By Joseph Hess
By Joseph Hess
By Allison Babka
By Gina Tron
By Kelsey McClure
By Roy Kasten
By RFT Staff
By Oakland L. Childers
Just put this on eBay tonight. Might take a while before you can start, but it will be there. Skin Graft 001. The one that started all this. The funds from this will help fund the Sicbay/Grand Ulena split. Buy it.
Sicbay is a band you can believe in. As demonstrated by the preceding message, which Nick Sakes posted on the Skin Graft Yahoo Group message center, Sakes understands that his past is nothing more than a means to an end, and the end is always the music. Call it pragmatism or common sense, but his willingness to sell off the first record he made with his first band shows more than just shrewd business acumen: It proves that he's willing to make personal sacrifices so he can make the music he wants, the way he wants it made. Sakes and his Sicbay bandmates are people who will burn a guitar for firewood, to borrow Stanley Booth's phrase.
The music-first attitude shared by the three members of Sicbay is not a studied ploy or a bid to differentiate themselves from other, more commercial bands. Nor is it an excuse for not making the charts or not getting radio or MTV airplay. Sicbay makes music to make music, not to make money. In a three-way e-mail interview, drummer Ed Rodriguez, guitarist Dave Erb and singer/guitarist Sakes explain that they just don't know any other way of doing things.
"Music serves different purposes, so we're sure not going to fit all of them," Rodriguez says. "Personally, I do what I think I do best. That's the best thing you can do -- try and add something to what's going on. But if I did try and do something to just make some money, odds are, it would be far off the mark. You have to be a part of that culture to spit it back out, and I have no idea what's happening anywhere but the world I live in. There's plenty of people who can have mass appeal without trying, so there'll be no shortage, and I can be left in peace."
Erb concurs: "I've always loved the idea of people getting together and making music for the fun of doing it -- without being creepy like a drum circle or something. SThat's what I liked about bands like the Meat Puppets and Six Finger Satellite and Pylon and MX-80. They sound to me like they're doing what they would be doing if they were just hanging out, going, 'Hey, check this out. Let's see what we can do with it.' I don't know if we sound like that, but that's pretty much how it happens."
"I have no idea how to sell out, if that's what you mean," Sakes answers. But, he admits, it's not as if the members of Sicbay are making music in a bedroom for their own amusement. They put out records (The Firelit S'coughs on Obtuse Mule and the yet-to-be-released Overreaction Time on 54/40 or Fight!), which means they want other people to hear them. The frisson caused by choosing to write solely for yourself or writing for others is not unknown to him. "I try not to think about the audience when I write music. I think it happens to most artists and musicians, though. I do this band with this intent of presenting it to the listening public, so the answer has to be yes on my part: The listener does figure into my songwriting. I'm a little sad to say that, and I'm not sure why. I can't kid myself. We wouldn't release music to the public if that were the case. I'm a little sad if something we write goes unnoticed, of course."
For Sakes and Rodriguez, being in Sicbay carries the extra weight of fulfilling the expectations of the fans of Colossamite, their previous band. And Sakes must also contend with the ghost limb of Dazzling Killmen, which becomes even heavier when he returns to St. Louis, where the legendary experimental-hardcore outfit was formed. "The 'ex' tag puts ideas in people's heads, especially in St. Louis," says Sakes, who now lives in Minnesota. "We didn't set out in Dazzling Killmen and Colossamite to make music for a particular audience, and now, in Sicbay, that's very apparent, especially when you look at our musical pasts. Who would we be pandering to? The fans of DK and Colossamite seem to accept us fairly well, as far as I can see. Ed and I were both especially curious if they would when we first started doing Sicbay together -- Mike Przytarski was our first drummer.... This is what this band sounds like. It wasn't a deliberate attempt at making a musical point or anything. I don't think Sicbay is that far from our past. We try our best to sound original while staying within the boundaries of rock-music structure and songwriting and hopefully add something new along the way.... We do get pigeonholed, and I can't understand it sometimes. I especially hate it when we get lumped into that 'noise-rock' category."
Though Sakes may feel hemmed in by that noise-rock label, it's not an entirely unfair assessment of one part of Sicbay's sound -- but there's more to Sicbay than dissonant guitar and the strangled, almost desperate shouts that are a Sakes hallmark. Sicbay is also the marauding/roaming drum patterns Rodriguez builds up and then releases in buckshot outbursts, the carefully constructed streams of sound Erb and Sakes warp and weave around one another that are alternately abrasive and dulcet as the mood takes them.
They can uncork the 78-second fury of "Sink the Town," which is squalling guitars and a wicked dive-bomb riff not far removed from the Killmen's "Reactor," but they also accept the challenge of creating an eerie, tautly sketched story of a road trip to somewhere unwholesome and forbidding in "Matamoros." The latter shows the true strength of the band, with its flickering guitar work and Sakes' semimumbled snatches of lyrics that drift off into dark possibility as he draws out the chorus "When we get to Matamoros, we gonna rooooaaaammmmm." Rodriguez boils the tension with skip-beat drums and puddles of cymbal crash while Erb's guitar stabs through the night like a cyclopean headlight. It's the sort of song that comes when the members of a band listen to one another and not to the demands of radio focus groups, songwriting formulas or the perceived heat of famous producers.
"Matamoros" is the sound of a band free to create not because its members are tied to a record deal or a schedule or a financial responsibility to produce hits but because they want to make music with one another. Juggling jobs and families and other bands, the three musicians work together because they enjoy each other's company. "I don't think I could fill up my day with songwriting," Sakes says. "It's my hobby. It's what I do in my free time.... I don't base my success on making money from music. It's what I love to do. It gives me creative satisfaction. The pressure of making music to pay the bills would be high, and it would ruin it for me, I think. I can't imagine hanging out all day with Ed and Dave just trying to create music. As someone said, 'You can't manufacture inspirado.' I can imagine hanging out with Dave and Ed and eating frozen pizza and watching old SCTV reruns or Ernie Kovacs videos and cracking up at stuff until the wee hours -- good times."