Skullflower are a London-based unit whose extreme music shares a chemically soaked common ground with all those who prefer their layered guitars TOP HEAVY, such as The Butthole Surfers in their pre-Blast First days, etc. The sounds reach way past the tunnel-vision of such crass references yet simultaneously grab them by the throat and squeeze out the last gasp of breath in their quest for exploration into the least charted regions of sheer sludge terrorism....
Listening to their records can certainly be described as being both a painful and pleasant experience. Tidal waves of differently-abused guitar 'drones' cascade over powerful, distant rhythms and deranged vocalizing in the most unsettled and atmospheric surroundings you can possibly imagine. Skullflower records are not made to be merely easily swallowed.
Broken Flag Records have so far been responsible for the release of a now-deleted debut 12", BIRTH DEATH, and the more insidious FORM DESTROYER album. The following interview, however, with guitarist Stefan Jaworyzn, catches them just before the release of a (now out of press... Yup, we're bang up to date here, you know!) new 7" on his since established Shock 45 Records label....
GH: Firstly, perhaps you'd better explain why there's such a low-profile maintained within the band?
SJ: Is there?
GH: Well, is it contrived to steer clear of the usual 'music biz' trappings?
SJ: Only to a certain extent. It just made sense with our putting out so few records. I mean, you know, quantity-wise. It was pointless sending copies out to the music press when they might not even get reviews and might end up down at the Record and Tape Exchange, anyway. And there'd be all the student wankers going out to buy it, maybe, and they'd probably end up hating it as well so, again, it'd end up down at the Record and Tape Exchange....
So really, we just wanted to make sure that they went out to people who liked them.
GH: How limited were the pressings then?
SJ: The first 12" was 500, the album's 600, and this new single's 500. Basically though, it's kind of a combination between being calculated and non-calculated. We weren't in it for the money so there's no need to be desperately signed-up to fucking Blast First or some other tosspots like that. We weren't craving to be adored by a load of seventeen-year ol 'pogo addicts' or whatever.
It wasn't a necessarily deliberate low-profile. It was just common sense.
GH: To me, it appears that you're perhaps noncommital towards the band, as well? So, does that contribute to the fact that you don't bring out records too often?
SJ: Well, almost everybody involved has got a full-time job, anyway, but we only did our recordings at all-night sessions at some place in Brixton which various people found increasingly difficult to get to (which is how we ended up with Matthew playing drums on some of the tracks on the LP, and so on). there's always been an unofficial 'floating personnel' thing, too. Gary, the guitarist, has always come and gone -- and largely 'gone' recently -- and Staurt's found it difficult to come sometimes, hence our getting Stephen Thrower from Coil to help out on drums as well. Now, we've got him back in though, it's back to what it started as four years ago with just me, Matthew and Stuart. There's also this guy called Binnie, who played bass on the second thing we did live (in Brighton during November), recently. He occasionally turns up. But, really, it's not a case of being noncommital because, again, we know it's not a money-making venture. You know, we don't sit around for hours, practicing tuning our guitars and having, like, sixteen different guitars all tuned one micro-octave lower than the other, and stuff... if they go out of tune then they go out of tune!
GH: Are you really into the idea of working with other musicians (I use the term lightly!)? I mean, you've had the guy from Coil and JFK....
SJ: Yeah yeah! It's not exactly been deliberate though. it's been kind of accidental. I've known Stephen from Coil for a long time and when we approached him to drum for us there weeren't really any plans. It was just hoping whether anything would work out and, as it happened, two tracks were good. Sometimes, you just have a totally different mindset though, even if you like the same kind of music... and, obviously, Stephen's approach to Coil is a hell of a lot different to that of Skullflower. Also, he mainly plays woodwinds in Coil, anyway....
Whatever, we're not adverse to working with other people but we couldn't get anything like a saxophone or a synthesizer section or anything like that.
We only, like, have a session every four weeks at the best and now Matthew lives in the Lake District I can imagine things being even more problematic, anyway. Apart from Binnie helping out with the odd bit of bass, I should think it will be pretty well the three of us, especially as it's impossible getting outside of London and out of normal hours, it seems. If that answers question or not, I don't know!
GH: What does the band actually mean to you?
SJ: In what way?
GH: Well, any way! I mean, this is where a lot of bands might go for a cliche and say it's "a release" or something. So, is Skullflower a release?
SJ: Sometimes, I think of it as being that way. Other times I think of it as being fucking hard work with little purpose. It all depends on how a particular session works out. If you come out of the studio after eight hours with four new numbers or something then you feel as though you've really achieved something. Some nights, we've come out with absolutely fuck all at the end of it and it seems like a total waste of time. I'm sure that's pretty normal for more or less everyone though.
What does it mean to me? I don't know....
SJ: Hmmm, not totally because I find most of it pretty exhausting. It tends to drain me. Playing like that has quite a lot put into it, so it's quite intense. So, it's a bit more than enjoyment. It's somewhere between work and pleasure... and, I don't believe work is pleasure, either! For Matthew, it might be a little different. He might see it as getting his 'message' to 500 people!
GH: Actually, that's something else.... Why are his lyrics so low in the mix?
SJ: I don't know. It's psychopathic! Nobody else can quite understand it, to be honest. His theory is that the vocals should be another instrument. I prefer to hear the shouting though, even if it's totally meaningless. It should, in my opinion, be a noticeable part of the sound rather than completely buried, so I'm not so keen to that approach of mixing the vocals.
A lot of people do like them and I like the way the words are used in the group but I really just wish they were a bit louder!
GH: Could you tell me something about your involvement with Broken Flag Records, because they have a big Whitehouse connection, don't they?
SJ: Well, it's actually Gary's label, and he used to be Ramleh, a power-electronics combo, and he had his label releasing cassettes and records which were mainly his own although he put some other stuff out as well. Ramleh supported Whitehouse at a few concerts and they were sort of performing alongside Whitehouse as part of that 'electronic noise' family.
Anyway, with the Skullflower records, we'd done loads of other recording at the same time and we were going to be Ramleh also, so some of the stuff we did was kinda droning noise shit without any rhythm or anything, which was going to be used for that purpose and the rock stuff we were going to use as Skullflower, but somehow, it all kinda metamorphosized into one....
I don't know what Gary's plans are though. He's done some recording with Philip Best, who was in one of Whitehouse's more later English lineups. Gary's done a couple of records worth of recording but I don't know what he's doing because Gary also plays in Breathless....
GH: Yeah, I heard about this....
SJ: We'll say no more!
GH: I actually quite enjoy them, as a pop band.
SJ: Yeah, they actually had a 'Single of the Week' in MELODY MAKER!!! Jesus Christ!
GH: I guess that he must have a split personality or something?!
SJ: He must have, to be honest! Anyway, most of the Broken Flag stuff is now deleted. There might be a few cassettes and a couple of records still available, but the first Skullflower ep has long gone and the album's more or less on the way out. But I don't know what's really happening with the label now at all....
GH: How much of Skullflower's market has consisted of people who've picked up on the Whitehouse connections?
SJ: Er, not very much I'd have thought, to be honest. I'd imagine that most people into power-electronics would be a bit perplexed by Skullflower, even though it's got the same kinda 'spirit' behind it. I think it's nearer the sludge-rock end of things than it is to the electronics end. I suppose that the last track on the album is getting near to Whitehouse, but that's about it. I think that some of that kind of shit is bound to come out in our music though, because we've always listened to it, but then so's Faust or, er, Alice Cooper or whoever.
GH: Right. Where do you think you fit in with the current musical climate if, indeed, you feel you do fit in?
SJ: I don't think it really matters, to be honest.
GH: Can you relate to any other bands around at the moment, then?
SJ: Yeah, there are a lot of bands who I'd day I'm not actually embarrassed about listenting to but without wishing to run off a list of names of who we all like, I think that it's fairly obvious who we might and might not fit in with, you know. I mean, I don't think we'd particularly fit in with any of the hardcore/thrash-type scene at all. I don't think we'd be very welcome there, really.
GH: At the same time though, would you be prepared to ever play with one of those kinda bands even if only to knock the audience away?
SJ: Well, I think we're more likely to be bottled off the stage, unless we pretty much knew that the groups we were playing with might have something spiritually in common with us -- although that's highly unlikely! -- but I think that you'd have more of an idea about all of that, really....
GH: Hmmm, well, maybe Tad or somebody like that?
SJ: I'd fucking love to play with Tad! Gary and Matthew both hate that album [GOD'S BALLS] though, but I think it's wonderful! So, Matthew might not want to play on the same bill as tad but I'd just fucking love to!
Long discussion about Sonic Youth, Big Black, the Butthole Surfers, Savage Republic, etc. ensues but we haven't the space here to go into all of that old baloney. Fast-foward until....
GH: Why don't you play live too often?
SJ: Again, it's the same as I'v said before, mainly because we haven't been offered anything. The first thing we were actually offered was Jack's [Nitro Puppy] support slot to A.C. Temple, in Brighton. Then, various people have muttered things about putting us on but half of them seem to be just scams put on by people just to try and get copies of the album or the 12". Erm... well, there have been a couple of concerts but what we decided after the first one was, basically, it was pointless playing it if we were only going to be playing to around half a dozen people. We might as well just put the effort and energy into doing a recording session, which we do live anyway. It's certainly the same kind nightmare as playing live. However, erm, we would do them if something decent came along... but never another pub or one of those fucking 'Timebox' type nights.
GH: Can you tell us something about your latest single now?
SJ: Not really, because there's nothing much to tell!
GH: Oh, be like that then! Ok, tell us about your own label then, Shock 45....
SJ: Yeah, that's a far better idea! Well, the Skullflower y" is the first release... obviously... erm, but what the label's going to be is a series of limited edition 45 rpm-only singles, although the mold's already been broken by Nurse With Wound, who have a track that's over ten minutes long and will subsequently have to play at 33 instead! However, each release is definitely going to be a limited edition, between 500 and 1000 copies. Er, some of them will have Savage Pencil covers.... Basically though, I'm game for almost anything. I don't intend to solely release records by groups such as Coil and so on. Both Edwin and myself are pretty strict about not having any rules over what kind of stuff will come out on the label. If something turns up and it turns out to be wonky enough, then maybe we'll be interested.
[Of course, all the aforementioned is now quite hopelessly outta date, but I though it was still worth including just to indicate both the diversity of Shock 45 and what you vinyl junkies have perhaps missed out on. Any developments shall be included after the interview shortly, anyway....]
GH: Finally, what else does the future hold?
SJ: [After having gone off on several tangents concerning long songs, more Shock 45 news, spoken-word albums, Crime, the Dils, Jello Biafra, Mondo Stero compilations, my Lydia Lunch t-shirt and so on....] Well, there'll be more records... more Skullflower shit in due course -- although when exactly is anybody's guess -- erm, and an album of new material and a CD of various shit that we've already got knocking around from past recordings....
At this point, Stefan goes into great detail about the proposed album and CD releases, which should reach fruition not long after your reading of this, really. Space prevents us from diving further into the conversation but I'm certain that it'd be worth taking up from where we left off again in the near future.