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Dead Skeletons: The Art of Psychedelic.

April 29, 2013

DeadSkeletonsSmallText By Brian Wilensky. Image by Jon Saemundur Audarson.

Ryan van Kriedt, guitarist for Philly-based Asteroid No. 4, was on a European tour in 2008 when he was introduced to Icelandic visual artist, Jon Saemunder Audarson.

Audarson was working with Henrik Bjornsson of shoegazey-psych Singapore Sling on a song to accompany an installation he had going up at the Reykjavik Art Museum when they asked Kriedt to contribute to it.

That song, “Dead Mantra,” was intended to be a one-off tune for the installation. But its video became an instant hit on Youtube, prompting van Kriedt, Bjornsson and Audarson to continue writing together, form Dead Skeletons and release 2011’s full-length record, Dead Magick.

Sure, all the talk of dead things sounds a bit morose. But van Kriedt says that the band thinks of these droning songs as “spiritual battle songs,” with “Dead Mantra” originally written by Audarson after he contracted HIV.

“Jon had an enormous outpouring of creativity after he was diagnosed,” says van Kriedt. “I think it was a matter of dealing with it and release for him.”

The record is a droning whirlwind of minimalist experimental rock led by their mantra, “he who fear death cannot enjoy life,” at its head. It’s cerebral and cathartic in that it gets tense and dissonant, and at times it’s sonic exploration, a mass of waving sounds in the back and foreground on a giant aural canvas.

“They’re songs that deal with what death could be,” van Kriedt continues, “or what it turns you into, or what it’s the beginning of. You know, rather than thinking of life as a short-lived, finite thing with boundaries and a beginning and an end.”

Since the band was formed from an art piece, Van Kriedt says they wanted it to have that tension and release that every good piece of art has. They are trying to keep their live performances along those lines as well, but it can be a little difficult finding the right venues to play and still convey their message.

“We try to make it a bit ceremonial,” says van Kriedt. “We try not to just play bars because we want to make it more like an art installation than a rock show. Every show, Jon paints while we play. We also have a lot of projections. Jon also has his ‘holy shit box,’ which is a box with a video monitor screen that shows all kind of things.”

Dead Skeletons has played the Austin Psych Fest and other similar festivals and noticed a bit of a contradictory vibe. In fact, van Kriedt has a big distaste for the term psychedelic and how it’s being used in modern music.

“Wherever you go there’s the ‘scene’ and then there are artists,” he says, reassuring Dead Skeletons doesn’t feel above anyone. “But a psychedelic music scene is kind of contradictory as well. The whole idea of people getting together just to be seen by others and then just go to their nine to five the next day just doesn’t make sense. That’s not what it should be about.”

The next Dead Skeletons record is in the making, and van Kriedt says it’s actually leans more into traditional rock ‘n roll. It shows a bit from last summer’s “Dead is God” and the single they released in December, “Buddha-Christ.” Thematically, things seem a bit similar to those on Dead Magick.

“But we’re not setting out with a goal or a statement,” says van Kriedt. “We’re just doing what comes naturally.”

Dead Skeletons just played the 2013 Austin Psych Fest this past weekend, and hopes are high that van Kriedt’s clout in the local psych scene will influence a gig for the band in Philly before his bandmates head back to Europe.

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