Portland’s Eat Skull emerged in 2008 as figureheads of a once critically lauded moment in “shit-fi.” Evolving from the exceedingly mean-spirited outfit Hospitals, Eat Skull cast an array of willfully difficult rock influences into a meat-grinder and subjected the output to a positively blown-out recording aesthetic that filled two full-lengths. The last was in 2009. Since a Woodsist single in 2010, activity from the group has been nil. The announcement of a new album entitled III on Woodsist and the release of a leading track suggesting a much more positive trajectory for the group reinvigorated our interest. We tracked down original Eat Skull and Hospitals member Rod Meyer to suss out what transpired over the last few years and how it affected III. We uncovered a sordid tale of divorce, disillusionment with Portland, and Fleetwood Mac-like ambitions (although not what you’re thinking,) but somehow the events inspired Eat Skull’s most well-adjusted album yet.
Everyone’s wondering, why has it been four years since the last Eat Skull album?
Well, let’s see. We did that single for Woodsist and we’d been playing out a lot and we all went through meltdowns. I had some crazy personal shit. I was going through a divorce. We all collectively bailed, basically. Portland is a nice place but once you’re here for any length of time you go nuts. We do, at least. So, we got out of here and went to California. I lived down there for a year and went to school. Most of the songs on the album are three years old and we just kept reworking them, taking them to different studios, then I went to California for a year and chilled out.
How long was the actual process of recording the album?
We went to Jackpot Studios in 2009 and tracked stuff and it went really weirdly. The studio sounded good but the songs sounded strange. We didn’t have a line-up. We had random friends come in and do stuff, so when we tracked, it sounded weird. We have a home studio and we recorded a bunch of stuff that way too. It’s a mix of different recordings.
Would you say the bulk of it was recorded in a proper studio?
It’s a mix. Probably half the songs were done in a real studio. A lot were done on an 8-track. We had one song recorded on a phone.
The album’s definitely not hi-fi, but the noisy saturation from the first two albums is definitely tempered. Was that a deliberate decision?
It actually was deliberate. We wanted the studio stuff and the home recorded stuff to sound similar. I wanted everything to have the same vibe to it. Actually I wanted the album to sound like it had a specific environment. I wanted it to sound like how we were feeling at the time, which is like an artificial reality. That’s the sound I wanted for it.
Did you want an artificial reality because everyone was caught up in their own existential crises?
Yeah, it was done on the move and in transitions. I wanted it to sound overall like what we were going through. That probably doesn’t make any sense.
Rob referred to your earlier albums by the seasons and discussed how they were informed by environment as far as the weather in Portland.
We weren’t really hanging out together. We weren’t really a band and I wanted it to sound like that. The first two records sound like winter and what we were going through as a band here. I want this to sound like its own thing.
For me, it’s actually refreshing when you have such a long break between releases, since we now we see rock groups so desperate to endear themselves to fans that they release four albums in a year.
Yeah, we can’t do that. We’re just now starting to get back together and get used to playing. We only do stuff when we’re into it and sometimes we’re not. We hardly ever practice and go through phases of not being into it at all.
The leading track from III, “Space Academy” is a very exalted and lofty song, which is a very new mood for Eat Skull. What compelled you to select that as the first offering?
When we started tracking, we went into Jackpot Studios and since we’re all into Fleetwood Mac, we wanted to make a song that had that vibe to it. The guy who played drums on it is named Michael. He’s in his fifties and he’s very much a classic rock drummer which gave the song that particular vibe. It was my idea of a Pink Floyd song and we hadn’t done anything like that before.
Some of the songs we hated after recording and had to sit on them for a long time. We wondered whether it sounded right and whether people would be bummed when they heard it. We weren’t even sure if we liked. The process of us putting out songs is Rob and I sitting around wondering if something sucks or not.
It sounds a lot more like a Woodsist song that a Siltbreeze song.
We basically wanted it to have more of a pop slant. We kept wondering if it sounded too alien for us, but I’m happy with it now.
How was it arranged for Woodsist to release the album?
It took forever. We put out that “Jerusalem Mall” single [on Woodsist in 2010,] then this album was supposed to come out but it didn’t. We started to do it, melted down and disappeared for a while. It just took forever, pretty much.
It’s interesting to me, now that you’re explaining what the band was going through while the record was being made, that you went ahead and made your least ugly and least mean-spirited album.
I agree. I think we both wanted to do that. After the first two, which are pretty brutal, we all wanted to make a record like this. The first two records are of their environment and with this one we wanted more of a positive thing. We wanted to make songs and lose some of the super noised out vibes which I’m kind of down with.
In a couple interviews with Rob, he would often discuss Eat Skull’s age and the pessimism that comes along with getting older. I’m wondering how the four more years of age contributed to III? If you’ve become more pessimistic, it doesn’t show.
I know individually we’re all feeling age, which has a lot to do with it. We’re obviously older people and playing music at a certain age becomes more work. We’re just growing up and wanting to make the music we grew up loving. I don’t think any of us are raging punk rockers in our 30’s and 40’s. It wouldn’t make much sense for us to do that.
Eat Skull's III is out February 19 on Woodsist.