Skeleton Key Homepage
About Skeleton Key
Human Pin Cushion EP
Skeleton Key EP
Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon
An Elipse EP
The Lyon's Quintette EP

About Skeleton Key

A collection of snippets from various sources. The pictures and words are not mine.

= history =

Formation through Fantastic Spikes
source: Jason Ankeny
The junk-rock quartet Skeleton Key began to take shape in 1994 when guitarist/vocalist Chris Maxwell and former Lounge Lizards bassist Erik Sanko met at the downtown New York Club the Knitting Factory, where Maxwell worked as a booking agent. After enlisting drummer Steve Calhoon, the trio announced they wanted to play "garbage;" they were soon directed to Rick Lee, a performer who already owned a "junk kit" consisting of an old table, propane tanks, chairs, film reels, a red wagon, and pots and pans. In mid-1996, Skeleton Key issued their self-titled debut EP on Motel Records; their full-length debut Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon followed on Capitol in 1997.

Interlude: Past Imperfect, Present Tense
source: Midtown Brown
 "I had always wanted to record a solo album," Erik Sanko explained, concerning Past Imperfect, Present Tense, his newest release, "but the night I finished recording the demos for it, I was drawn into a fortune teller's lounge on 38th St. It was her fingernails that caught my eye. They had to be over six inches long. I wondered how she could read palms with those things...but I digress." Here Sanko began to whisper. "She told me I had just created something that would surely grow to destroy all I had created before. Of course, I recognized her wily doublespeak as a metaphor for my new songs. Then, as sweat dripped off my forehead and onto my suspenders, she told me I must destroy the new creation to save the old. And so I did. I unspooled the reels and swallowed every inch of tape."

In truth, Sanko cannot be faulted for his action. A quick survey of his past work proves his logic. Established as a New York fixture during his decade long tenure as bassist for the Lounge Lizards, Sanko emerged as a songwriter with his own band, Skeleton Key, with whom he released the critical smash, Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon (Capitol). Working with John Cale, Jim Carroll, Yoko Ono, and Gavin Friday, among other luminaries, has always kept Sanko busy. In light of this, it's easy to see the rationale behind swallowing 10+ feet of magnetic tape, if only as a career precaution.

 "Of course, some music isn't as easily digested as you might think," Sanko explained. "And it was some months before this emerged," Sanko said, holding up a finished copy of Past Imperfect, Present Tense, "fully formed from the swelling on the ridge of my skull."

Thank God it did. Past Imperfect, Present Tense sounds like the journals of an alchemist set to the music of your grandmother's broken pump organ. Yet somehow, in doing so, it also establishes itself as unequivocally contemporary. Hints of Grandaddy filter through on waves of Wilco-esque banjo and baritone guitar. It seems that Sanko has not so much re-invented the wheel, as re-invented the whole wagon, its cargo and the mule pulling it. Like his heroes XTC and Tom Waits, Sanko fashions oddly compelling songs from mangled melodies and ragged scraps of rhyme.

The album's inevitability is apparent after one listen. You can see why it forced itself upon the public, in spite of Sanko's gastrointestinal efforts to restrain it. Past Imperfect, Present Tense cannot be relegated to the confines of any parameters, be they musical, physical, or anatomical. "Listen to this album," Sanko said, tenderly placing a hand on top of his head, "but be careful, it can hurt."

An Elipse EP
 In the winter of 1999, while en route to a show in Antarctica, the members of Skeleton Key were involved in a fatal plane crash. In order to survive, bassist/singer Erik Sanko was forced to eat guitarist Chris Maxwell and percussionist Rick Lee. In an exclusive interview following the traumatic ordeal, Sanko was quoted as saying Chris was ok, but Rick was a little gamey. In the future I will always tour with a full complement of condiments.

The Antarctic rescue squad that saved Sanko was a duo of strapping young lads - Nic Brown and Alec Ferrell - both freshly recruited from stateside. Unfortunately, that state was North Carolina, and neither had ever seen snow before. In an attempt to warm the ailing bassist, Brown accidentally set his shoes on fire, and was ultimately hospitalized as well. Ferrell entertained the two wounded men with a continual display of interpretive dance and shadow puppetry.

They knew they belonged together.

Seemingly powered by pistons, gears, and rusty watch springs, Skeleton Key is a clanky but productive machine. Using ancient microphones, primitive guitars, and found objects, the band heaves with a unique rhythmic undertow yet has a knack for winsome, haunting melody. Their music "strips down, toughens up, picks up some debris, and gets an extra dose of rhythm" according to Jon Pareles of the The New York Times. Skeleton Key creates music both exotic and familiar, elegant yet crass, cerebral yet visceral. "It's luxurious, yet affordable" says bassist/singer Erik Sanko (ex of The Lounge Lizards, and collaborator with Yoko Ono, John Cale, and Gavin Friday, among others.)

In 1996 the band released an eponymous E.P. on Motel Records that Rolling Stone said "shows how pop culture and high culture can bring everyone to the same place." Soon after, they inked a deal with Capital Records and put out the critically acclaimed (and Grammy nominated) Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon in 1997. The band then toured the US and Europe with an diverse assortment of acts (The Melvins, Girls vs. Boys, Cibo Matto, The Jesus Lizard, They Might Be Giants, Morphine, Braniac, Primus...) before headlining their own US tour. After more than two years on the road, the band took a much deserved hiatus and regrouped.

The result is the cantankerously sleek Obtainium, released on Mike Patton's Ipecac Records in June 2002. The album showcases the band as a tough songwriting machine employing their trademark junkyard-dog esthetic, but seen through a sharply focused lens (albeit one covered in gasoline). The songs explore an eclectic subject matter through metaphor and esoteric characterizations. Whether it's the voice of a taxidermied bird or the description of an invisible bullet inflicting panic on its unsuspecting victim, Obtainium speaks through the simultaneously funny, anachronistic, and spooky voice that is uniquely Skeleton Key.

Look for the new high-octane, super-charged, fuel injected band on tour 2002/2003. Featuring the unbridled enthusiasm of garbage basher Tim Keiper, the continued bashing and non-sequiters of drummer Matthias Bossi, the insect logic of Craig LeBlang's guitar excursions, and the low-ended lope (and high ended yodel) of Erik Sanko.

= links and more information =

A Very Good Interview with Erik Sanko on

The Official Skeleton Key Page.

Skeleton Key on Wikipedia.

Erik Sanko and his wife Jessica Grindstaff had a shared art exhibition at Dabora Gallery from Nov 9 to Dec 14, 2002. One of Erik's amazing marionettes is shown here to the left. You can see more of their stuff at 'Til Death Do Us Part: Marionettes and Musicboxes.

[back to main page]