The Skelton Collective launch their second EP, Choosing Happy, at Mojos Bar on Sunday 16 December. Around The Sound spoke to Craig Skelton (keyboard and background vocals) and Jess Skelton (vocals and sax) about what it means to be in a family band AND be happy about it.
So much great music has come from bands that have family members working together to write, record and perform. Conversely, so much tragedy and comedy has resulted from families going into the music business together. Think The Jacksons: great with the music, not so great with the family togetherness. Or, Oasis, with the Gallagher brothers being simultaneously the best in the world at being in a Beatles cover band and at using Twitter to slag each other off in public.
Spend a few minutes with any combination of members of the Skelton family, four of who also get around musically as The Skelton Collective, and it’s evident that this family is about two things: love and music. The odds of things ending in a ruckus behind the scenes (as satisfying as that might be for some punters) are closer to zero than the chances of the Liberal National Coalition winning the next Federal election (Editor’s note, politics and music don’t mix, kids, the author’s just using the facts to make a point).
CS: “We all get along so well. We always have. We lost everything in a fire a few years ago and that brought us together even more as a family. We all have eclectic tastes and we all bring something different to the songs and our performances. This is a band. Originally I thought we could trade off my name, it was The Craig Skelton Collective, but now it’s The Skelton Collective. Everybody brings something to the table.”
JS: “When we’re in the band room, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the family, we’re there as a band. We started in January 2017 and it’s just snowballed from there.”
That ‘snowball’ has resulted in the release of The Skelton Collective’s sophomore EP, Choosing Happy. It’s the follow up to their August 2018 debut, Resistance Is Futile, and is packed with five tracks of the most immediately likeable pop music we’re heard in quite some time.
Actually, likeable is too mild. From the opening notes of the first track, ‘She’, we were hooked. These songs climb inside your head and take up residence like an old friend who’s just found a new lease on life. The songs are instantly familiar, fresh and ready to take on the world.
Choosing Happy…is packed with five cuts of the most immediately likeable pop music we’re heard in quite some time.
So, how and why do the Skeltons do the family thing?
CS: “I’d become disenfranchised with the other original projects I was working on. Deb (Skelton, bass) said, ‘You do have a house full of musicians. Why don’t we explore that as an option?’ And I really like playing in a band, and working with my family I don’t have to pay them to rehearse and perform. And I don’t have to tell them what to do.”
Craig Skelton’s been in a few original bands over the years, perhaps most notably Stone Circle and Jaime Page’s Dark Universe. As a professional musician, he’s also paid his dues in any amount of cover and tribute bands. It makes sense, then, that The Skelton Collective has its early origins in his compositions, some of which were written quite a few years prior to him realising he could get people to work for free if they were his family members. Yes, dad jokes come thick and fast with the Skelton patriarch.
There’s nothing patriarchal about Craig’s approach to The Skelton Collective, though. The song writing quickly became a family affair and the band is now fronted by daughter, Jess, who also plays a mean sax.
CS: “In this day and age, middle aged white guys are on the nose. And I really like Jess’s voice. I’d listen to that more than I’d listen to myself. It’s very now and contemporary.”
JS: “It (fronting the band) came out of nowhere, to be honest, because initially we were still performing the songs as they were written by Craig. I would sing the ones that I wrote, but I began to sing all of the songs over time. I’m still learning the ropes, learning who I am as a performer.”
Jess Skelton may feel that she’s learning her chops as a front woman. She also described herself as, “Not the sort of front person who jumps around and the like.” Both may be true, but she has a presence on stage that draws the eye and a voice that is smoothly sophisticated with a streak of jazz, but not too much. The Skelton Collective may come out of left field at times, but their music never strays far from their pop sensibilities.
The result is music that has depth, intelligence and wide appeal. That’s a trifecta you don’t get very often in the world of contemporary music and, when you do, it’s usually a sign of great things to come.
If you’re looking for notes on the title of the new EP, Jess has this takeaway for you. “We’re not telling people to be happy, we’re inviting them to choose happy.”
The Skelton Collective will never try to force you to like them, but good luck trying to resist their many charms. We think you’ll find that resistance is … well, you know!
The Skelton Collective are:
Jess Skelton – vocals and sax
Craig Skelton – keyboard and background vocals
Deb Skelton – bass and background vocals
Dan Skelton – drums
The Skelton Collective launch Choosing Happy on 16 December at Mojos Bar, Fremantle, with support from Scarlet’s Way and Platform 2. You can find more event information here.