There’s something about Portland that creates the perfect environment for creativity. In this issue, I had the opportunity to interview The Skeleton Keys. It’s amazing how one’s world can expand just by taking an interest in the people around you. For me, it was taking an interest in a fellow coworker, Scott, who shared a passion for music and invited me to one of his band’s shows. He shared his Spotify and I went back to my cubicle to plug in and check it out. After listening to the song, Blue Sky Believer, I was hooked. The music and lyrics took me on an exciting adventure traveling across inspiring lyrics and well crafted instrumental. The Portland-based alternative/adventure rock band is comprised of four members including bassist and lead singer Scott Christianson, Kevin Abihai on guitar, Tyson Willard Kingrey on keyboard and backup guitar, and Joey McAllister on drums. They loosely formed as a 3-piece in 2013 and their current lineup has been together for about a year. Here they share their journey as The Skeleton Keys...
Are you originally from Portland, Oregon?
Scott: Close... born and raised in Vancouver, WA.
Kevin: Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii but my family moved to Portland when I was five.
Tyson: Not exactly. I grew up fifty miles east of the town of Hood River.
Joey: I’m originally from Florida, and I’ve also lived in Colorado, Washington, Alabama, and Texas.
How did you all meet?
Scott: I met Kevin in high school - we’ve been best friends for about half of our lives. Tyson and I met through mutual musician friends 7 or 8 years ago. I actually directed a music video for one of his former bands! He joined the band almost 2 years ago. I met Joey through Tyson and Kevin’s other band, My Proper Skin, and he joined us about a year ago when we needed a new drummer.
What made you decide to pursue music?
Scott: Ever since I got into rock music in middle school,
a whim when I was 21. That process (and a wonderful teacher) helped me realize I had a voice, both literally and figuratively. I probably consumed more albums and explored more weird sub-genres of alternative rock during college than a lot of people do in their lives. But I didn’t even consider myself much of a musician until I took voice lessons on it’s been far-and-away my favorite artistic medium. I immediately began writing songs with most of my free time during my last two years of college, which then became the foundation for The Skeleton Keys when I returned home.
Kevin: In high school, I really started getting into a lot of rock bands from the 90s. I convinced my parents to buy me a guitar and haven’t looked back since. As time has gone on my inspiration has largely been to inspire and encourage others the same way bands I love to continue to do.
Tyson: I’m severely right brained.
Joey: I grew up pecking at a piano at my grandparents’ house, so I mostly learned popular songs by ear. When I was 12, there was an assembly at my school where the band teacher played the theme song from The Simpsons on saxophone. I knew, then and there, that that’s what I wanted in my life. My aunt lets me borrow her guitar, and I pieced together a drum kit. Music has been my constant companion since then.
Do you pursue music full-time or have a side-job?
Scott: I currently have a full-time graphic design job, actually. We’re all serious about our pursuit of music within the band, but definitely strategic with how we channel that energy.
Tyson: Music is a part-time pursuit with full-time hours, and I do side hustles like sling coffee, and auction off vintage toys online.
Kevin: I work part-time as a software engineer, but my ultimate goal is to be doing music full-time.
Joey: By day, I work in the technical documentation at a software company. I love the positioning of this question— that our day jobs are “side jobs” to music. I play in three bands and am currently working on studio recordings for another band and a solo artist. I love working on music so much, and I put in about as many hours in practicing and performing as I do my day job.
Do you bring anything unique to the music scene?
Scott: I think we play catchy, melody-driven rock music for people who still crave more involved instrumental work. I like to compare our music to a classic adventure movie (hear me out here) - We have the action of guitar solos, kinetic songwriting, and some heavy riffs, but our songs are driven by a conquer-the-odds, romantic, colorful energy at heart. We’re not your jaded, cynical rock band. Our music hasn’t lost its sense of wonder, and we want to share that larger-than-life experience with you.
What comes first, music or lyrics?
Scott: So far, the music. I like to write my lyrics into the feelings evoked by the chords and melodies. I write the main song outlines, but the whole band fleshes out the individual instrumental parts themselves.
What is your favorite memory as a band?
Scott: Performing for a sold-out Analog theater when opening for Emery (a band I grew up listening to) last year.
Kevin: Opening up for Project 86 at their Portland show. They were a band I grew up listening to and a large part of why I started playing music. It was an honor to share the stage with them.
Tyson: Oh, the memories. Probably, that time that Scott thought it would be fun to have a band retreat in a Death Cabin.
Joey: This might seem a little offbeat, but I really enjoyed going to Scott’s wedding last year. It’s so great to be a part of a band where we share not just music but also the highs and lows of our lives. These guys are some of my best friends. There was also the one time on tour when we stayed in a house out in the woods that I thought we might all end up dying in. Have a thick skin, take everything with a grain of salt, but always be receptive to constructive criticism and motivated to improve. Have you experienced criticism and how have you approached it?
Scott: I can honestly say our reception in the Northwest has been very positive, but sure, here and there. Have a thick skin, take everything with a grain of salt, but always be receptive to constructive criticism and motivated to improve. Alsoremembers that some heavily criticized even the greatest musicians. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Do you plan to perform internationally? Where would you want to go first?
Scott: I’d love that. Maybe Japan? That would be cool.
What strength of each member do you admire?
Scott: Kevin has the finesse and chops of a real rock n’ roll guitarist. He’s also a lot of fun and really easy to work with. Tyson is incredibly versatile... he’s really just a harmonica away from being a one-man band. But I think his biggest strength is his challenging spirit: he’s deeply creative, a little unpredictable (in a good way), and pushes those around him to think outside the box. Joey is a total pro. The most experienced member of the band, he brings a sharp, upbeat, problem-solving attitude to our process and is a joy to work with.
Kevin: Scott’s optimism and vision have been the driving force for the band. Joey is the epitome of professionalism and reliability. Tyson is extremely driven and an incredibly versatile musician. And best of all, I enjoy their company outside of the band too!
Tyson: Scott, optimistic visionary. Kevin, faithful ax wielder. Joey, precise enthusiast; also, sometimes my voice of reason.
Joey: They’ve all got an innate goodness and kindness that I admire and respect and strive to replicate in myself. None of us is at his best all the time, but my bandmates offer encouragement in difficult times and are constant role models.
What is one goal you’d like to achieve in 2018?
Scott: I’m gonna break the rules and choose two: lots of shows on the road and writing a full-length debut album.
Where can we listen to your music?
Scott: Our next show! But our Danger Island EP is on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, Apple Music, etc... most sites where music can be streamed or downloaded. We have a music video and a live set on Youtube as well. Following us on Spotify, Facebook, or Instagram is the best way to track our upcoming gigs.
Who is your favorite singer/band?
Scott: Historically: Project 86. I’ve seen them on tour every single year for the last 14 years, and a little over a year ago we actually had the chance to open for them. Bucket list moment. Currently: Dance Gavin Dance, Wand, Employed to Serve.
Kevin: Rush! The other guys know how many times I’ve talked their ears off about how incredible they are. They write incredible songs and the musicianship is always jaw-dropping.
Tyson: I do rotations to be fair to everyone, so this month it is Paolo Nutini.
Joey: My favorite band will always be the Cure. I’m also listening to a lot of Frank Turner, Jason Isbell, and Over the Rhine. And I love local bands Merō and Glacier Veins.
Scott: A good Old Fashioned or Negroni.
Kevin: Tough to beat a good Old Fashioned.
Tyson: Roy Rodgers, followed swiftly by a red bull.
Joey: Coffee, Blanton’s Bourbon, and Fort George Cavatica Stout. Not at the same time. Well, maybe coffee and bourbon.
Scott: The ability to revisit dreams.
Kevin: Mind-reading! Although, I’d probably end up abusing my power and becoming a supervillain.
Tyson: The power to eat so much pizza that my abs turn into an eight pack
Joey: I’d like to be able to teleport across great distances, so I could visit my family on the East Coast more often— just stop in for dinner with my grandmother, or go see a movie with my mom.