“It’s nice that we’re nominated for Best New Artist and we’ve been playing together for like eight years,” drummer Robby Brokamp says over beers in Clifton Heights just prior to the CEA ceremony. “We came out of nowhere.”
The band actually began in 2007 as Dr. Feelgood and the Skeetones, but frontman/songwriter Shawn Bosse’s exit forced the remaining ’tones (Brokamp, keyboardist Taylor Magnarini, guitarist Mike Lees) to adapt quickly to a newly edited lineup. Percussionist/DJ (and Robby‘s brother) Cole Brokamp and bassist David Sweitzer joined, taking a busman’s holiday from their duties in Chick Pimp, Coke Dealer at a Bar.
“We did have to start from scratch, because (Shawn) wrote all our music,” Robby says. “He wanted to split up the band but we wanted to stay together.”
With Bosse’s departure to form Shotski, the Feelgood-less Skeetones were in the deep end of the creative pool since continuing meant new material and possibly a new direction. With everyone’s Electronica fascination, the band drifted toward that sound, adding a unique twist — rather than relying on pre-recorded loops and samples, the Skeetones members play everything live, allowing them to manipulate elements in real time and improvise within the singular sonic structure like a traditional Rock band with guitar, bass and drums.
“A lot of people still consider us a Jam band because of all the live improvisation we do on stage,” Sweitzer says.
“But we’re trying to get more of that Electronic aura and not be that typical Jam band like Phish. We’re trying to break outside that box and still keep to our roots.”
“I play keyboards and samples on stage, and I love it because it’s so original but it feels so right for us,” Cole says. “It’s not like we’re trying to do weird shit for the sake of being weird, it’s just that no one else has it.”
At the same time, the musicians drew up a list of benchmarks that they hoped to achieve eventually. Initially, the quintet felt like they were setting the bar fairly high. But the band’s drive has exceeded their ambitions.
“We said we wanted to be on good local festivals in good slots, and within six months we wanted to be on laptops and be able to use them live for our performances,” Robby says. “It’s surprised me the way we’ve exceeded (those goals). We got on the North Coast Music Festival (in September); our goal was to get on something like that this upcoming summer. Everything just fell into place.”
Skeetones’ aforementioned wealth of experience has served the band well this past year. Knowing what needs to be done and the timing required has helped the band reach its goals ahead of schedule, including a debut EP last autumn and a new four-track release, Techtonics, back in July (download it free at www.skeetones.com).
“We’ve got a pretty well-oiled machine as far as writing music,” Cole says. “David does all our graphics and printing design, and Robby’s booking like 80 hours a week.”
Skeetones have an almost pathologically busy schedule heading into the new year, including regional and local shows, including a New Year’s Eve party at the Madison Theater with The Werks and Papadosio. The palpable proof of the band’s dedication is its rising out-of-town presence and an expanding fan base here at home.
“Once the Skeetones came along, that was one of our goals — to start booking shows out of town,” Lees says. “Shows that are more uncomfortable, in a sense. You don’t know the venue or how the show is going to go, but you’ve got to put yourself out there.”
“It’s the transition from being a local band playing for friends and family, to going to a show and someone comes up and says, ‘We came out to see you guys, we really enjoyed your set,’ and you’re meeting them for the first time,” Cole says. “That’s a big difference.”
In addition, the ’tones will be recording a full-length debut this month (tentatively slated for a St. Patrick’s Day release) and are already in the planning phase of setting up a 10-day tour in March.
“We’re going on tour for spring break,” Cole jokes. “We’re looking forward to that.”
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