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The New Cool: Skerik talks about Garage A Trois' new 'Calm Down Cologne'

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Photo by Chris Davis
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Garage A Trois return to their trio roots for a new album. (l-r Skerik, Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter)

Skerik, Charlie Hunter and Stanton Moore present Calm Down Cologne this week, their sixth album as Garage A Trois. It's the first G.A.T. trio album since its 1998 debut, Mysteryfunk, and New Cool host Abe Beeson got some inside information from the Seattle sax icon. The album release livestream concert is Friday night at 6.Mysteryfunk was born from the sessions for drummer Stanton Moore's first album, All Kooked Out!, with the same trio but playing Moore's compositions. The Garage A Trois music was, as noted on Mysteryfunk's back cover, "improvised on the spot and recorded completely live with no overdubs, headphones or samples."

Through four subsequent albums over the next dozen years, vibraphonist and percussionist Mike Dillon and keys player Marco Benevento (replacing guitartist Hunter) evolved the trio to quartet size as the band's reputation and fanbase grew.

I was in the audience to see that most recent quartet version of Garage A Trois a few years ago at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard. Charlie Hunter was playing guitar at another club in Seattle earlier in the evening and ended up on stage with an expanded Super Garage A Trois that night. It was clear to me that Skerik, Charlie and Stanton would always find a way back to G.A.T., in whatever ensemble presented itself.

After the release of Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil, nearly a decade would pass before these three held court for three consecutive nights in Fremont at Nectar Lounge. The "O.G." Garage A Trois sold out every show and had crowds shouting for more.

One of those nights, I bumped into Skerik and asked him if Garage A Trois would be making a new album. He excitedly told me, "We're in the studio working on it!" All that was left was to patiently wait for the machinations of the recording, mixing, producing, pressing to vinyl and almost-forgetting-this-record-because-gosh-we're-so-busy-with-other-projects process.

Finally, we get to hear what we've been waiting for. Calm Down Cologne is available worldwide Friday.

I asked Skerik if he could share some details about this "new-old" Garage A Trois and the new release. It seems there was a dash of good fortune involved in the recording.

Skerik says: "Luckily the studio (Studio Litho - conveniently across the street from Nectar Lounge) and (producer) Randall Dunn were available on the third day (of their shows at Nectar Lounge). Since we all live in different cities, we always try to take advantage or our time together."

As for moving forward without Dillon or Benevento, Skerik teased, "Now that Marco and Mike are out of prison we should consider doing a five-piece version of the band!! But unfortunately we can only afford three people right now since there is still no UBI (universal basic income) in place at the federal level. And even with three people, it’s still cost prohibitive to perform. Airfare, hotels, fees are all going up while musician compensation remains at pre-1980 levels."

This is the part where I remind you to purchase Calm Down Cologne immediately. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7xX2-F_VO4&list=RDZ7xX2-F_VO4&start_radio=1&t=0

Of note on the new album, there is a fourth member of Garage A Trois for a single song. Christa Wells adds a subtle vocal doubling on "The Epic." Explaining the one exception to their no-edits, no-overdubs ethic, Skerik says, "The improvised melody on 'The Epic' was strong enough that adding something to give it more intention was a good idea. Bands such as Stereolab have used vocal doubling to great success, so Christa Wells learned the sax/keys melody and overdubbed on the one song. Her voice fits perfectly and Randall Dunn’s mix makes the melody stronger and gives it increased mystery."

I was also curious about the band's interplay off-stage, and Skerik was good enough to explain the non-musical roles of the members of Garage A Trois: "Charlie is a professional long-haul tour driver. Stanton is a professional drum-lesson creator, and Skerik is a professional wrangler and secretary."

All three have also kept busy performing virtual concerts over the past year, and Friday night's livestream will be a wild and portable party. It's also a feat of modern technology.

"We will be creating a high-quality audio and video performance with Stanton and Skerik live in New Orleans. Charlie will chime in from Greensboro, N.C., using video and audio," Skerik explained. "The livestream will be free to watch, and we will be taking donations. We paid for this record out of our own pockets and are hoping to recoup through donations since record sales don’t pay enough anymore.

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Credit Album cover art provided courtesy of Garage A Trois
The limited edition colored vinyl is sold out, but downloads of Calm Down Cologne are a bargain.

"We will have some great merchandise and perks for the top donors that night. Performing without an audience is similar to performing in the studio, so we try to make the best of it, and we care about the quality. This is not ‘playing in front of your phone’; this is a very expensive production with a great crew in New Orleans. I think it’s very important to give people as high a quality audio performance as possible since live music isn't possible yet. So run it through your home stereo or headphones!!"

My preordered "blue & red 3D splatter color" vinyl edition of Calm Down Cologne is coming this week, but they're now sold out. So grab the download, catch the livestream Friday at 6 p.m., and pick up some of those "perks" with your generous donation to this modern-jazz holy trinity.

"This record is a great example of the power of improvisation, raw playing where everyone is listening and knows that you only get one chance," Skerik told me. That's the live magic we've all been longing for, and Garage A Trois always delivers - on record and on stage. I'm looking forward to seeing them online Friday, and in person as soon as possible.

The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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