Terminal… A pretty bleak word, all things considered. The soulless, timeless vacuum of an airport terminal. Terminally ill. Termination. Even Terminator started off as a major buzz/Sarah Connor killer.
Then there’s SKULS’ EP Terminal on Plastician’s Terrorhythm. A four track highly immersive, densely layered document of hooks and melodies, thematically it retains its title’s gloomy connotations. But does so in a way that’s far more alluring and satisfying that the terminal examples above.
It also comes with a story… After the success of their debut EP Lost Knowledge (also on Terrorhythm) SKULS – a duo aged 19/20 originally from the Bay Area, San Francisco – made the classic pilgrimage to LA in a bid to secure their musical future.
While it didn’t pan out the way they envisioned, the move has had a deep effect on their music. Grittier, moodier and more evocative than anything they’ve done prior – their struggle and various life realisations has unleashed a whole new level in their musical expression.
So much so they wrote a pre-EP single straight in the inspired tailwind. Transient landed just weeks before Terminal, setting the scene for their most forthright, frank and futuristic body of work to date. We caught up to learn more about David and Seamus and their trip so far.
Let’s back track to Lost Knowledge. That was your first official entrance to the world, right?
Seamus: Yeah everything we put out before Lost Knowledge was Soundcloud based. A lot of things we’ve since taken down because we’ve progressed so much since then and developed a much clearer idea of where we are and who we are…
It’s interesting you’ve found spiritual home on a UK label…
David: I grew up on UK music and things like Rinse FM. My brother was a big influence on me and would play me podcasts and things. So when it came to working out who we should send our music to Plastician seemed like a really cool fit… We knew it would be a long shot – we sent him a Soundcloud DM and hoped for the best. We didn’t think much about it and didn’t anticipate anything. Then out of the blue he came back and asked if it was going on another label and whether he could release it. We were stoked.
Was the response to your debut EP instant or did it take a while?
David: All these things are incremental but we definitely noticed things picking up. It was a great introduction to blogs and sites. Plastician has a very strong influence. People listen to him, so we knew we were on more radars than we had been before.
So then you moved to LA…
David: Yeah. So a few of our buddies were moving anyway and we all thought it would be a good idea. We had a group of us, all with these preconceived ideas of what LA would be like… We thought we’d fall into things but it was pretty directionless. One left after a few months. Another one went into the army
Seamus: Before you leave you don’t know what you’re leaving. You take everything at home for granted. You have to have a strong purpose to be in a place like LA, or you’ll get very disconnected very quickly. Everything about LA is very disconnecting – unless you have a reason to be there and something to really strive for then you can get pretty disheartened. It’s not easy out there – it’s hard to make money and find solid work. So everyone else decided to move back or move on because they didn’t have the persistence like we did with the music. So much happened in that six month when all of us were together.
What preconceptions did you have? Did you expect the bright lights big city / instant fame type of thing? I like the reality of this story.
Seamus: Yeah it was definitely a reality check. You get the very lucky individuals who are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing then it happens very fast. I have to be honest, I think we did have that feeling that we would succeed quicker because of the move and there would be a rhythm to what we would be doing… playing shows and being on the scene and everything. But it made us realise we hadn’t arrived at that point and have a lot of work to do. That was hard to deal with at the time – the changes we’d made were so drastic but the changes weren’t paying off. Like you say – LA is a place where everyone is going after something. Everyone wants to do something. You feel that when you’re here. We had a dream, we moved there to realise it, it wasn’t working out how we imagined but we’re here… So how do we deal with this and how do we make ends meat? It was hard – very different to what we expected.
Do you do non music jobs full time?
Seamus: I built up a lot of savings before we moved. Luckily… No jobs came through for a long time which was scary because you’re sitting there thinking about things and getting affected by it all and writing music in my bedroom. That’s why the EP sounds like it does
David: I was studying at the time so I was a little better off financially, but the struggle was still a big deal for me to watch my friends go through so I’ve since quit college to invest every second of my time into music. That’s what this situation has influenced – it’s made us realise just how hard it is to make it and what you need to do. We’ve been doing this for a long time now, we can’t turn back…
Seamus: This has been life since middle school. It’s part of how we write -it’s a musical relationship that’s been building for six / seven years. We need each other to make the best music – we bring out the best in each other.
What music did you start making, how have you arrived at the sound you have today and, more’s the point, what do you call the music you make today?
David: It’s music. It’s a reflection of our lives. We came to this point by making bad music! It began with very typical EDM stuff. It took us a long time to realise that electronic music was more than just making a drop or a really crazy bassline. We want to tell stories. It was that moment when we realised that we had to make music for us and not any part of any scene – that’s when things fell into place.
Seamus: It was also realising that not everything has to be so technical. People get so caught up in making things sound crazy. Technical details are important but vibe and conveying a feeling should always take the lead. Music is self expression first and foremost. That’s what we respect the most in music – especially in LA where you’re constant running into fake bullshit. It’s inspired us to keep our integrity and stay true to the art. We just didn’t quite realise how much time you have to invest to create art that really represents you and your ideas and that stands out as you. This really is just the very beginning….