Pink Skull is the result of an unlikely musical marriage between a carpenter and an automobile service station owner. Julian “S Process” Grefe (the former) and Justin “JG” Geller (the latter) — both longtime staples of Philly’s music scene in capacities including but not limited to DJ’ing, remixing, producing, and collaborating — create primarily electronic music that can be ass-shaking, thought-provoking, and possibly flashback-inciting, sometimes all at the same time.
The follow-up to 2004’s dynamic Blast Yr Akk EP (which featured an exquisite cover of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home”), Zeppelin 3, Pink Skull’s first full-length released earlier this year, plays like a time- and genre-transcending masterpiece like nothing you’ve heard — a mélange of soundscapes ranging from dancefloor killers to experimental funk to psych-rock to ultra-low-key acoustic folk.
We recently talked to both JGs about creating the new album, their kindred musical spirits, and why metal leaves a bad taste in their mouths … literally.
It’s been four years since Blast Yr Akk came out — why the long wait between releases?
Julian Grefe: The audio’s been done for about 12 months — we just took forever to put it together. I don’t know if there’s a real reason to wait two years in between. I was DJ’ing a lot …
Justin Geller: We did a lot of remixes …
Grefe: We kind of held off until conceptually we got something that worked from top to bottom.
What did you set out to achieve with Zeppelin 3?
Grefe: We kind of wanted to make it sound more like a band. The [full] band wasn’t together when we initially did the record. We put the band together about a year ago, started practicing, played the songs live, and then it sort of … I haven’t heard an electronic album that was particularly diverse, dynamically speaking, in a long time — think back to The Chemical Brothers, The Future Sound of London, things like that that we grew up on.
Geller: People get too scared to make albums …
Grefe: The only electronic music groups that I find have a good amount of dynamics and diversity in what they do are DC Recordings artists, Oscillation [Records], Emperor Machine, 20/20 Vision … There are definitely moods and varying emotions that go into it. When I hear things like the Digitalism record, I find it very one-sided.
Why call it Zeppelin 3?
Grefe: Zeppelin III is my favorite record of all time, and it’s the best Zeppelin album.
Geller: [Pretends to be Grefe:] ‘I’ve got a name for the record: Zeppelin 3.’ [As himself:] ‘Seriously? Why do you want to name it Zeppelin 3?’ [As Grefe:] ‘Because it’s the best Zeppelin record.’ [As himself again:] ‘OK, fair enough …’ I have no real opinion on Led Zeppelin … Every time we tour, invariably Zeppelin will be played for like four hours straight.
Shortly after the album came out, you released the dancefloor darling “The Drugs Will Keep Us Together.” Is there a reason you kept it off the album? Were you worried about it taking attention away from the full-length?
Grefe: We felt it didn't fit in with the full-length's “rockier” feel. It was a straight-up house piece, you know what I mean? We felt it needed to stand by itself, and it found the love and support it needed from The Savant Guard [label that released the EP]. I don't think they played against each other at all — it all worked out nicely.
As an artist who has DJ’d for years, is it important for you to create music people can dance to, or do you see it as a completely separate part of what you do musically?
Grefe: When I make a record that’s dancy, it certainly helps, but I don’t know if it essentially makes me make dancy music, because I don’t really listen to too much in the way of dance music when I’m at home just kind of hanging out or whatever. But I definitely think it gives you an edge in determining if something will sound good on the dancefloor.
So how did you guys first meet?
Grefe: We met through mutual acquaintances in the mid-to-late ‘90s. JG was business partners with my bass player in The Transmegetti. We both worked at record stores on the same strip [in Philly] — Repo and 611 — and were always bumping into each other.
And the rest is history … How would you describe each other and your working relationship?
Grefe: I would say JG’s a total fag.
Geller: Julian’s a total dick.
Grefe: I don’t know, I’m maybe more alpha male than he is …
Geller: I’m gonna have to remember that!
Grefe: It’s pretty much just give and take.
Geller: I tend to be extremely patient …
Grefe: I’m extremely nitpicky, Justin is not as nitpicky. I’m also very punctual, Justin is not. At the same time, I tend to rush things and then get really anxious …
Geller: It works out well.
Grefe: He’ll pick up on things that I fuck up all the time … I make the same mistakes over and over again.
Your music certainly has a psychedelic edge … Are hallucinogens a big influence in your musical process?
Grefe: Yeah. No. Sometimes … Yeah. I used to do a lot more, but I had to take a break … Every once in awhile I’ll eat mushrooms to get inspired …
How about musical influences?
Grefe: Justin has always been a huge electronic music fan, very much into industrial and ambient. I was all over the place. We were both big fans of acid. For production, I was a huge fan of both Rick Rubin’s and Tony Visconti’s drum sounds, [Brian] Eno’s guitar treatments and overall vibe, Teo Macero’s work … some really amazing stuff. I’d say I tend to sound a bit primitivist — probably why I always like Eno’s arrangements. For percussion: John Bonham, Les Tambours du Bronx, and Jaki Liebezeit. I've been listening to a lot of Neil Young lately — best cocaine-binge comedown music ever. And the German Oak 12”. And the Steve Reid album Nova.
The Philly music scene has recently been getting lots of attention for artists like Diplo, Amanda Blank, and Plastic Little. Do you see yourselves outside of that?
Grefe: No, not at all. We’re definitely not the comedy rap contingent …
Geller: Although we do contribute to it …
Grefe: They’re good friends. We’re definitely a bit of a different beast musically, but it all kind of comes from the same place. As far as mutual respect and stuff, it’s there — we all do work with each other and work for each other. It all makes sense in the end.
Is there anyone you’re dying to work with?
Grefe: Andy Meecham from Chicken Lips …
Geller: Good answer. Julee Cruise …
Grefe: Julee Cruise, Diamanda Galas … that’s about it.
What’s up next for you guys?
Grefe: We just finished a remix for Crystal Castles, and we have a limited edition hand-screened 12” coming out that we did with our friends Parra Soundsystem from the Netherlands. It's quite fun — the one track is our version of a song one might hear at halftime at a sporting event, you know? Like our version of Kernkraft 400 or something. The B-side is a totally woozy, uncomfortable, acid-techno work with live instruments, complete with pitched-down vocals. We'll also be playing shows throughout the fall and winter.
Where do you see Pink Skull in five years?
Grefe: Ibiza. Or Berlin. Berlin, New Jersey, that is.
Tell me something shocking about Pink Skull.
Grefe: I don’t like to eat with silverware.
Geller: He doesn’t.
Grefe: I don’t let metal touch my mouth. I also can’t touch certain types of metal because it makes me very uncomfortable. Remember I was talking about how I don’t do psychedelics as much any more? Shit like that, man! Seriously, I can’t touch the threads on screws …
Geller: It’s weird for a carpenter.