Patterson, New Jersey’s the Skels are easily in my top five Celtic-Punk bands and their second CD, “Stoney Road” one of my favorite CD’s of all time (even if they think I’m a bastard), the prefect cross of the Pogues, Social D. and the Clash with a dash of Ska. Not bad for a bunch of thirty-something “weekend warriors” with adult jobs (except for Henry Ryan cos he’s to skinny to hold one down). The interview was conducted via email with Henry Ryan(HR) and Tim Ross(TR).
(S’n’O) First can we start with some band history, how did the band get together and who’s in the band?
(HR) Chris Freid: Acoustic guitar, vox; Scott Heath: tin whistle and mandolin; Tim Ross: banjo; Rich Perry: drums; Henry Ryan: bass.
“I met Tim and Chris while following a Jersey band called The Barleycorns. This was back in 1992 and they were the only guys I knew of at that time that did Pogues covers and traditional Irish tunes. They also wrote some great songs of their own. Tim, Chris, and I were in a band called Cocks of the Walk around ’93-94, with the mandolin/accordion/bazouki/tin whistle player from the Barleycorns. Didn’t last too long but we had some good shows. I met Scott through Tim and saw them once as Tramps and Hawkers, but it was St Patrick’s Day and the show was up in the Bronx and I barely remember it. Scott, Chris, Tim and I were hanging out one day at Tim’s old apartment watching the Planet of the Apes marathon when it dawned on us that we each played a different instrument, and decided to start a band. First gig was summer of 1995 in Hoboken. We played without a drummer for a while, and tried out a few different ones. Then we fell in with Rich, with whom I used to play in my first band back in high school (he had the full heavy metal kit back then, and I was playing nothing but Smiths bass lines. It was the 80s.) When I first moved up to Boston in 1997, Eric Van Steenbergh played bass for a while.”
(TR) “The band was basically formed by fans of a band called The Barley Corns. That is where I met Henry and Chris. The three of us along with two other Barleycorn fans and one of the Barleycorns themselves then formed The Cocks of the Walk. We lasted about a year and had some decent shows. After that myself and Freid, along with two of the other Barleycorns, formed a St. Paddy’s Day band called “Tramps and Hawkers”. Originally Mary Rafferty, now of Cherish the Ladies, was also in the lineup. She was busy with other things and we needed someone to carry the melody. I knew Scott from college and he started playing tin whistle. So he also learned how to play mandolin really quick and replaced Mary in the band. T&H played about three shows and after the season called it quits. Then about three months after that Freid, Scott, Henry, & I started jamming together. The Skels were formed in the summer of 95 with that lineup. We tried a couple of drummers in those first few months but none of them worked out. Then Chris knew Rich from one of his college friends and it so happened that Henry played in a band with him in High School. He fit in immediately and the lineup has been the same basically ever since. Henry and I have missed a few shows for various reasons but the band has remained the same.”
(S’n’O) It’s been a couple of years since “Stoney Road”, is there any plans to follow it up?
(HR) “YES! It’s about friggin’ time we did. We have a bunch of new stuff ready to go.”
(TR) “We did record about four songs to begin on a follow up CD but we were not that happy the way they came out. It looks like we are going into the studio to re-record those songs and record a bunch more for a new CD.”
(S’n’O) There was only five hundred copies of the first CD, “The Book of Skels” pressed (??), is there any plans to re-issue it?
(HR) “I hope so. I could really use a copy myself. Do you have an extra one?”
(TR) “I’m not sure about the exact pressing of BOS but it was either 500 or 1000. Once we ran out of copies of Stoney Road I wanted to re-press both of them onto one CD. We just ran out of Stoney Road so we’ll see what happens.”
(S’n’O) The Skels are one of the oldest Celtic-Punk, what do you think of the scene or do you even think there is a scene or just a bunch of bands jumping on the Dropkick Murphys band wagon?
(HR) “I never really thought we were part of any nitch or scene till I started hearing about bands across the country doing the same stuff we do, that there are a lot of people out there (not just NY/Boston) that really like this kind of music. I really think that web zines like yours help bring these bands into contact with each other, creating a kind of a scene. As far as bandwagons, I think you can draw lines from all of these bands back to the Pogues.”
(TR) “Well, I wouldn’t say people are jumping on The Dropkick Murphy’s bandwagon, I would say anyone doing what bands like us are doing would still be jumping on The Pogues bandwagon. I still seems to me that anyone doing this kind of thing got the idea, or at least a lot of inspiration, from The Pogues and the other bands of that era. I don’t know about the influence the DM’s have in Boston but I’d say it’s still The Pogues fault down in the NJ/NY area.”
(S’n’O) What is the long term plans for the Skels (recording, touring)?
(HR) “I heard we just landed a sweet deal with Slim Fast. We’re trying to get a few more shows up in Boston, but otherwise not much else outside of NY/NJ.”
(TR) “I guess I already mentioned that we do have plans to start recording again but as far as touring that is a touchy subject. We all have fulltime jobs and two of us are now married and another with a serious girlfriend. It would be really hard for us, or me at least, to commit to a real tour. I personally like playing around NJ/NY with a few New England dates sprinkled in here and there. I know Chris is thinking of arranging some Mid-West dates for this summer so who knows what might happen.”
(S’n’O) Where did the name the Skels come from?
(HR) “It’s an old New York slang term for lowlife or criminal. I recently found out that we spell it wrong! According to the Dictionary of New York Slang, it’s spelled with 2 “l”s. But I have seen it spelled with one.”
(TR) “We it is basically an old term for a low-life or degenerate criminal type. I think it was Chris or Henry who originally thought of it. The biggest problem we’ve had with it is people spelling it wrong, or at least not the way we do. Most people add an extra “l” to it but I think it’s pretty funny.”
(S’n’O) Is it true that Tim, Chris and Scott are former “Chippendales”?
(HR) “Do you want to know how the band really got together?”
(TR) “Well it is true that we were all in much better shape before this band started. I have never been called a “Chippendale” but I have been called “Beefy” many times.”
(S’n’O) Who’s the sexiest Skel?
(HR) “If by sexy you mean borderline alcoholics who barely keep it together to be able to play a few shows a month, drink up their gig money, piss on their equipment, break their drummer’s hand, incite and then break up fights between pipers and skinheads, embarrass our families, disappoint our friends, and scam bar owners up and down the east coast, then it’s a five way tie.”
(TR) “I guess you’d have to ask the Skels’ wives or girlfriends that one. I personally think we’re all pretty disgusting. ”
(S’n’O) So what did you guys do to Darkbuster to cause them to split?
(HR) “Maybe the stalking.”
(TR) “Darkbuster was upset that they were playing with a band who was more drunken and obnoxious then they were. They couldn’t handle the pressure so the only thing they could do was breakup.”
(S’n’O) Is there anything the band wants to say to the Shite’n’Onions readers?
(HR) “Don’t believe a word you read on Shite’n’Onions! I only wish it were in print instead of online, it would make ideal toilet paper.”
(TR) “The only thing I could add was to keep reading Shite ‘n’ Onions even though it is run by a complete Bastard! Also, support all the bands on the page so maybe a real scene could develop out of this style of music.”