New York’s clang-on-an-anything all-stars Skeleton Key have finally returned with their first new music in seven years. They spent the ’90s as unlikely major-label signees and released the sawblade-bashing industrial quirk-pop masterpiece Obtanium in 2004. Their new independent hustle surrounding third album Gravity is the Enemy involves a Kickstarter project that practically doubled its goal, a deal with German label Arctic Rodeo, and an ongoing live show that’s just as manic and dangerous and junk-smashing as ever. First taste “Little Monster” has the dissonant grind of vintage Jawbreaker matched with their trademark sheet-metal bashery that boings and cracks and putts along like a cartoon factory.
What is “Little Monster” about?
Little Monster was ostensibly about both Joseph Merrick, p.k.a. “The Elephant Man,” and Jean-Dominique Bauby, who wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But in a broader sense it is about something ugly on the outside but beautiful on the inside, as in the frog-prince fairy tale. The name is lovingly taken from the 1977 documentary Gravity is My Enemy about Mark Hicks, a quadriplegic since falling out of a tree at age 14 who learned to paint with his mouth. The song describes the physical attributes of both Mr. Bauby and Mr. Merrick as landscapes, and the imagined environments I thought those men would dream of.
What inspired it musically?
I don’t remember how it began, but here was something I discovered in the harmony that was really exciting. I get very interested in the math of how music works and I stumbled across something that stretched the traditional relationship of how contemporary pop melodies and chords fit together. To me it shared something more with the music of the ’40s than the 2000s.
What has been the biggest challenge with getting Skeleton Key back in business after six years of radio silence?
Well there are two inherent misnomers at work here. The first is that we disappeared from music, and the second is that we ever had any kind or radio presence in the first place. We never really stopped working, but we stopped touring at a certain point when our van officially shit the bed.
The music industry is completely different in the 10 years since you guys last released a full-length. What’s the biggest change for you?
We were never really a part of the music industry, so for us it is pretty much the same. I would say the role of music in contemporary society has become more and more trivialized and more manufactured, leaving an even bigger gulf more creative music used to fill. Also, there are fewer cool places to play.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in NYC?
Playing New Year’s Eve with Skeleton Key and The Jesus Lizard at CBGB in 1998 was a pretty great one. I got to introduce Danny Elfman to David Yow. Two of my favorite people in one small room was wonderful. Another great show was playing New Year’s Eve 1986 with the Lounge Lizards at The Limbo Lounge, and having Tom Waits sing “Auld Lang Syne” with us. His voice almost destroyed the P.A.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?
We are friends with the folks who own the Blue Ribbon restaurants, and my wife and I had our courtship at the Blue Ribbon Bakery. It’s also where Ben [Clapp, SK percussionist] and I first met. He walked up to me and said, “Am I supposed to be looking for you?”
Skeleton Key play at McKittrick Hotel, home of Sleep No More, on April 22.