In the mid-1990s, at the height of the rave culture, Justin Freeman and Joe Reese were in an electronic act called Spawn, playing gigs to thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of people. Now more than a decade later, as the Skyler King, the two are playing at open mics around the city, and small rooms like the Fire, the M Room and the Khyber have replaced stadiums.
“I just kind of got tired of it,” Freeman says of electronic music. “The scene, for me, was just kind of gross, seeing these kids on ketamine and messed up on drugs. It just started wearing on me a bit. It seemed very inhuman after a certain point.”
Freeman played in a punk band in high school, and was first introduced to music by watching his cousin Aaron Freeman—better known as Gene Ween—“make music and smoke weed in the bedroom.” So when electronic music got old, “It just made me reverse back to that and pick up a guitar and turn off all the machines and just play again.”
The Skyler King began shortly after and went through a series of evolutions before it arrived at its current incarnation, a live band that includes Freeman, Reese, bassist John Benussi and drummer Fran McGovern. With an upright bass and harmonica featured on some tunes, and an emphasis on songwriting and memorable melodies, it’s not the kind of music piped out at multi-story clubs. But elements of Freeman and Reese’s past do play an important role, and Skyler King songs often have industrial or electronic elements.
“We seem to have branched it all back together again,” Freeman says. “We’ve got the best of both worlds.” And they’re fine with the smaller venues. “You feel more connected to the crowds and you have a more direct response,” Reese says. “Now you get to stop and say, ‘Let’s take this whole mood and create it and just go to another place right now.’ It’s great that way.” ■
Fri., Oct. 2, 9pm. $8. With Ninja Academy + Zinc Pony. Khyber, 56 S. Second St. 215.238.5888. thekhyber.com