Sky Burial - Taiwan's Hardest Rocking Band

ImageThe Sky Burial story begins back in the year 2000 with a happening called the "Hootenanny," a traditional rural American musical gathering, an old-time jam session as it were. Guitarist Brian Kleinsmith and singer Lance Gura would gather every few months with another musician or two and plough through covers of The Beatles, U2, and old blues tunes, recording them on cassette for a laugh. The guys took the hootenannies remarkably seriously, however, with cassette recordings transferred to digital and artwork created to produce homemade CDs. Lance Gura even chose Hootenanny names for the regular performers, he himself became "Jimmy Vulture" and Kleinsmith was renamed "Chuck Buzzard." Already, the birds-of-prey theme indicated an early interest in what would become Sky Burial. At one such Hootenanny, Gura brought lyrics to an original song, "Paul Says," about a colorful coworker who hailed from Hull, UK. Others like "Hot Urine Blues" and "The Curse" followed. Recordings of these and other new original songs were later done at Brian's place using Cakewalk software. Most tracks were simple guitar-vocal-harmonica arrangements, with occasional second guitar or bass overdubs. These tracks were gathered and assembled as the first Sky Burial LP: Reserection Road Songs. A strict deadline pushed the end of this work, as Lance left Taiwan in April 2001 to reconnect with life in his US home of New York City. The Sky Burial story skips ahead now to February 2002, when Lance returned to Taiwan. Friday night drink-and-chat sessions spawned a slew of new "Buzzard/Vulture" original songs, and summer 2002 saw the recording of Weeping Carbunkle, an enormous leap forward for the band. While Reserection Road Songs strummed along fairly tamely and even borrowed a melody or two here and there, Weeping Carbunkle exploded with heavy rockers and roaring, swaggering boogies.

Image Kleinsmith-Buzzard laid down reasonable bass and drum machine tracks and then covered them with thick, grinding, swirling guitar overdubs. Gura-Vulture snarled and howled some impressive vocals, intriguing lyrics dealing with washed-up Hollywood stars, prostitutes, and drug addiction, and threw in harmonica on a few tunes. For the first time, the bathroom in Gura's apartment was used as the vocal booth and christened "Studio Outhouse." This snappy vocal sound mixed with layers of ferocious guitar made Weeping Carbunkle an instant Sky Burial classic, and the band still plays many of its tracks live.

Image At the end of 2002, Buzzard and Vulture embarked on a slightly different project, an album of cover tunes. Recorded with the same aggressive, in- your- face approach, (and done in the same bathroom,) the covers of Warren Zevon, Roxy Music, The Dead Boys, and John Fogerty, with piano and sax overdubs done by Brian at home, became part of "...Trying to Get Into Brownie's..." which was finished in early 2003. That period, however, saw a much more significant development. A tip from a friend about "Jam Night" at Taipei's Citizen Cain pub brought Vulture and Buzzard in for an attempt at a live show, (their only other live date being a performance of Bo Diddley's "Pills" for their language school banquet in August 2002). Regular Citizen Cain musicians on drums and bass sat in as the guys blasted through simple covers, simple, as the "band" had absolutely no rehearsal time. Sky Burial, however, became a favorite of management there and already started to cause a stir with their aggressive rock and roll attack. These 30-minute Thursday jam night performances continued through early summer 2003 until summer teaching schedules got too busy and fall vacations took Brian and Lance to different locations in India.

Image November 2003 saw new Sky Burial original songs and a new line-up for live shows, which the band had started playing at the Living Room. The sets featured a mix of covers and material from Weeping Carbunkle. These regular show continued into early 2004 as Buzzard and Vulture wrote more songs. So many tunes were written and recorded (laying down the tracks still as a duo) that the release of two albums was warranted. In May, they completed Impending Crust and Encrusted Pen. This huge, sprawling pair of albums bit with the same growling rock and roll gusto but also took country, bluegrass, and reggae tangents. The same month, Kleinsmith got married and Gura left Taiwan again for New York.

Image The latest chapter in the Sky Burial story picks up in late January 2005, with Lance Gura's return to Taiwan. On Saturday, January 29, Corbett Wall at the Living Room organized a "Welcome Back To Taiwan" party for Lance, with music to be provided by Sky Burial, a surprise gig even for its singer, Jimmy Vulture. For this show, Brian enlisted the talents of Tien Mu hairdresser and longtime Taiwan musical fixture Paul Routledge, originally of Manchester, UK. This performance, rough and haphazard with its total lack of rehearsal in preparation, relaunched Sky Burial and cemented Paul Routledge as the band's new permanent drummer. Bass player John Ring, a Maine, USA native with whom Brian had played in 2004's short-lived Mad Georges, soon joined up, and the current line-up of Sky Burial was fixed. In 2005, the band has taken off in a big way, with regular Living Room gigs as well as steady appearances elsewhere: Hurricane Katrina Relief at the Shannon, Daniel Pearl Day outdoors in Gong Guan, the hip, scene-starting Sappho De Base, the always rowdy Bliss, and at renowned Riverside Live House. Image-wise, Sky Burial has emerged as a one-of- a-kind act with their zombie-like look and highly energetic, engaging performances, often resulting in rabid audience participation. Another crowd favorite is the backdrop to their live performances, which features intense, visceral videos behind the stage, alluding to the themes of the songs. The band continues to play live as much as possible and to write and record new songs and have a new album out entitled, "Freak At The End Of The Rainbow” released July 2007.

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