Skeleton Key bassist/lead singer Erik Sanko looks like a nightmare from the black-and-white movie era when he performs his clangy, gloriously crushing music live.
The sturdy, slightly tall Sanko is colorless in huge, scruffy boots, overalls and a raggedy-white thermal underwear shirt. His mechanical actions are triggered by an unsettling, yet engaging, nervousness and the means by which he comes upon his intense expressiveness come to him powered by pistol fire. He's a force, an assault on all senses, as is his band's cerebral and animalistic contributions to recorded history.
He says that every photo he's ever seen of himself, while playing, has made him look like he's just had a stroke and he's not far off.
"I don't know what it's like to see our band play," he said. "I wish I did."
This scary monster and his three bandmates, garbage basher Benjamin Clapp (who pounds on old gas tanks and anything else that can be cracked with a stick), guitarist Craig LeBlang and drummer Sean Sankey, despite their spooky exteriors, are invited into homes everywhere they travel. They pride themselves in not having stayed in a hotel for over four years, taking up floors and futons of friends, promoters and strangers across this great land every night.
Pat Van Hulle, the promoter of Davenport's Eat Or Die Shows, brought the New York band to his parents' home and quiet street following last June's performance in Rock Island. Jeanne and Gary, Van Hulle's mother and father, stayed up late talking with Sanko and regretted when he had to leave in the morning.
"Pat's mom makes the mean cookies," Sanko said in-between packing for departure. "You stay in a cheap hotel and they're all on the outskirts of town. The Melvins do that and every other band we've toured with has done that. I find that very depressing. It's not so much a job as a passion with us.
"We've developed this network of friends across the country. They're as generous as they can be without putting themselves out. We have this friend in Chicago and, like a lot of our friends, she just assumes we're staying there. When we get there, she's cooked dinner for us and rented some movies. People are good. If people sucked, we wouldn't do this."
The band, which released its noisy miasma of a full-length debut, "Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon," on Capitol Records in 1997 and more recently released "Obtainium" on Faith No More singer Mike Patton's Ipecac Records in 2002. Without money or a record deal, Sanko has left a fourth LP recorded, unmixed and collecting dust at a high school friend's recording studio.
"We recorded the record and I just had to figure out a way to get the money to pay him somehow," Sanko said of the untouchable album that just sits and waits.
"He told me, You've got to pay me.' And I told him that I couldn't. He said, Well, when you pay me, I'll mix the record. We'll just leave it where it is until then.' It would be real disrespectful to him if I shopped it. Now I have something new recorded that I can shop around to labels. I can put the Skeleton Key machine back into motion."
A six-song EP was recorded last summer, partly in Ohio and partly in New York, and set to be released this month on an independent label Do Tell Records run by a couple of young DIY show promoters. It's a relief for Sanko to have a new record about to take its first breaths.
"It's incredibly exciting," he said. "It's like not having had sex for a really long time. The record sounds like what it was a fast, crazy, inspired recording session. We had a studio booked and we had a short day-drive. It was 10 in the morning. We tore through three songs, were done by 4 and we took the files with us."
Sean Moeller can be contacted at
(563) 383-2288 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Skeleton Key with Humanz and Parish Festival
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8
Where: Brew & View, 1611 2nd Ave., Rock Island
How much: $7
Information: (309) 788-2558