Ft Worth Weekly March 2011
The Skeeves Get Dirty
WEDNESDAY, 30 MARCH 2011 09:18 CAROLINE COLLIER
On their recently released self-titled debut album, The Skeeves tear through several genres of music. From mod-pop to synth-laced industrial trance to gritty, uptempo lounge rock, the Fort Worth foursome covers a lot of bases and in only 11 songs. The shiftiness may be due to the band members themselves, who swap instruments with one another for different songs. The album, however, produced by the celebrated Salim Nourallah (Old 97’s, Fate Lions), never unravels. From ghostly tales of monsters to incest-themed songs loaded with double entendres, the collection is unified by professional playing, of course, but also, perhaps, by the dark, disturbing imagery that a name like The Skeeves might suggest. But it’s all in good fun. Laughing, the guys say they were banned from one particular North Texas venue for their creepy lyrics. “I’m almost a little proud of it,” said co-lead vocalist Lyle Packer.
The Skeeves take “group effort” to new levels,
as also evidenced on the band’s recently released
Salim Nourallah-produced eponymous debut.
The journey has not been without its rough spots or elbow grease. Packer and Victor Salinas, who mainly plays bass and keyboards, have been making the rounds in the Fort Worth music scene for more than a decade. Initially, they were known as The Hookups. After adding co-lead vocalist Ryan Birmingham, whom Salinas met at in a local Subway restaurant in 2005, the band turned into The Ear Hustlers and made large strides in terms of sound and acceptance.
After drummer Brian Shaw (Transistor Tramps, Panther City Bandits) left to focus on other projects, The Ear Hustlers carried on as a three-piece, with Packer migrating behind the drumkit and trying to sing while holding down the beats. After a disastrous performance at a pool party, Packer insisted that a new drummer join the band.
They tried out several dudes before settling on then-17-year-old Ryan McAdams, whom Salinas and Birmingham knew from the kung fu studio that all three regularly attended. Although McAdams is half the age of the band’s oldest member and still legally unable to drink alcohol, he got the opportunity mainly because of his intense approach to martial arts. “Whatever he does is full-hearted,” Birmingham said.
Thanks to regular three-times-a-week practices, McAdams quickly picked up the material. He contributed to the instrument switcheroo by showing up to practice one day with riffs he’d written on the keyboard. Not only does switching music-makers break the monotony for a band so dedicated to rehearsal, it also keeps songs fresh and egos in check. If a song has potential but is not working, the guys will switch instruments to see if things click better. “It keeps the floor pretty open,” McAdams said.
After a year’s worth of polishing, The Skeeves took the Fate Lions’ recommendation and rented a hotel room for a weekend near Nourallah’s Pleasantry Lane Studios in Dallas. The producer was apparently impressed by the synchronous perfection the band brought to the three-day recording session. He also suggested ditching The Ear Hustlers tag. “He thought it sounded too bluesy,” Packer said. McAdams came up with The Skeeves, and it stuck.
Naming a band that’s all over the place, in a musical sense, is a challenge, but the name The Skeeves does capture the poppy seediness that is ultra-modern yet faithful to the band’s influences, especially Sebadoh and Dinosaur, Jr. Keyboards, in particular, help differentiate the assorted styles that go into every song. The band will use just about any effect –– from “haunted house” to psychedelia to Salinas’ vintage Wurlitzer –– to give a song an identity. In “Dancing Gravedigger,” a menacing hum tempers what is otherwise a dance track. In “Title Unknown,” an upbeat traditional keyboard sound gives the song a happier feel.
Creating the song fundamentals is a group process, but whoever shows up with lyrics gets the privilege of singing the song. To date, about half the songs feature Packer; the other half bear Birmingham’s mark. Both sing in a similar range, though Birmingham claims to be the one hitting the high notes, but each lyricist/singer offers unique subject matter. Packer is responsible for the darker, more disturbing tunes, but “a lot gets misinterpreted,” he said. A quick listen to “Scratch” might convince a listener that the singer is into sadistic dismemberment. However, the song is “really about how much I love something and how I don’t want to lose it,” he said.
If, to some ears, The Skeeves embody the darker, more obscure side of things, the band will consider the journey worth the effort. To really hear the band’s music, though, Packer said, “You gotta think outside the box. If you follow it word for word, of course, it’s going to gross you out.”
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FORT WORTH WEEKLY
“One of the Fort Worth bands to watch for in 2011, this is The Skeeves.”
“There’s a lot to like about (The Skeeves). They aren’t afraid of stretching, of trying out new things, of blending genres.”
- Anthony Mariani, FW Weekly
The Skeeves Sharpen their Tools
As many a chef knows, the tastiest dishes are often cooked slow and low.
The same “let it simmer” credo can apply to music. Take Dinosaur Jr.’s
Beyond, for example, which debuted a full decade after 1997’s Hand It Over.
D’Angelo took a nearly 15-year break between Voodoo and Black Messiah. Much like the aforementioned musical heavyweights, Fort Worth’s The Skeeves have taken their time between albums.
There’s no one thing that caused them to lie dormant for several years. The guys say they didn’t mean to go on hiatus. It just happened that way.
Guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Ryan “Sr.” Birmingham spawned two kids. Drummer/keyboardist Ryan “Jr.” McAdams earned his master’s degree in advertising and studied for a semester in China. Multi-instrumentalist Lyle Packer endured a divorce, and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Victor Salinas tied the knot.
In other words: “Old people problems,” Salinas said with a laugh. “Life got in the way.”
But with a new album out on Wednesday, the band is officially back and moving forward. There’s no lack of variety on the 12 tracks on DeepFakes. There are bangers, ballads, and illustrative lyrics, all cloaked in the creepy noir vibe that helped to coin the band’s name.
The guys sometime switch instruments between songs to play up one another’s strengths. And all four receive songwriting credit on the LP, a feat that exemplifies each musician’s sizable skill set.
Two uncommon instruments make an appearance on DeepFakes: accordion in the groovy, mid-tempo “Continental” and theremin in the spooky closer, “Mudd.”
In one of the album’s standouts, “Make Believe,” Packer leads
the listener to a dark place. While he doesn’t feel comfortable
telling people how to interpret his songs, he said he wrote the
lyrics around the time of his divorce. The listener can visualize
his pain as he sings, as if he’s pouring vinegar into an open sore.
“Spent time underground licking my wounds,” he snarls.
“Then I got better and decided / It might be really nice outside /
I believe in make believe / I just need 80-proof to make sense of
The Skeeves started laying down DeepFakes in 2014 at Echo Lab
in Denton with producer and engineer Matt Barnhart (David Bazan, Pinkish Black, Power Trip), but unlike their self-titled debut album, which they knocked out in a weekend, the guys wanted to take their time with this one. And they did, rerecording parts in the coming years that the quartet weren’t completely happy with.
Since the guys weren’t in love with the original vocal takes, for instance, Birmingham said he bought various equipment to rerecord the vocals themselves. They finally finished in 2018, and post-production wrapped the following year.
“I didn’t want to compromise,” Birmingham said. “Otherwise, it’s going to be diminishing returns.”
Since the four-piece took a few years off during their hibernation period, The Skeeves said they have a lot of catching up to do on social media. That’s not to say they’re not tuned-in, as evidenced by their album’s title.
DeepFakes is a reference to a type of video technology that overlays one person’s face on top of another’s. And it’s timely, too. Deepfake technology has wormed its way into the spotlight via “fake news” videos and hoaxes.
Salinas added that songs can be like deepfake videos: Whereas the latter is a manipulation of information, a song is a “manipulation of feelings through story.”
The guys said they plan on releasing some music videos to accompany choice tracks. Birmingham, who works in IT, might even apply the deepfake algorithm himself by tossing band members’ faces over public domain footage.
The self-released album will be available on various digital media platforms. Salinas said they’re still debating whether to press it on vinyl. And while they don’t have a solid plan in place to play an album release show, they’re not in any rush.
“We’re kind of right here in the moment,” Salinas said.
“We spent some time on this. Let’s get it out there, and
hopefully some people can appreciate it.”
Birmingham agreed: “Just sharpening our tools again,”
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