INTERVIEW WITH JASON MCMAHON OF SKELETON$ BIG BAND
SKELETONS expands it’s usual quintet to 13 piece ensemble at ROULETTE on June 8th and 9th for two nights of new compositions, arrangements and ideas. A rare opportunity to hear the band explore the outer limits of their work – with a huge band of players from the wide spectrum of New York’s underground music scene.
SKELETONS are an American entertainment unit who live in New York City. They have released recordings on the Tomlab, Ghostly, and Shinkoyo labels. We spoke with guitarist Jason McMahon.
ROULETTE: Do you consider yourself more a composer or a performer?
JASON MCMAHON: I’m definitely more of a performer. I have actually written very little music. I’m great at fleshing out compositions, editing, rearranging. Basically I’m a normal jazz musician: loves to play and constantly rework other people’s (Matt’s) music.
R: Are there any people you see as instrumental in your development as an artist (influences, heroes, colleagues…)?
JM: I think Matt and I both have been instrumental in each other’s development, mostly because we’ve spent so much time working on music together. Other than that and all my other awesome colleagues from Oberlin I would say basically the Beatles and John McLaughlin. Also worth noting is all the improv acting I did in college definitely had a huge effect in my artistic temperament.
R: How did you get into music?
JM: Mom decided it was a good idea to have a piano, even though no one played it. So I slowly and casually got into music for a decade before I ever picked up the guitar when I was about 13. Seeing Michael J. Fox play ‘Johnny B. Good’ in Back to The Future also helped A LOT.
R: Is there an event or experience that led you to start in experimental media?
JM: Going to a conservatory teaches one about ‘high art’ and ‘taste’ and the necessity to make ‘new music’. But I guess I was into jazz when I was in high school. Is jazz still considered experimental? The most modern experimental music that interested me in college was coming from the modern/indie rock world, where I feel somewhat at home these days.
R: What genre of music (pre-defined or newly defined) would you fit your work into?
JM: New York
R: What is music?
JM: The things between your ears.
R: What is it that you want people to hear/think about/be tuned into in your work?
JM: The jaded side wants to say that I want people to understand how complicated the music is, and what a great creative musician I am. Of course this is only partially true. I definitely want people to be confused a bit, but not too much! More like a “I’m having trouble explaining why I like this so much!” reaction.
R: What do you, as a composer/performer of music, listen for in other people’s work- what moves you? What tickles your brain?
JM: I love it when I can’t tell how much of a performance (music, theater, etc.) is improvised and how much is scripted. I like to feel that I’m part of a living experience as opposed to a witness to someone’s agenda. If that agenda is the same as mine, though, that’s ok, too. I need to be a little confused, though.
Entertainment in a large way is about escapism. I go out to see music to both get inspired, and also to forget about my problems. Sometime the escapism gets too much emphasis, drawing attention to itself. I’m talking about retro, revivalism, which can be very dangerous psychologically even if you know what’s going on. A Big Mac isn’t any less bad for you if you know it’s bad. In fact it’s worse. I think the danger here is that it lowers expectations. It helps people forget that there’s still tons of amazing stuff to be invented.
R: Do you do other things aside from music?
JM: I just got into rock climbing and I’m considering dedicating my life to it.
R: What was the last music you listened to?
JM: The new Zs album is amazing, as is the new PC Worship album.
R: Describe, if you can, the cloud of ideas that you’re making work under these days – in terms of music, current events, new technologies, personal.
JM: Mathematical Theory of Knots/Art Terms/Census 2010/Control Issues