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Like a Rock Star

Skeyebone keep the decadence alive

by Mike Gibson

The members of Knoxville's Skeyebone aren't shy or shameful about their predilections; folding limbs and torsos languorously over four gathered amplifiers inside their West Knoxville practice space, they pass hand-to-mouth a smiling Donald Duck water bong (probably not Disney-sanctioned merchandise) and expound on their rock 'n' roll raison d'etre between harsh tokes of homegrown weed.

"Me and Derek used to go see lots of Monster Magnet shows," says 29-year-old singer/guitarist Nathan Wright, his long and tangled locks drawn back into an unruly tie. "It inspired us to do our own stoner rock, drug rock kinda thing."

"We wanted to bring back a lot of the '70s heavy groove rock; Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Monster Magnet blew us away, and it's something we thought we'd try to introduce to maybe three or four people in Knoxville," concurs Derek Harvey, 31. After a long draw from Donald's cap, the lean, short-haired drummer turns, exhales and smiles at his 'mates. "Man, I'm a cooked goose."

Such is the way of life in 'boneland, a realm rife with terminology like "space rock" and "desert rock," where band members drop not-infrequent references to cultish '70s outfits like Hawkwind and T-rex, to latter-day trip-rockers and swamp-metallists such as Kyuss and C.O.C. and Goatsnake.

"What we don't want people to think is that we're mullet-rock," puts in guitarist Joe Hudgins, 32. "Recycling '80s metal, playing the Elk's Lounge and shit. We're not about that."

If every band's practice hovel tells a story, Skeyebone's tells of decadence, of devotion to the wretched mother-culture that first held hard rock to its hairy breast. It speaks of grease and sweat and hair and booze, of dark affiliations and unspoken depravities.

The room is a Great Elephant Burial Ground for beer cans, mostly tall-boys, spent receptacles of cheap, untrendy swill like Old Milwaukee and Goebel's and Milwaukee's Best. In dirty corners and on amplifiers and shelves is a menagerie of bongs, pipes, and unidentified paraphernalia; the walls are a collage of grime and grotesquerie, a countercultural map of porn and neon and velvet psychedelia and defiled religious icons.

Say what you will, but such preoccupation with the seedy and unseemly has wrought some damned fine rock 'n' roll in times past (see some of the aforementioned references). And Skeyebone has only furthered the notion that rock and respectability have scarce little in common.

"The hip-hop thing is like the metal thing in the '80s, except with baggy jeans and ball caps instead of spandex and big hair," says Harvey. "We don't have a dog in that fight. Just give us the T-shirts and bell-bottoms and cowboy boots. Bands like this are the ones keeping alive the rock 'n' roll lifestyle."

Their proclivities brought them in contact on one occasion with local bad-boy actor Brad Renfro, well-known for his less than wholesome pastimes. "We got drunk at a B-52s show, went back to his house and recorded a few songs; called it 'Brad Renfro and the Coke Whores,'" says Wright. "He's actually a cool guy, but he's got his own little rebellion thing going. He lives up to his rep. We'd like to hang out with him more—when he's a little bit older."

But for Skeyebone, music is as much a drug as any reefer or beer. Through much of this evening's practice, the 'boners cluster in a tight circle, facing inward, feeding off one another's swirling, tumultuous energies. Their riffs are sturdy, fraught with coiling tension and force. Their vox are solid, with Wright's malevolent growl calling to mind that of Magnet's David Wyndorf.

But more than heavy rock hooks, Skeyebone songs are all about heavy trance, about drawing listeners into the engulfing chasm of Harvey's rumbling, inexorable cadences, of Wright, Hudgins and bassist Todd Raines' hypnotically powerful drone.

And just when the web of entrancement seems breachless, the foursome rend it asunder, surging back into a turbulent rhythm that's as viscerally compelling as the best moments of other, trendier hard rock of the day.

In two-and-a-half years of existence, Skeyebone has managed to eke a scant existence on the infertile tundra of Knoxville heavy rock. They've got a demo CD, Sex, Pot and Microdot, available at shows. "Pretty much what it says," explains Harvey. "Fucking, getting high, and doing a bunch of acid." Upcoming is a full-length local release, Debbie Does Drugs, produced by L.A. engineer and former Knoxvillian Nick Raskulinecz.

But playing opportunities have been limited, mostly relegated to Prince's Deli (out west), the Long Branch Saloon, and (occasionally) Moose's Music Hall. That could change; come summer, the band has hopes of playing the City of Angels at the invitation of My Ruin, an outfit featuring former Knoxville guitarist Mick Murphy.

"Hopefully, the L.A. thing will help us out," says Wright, adding, with only half a chuckle, "If it doesn't, it will make us very bitter."

The biggest obstacle to Skeyebone's further success, all band members seem to agree, is the apparent dearth of freshness in new heavy music, so much of which banks on the homegenized regurgitation of white-boy rap gestures and wearisome post-industrial vamps. "There's a lot of missing free thought," says Wright. "Kids get on this one trip, then everyone wants to do it, and everyone stays on it."

"Shit, listen to the radio; something has obviously gone wrong," says Harvey. He snaps his thumb across a red convenience-mart lighter one last time, then sighs; the greenery has blackened, and "Donald" is cashed.

"Modern heavy music is sort of bastardized rap and rock. What we do might not be all-new, but it's all about the roots of heavy rock. I think an appreciation for the sort of thing we're doing lies somewhere in the heart of everybody."

March 29, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 13
© 2001 Metro Pulse