Seattle jazz-funk-punk saxophonist Skerik is one of the busiest and most interesting musicians in Seattle. Besides regular gigs in McTuff, Critters Buggin, Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, Tuatara, Bandalabra, Crack Sabbath, Dead Kenny G’s, and others (so many others), he makes frequent cameos in other groups (so many others). One of his most intriguing projects is the new-ish DRKWAV (aka Darkwave), a questing, brooding trio with keyboardist John Medeski (Medeski, Martin + Wood) and drummer Adam Deitch (Lettuce, Break Science), both New York City musicians with discographies/sessionographies that would take pages to detail. DRKWAV have a new album titled The Purge dropping February 24 on Royal Potato Family Records. The wizardly Randall Dunn produced it. If you dig Miles Davis’ most febrile phase of his electric period (1972-1975), you’ll revel in DRKWAV’s fervent spin on it. They really work up a cold, cyclonic sweat on The Purge. I spoke with Skerik by phone to find out what makes this fantastic, freak-of-nature fusion unit tick.
So, a lot of people may only be discovering DRKWAV now, but it looks like you’ve been around for around three years, judging by the live footage from 2012 on YouTube.
Skerik: That's not really the concept anymore. You probably saw us playing a jazz festival in New York in 2012. We do a much darker kind of thing now.
How did DRKWAV form? It's a really interesting combination of people.
Skerik: We're these people who don't have a genre. We're genre refugees. We're just floating in space. Those kind of people often meet each other. I met John Medeski when Critters Buggin was opening for Medeski, Martin + Wood in the '90s on some tour. John once told me, 'Hardening of the categories leads to art disease.' People were using the jam-band moniker a lot, and it was like, "Fuck you. We're just as punk rock or metal or fucked-up jazz or anything else that only plays in one genre, so leave us alone." [evil laugh]
How did you link up with Adam Deitch?
Skerik: He's from the same world... someone who can do a lot of different things. He's not really in one genre. He was doing stuff with Wyclef Jean and all kinds of hiphop people in New York and then he started playing with [jazz guitarist] John Scofield. And he has his own bands, Break Science and Lettuce. He plays with Pretty Lights. He's in the EDM world, the funk world. We just got to be friends.
We all had some extra time in January of 2012. I think we started talking about it in late 2011—"let's get together and record." We didn't know what was going to happen or what it was going to sound like. We were recording with Randall Dunn, and if you start going in a particular direction, Randall will start pushing you to go there in a good direction. Everything we were playing was sounding really dark, like some dark soundtrack to some weird movie, with beats. So he just kept pushing us in that direction.
How do your tracks come into being? Improv? Composed before entering the studio? Shamanic drug rituals?
Skerik: We can't reveal everything. Every session's different, but on this particular one, improvisation is composition sped up; composition is improvisation slowed down. We like to use both methods.
Is everyone pretty much contributing equally. or is there a dominant force?
Skerik: Everyone was definitely throwing stuff out there—a lot of improvising. And then editing and overdubbing and shaping things, kind of like a Teo Macero-style thing, chopping up a bunch of crazy, Miles Davis ideas. It's like a Dark Magus/Agharta/On the Corner situation.
It doesn't get any better than that, in my book.
Skerik: It's very futurist music. When you're working with someone like Randall, it's just so fun. We spent three years on [The Purge] overdubbing, running shit through modular synths. You know Timm Mason from Midday Veil and Master Musicians of Bukkake? He's incredible. Randall uses him to run signals through. It's so fun and so crazy. I'm just glad we have the opportunity to do it, but it's expensive.
What are the main reasons for starting this band? What does it provide you that your other projects don’t?
Skerik: DRKWAV isn't a band that "started." It's just something that has to be. No one's looking to start a band; things just happen sometimes. You just have to deal with it.
The Purge has a chilling, cinematic aura that, in addition to Miles Davis's electric period, reminds me of the stuff coming out on the Asphodel label in the ’90s, that so-called illbient genre.
Skerik: It definitely has that dark, suggestive soundtrack vibe with beats. And at the end of the record, there's an Afrobeat song that I wrote as a tribute for this guitar player, Adam Smirnoff [of Lettuce]: "Shmeeans Kuti." He was hanging around backstage at one of our gigs. I was all boozed up or high and said, "I'm gonna write you a song!" And I wrote it right there for him. But basically, it's a soundtrack thing; that's what it's all about. Not telling people how to think—it's all instrumental. We're providing a vehicle [listeners] can take on their own dark voyage to the Bardo.
Any Seattle live dates scheduled?
Skerik: No. We have a bunch of East Coast stuff and then we're going to Colorado, but no West Coast dates yet. We're still trying to work that out. It's really hard. [Medeski and Deitch] are crazy busy. Right now, I'm not half as busy as they are, unfortunately. It kind of ebbs and flows.
Skerik plays with Tuatara tonight at Nectar and DRKWAV's tour begins February 27. The Purge comes out on ltd.-ed. colored double vinyl/CD/download February 24 on Royal Potato Family Records. Regan Hagar did the artwork and Tachyon Logan is shooting a video. Skerik says, "He did a couple of Master Musicians of Bukkake videos that are really cool. He makes these crazy boxes. He only works with VHS tapes. He runs them through these crazy boxes he makes. It's just all fucked up." Also, Critters Buggin has a new record out called Muti.
DRKWAV - THE PURGE Track Listing
3. Count Chockulous
6. Hell Bass
8. Shmeeans Kuti