THE SKELETON KREW (from l-r): Cameron Briley (bass/vocals), Hunter Cross (vocals/guitar)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
From the town of Jackson, Tennessee, between Memphis and Nashville, The Skeleton Krew are a two-piece who describe themselves as “young, hungry, and not wasting any time“, and specialise in a heavy, experimental, and original combination of rock, indie, blues, and Americana, influenced by such bands/artists as Bob Dylan, The Cure, and The White Stripes, which has left quite an impression on music fans across their home state.
Having released two well-received EPs, and with a new track planned to be unveiled early next year, the duo took the time to speak to me, in-depth, about all of this and more.
How did the band initially form?
CAMERON BRILEY (bass): We got together pretty much by accident: It was a matter of Hunter starting what he intended to be a solo record after his previous band split, which was emotionally draining for everyone involved, because they still really care about other, and we’re very close.
This new record was supposed to be his way of starting over with a clean slate, and he recruited his musician friends from our local area to all join together on different tracks, and when he and I started to play together, there was a nearly-audible CLICK!
As cliche as it sounds, it really was like that – like you read in interviews with a lot of acts, and it was extra crazy, as we were so young at the time we formed – I had just turned 16, and Hunter was 19, and we’ve been trucking along ever since.
How did the name The Skeleton Krew come about?
CAMERON: Our name comes from the fact that we, as the “band“, are just two people who hire out session players and live players on an as-needed basis. We have a small team that works behind the scenes as well, but we’re certainly and truly are a skeleton crew.
As far as where the “K” in “Krew” came in, we just liked it spelled that way, as it looked cooler on a logo than a “C” did. I wish there was a deeper answer to that, but there you have it!
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
HUNTER CROSS (vocals/guitar): Bob Dylan always said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that the songs already exist, and he’s just a sort of lightning rod; he just channels the frequencies that are floating around in the atmosphere, and puts them to paper.
I like to approach songwriting in the same way. I think if you start to force it, it stops being genuine. I may not write for two weeks, or I may write non-stop every day for a month – it just depends on how dense the concentration of static is at the time, and if my antenna is tuned to the right frequency.
What inspires the band lyrically?
HUNTER: I think you should always write what you know, but I also take the approach of putting on different characters based on the stories I pick up that float around in the air. It’s a fun thing to balance, almost like writing stories of ghosts – like being a human spirit box or something.
And of course, being that we spend so much time in our hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, those ghost stories tend to be rooted in a Southern Gothic vibe – our town used to be booming back in the day, and now its history seems like it gets forgotten. It inspires a lot of the undertones of my writing.
So far, you have brought out two EPs – 2016’s ‘Evil’ and last year’s ‘The Fall’. How were the responses to them for you both personally?
CAMERON: We couldn’t have asked for better, I don’t think. It’s easy for us as artists, and relatively unknown ones at that, to get down on ourselves. I don’t think people outside of the business realise how isolating it can be for an independent act, when you’re not only responsible for writing and producing content at a high volume, but also for taking care of all of the business side of things that would previously have been the responsibility of a record label.
Most days, we’re locked away on our computers just doing business things, and we don’t get to socialise much outside of shows. All that to say, when we put out ‘Evil‘ and ‘The Fall‘, the response we got was so rewarding, because it was like, “Okay! All of this is not just falling on deaf ears! We’re doing something that other people find value in as well“, and I think that’s the best feeling ever – being able to be wholly yourself and other people finding intrinsic value in that as well.
And in the new year, the band will be unveiling a new single, entitled ‘Shine’. How has the recording process been for that?
CAMERON: ‘Shine‘ was a really fun one to record, because Hunter wrote that one in a whirlwind of inspiration: It seemed like, at that time, he was just bursting with songs. It’s been extra rewarding because we sort of officially-unofficially unveiled it at Summerfest in Milwaukee, so we just get all these good vibes from it, aside from it being one of our more upbeat tracks.
We did it at Room & Board Studio in Nashville, with Ray Kennedy, who’s a close friend of our producer [Pat Foley]. We’re all good friends now, so recording it was like having a little party! It was great! And on top of it all, we’ll be releasing it as a 45 single with a surprise B-side, which we’ll be announcing a little later. It’s actually being pressed as we speak, and we’ll be announcing the release date soon.
Also, how will the track differ stylistically to your previous work?
CAMERON: Like I mentioned before, it’s a really upbeat track sonically. Like pretty much everything we do, though, the lyrics are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that’s just us being young, hungry, and full of piss and vinegar, and I hope we don’t ever lose that!
A lot of our previously-released tracks have been more parallel in the music and lyrics, but with this one, we’re experimenting with a little juxtaposition.
The band have performed live at venues across their home state of Tennessee. How is the experience – for you both – of playing on stage?
HUNTER: The stage is the payoff. We work all week behind a computer screen, reading, researching, writing…When I get onstage, it’s time to let off all the pent-up energy.
Of course, the audience plays a huge part in the experience for us as musicians: If they’re really feeling it, and we can play off of them, and they can play off of us, it’s like magic.
CAMERON: The stage is the only place I’m not anxious, and where I feel confident. I’m pretty shy in person, I like to be by myself – I don’t usually even tell my server at a restaurant if my food is wrong, but onstage, I can be everything that I’m not when I’m out in my everyday life.
Getting ignored by the audience really hurts, but it’s part of the game sometimes, especially as a self-booked, self-promoted, and self-managed indie act. When they’re into it, though…I don’t even know how to describe the feeling. I just get lost.
Single aside, what are your plans for the near future?
HUNTER: Our goal for 2020 is to really nail down home recording, making it sound incredible, and by the end of next year, we want to be putting out one song per month, whether it’s a demo, cover, or a new version of an old track, so 2020 is going to be a big learning experience, but we’re so ready for it.
And lastly, what is the band’s long-term aim?
CAMERON: Long-term, we want to be able to sustain a comfortable living doing music. I personally don’t have any huge dreams of being “the next big thing…” Obviously, I wouldn’t mind if that were to happen! Don’t get me wrong there, but at the core of it all, we just want to be our own bosses, doing what gives our life meaning, and being able to sustain ourselves well while we do it, and we want everyone we meet – everyone who listens to us or comes to our shows – to know that, as far as any scientific evidence can tell us, we get to live one time. Once.
Do what you find purpose in, and do it now. Success isn’t a limited resource, and you can always make more money, but you can never get back your time. Do it for your future self, so you’re not asking “What if?” on your deathbed.
‘SHINE’ – THE NEXT SINGLE FROM THE SKELETON KREW – WILL BE RELEASED AT SOME POINT IN EARLY 2020, AND FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: