interview by Guitar Doug
photos by RJB PHOTO
"Anyone can do high screams, but it takes YEARS of practice to make them good." - Jason Conde-Houston
Skelator is Jason Conde-Houston (Vocals), Robbie Houston (guitar), Samuel Rodger (guitar), Zach Palmer (bass), and Johansson Waymire (drums). Originally from San Diego, the band moved to Seattle two years ago, and has been blowing away rock audiences, especially over the last several months. If you're a fan of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, it's impossible not to love Skelator.
Although they are relatively new to Seattle, Skelator has been together for eight years as a band. Most of those years were spent playing rock clubs in the San Diego area, where the band has a large following, and is booked constantly. Since settling in Seattle, the band has been re-grouping, playing as many shows as possible to get the Skelator name out in the Pacific NW, and "getting Skelatorian Cogs turning again", as singer Jason Conde-Houston describes it in the interview below.
Of the musician friends of mine who have seen this band live, all contend that Jason Conde -Houston is one of the best rock singers on the local scene, right now. He can easily pull off the metal sound required for Skelator, then quickly switch gears and go into a Robert Plant or Geoff Tate style, if needed. In a city where good lead singers are increasingly harder to find, Jason is a breath of fresh air, raising the bar for other rock singers, big time.
Jason's unusual gift for singing is what instantly drew me to this band, when I saw them open for Thor in May of this year, at King Cobra. Skelator completely blew Thor off the stage, causing me to wonder what lead singer would even want to be on the same bill as Jason Conde-Houston. It's not a place you'da really want to find yourself, if you're that guitarist who became your band's lead singer, only because nobody else wanted the job. It would be wiser to slip out the back door when nobody is watching, rather than to go through the humiliation of singing after Jason. As a rock singer, in a word, Jason Conde-Houston is a monster. If you thought Plant, Halford, or Axl Rose were hitting the high notes, Jason Conde-Houston makes those guys sound like they are singing with frogs in their throats. In fact, some of the notes Jason can hit are so absurdly high, that you wonder when the glass is going to blow out of the windows of what ever club they are playing in.
Jason is not the only selling point for the band Skelator. The band also has two excellent, old school, metal style guitarists who make it look easy, while playing very complex solos. They routinely alternate between lead and rhythm guitar, and the solos they play are right out of the classic metal school of playing. If you're a fan of guitarists like Randy Rhodes, these two guys are must see players.
Skelator is, in no way, Nu Metal. The sound of this band is right out of the "metal handbook", circa mid 1980's, which many consider the golden age of metal. That genre of music has become "classic" at this point. As a result, Skelator is a band that can fit comfortably on the bill with all sorts of current Seattle area rock bands, and play at any of the major rock clubs, without seeming totally out of place.
The following bands have influenced Skelator; Manowar, Slayer, Megadeth, Grave Digger, Judas Priest, Dark Angel, Black Sabbath, Domine, Rhapsody, Motorhead, and Merciful Fate. The Rob Halford style of vocals is what lead singer Jason Conde-Houston cut his teeth on, and this influence is obvious throughout the music of Skelator. You can also here the influence of King Diamond throughout the music, especially in the song "Give Me Metal or Give Me Death" which is a gem you can find on the Skelator music site.
The lyrics of Skelator are a whole other story; I could write a second column about them, alone. They are rich, complicated stories, more work to write than most bands are willing to put in. If you are familiar with the lyrics of the album "Rush 2112" or the KISS album "Music from The Elder", then you have an idea of what I am talking about. The bands EP's are available at shows, and I strongly suggest that you pick up some copies to read along as you listen to the music.
Are they a "perfect" band, with no need for improvement in any area? Obviously, every band has flaws, but Skelator has hardly enough to even mention here; the band has a good handle on their strong points, and areas they want to improve upon. There are only twelve bands per year picked as "Rock Artist of The Month" for The Seattle Sinner Magazine, and I have no problem nominating Skelator to stand among the top twelve best bands on the Seattle Rock Scene in 2008. The Artist of the Month is never picked by me alone, but by many of Seattle's best known rock music insiders, musicians, producers, and heavy hitters, who weigh in every single month to help me make the selection.
Jason, where did you learn to sing and to hit the extremely high notes you hit?
I did theatre in junior high and high School, and from then on I knew I could sing. When I started Skelator, I just sang like Tom Arya, with the growly, yelly shit and crazy high screams, but I didn't know how to use my diaphragm. Over the years, I decided that I wanted to sing more of a traditional style, like Manowar, Priest, and Maiden. Then I got a job at a Smoke Shop, and would blast Judas Priest eight hours a day, get stoned, and just scream along.
Over the next couple years we changed Skelator from a teenage, Slayer clone, into a powerful, epic, heavy metal band. That's when my voice was the strongest, because we constantly played shows and recorded our EP's. I have lost some of the power I used to have, but now that the Skelatorian cogs are turning again, I think my voice will only get better. I also work at a record store now, and sing all day again. Achieving a good, high pitched scream is a little complex. Mainly, it has to do with tightening your throat, and having the right note in your brain. Anyone can do high screams; but it takes YEARS of practice to make them good.
What was happening with Skelator in San Diego, and why did you move the band to Seattle?
We played the shit out of San Diego, but every good venue just died out. The initial reason for moving to Seattle was that our drummer Patrick Seick was going to go to Evergreen State College to finish his schooling. Robbie and I were pretty fed up with San Diego, so we made it our goal to follow Patrick. Unfortunately, the rest of the band wasn't down with moving, and they stayed behind in San Diego. Jesse ended up joining Gut Rot, which was a band we did a split with. Rah Davis joined Sentinel, and also sometimes plays bass for Cattle Decapitation, when they tour outside the US. We have tons of fans in San Diego, and we miss them very much, but the city is just wack as all hell. We will return stronger than ever, with our new line-up and songs.
Your songs are actual stories. Why do you tend to follow that format when writing?
I like telling stories and being theatrical. Every song of ours is based on a movie, book, play, video game, famous battle, or just about rocking the fuck out. There are the underlining themes of conquest and death to all hypocrisy. One thing I like to do is to show different perspectives in battle.
The Wrath of Odin's Sons has 3 different perspectives. First, the Vikings are on their way to loot England, and then the English villagers rise up to defend their people. Then, finally, the priest tells of how the Vikings destroyed their church. The story then goes back to the Vikings hailing Odin in victory.
Who are the members of Skelator and what does each musician bring to the table?
Robbie is my cousin; we've been chugging this band along for over 8 years. He's the bluesy, Sabbath fan boy, and he is also the sound engineer in the band. He has recorded all of the recordings thus far. Samuel is the more technical minded guitarist, ala Andy LaRocque, or Adrian Smith. He is also a sound engineer, so it's nice to have two minds working on that side of things. Zach is the youngest and loudest in the band. He is just pumped with energy and charisma onstage. He head bangs like a madman, and reminds me of myself when I was about twenty. Jay is the newest member of the band. He's the jazzy, "you can't stop me from doing this drum fill" kind of guy. Even if he goes off on a tangent, he always returns to hold down the rock beat.
I'm just the pretty boy singer, with a sword by his side. I write the lyrics, think of song structures, come up with certain riffs, create album cover concepts, and set up shows. Now that Zach is in the band, I have some help on the booking side of things.
All in all, we all contribute to make this thing happen. I am very content with our latest line-up, and the musical direction we are taking. I am very content with what Seattle has to offer our band. The people, the bands, and the venues have been very good to us.
Jason, what is the state of metal as a rock music genre in 2008?
Metal in 2008? I'm excited that there are so many young people that are into Metal again. It's a shame that, when I was a teenager, Metal was dead as hell. My only real beef is that all of the big metal bands like Judas Priest or Slayer are releasing HORRIBLE albums. There's still a bunch of False Metal bands out there too, but there will always be the few, the proud, and the faithful.
What do you mean by False Metal?
Plainly said, it's Fake Metal. In the 80's, False Metal referred to "butt rock" like Poison. In the 90's, it was all the Korn bands in the world. Now, in the new millennium, we have "mall core" bands, like Avenged Sevenfold and Atreyu. These bands are over produced, and full of absolute shit. At least butt rock bands were fun to listen to, and they had TALENT!
What are the plans for the band over the next 6 months?
We are currently writing new material, and playing as many venues as we can here in Seattle, so we can open up for good touring bands in the near future. We're planning a tour down to Mexico and back, but promoters are kind of wacky, and they never get back to us with real info. I'm sure things will fall into place, or we'll just postpone it a bit.