Exploring Alternate Realities with Skerik of DRKWAV

Words by James Farrell
Photo by Greg Aiello

For saxophonist Skerik, drummer Adam Deitch, and keyboardist John Medeski, forming the supergroup DRKWAV (pronounced “Darkwave”), wasn’t so much a decision as a mandate issued by inhuman forces. In a video on the group’s Kickstarter page — which went live on February 12th to fund their upcoming debut album, The Purge — they agree that it was a “collective hallucination” that demanded the project come to life.

On a night three years ago before the group had ever played together, the vision came to each musician. “We just called each other the next day,” Skerik says. His voice is self-assuredly calm over the phone. He proceeds slowly, occasionally stopping to consider how to most truthfully explain his thoughts. “It’s really hard to describe in language, you know, in English, because there’s no reference to time,” he says. “There’s so many different layers of time going on. At the same time there’s just a completely different reality.”

It’s easy to be skeptical about these sorts of proclamations. But the truth is the veracity of these claims isn’t nearly as important as the ways in which they guide the artistic process. For DRKWAV, The Purge was a process genuinely ruled by something greater than its mere human creators. Perhaps Skerik, Deitch (Lettuce) and Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) were chosen to create it because of their reverence to the philosophy that great music is its own entity — that great musicians must bring it to life on its own terms.

“There’s just no limitations,” Skerik said of playing with his bandmates. “There’s just whatever the music wants to be, whatever the music needs to be at that time.”

Skerik is no stranger to playing alongside experienced prophets of music. His resume includes being an original member of Les Claypool’s Fancy Band and the Les Claypool Frog Brigade. He’s also a founding member of the groups Critters’ Buggin and Garage a Trois, which have been home to Stanton Moore, Mike Dillon and Marco Benevento.

“I’m really lucky ‘cause I get to play with a lot of really great people, and that’s always been my school, you know. As long as I’m the worst person in the band, then I’m always learning something. So it’s just a continuation of that,” Skerik says.

Musically speaking, The Purge is unique. “We didn’t know at all what we were gonna do before we got into the studio,” Skerik says. “When we were improvising we just kept coming to this place, this kind of dark sound track. Randall Dunn [the producer] heard a lot of the stuff we were doing, and he really pushed us to go in that direction, and we were happy to go there.”

That darkness is the foundational energy of the album, and ultimately became the impetus for the group’s name. The opening track, “Darkwave,” is built on swelling, electronic tones that create more of an atmosphere than a melody. It’s a hazy, ambient mystery juxtaposed against rapid drums and sudden saxophone runs resembling the franticness of a demented “Flight of the Bumblebees.”

“Datura” begins with what sounds like a heavily distorted, demonic voice, as if it were the terrifying personification of the band’s collective dream. Other songs feel more familiar and human, such as “Count Chokulous,” which is heavy on horns and funky rhythms. But The Purge’s eight tracks are linked by the desire for darkness, played out in minor tonalities and swelling, mysterious tones that haunt throughout.

It’s sound may not be palatable by mainstream standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary. For Skerik, the freedom from commerciality made the process more genuine. He says, “This is just all about one hundred percent trying to make the best music that we can. No compromise.”

Their belief in the music has translated to a belief in their audience, which is why the album’s release was funded primarily through Kickstarter. Judging by the donations received, the forces of DRKWAV have spread beyond the musicians and into the hearts of passionate fans.

The Purge will be released February 24 on vinyl, CD and digital download. It will be backed by a brief East Coast tour that passes through New York’s Brooklyn Bowl on March 5. If the “collective hallucination” was something that couldn’t be understood through language, then perhaps it can be grasped through the live experience of the music.

For Skerik, touring provides an opportunity where “the crowd and the band are working together to create this unique experience.” Maybe that’s the only way to truly understand the forces that create great music — forces that transcend language and human convention, and reach into the darkest of spaces to come to life.


TheWaster.com | RPF