hops out of the car, holding up traffic, and gets about an inch from my face, yelling. I’m still on my bike, yelling, not backing down for some foolish reason. This dude looks like Dwyane Wade in my memory, but Dwyane Wade is probably taller than me and this guy was not. And I was just frozen in this one way of communicating. Pure anger and foolishness. He kept yelling for me to get off my bike, I kept yelling for him to get back in his car. Nothing but swears really and “You want me to smash your face?” and “Do it!” kind of statements. Canal Street was so busy, but people don’t do anything but stop and watch. So my girlfriend catches up and says “Stop” and it gives the guy an exit: “Tell your bitch she can come home with me, faggot.” And he gets back in his car.
Anyway, afterwards we ate ice cream. I couldn’t really figure out why I couldn’t just find a way to communicate with this guy, in any better way. To high five and say, “It’s cool, I understand.” Which got me thinking on the next week’s worth of commutes to work: This is what we’re all doing, every day. Can we be more aware of these things? Communicate better? Ask more questions? Or is it a truck driving too fast through the city? Stepping in front of it would not be a good idea…
How did you make the video?
I wanted to make a video that included as many people as possible that might be a part of some kind of “community.” So I walked around with my camera and a list of all the words from the song for a few months, and asked people if they would choose a word and say it to the camera.
Why did you do a limited cassette run of your album?
It kind of seems like all the “physical” formats are a bit nostalgic at this point, and the cassette is pretty endearing in my opinion. At the very least, it’s something nice to put on your shelf, or in your bag. So you can read a little info about the album—which is something I hugely miss with digital formats, purchased or otherwise—and then just listen to the files on your “pod” The quality is not great, to be honest, but tape, like vinyl, does have nice artifacts that you can’t get naturally otherwise. I think everyone’s thinking hard about how to get music out into the world, and the formats of the past seem to be the only ways that don’t seem pointless… Codes? USB sticks? But I’ve also been thinking about ideas like these that Bob Ostertag talks about . My friend Ezra posted this article this week, and it’s just another in a long list of reminders that no one really knows what to do with music–especially if the intention is not explicitly commercial.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York City?
Lately it’s Minca on 5th Street, between A and B. Shoyu ramen with extra charshu is the way to do. I love that it’s called a “Ramen Factory” too…
What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever played in New York?
Ah, we’ve played a good number of shows in the city at this point. One amazing show was Halloween a few years back… we played a set of Sly and the Family Stone songs at Zebulon. Lake—Nathan Corbin & Clare Amory—did a set as the Melvins, which was totally unbelievable. Last year, Ariel Panero set up a show with us and Grooms opening for Erykah Badu in Damon Dash’s basement, which was equally amazing and bizarre. Those two stick out, as sadly both Clare and Ariel passed away in the last year. I miss seeing them around incredibly. They were such positive and energetic people. I feel the city changing a bit.
Skeletons play tonight at Zebulon with Michael Chapman and Koen Holtkamp.