The Skeletones Four: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Hook-laden twist-and-turn garage pop with a raw psychedelic edge. Occasional chiptune worship, like the whole band’s getting emulated and blaring through a Sound Blaster card. Chorus lines of dancing intestines.
File next to: 13th Floor Elevators, the Modern Lovers, old Merrie Melodies soundtracks.
Playing: Night 1 of WL15, Friday Feb. 13 at Sneaky Dee’s.

After months locking themselves in the dark, animating and reanimating new material, The Skeletones Four are finally cracking out their bones and blowing the dust off their fans. Wavelength met them to talk about childhood obsessions and spooky dreams.

Your bio mentions a dusty farmhouse cellar in Mono Centre, Ontario. Is that the space where your sound first came together? What kind of places and landscapes feed into your creativity?

I was living in the basement of an all-but-abandoned farm when we first started playing together as a group. The only animals on the property at the time were an ill-tempered horse and a donkey named Marshmallow. It is a great place to spend time and play music, on the periphery of everything. From the farm at night you can see the purplish glow of Toronto to the southeast from a comfortable distance. I’m now living in the city, at the very edge where there aren’t too many distractions. The hum of the Gardiner is actually kind of soothing.

Your latest EP, Press Play On Tape, features tunes from an upcoming album recast as video game music. What kind of challenges did you experience transposing the work into such a different musical style?

I feel like it translated pretty easily, besides carrying out the grunt work of actually plugging all of the individual parts into a sequencer. It can be hard staring at a screen for hours and hours — I am starting to notice that my eyesight is going and I can’t help but wonder whether it is from all of the screens in my life. In terms of a change in musical style, to my ears those old NES games sounded pretty rock’n’roll to begin with. When the album comes out, it will be interesting to A/B the video game versions with the actual recordings — they’re not so different.

Which particular games and systems inspired this release? The album name seems like it makes reference to tape memory, and the cover image looks very Commodore 64…

My sister and I grew up with a Commodore 64 in the house. The first game that comes to mind is “Tonk in the Land of Buddy Bots,” where you wander around searching for pieces of your robot friends that have been scattered across the Land of Buddy Bots. Once you’ve found all of the pieces, they are reassembled, and they thank you for making them whole again — very weird. We were never allowed a legitimate gaming system in the house, except on birthdays when we’d rent a NES from the video store. When I hit high school age, I acquired a second-hand NES from a friend whose Mom had an addiction and couldn’t have a gaming system in the house. I spent a fair amount of time during my teens burning the soundtracks onto my brain, making up for lost time.

You’re playing a set of Jim Guthrie songs at Wavelength on Friday (the 13th!). For anyone who hasn’t heard him before, how would you describe his sound? Has he always been a major influence?

Jim’s sound is smooth, soothing and singular. I came of age listening to his music — he was putting out cassette tapes of his songs back when it was the only viable option for a do-it-yourself musician, and played in a lot of bands around Guelph when I was still in high school.  His recordings and performances made a real impression and motivated me to start making four-track recordings of my own. When we were asked to do a set of songs by a classic Guelph band Jim was the first artist I thought of — I’m a big fan.

There’s a lot of morbid imagery in your album art and videos — ghosts, skeletons, disembodied bloody organs — but it’s always got a playful tone. What do the cartoon horror images mean in the context of your music?

I’m not sure I would read too much into it, other than that I’ve always just liked that type of imagery and I feel like it is complementary to the aesthetic of the music. I love that Ub Iwerks/Disney animated short with the dancing skeletons that come out of their graves after nightfall and do a little musical number. At one point, one of them rips another’s legs or arms off and plays his rib cage like a marimba — I really find that kind of thing funny; I think that might be universal? As a younger person, I was drawn to horror movies and that kind of thing. Now, without some kind of comedic element, the genre is too horrifying for me.

You range widely through retro styles to put the Skeletones Four sound together. It’s a swirl of prog, garage rock and psychedelic. Do you feel like you’d fit in better in a different scene or at another time?

I’m pretty happy where we’re at, geographically and chronologically. I don’t think we’d necessarily fit in any better if we were to time travel to another era, and we wouldn’t sound the way we do if we came together to make music at a different time. We are two guitars, bass, and drums with minimal technological augmentation and therefore can’t help but sound like a rock band, but I think we might be weirdos wherever we happen to land in spacetime.

If you could open for any performer, dead or alive, anywhere in the world —who would it be and where?

A house party, anywhere, with The Gories. Maybe a house party on the moon?

— Interview by Martin Hazelbower