As many a chef knows, the tastiest dishes are often cooked slow and low. The same “let it simmer” credo can apply to music. Take Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond, for example, which debuted a full decade after 1997’s Hand It Over. D’Angelo took a nearly 15-year break between Voodoo and Black Messiah. Much like the aforementioned musical heavyweights, Fort Worth’s The Skeeves have taken their time between albums.
There’s no one thing that caused them to lie dormant for several years. The guys say they didn’t mean to go on hiatus. It just happened that way.
Guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Ryan “Sr.” Birmingham spawned two kids. Drummer/keyboardist Ryan “Jr.” McAdams earned his master’s degree in advertising and studied for a semester in China. Multi-instrumentalist Lyle Packer endured a divorce, and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Victor Salinas tied the knot.
In other words: “Old people problems,” Salinas said with a laugh. “Life got in the way.”
But with a new album out on Wednesday, the band is officially back and moving forward. There’s no lack of variety on the 12 tracks on DeepFakes. There are bangers, ballads, and illustrative lyrics, all cloaked in the creepy noir vibe that helped to coin the band’s name.
The guys sometime switch instruments between songs to play up one another’s strengths. And all four receive songwriting credit on the LP, a feat that exemplifies each musician’s sizable skill set.
Two uncommon instruments make an appearance on DeepFakes: accordion in the groovy, mid-tempo “Continental” and theremin in the spooky closer, “Mudd.”
In one of the album’s standouts, “Make Believe,” Packer leads the listener to a dark place. While he doesn’t feel comfortable telling people how to interpret his songs, he said he wrote the lyrics around the time of his divorce. The listener can visualize his pain as he sings, as if he’s pouring vinegar into an open sore.
“Spent time underground licking my wounds,” he snarls. “Then I got better and decided / It might be really nice outside / I believe in make believe / I just need 80-proof to make sense of what’s happening.”
The Skeeves started laying down DeepFakes in 2014 at Echo Lab in Denton with producer and engineer Matt Barnhart (David Bazan, Pinkish Black, Power Trip), but unlike their self-titled debut album, which they knocked out in a weekend, the guys wanted to take their time with this one. And they did, rerecording parts in the coming years that the quartet weren’t completely happy with.
Since the guys weren’t in love with the original vocal takes, for instance, Birmingham said he bought various equipment to rerecord the vocals themselves. They finally finished in 2018, and post-production wrapped the following year.
“I didn’t want to compromise,” Birmingham said. “Otherwise, it’s going to be diminishing returns.”
Since the four-piece took a few years off during their hibernation period, The Skeeves said they have a lot of catching up to do on social media. That’s not to say they’re not tuned-in, as evidenced by their album’s title.
DeepFakes is a reference to a type of video technology that overlays one person’s face on top of another’s. And it’s timely, too. Deepfake technology has wormed its way into the spotlight via “fake news” videos and hoaxes.
Salinas added that songs can be like deepfake videos: Whereas the latter is a manipulation of information, a song is a “manipulation of feelings through story.”
The guys said they plan on releasing some music videos to accompany choice tracks. Birmingham, who works in IT, might even apply the deepfake algorithm himself by tossing band members’ faces over public domain footage.
The self-released album will be available on various digital media platforms. Salinas said they’re still debating whether to press it on vinyl. And while they don’t have a solid plan in place to play an album release show, they’re not in any rush.
“We’re kind of right here in the moment,” Salinas said. “We spent some time on this. Let’s get it out there, and hopefully some people can appreciate it.”
Birmingham agreed: “Just sharpening our tools again,” he said.