Space Is the Place
Skye Klad is a mobile multipurpose unit specializing in the avenues of sonic research and experimentation. The main goal being to produce, in effect, enough sonic energy to enable tenth-dimensional vortices to open and break down all matter into its pure energy state, thereby allowing intergalactic travel with ease and comfort, which creates none of the mess usually associated with such forms of travel.
--Home page, www.skyeklad.com
"Dunlop picks!" Skye Klad bassist Moon Wells interjects with considerable vigor when I suggest that we turn the conversation toward more mundane matters. In this case, the subject on the table is what brand of plastic the band likes to pluck across their strings. The other Skye Klad members gathered with me in the rear alcove of the Black Forest patio--Wells, guitarists Jason Kesselring and Erik Wivinus, drummer Matt Zaun, and singer Adam Backstrom--chime in enthusiastically: "Yeah, Dunlop picks! Skye Klad use Dunlop picks exclusively. And Mesa Boogie preamps!" We're on our fourth bottle of wine--or is it the fifth?--and this is the very first piece of shop talk to come up.
What have we discussed? Oh, you know, UFOs, ufologists, the runway scene in Casablanca, crop circles, cattle mutilation, sex cults, magick with a k, and topics too numerous and/or monstrous to mention. And then there's the topic dearest to my heart: Skye Klad's strange predilection for opening for bands that are somewhat more extensively costumed than the norm--ranging from All the Pretty Horses to Gong.
"I think the possibilities for intriguing/
wigged-out conversation with the silver-cape-and-tights types are far greater," explains Wivinus. "The garter-belt types tend to be somewhat standoffish, whereas the silver-cape types will gladly give you the lowdown on shapeshifting aliens and how they're a vehicle for these beings to manifest on the earthly plane. And that is pretty much the topic of conversation among the bands at Strange Daze."
Each band member has his own pet memory of Strange Daze, a good ol' fashioned Ohio rockfest dedicated to the memory of legendary spacerockers Hawkwind, where Skye Klad performed in August. Bizarre if not lurid tales fly fast and furious: of people wandering around on an exceedingly warm day in silver body suits and body paint, attempted onstage invocations of unknown deities, and chubby Speedo-wearing hippies covered with dirt. But how is it that five young men with respectable day jobs, fashionably shortish haircuts, and utilitarian wardrobes tending toward the black end of the spectrum find themselves in such unusual circumstances?
Predictably enough, it all began in Fargo, in the early Nineties, when Kesselring and Zaun formed an experimental duo that soon metamorphosed into the Medics, a psychedelic blues-rock combo. Rechristened Skye Klad, they debuted as openers for costumed percussion ensemble Savage Aural Hotbed at the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus. Backstrom joined shortly thereafter, followed by a succession of bassists and a self-released CD. Some high-profile appearances with the late, lamented, and (heavily) costumed Ousia earned them a measure of recognition. Wivinus, having already made his name in Salamander and the Gentle Tasaday, joined shortly thereafter, as did Wells, whom the others claimed to have found in a box.
A newly completed, as yet untitled followup CD, produced and engineered by ex-Ousia/Shapeshifter mainspring Paul Horn at his new Forest Lake studio reveals a Skye Klad grown considerably harder and darker. Wells's steady bass underpinnings give Zaun the license to rock without fear or restraint, and the results are undeniably Sabbathlike at times. Backstrom, a vocal cross between Peter Murphy in his prime and a de-hippiefied Jim Morrison, with a few dashes of Danzig tossed in, eschews space rock's lyrical clichés, opting instead for evocations of seduction, surrender, psychic warfare, and the like. The song "Power" begins: "You once had power/But now it's dead/Drained from inside you/Like molten lead." And from there it gets darker.
At a recent performance at the Soap Factory, Skye Klad displayed an economy of expression and a great sense of urgency--despite the lack of a stage, a barely adequate sound system, a sparse crowd, and the sort of lighting that lends itself far more to convenience stores and operating theaters. Wells and Wivinus struck contemplative poses while Backstrom, his Billy Corgan resemblance bordering on the macabre, dipped and wove and stared unceasingly, leaving an impression that seemed friendly enough on the surface, but suggested sinister undertones (such that, if you were 11 years old, you wouldn't want him for an uncle).
While occupying a fairly compact area, Kesselring dominated the stage with serpentine grace. Even his least inspired moments are fueled by 90 percent testosterone and 111 percent prowess. His most inspired (and they are hardly rare) display a demonic virtuosity that would have done Liszt or Paganini proud. Inside the lurid chamber, I was drawn from a momentary distraction (an architectural detail perhaps, or the curve of a proud derriere) by a severe sonic disturbance of the highest magnitude. I turned to witness Kesselring, half-crouched, half-sprawled, at an impossible angle, guitar balanced, or rather poised, in a phallic manner, playing not two-handed, not one-handed, but no-handed, somehow channeling a mysteriously melodic stream of feedback. I doubt Tony Iommi or Randy Rhoads ever pulled that off.
When I later mention the Sabbath/stoner-rock connection to Kesselring, he responds with a long and well-considered evaluation of that band: "The Sabbath influence is every bit as undeniable as it is unavoidable. Certainly, they've attained a degree of success far greater than it seems their modest attributes would allow....I doubt that they had any idea of what they were really doing, but still...I mean, the song 'Black Sabbath' itself is genuinely creepy. We strive to be Sabbath with half the fat and twice the protein."
Skye Klad's choice of styles is neither completely arbitrary nor completely natural. If anything, you'd have to call it strategic. "We decided to become a space-rock band purely on the recommendation of a washed-up CIA agent who'd been involved in some pretty exotic covert operations," explains Wivinus matter-of-factly. "'What you guys need is a vortex agenda,' he told us. 'You should maybe start a space-rock band.' After that, we broke up the Medics and started Skye Klad. And I do feel the space-rock route is still viable, although I wouldn't recommend it to everyone."
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