Eat Skull “We have a way of looking at things that is maybe realistic.”

Portland's Eat Skull straddle the noise/pop divide with more abandon than most other musicians currently spewing jams into tape recorders. But it's probably misleading to presume this balance as calculated: it seems that neither they nor us know which way their mutant pop is going to fall -- maybe jangly, maybe totally putrid punk. It's great. Last year's Sick To Death certainly preferred the more putrid and noise side of this divide, lassoing choruses and smashing lo-fi tropes with an innate ability to keep it real. It's true that they sing about dead families and garbage, and their LPs feature cartoons of Spock and bongs and stuff, but there's also a strange, muffled grandeur to their pop. Check ballads like “Heaven's Stranger” from their new Wild and Inside LP, which ditches the junk and taps straight into the melodies with a precise immediacy.

I talked with Rob Enbom, their guitarist/vocalist who also plays/played in noise/punkers The Hospitals and weirdo country duo Hole Class. He was perched on a grassy knoll at an afternoon house show somewhere in Portland for this interview, and we talked for much longer than will fit here. It was especially illuminating to learn about the ethos behind Eat Skull's DIY approach, especially in terms of the current wave of blog lo-fi.



It's nothing new I know, but people on the internet seem to be into lo-fi more than ever. Do you pay much attention to blogs and stuff?

Oh, I dunno. I look on the internet sometimes and its just like “oh, drag” because everyone's talking about it and they just don't understand; they think it's some big choice, and I don't even know if it's a choice. It's just something that makes sense. What would you rather record your music on, a computer or a 4-track? And I just prefer the latter; they just sound a little better to me, so that's why the music comes out sounding that way. It's crappy when you get stuck in a computer -- not everybody's good at those things; they're annoying, and they sound kind of like a bummer sometimes. You can hear it when someone comes out with a new record, and it's done on Pro Tools -- you can tell it's made on there because it sounds this certain way. It's grotesque, that sound -- I think it's disgusting. You can try and hide with with filters and stuff, but it just sounds nasty. Fuck, a tape machine can sound nasty too, but it seems way less bullshit: if you just record it on something simple that's been around for a while, it sounds better and feels better too.

Yeah, like my flatmate has got quite obsessed with using Reason, and you can literally get any sound and any filter and match them up with limitless possibilities, but it seems kind of redundant in its vastness to me.

You can, yeah, but you have to know how to use it, but if it takes you a few hours to figure out what you're doing, and then in the mean time you're losing track of what the point of it is. I dunno, not everyone's a computer/Reason expert.

For sure, I was trying to use it and I just, like, "holy fuck, there's WAY too much here."

It goes down to people thinking there's too many possibilities, I guess maybe that's why if you're using things like that, because there's not really that many possibilities -- it still comes down to what you know how to do and the actual time that you're doing it. You can take a fucking year or whatever and freak out all the time, but not everyone's like that; some people just like shit to come out just as it comes out, and the easiest way to do it is to record it on whatever is simplest to record on.

"It's grotesque, that sound -- I think it's disgusting."


Totally, and I was presuming this was pretty much the approach that Eat Skull like to take?

We use what we're used to; it's just easy that way. We don't have a zillion tracks on when we record, just the drums and guitar and stuff -- though we do like to do overdubs and put other stuff in there as well, but it's usually just one or two tracks and the drums. It's just what makes sense at the time; it's easy to do it this way because we actually know how to use it. Now the 8-track is set up in my room and it's easy to do it there, and it sounds better than the 4-track as well.

I was thinking that, even though it sounds super raw and immediate, there's this real particular sort of space, say, at the start of Sick To Death on “Beach Brains” that sounds like it's taken a while to get it to sound that way, even if the effect is that of total rawness.

We spent longer on Sick To Death than we did on the new one, for sure. With the new one, we were done with it before we even knew it. We didn't leave any songs out; we just did that many songs and that was it. But with Sick To Death, we had like 10 more that couldn't fit on the record. That was something we decided before it, to record too many and then cut it down a bit. But this one, we were kind of lazy about it, honestly, just like “aww I dunno, let's just do this.” It was wintertime, and that's something that people don't understand versus the singles; they were done all in spring and summer, and it was sunny and people were in a better mood. But in winter here, people are in a bad mood for sure.

When the record [Sick To Death] came out, people were saying how it was depressing and claustrophobic -- I mean, that was just the sound of the time: it was winter and shitty and oppressive and grey and annoying and hard to find reason to be alive and stuff like that [laughs]. It's just different, and that's why the album sounds like that, this depressing time that was kind of gross, wondering what the hell we're doing, why are we doing this band -- we're old [laughs], we're crazy, and we hate everybody, and we have life and that's what it sounds like [laughs]. That's why it's got that album title, though, and it's like those drawings we made of like acid stuff on the front, kind of really out of boredom and the season -- it sucked at the time; I didn't have a job and was smoking cigarette butts off the ground. It's gross, you know... poor and gross, questioning participating in the economy and fucking up really bad. That's what that album's about. But the new one, it's between summer and winter, and it's more that kind of vibe. The next one I think we're gonna do in spring and summer. We've got some other projects in the mean time, recording our friends' bands and stuff.

It's funny, starting out asking you about the weather before, I didn't think you were gonna say how much it effected you guys. But yeah, Wild and Inside, I thought it had way more of an autumn kind of feel, like "Dawn In The Face" has that feeling. But then ones like “Heaven's Stranger” or Oregon Dreaming” have this massive optimism to them.

Those ones are weird because they were old -- well, they were written a long time ago. But honestly, it does have so much to do with the weather, it actually does; just like what's going on, what it feels like to be outside or inside even if it's cold. It just effects you and your mood. "Oregon Dreaming" is a rain song -- it's about rain in Portland. We recorded it when it was raining. It's got this dramatic kind of Lifetime channel feel, like it's for women only.

It's got that feel, yeah, but with this obvious grittiness of course.

Yeah, it's crummy, you know. I mean, America is very very corrupt, and you can't help but see it. It's disgusting here, and that's what we say: we hate it, it's sick. I don't know how you could be optimistic about the world; it's really gross, especially here. People have different ways of looking at it though. We kind of just hang out with ourselves; we have a way of looking at things that is maybe realistic. I don't know what it is like that, but a lot of the stuff we do tends to be about the grossness of the world.

I was thinking, at least from an outside/internet perspective, how Eat Skull feels inherently American because of that grossness and crumminess, that slimey garbagey feel.

Of course, yeah, because we live here -- it's just what's around and what we see. We're from California, really, at least Rod and Scott and I are. Kyle's from New York, but he's kind of new. Our thing is just taking what we see I guess.

"You can take a fucking year or whatever and freak out all the time, but not everyone's like that; some people just like shit to come out just as it comes out, and the easiest way to do it is to record it on whatever is simplest to record on."


You were laughing about being old before, but I always thought Eat Skull felt super young, with the energy in the songs and, say, the cover art from Sick To Death.

I think that's one thing we've got going for us: we're kids who didn't grow up. If you were ever into “real” punk -- which I don't think really exists anymore in the same way -- it steals you away and makes you a certain way, and there's no way to get away from it. It's very subversive. I don't think people make it anymore. But the feeling that it's so subversive it'll effect you for the rest of your life if you ever really loved it. It takes everything else away, and you're always gonna be a kid. You're trying to make sense of getting older and shit, but you can't make sense of it because none of this shit makes sense. If you have any purity in your heart, it's impossible to ever make sense of what's going on because it's so politically evil, and everyone who's in control of anything is evil. It's gonna be weird to watch this country turn into whatever it turns into. It's nasty.

It's weird what you hear about America being over here in the UK. I don't think people think about it that much. I mean, there was obviously a lot of coverage about Obama and the election, but now it's back to normal tabloid crap.

That whole thing was just a scam, though, It's just so bogus. Who cares. If you know anything about people or what it's like to meet a person face to face, it has nothing to do with an election: that shit is all just scams and lies. Everybody knows that it's all fake, but people just choose not to. That's just the way it is.

It's particularly easy to accept from an overseas perspective as well. But going back to the youthfulness thing, I thought there was more of a romanticism on Wild and Inside that wasn't there on Sick To Death; it's weirdly romantic in a way.

We were more disgusted and insane at the time of the old one, but on the new one, again, seriously, it's so much to do with the weather, because we're from California so when the sun is gone, we're not used to it. It effects us a lot. I really think that the sun has a lot to do with the way we feel.

I've definitely been questioning why I'm here in England in the winter, because I'm from New Zealand, and it's way sunnier there. I felt a bit like what the fuck am I doing here a few times when it's getting dark at like 3 in the afternoon. Actually, I was curious how much you guys listened to New Zealand music, because there's quite a few things written about you guys' being into it, like The Clean for instance and other Flying Nun stuff.

We love that band, yeah. I love New Zealand music because it's very pure and sometimes in ways that American music isn't. I dunno; you'd have to press me pretty hard to find anything that I like that's modern. It kind of mirrors the way that this country is, like people finding ways to make money -- it's mostly about that, even if it's on a small scale. Lots of vibes seem kind of fake really, these days, but The Clean, well, I've never been to New Zealand -- I've met some people from there, but I've never been there -- I don't really understand it. It seems like it's a place thats pretty isolated though, and I think that breeds good stuff because if you're isolated, then, I dunno, you don't have as many people influencing you. Personally I like The Chills a lot more, but it might be because The Clean is a bit too played out for me -- I listen to it too much. But The Chills, there's something about them that means I can put them on over and over again. And as far as this weird granduer, I think The Clean's trying a little harder than The Chills; they seem a bit more naïve to me, more natural. It makes me feel good if I'm depressed.

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