THE MOTIVATIONS THAT drive musical creation are diverse—there's the yen for a quick buck, the avoidance of a day job, even the promise of an easy lay. Then there's the oldest reason of all—the desire to generate something that will outlast one's meager, brief existence. It's not an easily realized endeavor. On the down side of an arc that peaked with their major label debut in 1996, Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves, Sky Cries Mary would seem to offer a prime example.
Sky Cries Mary
Showbox, Friday, October 29
Since being dropped by Warner Bros. in 1997 during a slew of consolidations within the music industry, the Seattle band has been mired in legal tangles with the independent label World Domination. With the contract situation cleared up, Sky Cries finally released a new EP, Seeds, on Seattle's Collective Fruit label earlier this month. They've also just replaced former guitarist Michael Cozzi with William Bernhard, thus marking the fourth personnel change at that slot. In addition, the band's sound continues to reincarnate itself, moving from the hazy psychedelia of 1989's Exit at the Axis to the dense and ambitious soundscapes on Moonbathing, ending up in the relatively stripped-down space rock of the new disc.
All that chaos aside, Roderick Romero is the sort who renders the previously mentioned list of motivations inapplicable. "It doesn't really matter to us. We just do what we do. If it flies, it flies; if it doesn't, that's OK," he explains. Sky Cries' longtime leader along with wife Anisa, he has an undeniably gentle, rather existential presence, with a smiling, coquettish demeanor and braided hair down to the waist of his slight frame. He is also blessedly short on pretension, even as he describes the new EP in terms of Cubist art or as themes related to "water, fire, the moon, and the sun." Still, after 13 years of Sky Cries Mary and with the number of times their swirling, contemplative brand of music has threatened to push through to a larger audience, the present scenario would seemingly trouble even the most peaceful souls.
"It sounded like a good idea," Anisa says of the band's decision to sign with a major a few years back. "We thought it would bring in some more people, which is what you want in any art. You don't want to be obscure, you know?"
"It was more like 'OK, they really love us and they put out a lot of good records,'" continues Roderick. "I mean, Hendrix was on Warners. How great is that? Little did we know that in the end all the labels were going to go through this giant sheet of problems and reorganizations."
"We just tried to stay positive and keep writing, doing other things and not obsessing over it," Anisa continues. Roderick punctuates the thought: "It really hurt the band. But it didn't kill us."
HAVING EMERGED ON the other side of corporate sponsorship, it's clear they see value in what they've gained as a band from the experience. Their production skills improved, for instance, since working with outsiders like Moonbathing's Paul Fox.
"We were all watching him like a hawk," Roderick says. "Now we don't have to deal with anyone coming into our rehearsal space, because we're doing it all ourselves."
This self-produced approach resulted in a tangible musical deconstruction on Seeds. Moving away from their epic, complicated arrangements, the sound of the new record is closer to the trance-inducing mood music that originally distinguished Sky Cries Mary. That the band now has a solidified touring and recording lineup—Roderick, Anisa, Bernhard, DJ Todd Robbins, longtime percussionist Ben Ireland, and bassist Juano Davison—provides a certain stability as well. "For me, this EP is kind of like a return to that mellow style, even in a songwriting sense, that we had with Exit and [Return to the] Inner Experience," Roderick says. "Plus, with Bill [Bernhard], we brought in a new element, because he has his own original sound . . . and he isn't afraid to wear glitter, which is great."
Tracing the path his band has taken, Roderick talked about the tumultuous nature of the last decade for emerging artists. "We were doing mostly drum machines, right at the beginnings of trance music. Then grunge happened, and I was happy for all my friends in those bands," he remembers. "But we didn't do what they did, we were just trying to have a good time. Now trance is back, and grunge is gone. We've always been either behind or in front of the times. We just. . . ."
Roderick pauses. "That's what we are. We do what we do. Don't look behind the curtain, because there's no one there. We won't be affected by that unless someone suddenly makes an entire scene around us, and that would be horrible. We'd have to cash in and live in Hawaii, you know?"
He laughs, and with the peace behind his eyes, it almost seems like he truly would hate for that to be the case.