South East Queensland’s music scene is ripe with talent. With the resurgence of ’70s surf rock inspired bands and ’80s pop you could call the sound, well, timeless. But, have you ever heard a band that is literally timeless?
I first came across Shakes Fear and the Skeleton Gang while walking through Fortitude Valley last month. I heard a lively mix of rock drumming, a distinctive vocal sound and then some infectious brass. I just had to know where this sound was coming from and who was making it. And what I learnt, well, I’ll never forget.
There he was. Wearing a fedora. Or a trilby. I’m not sure which one it was. Just that whatever I called it irritated him. Like, a lot. He matched this with a loosely fitted suit. He looked like he had just stepped out of the past. And, as it turns out, he had. You see, Shakes Fear is a time traveller. And a hobo, I learnt. Which explained the smell. But it was a bit hard to focus on that when I had just been told he had literally travelled through time.
I guess it made sense based on the attire. You’d think after being alive for so long you would have come across H&M at one point. But that’s off topic. The attire fit the sound. And the sound was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Shakes was with his band; Clayton the Cavalier Quartermaster who most definitely tried to fight me (I would have lost but don’t tell anybody), JP The Heavy who was the friendliest of the bunch, Tinker Taylor who said a lot of science words I didn’t understand and Matt the Butcher Bassist who didn’t really say that much at all. I was slightly uneasy around all of them. I didn’t fit in. But I had to know more.
And luckily I did! You see, the group where promoting their latest single Womsmeat that night. And it’s a banger of a track. But I can’t describe it as much as Shakes could. Fortunately he had some time to take me through it. Well, I guess he has all the time in the world really…
Anyway, here’s what he had to say…
You’ve just released your single Wormsmeat. Can you take us through a little bit on what this song’s about?
The song is about spreading of disease and the state of the body after death. The title and chorus are a reference to Billy Shakespeare (an old collegue, you know). In his source material, it’s a curse whereas here, it’s more of a warning that no one is safe and will suffer the same fate as the narrator.
The single has quite a mix of genres mixing blues, ska, psychobilly and musical theatre! I was wondering how your time travelling abilities impact your musical taste? Are there certain eras of music that you want to bring in to our current era of music?
The genre-mixing nature of the tune is a natural result of my many lifetimes across time and space. Funny thing is, I only remember scraps of everything that has happened to me in all of my adventures. Must be a result of living for thousands of years, I suppose. Such a mash of experiences is bound to create some crossing over of musical genres.
If your band could play a show with any group from any time period, who would it be and why?
Now that’s a tough one. There’s a special place in my heart for people like Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong and J.S. Bach. We nearly scored an opening spot for the latter, but were closely beaten by a Vivaldi tribute act. We’d like to play the bar stage in Hell one day but Lucifer is only hiring Polka bands currently.
I love your mix of traditional rock instrumentation mixed with lots of brass! What is your favourite instrument?
The Hurdy Gurdy – a strange violin type-thing operated by a spinning wheel – would be my favourite instrument but they’re not easy to come across in this era.
Again, as someone who has the ability to travel through all time, I’d imagine this would have exposed you to a bunch of different music, and, more importantly, musicians. Who, would you say, is the greatest musician of all time?
Of ALL time, you say? I do recall a deckhand with whom I served on an intersellar vessel in the year 2829. They were a Zhenebar native who could use all four of their arms and both sets of vocal chords to create the most hauntingly beautiful music you’d ever heard. I also quite like Chris Martin from Coldplay.
What time period were you originally born in? And do you think this affects the way you write your music today?
It’s been so long I honestly don’t remember my point of origin. I do dimly recall being given the name ‘Shakes Fear’ by a Boette when we shared a boxcar in the great depression.
Your music is conceptually very interesting! Do you come up with the concepts first, the lyrics or the instrumentation?
As I said, my tales come back to me in fragments and I try to write them down and maybe churn out a riff on the guitar. The Tinkerer does most of the actual orchestration, wouldn’t be the same without him. Then it all gets handed to the band and the arrangement is roughly hewn into a large, music-shaped chunk.
Do you believe your immortality guarantees your bands longevity considering the competitive and cut-through atmosphere of the Brisbane South East Queensland musical landscape?
Having seen hundreds, if not thousands of years in the future, no one seemed to recognise the name ‘Shakes Fear’ but then again, I’m not sure if we can change that future so, it’s impossible to say really. What I can tell you is that about 542 years from now, Southeast Queensland is going to see an early 2000’s nu-metal revival like you wouldn’t believe.
What advice would you give to anybody who wants to get into music in the current musical landscape?
The best advice is, don’t limit your influences to what you think is ‘hip’ or ‘authentic’ – that kind of thinking only closes your mind to the possibilities that you could create. In fact, we’d encourage you to actively create the cheesiest, most excessive, least tasteful art possible. Partially because it guarantees freedom of expression, and partially because it removes competition for us.
And finally, what can we expect next from Shakes Fear & The Skeleton Gang?
We have our third single Baker’s Murder being released June 11th – keep an eye out for it. We also have our debut full-length studio album later this year.
Wormsmeat is available now on all platforms
Shakes Fear & the Skeleton Gang Baker’s Murder Single Launch
W/ Aiden Bradley
Follow Shakes Fear and the Skeleton Gang
With thanks to the concept of time