Interview – Pink Skull
Pink Skull’s debut longplayer Zeppelin 3 blasted through the Philadelphia duo’s love of 60s psychedelia, 70s kraut Kosmische and 90s bleep rave – amongst other things. With Endless Bummer, their sophomore effort released on boutique New York label RVNG, their sound has matured, relying less on scattergun processed MPC beats. This is in part due to the original core duo of Julian Grefe and Justin Geller adding a drummer (Jeremy Gewertz), bassist (Mike Hammel) and guitarist (Sam Murphy) to the Pink Skull ensemble.
The resulting album is one of 2009’s pleasant surprises (check out our full review here). Disco pogo workouts like “Chicken Dream Inside Egg” and “Oh Monorail” bring to mind The Emperor Machine in their pomp, whilst tracks such as “When Falling Straight Through A Goat” and “Wheet” hint at the ambience of Eno and The Orb.
Julian spoke to Juno Plus about Krautrock, mediocrity and, erm, ruptured testicles.
Your second album has just been released – is seems quite different in style and approach from your debut…
Yeah, we are thrilled with it. It was a bit of a change of process for us, as we were recording a lot of the sounds live. That was a treat because we hadn’t done that before.
So you added a band to the line-up?
Yeah that’s right, now there’s a bass player, a guitarist and a drummer. I think that structure has helped us become more focused – we are less slippery with the computers now. On the first album most of the instruments played live were played by me, and then we used samples for the rest – old riffs we like, stuff like that.
You guys seem to draw on a range of genres – what would you cite as your main influences?
I worked in a record store in Philadelphia for a long time, and after a while I would naturally gravitate towards more obscure music. Your taste changes too. There was this corridor of record shops in Philly, back when people bought records, and I worked at one called Repo. We were like the record store mafia. I had a pretty strong love affair with cosmic rock, a lot of 70s German stuff. I was never so much into the synth-based music … people think Dusseldorf is God’s gift to music, but I’ve never been the world’s biggest Kraftwerk fan. I love the spacier, more Tangerine Dream-style sound. I listened to lots of Italian prog too, and add to that a large helping of Chicago house. I’ve been playing house for years as a DJ.
“One or two of the song titles are about people I don’t like … I’ve got a good story about one of them but the person in question is too famous and too vociferous for me to own up”
The track titles on Endless Bummer are superb – a personal highlight is “Several French Revolutionaries Standing On The Back Of My Neck”. How do you come up with them, and do they all have some meaning to you?
There is a story behind some of the track titles, and some just pop into my head I guess. There are definitely one or two about people I don’t like … I’ve got a good story about one of them but the person in question is too famous and too vociferous for me to own up!
Everyone at the Juno office was hugely impressed with the individual vinyl sleeve pressings for Endless Bummer, ranging from “Butt Acne” to “Nuclear Warfare”. Whose idea was that?
We got 900 records pressed up like that, all with different types of “bummers”. It was actually Matt at RVNG and Kevin O’Neill from ‘Will Work For Good’ who brainstormed it and did most of the work. I was supposed to make it down to help out but … (laughs) I was actually out of town that weekend.
And are you happy with how they came out?
Delighted. I actually think vinyl has actually increased in relevance in the past five years. People go out of their way to buy vinyl now, more so than they used to – there’s extra love and care.
What is your favourite track title?
“Ruptured Testicle”, you can’t go wrong with that (laughs).
Tell me a bit about your live show, from the footage I’ve seen it looks suitably frenzied and energetic…
We do play shows often, although not many since the last record. We don’t go overseas much – with our ensemble it’s too expensive and too hard – a recipe for disaster. And we are at that age where we enjoy our creature comforts a bit more (laughs). But we are stripping down for four overseas shows in the UK and Germany next year.
“I’ve always thought the problem with so many electronic bands is that they have no drummer – even though the whole thing is based around drums”
How will that work?
I’ll be on a mod synthesiser and drums, we’ll have a bass player too. I’ve always thought the problem with so many electronic bands is that they have no drummer – even though the whole thing is based around drums. Seeing a guy with a computer is boring. This live show requires me to play everything.
How did you hook up with the RVNG label for Endless Bummer?
I never anticipated RVNG putting out one of our records; I didn’t think we were cool enough! But Matt is an old acquaintance with our drummer, and he came to one of our gigs to say hi, and enjoyed it. I must say it’s been a wonderful fit – Matt has obviously got great taste in music!
How do you work on Pink Skull remixes?
It’s usually a collaboration between Justin and myself. Every once in a while one of us will start or finish one off, but it’s mostly a joint effort. We’ve done a bunch of remixes which never came out; bands don’t like some of our remixes – sometimes you can’t wrap your brain around them. I know people who have a tried and tested formula, like a template for making a remix. They basically standardise the whole thing. I’m not like that, I’m not formulaic, and I find that can work against me. People like consistency when it comes to electronic music. So in other words I’m never in danger of becoming stagnant, but I’ll never have success either! And I’ll be mediocre, but I’ll be mediocre for longer than most – sigh.
“I’m not formulaic, and I find that can work against me. People like consistency when it comes to electronic music. So I’m never in danger of becoming stagnant, but I’ll never have success either”
And, finally, how long have you been DJing? What set-up do you use?
I started back in 1996 playing mostly downtempo stuff, and that evolved into playing house. I bought Serato two years ago and can’t stand it – too many flashing lights for me. I was disappointed with Traktor too. Having said that I don’t harbour deep seeded resentment towards those programs – the whole vinyl versus CDs versus laptops thing doesn’t bother me. I’m not opposed to it, I just don’t like it!
Words: Aaron Coultate and Tony Poland