“…You can try to have control over what you do but in the end it’s a combination of luck, accident and blank-mind moments…”
So says drummer and guitarist Matt Walsh, one half of Sky Creature, a group that reaches from punk, to opera and beyond to create a unique sound.
These are just a few of the reference points that Walsh and his classically trained pianist/opera singer partner Majel Connery bring to bear on their music. Walsh explains they reach for a sound that will make you want to dance. They say their music appeals to fellow weirdos. Count Picture This Post Editor in Chief in that category! Here, Picture This Post (PTP) talks with Matt Walsh (MW) and Majel Connery (MC) about their inspirations and creative process underlying Sky Creature music and their recent release, Bear Mountain/Childworld.
(PTP) What inspires you to draw from disparate musical genres and traditions to create your sound?
(MC) Matt and I come from very different musical worlds. As a kid I was drilling Rachmaninoff piano sonatas with a metronome while Matt was making records and touring with bands. When we first started working together, I saw it as worlds colliding in a way I didn’t understand. It took me a while to catch on to what Matt saw all along, which is that Sky Creature would be a cool band because of our differences. Some of our best material is the most extreme version of me colliding with the most extreme version of Matt.
(MW) Deconstructed is a fancy way of saying that we’re decontextualizing opera by putting it in a more punk rock context. Obviously there are no arias here. But Majel’s Classical background is an unmistakable part of her sound and we use that to our advantage. We challenge the way people listen. And we challenge the boundaries that might get placed on using an opera voice outside of the expected places.
To me, Thug is the rhythmic embodiment of not giving a fuck, similar to punk, but with a specific kind of rhythmic presentation. It’s like a slower form of fuck you than punk or hardcore. It’s from hip hop. Wu Tang has a thug sound. Will Smith has zero thug sound. It’s the crushing thud you hear and feel when you put on a Wu record. RZA once said “I love Dr. Dre, his beats and mixes are so tight and perfect, but my music makes you wanna crash your car or throw a brick through a window.” I like music that makes me want to throw bricks. And to me early punk and early hip hop are similar in this kind of emotional disposition. They’re both about being yourself and taking no shit from anyone, but musically they’re pretty different. Especially in terms of tempo. Anyway, our song Night Sky make me feel this way. It’s not out for real, but there’s a youtube video of us playing it live at our studio.
Trance music? A lot of our unreleased material has this quality. Trance means music focused more on a state of mind, or a flow, rather than on verse/chorus structures. We’re developing the ability with some of our upcoming stuff to create extended beginnings/endings and this will become more and more a part of our sound going forward.
Sci-fi madrigals? I always wanted to do a version of He was dying with Sky; I’ve also always wanted us to write sci-fi madrigals—like sacred music in space.
By sheer luck, our version of He was dying kind of nails this. It was done so quickly, but it turned out really well. It’s solemn; it’s sacred; it’s also very intimate. And the big wordless section toward the end is me using something called a Pickaso to bow the guitar – that was a complete lark. You can’t quite place what you’re hearing, and that sense of mystery is part of the overall vibe.
I don’t think any of these influences would be audible, but to me the single most important thing in music is melody and sometimes a sense of humor. Stravinsky is the master of melody and also a master of play. Billy Joel is just a fantastic melodist, and Wu Tang Clan is a master of groove, something else that (in my view) music cannot do without.
(PTP) While composing, how consciously do you try to guide your work into actively blending these disparate traditions?
(MW) I specifically try to think as little as possible, and I don’t ever even sit down to write. Things just happen– I think they’re given, not created. The finished songs sound like an assemblage of me and Majel because we’re both putting ourselves into the music, but I have no idea where any of these ideas come from – they just come to me; it’s not a conscious process.
No One started as me singing loudly into a mic for 12 minutes, and that was pretty much the outline for the song. It sounded insane, and not like what we eventually did, aesthetically. But the process of putting it together made it sound like us.
Other songs are happy accidents, like Beyond the Mountain, which begins with something Majel did in the vocal booth for 30 minutes one time when I went out to the bodega to buy something. I came back, put her recording into our Eventide Eclipse and boom.
I think a lot of musicians will probably relate to this. You can try to have control over what you do but in the end it’s a combination of luck, accident and blank-mind moments. Every once in a while we do consciously apply some opera. At the end of Light Reflected, Majel did this thing she called the sheep voice which is just operatic delivery but in a really low range. It sounds so out of context it’s hard to even hear that it’s her and I love that we can do that.
(PTP) Can you elaborate on your creative process and how your collaboration unfolds for each song?
(MC) There’s no one rule, really, because every song is born in a different way. Some I created the basic outline for – like We need a room, which I wrote largely during COVID, when I was in California. But even there, Matt had great influence over even the basic structure of the song. Other songs start as fragments that we end up completing together. Cold Light started as a drum machine accident, and a sexy little guitar riff that Matt made on the spot as a gag. We eventually made a demo, decided the demo stunk, then jammed out a lot of the finished track in a series of improvisations in the studio.
Vocally, Matt works out a lot of the songs he writes in the car, sends me voice memos, and then we try to piece apart what’s really good from what’s mediocre in the memos, and the songs come together piecemeal over time that way. We have one rule for a lot of our songs: if it feels right when we’re jamming it out live in the room, don’t fuck with it. Sometimes when you go back into the studio and try to make something perfect you kill its soul.
Photos: Bobby Carnevale
(PTP) Have you found that your cross-genre, melodic or dance beat sounds creates an appeal that crosses generational divides?
(MC) The people who get excited about our music seem to come from all ages/walks of life. I hesitate to say that we’re musicians who write music for musicians, because I don’t think that’s entirely true. As weirdos, we’re looking to attract fellow weirdos.
For more information visit the RiotMedia website pages about Sky Creature and bookmark the Sky Creature YouTube Channel.
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.