If Enya Had A Metal Band: A Conversation With Cassiopeia Singer Hannah Skelton

G: We are talking with Hannah Skelton from the band Cassiopeia. Thank you for joining us today Hannah.

H: Thanks for having me.

G: I saw your band Cassiopeia play at The Knockout recently with Sam Flax and Cruel Summer. It was a great show. Any impressions that you remember from that show in particular?

H: It was a really fun night. I love both of those bands and it was one of those fun shows where there’s a lot of buddies on the bill.  I was impressed with…I was actually talking with Sam Flax for a while after the show. He uses the same vocal pedal as me, but its like a totally different effect.

G: Right. Different sound. I would describe Cassiopeia as being more on the gothy electropunk side, whereas Sam Flax is kind of fanciful glammy new wave. I guess you both have an 80s-esque thing.

H: Yeah. Hints of 80s.

G: Do you think that’s an accurate description?

H: I would love for that to be an accurate description. I feel like that’s one of the hardest questions to answer, when people ask about the band. Just in general. What do you sound like? I’m a hairdresser, so all day long I’ll have clients that go, oh you play music, what does it sound like? And I’m constantly just, what do I even say? I’m inside it, trying to…it’s so hard when you’re actually making it to see it accurately from the outside. Not to mention I have clients where I’ll mention prog rock, and they don’t really know what prog rock is. Or krautrock. You have to be just very broad and be like, rock n roll. So trying to meet people where they are and find a description is really hard.

G: What were your earliest couple of experiences with Cassiopeia? How did it start out?

H: I had been playing. Just writing stuff with a guitar, with keyboard. Very different than this. Just kind of experimenting with songwriting. John, the guitar player, was also playing, making a bunch of ambient stuff with his guitar. And he heard my recordings. We knew each other but we weren’t very close friends. He heard my stuff, and I was like, you should send me some music, let’s collaborate. We started playing together probably three years ago. Just kind of goofing off and experimenting. One of our friends, Ross, started playing with us, and we were able to fill out the sound and make it louder. That kind of morphed the sound a little bit more. Like I was saying earlier, we had to figure out sort of a rhythm. Do we want to be writing with drums? Do I write the songs? How does this happen? How do we create songs? So that was the formative stage of the band.

G: What were you listening to at the time?

H: I would say the things that potentially influenced the creation of Cassiopeia the most for me…I loved The Birthday Party a lot. The Birthday Party has a lot of this sort of frantic, almost chaos, but it’s so well calculated at the same time. It feels like chaos. Nick Cave does a good job of that.

G: Feral.

H: Yeah totally! So that, and also Public Image Ltd is definitely another big influence for me. It’s similar. It’s kind of spastic in that way.

G: A little more dystopian.

H: Yeah. Definitely.

G: Although I guess they’re both dystopian in their own way.

H: They definitely both have a similar quality to them that draws me in. There’s so many bands that I love.

G: What kind of bands were you listening to in high school?

H: I talked to my parents around fifteen, talked my parents into letting me test out of the rest of high school. So I could go to a junior college in Santa Cruz that had a really good music program. I’m trying to think what I would have been listening to. Probably just really embarrassing stuff when I was fifteen.

G: Was it more like, poppy stuff or were you already into your punker phase by then?

H: I was joking with someone the other day, about how back in the days of Napster, I remember waiting for a Britney Spears to download, and I would wait for like, an hour. Like two hours. For Napster to download this one song. I just wanna hear Hit Me Baby One More Time, and I will wait two hours for this song! That’s not necessarily the most influential to my sound now. Britney Spears. Maybe it is in some ways I’m not aware of.

G: Does it feel like [Britney Spears] is still part of your musical evolution? It’s a place you started at, but not necessarily where you went, or where you are now. I would agree you don’t sound like Britney Spears now.

H: Would I be human if I was a fourteen year old girl that didn’t get into Britney Spears for a minute? I think that it definitely does. I think it’s important to have a diverse, wide variety of things that you listen to. Broad musical tastes. You can use some things more than others, but I feel like a lot of people close themselves off a lot by just being stuck in, like, punk music. That’s what I listened to. At one of the shows we played a couple of months ago, someone said that I reminded them of Kate Bush. And I was super flattered by that. It’s probably just because I listened to a lot of Kate Bush. My music sounds nothing like Kate Bush, but maybe somehow I channel little bits of things.

G: You guys have two recordings out at the moment, the Tooth/Pony EP from last year, and then the Cassiopeia EP which is a little bit longer, from the year before that.

H: Yeah the EP was before Brian joined the band.  Once he started playing drums with us the songwriting process became much more rhythmically driven and our sound changed.  After a certain point we realized our sound with the new lineup was way different than what was on the EP, so we decided to release a couple of recordings that better represent our current sound to hold us over until the whole album is ready for release.  That’s Tooth/Pony.

G: Where were they recorded at?

H: They were recorded in the Tenderloin at Hyde Street with Scott McDowell. We just did the two just to get a couple down real quick while we finished writing. We wanted to have more than enough songs, and choose a few of our favorites to put on the album.

G: Is there a story behind how you chose Cassiopeia as a band name?

H: I picked a bunch of names that I liked, and then we just all sat down with them. Me and John, and our drummer at the time, kind of like, everyone picked a favorite and casted a vote.

G: Did anyone try and put their foot down over something that didn’t get picked?

H: Ha ha! No. Luckily, you know, I’m a very chill person. And so, I feel like anyone that I play music with also has to be pretty chill as well. It’s like one of the main standards that I have. Nobody put their foot down. We were all just very…this one got the most votes. Let’s go for it!

G: It can be awkward, but also a very good part of the story, choosing the name…

H: It’s one of those things that means so much kind of, but it actually means absolutely nothing. There are so many great bands with terrible names. So many of the names are already taken, so you know you’re picking a name that’s already out there. You kind of just have to pick a name a just go for it. At a certain point. You could think about it forever.

G: Do you remember what your first gig was?

H: I want to say…I think our first gig was at this place called the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland. We were way too loud for it. Ha! It’s a cafe. Really great spot with books everywhere. And at night they’ll put on shows. Actually, they’ve been doing more and more shows lately because there’s a lack of venues in Oakland right now. We played there and there’s a cement floor, and nothing really to muffle the sound. And so that show was a lot of drums. We couldn’t amplify enough to balance out the sound. It was fun though.

G: Have you played gigs like that, in storefronts and stuff like that? Like you just said, we’re seeing more and more shows taking place at places like that, which are not “stage venues”…

H: Those are some of my favorite shows, I’ve discovered. I would say most of our Oakland shows have been like that. We played a couple at the Night Light. We’ve played more at The Hole – that’s like a house show spot – where they converted a garage into a little makeshift venue. And some of the best times I’ve had going to shows, playing shows, are always at these places that aren’t actually a venue. So maybe the sound isn’t the best that it could be…

G: Do you find that they have a different atmosphere to them than a nightclub/bar gig?

H: Yeah. Definitely. Some of these places even just have – they’ve created such a friendly environment, like a welcoming space that is unpretentious. People will just go to them not knowing who’s playing. Not knowing anything about the night, and to just show up and hang out. It’s gonna be a good time with good people. I kind of love that about it. It’s less of this…I don’t know. It’s got a nice community feel to it. Less pretentious, for sure.

G: Are places in Oakland like Ghostship more common there than they are here in San Francisco?

H: Yeah. And Ghostship created this weird situation where so many of those places are worried about being shut down. I think for a while there were places that I know that canceled all their shows for a good three or four months until the dust settled. And then they would begin to have a house show here and there. It was like a cautious reentry into house shows after Ghostship, because everyone was so worried about getting shut down.

G: So have you gotten to know any of the people living in the house show houses?

H: I have. I’ve definitely. Like I said, they create a welcoming environment. There’s one spot where they always cook dinner. It’s a free-for-all. If you want to come, there will be a vegan dinner, waiting for you at seven. And then the show doesn’t start until eight or nine, so you kind of naturally get to know people if you’re hanging out.

G: Do you find that the people who live at those places have a common identity through there?

H: I think that, by nature, they do because they all feel compelled to open a house show space. Maybe they feel either they personally or some of their friends feel threatened or unwelcome in some of the bigger venues. So its kind of welcoming in people that are marginalized. So the people that run these spaces are not necessarily marginalized themselves, but oftentimes they are. They just have a passion for creating a space that feels safe.

G: So there’s a sanctuary element in there?

H: Totally. I would say, from my perspective, everyone has that in common. All of these shows are always, y’know, no one turned away for lack of funds. They want to make it so that you can come. You don’t have to be made of money. You can be any orientation, ethnicity, background. You’re welcome here. The running theme I would say, between all of these people, is the passion for that.

G: Did you have a favorite among any of them?

H: Oh man, I couldn’t pick a favorite! Well, I would say I go to The Hole a lot. There’s also The First Church of the Buzzard, which is great. Actually, I should definitely mention Oakland Secret. They recently gathered enough funding to make themselves up to code. So people sort of banded together. They had a big fundraiser and a bunch of people helped out with it. they have a beautiful Victorian house with a huge back area, and the people that run it live above. And they recently are up to code. So I feel great mentioning them.

G: What part of Oakland is that in?

H: That is closer to Jack London. It’s near Broadway and Fifth.

H: Another great example of that in that area is The Elbo Room has bought the Night Light. Actually our next show is going to be there and I’m really excited. We played at the Night Light before.

G: Is it going to still be the Night Light?

H: No. The Night Light actually closed for a while, which was sad. I think that’s why a lot of places like The Octopus Literary Salon, Oakland Secret, these places have been housing shows that would’ve been at The Night Light originally. So The Night Light closed for a while. It reopened. I want to say their first show was three weeks ago, maybe. Maybe a month ago. They’re calling it The Elbo Room Jack London. We all have heard these rumors that The Elbo Room [on Valencia in the Mission] is closing forever and ever. So I feel like they’re probably keeping the name The Elbo Room over there, even though it’s confusing, because they’re just anticipating the Elbo Room closing here in the city.

G: I read that your drummer had been involved in Rockband Land…

H: Yeah! He’s got a great gig.

G: Rockband Land is a like a youth project. Have you met any of the groups?

H: They basically put kids together into bands. I’m really glad that someone was doing this, because so often kids are forced to play Mary Had A Little Lamb over and over again and they don’t want to play that song, and so they don’t really think they like music. Because they’re like, I don’t want to play this. It’s not a cool song. But he’s created this thing where they put kids into bands and they actually write the songs. Brian and Marcus and a bunch of these other guys help them shape the songs. Shape their ideas into a song. And then there’s this one band in particular, they’re called Another Man Out The Window, I think they’ve been playing together since they were seven, and they’re now like, thirteen, fourteen, and they’re really good. They actually came with us up to Treefort. They played the music festival up in Boise. Twice now. They played it this year for the second time. And they’re so good! I get inspired when I see them play. So, there’s a couple of others…George Washing Machine, also played the festival. if you were to see George Washing Machine, the lead singer must be listening to some Johnny Rotten somewhere. I want to see what this kid’s playlist is like, I bet it’s not Britney Spears.

Photo courtesy of The Happy One

G: How would you describe your fans?

H: I would say at this point our fans are our friends.

G: That’s a good start. Your friends are at least coming out.

H: Exactly. For the most part, when I’m playing shows it’s a lot of friends that come out. It’s a local show. I don’t know who our fans are.

G: What’s an example of something unexpected that you’ve heard about your band? Like oh, you guys sound like a gothy mathrock band, or something like that?

H: I had a client that listened to my recordings. She’s a great example of someone that is just so far removed from this kind of music. And she told me that we sounded like, if Enya had a metal band. And I was so flattered. I’m all about Enya. I like metal. Wow, I’ll probably never be described like that again ever in my life. That’s the weirdest analogy, but I’ll take it! If Enya had a metal band…

G: I’d be fascinated to see that now though.

H: Yeah! There is sort of this crossover between the people that like new age music and the metal scene. It’s actually pretty similar often.

G: Sure. There’s kind of a proggy, ambient side to metal too.

H: Exactly! So maybe that should be the next project. Like, black metal Enya or something.

Cassiopeia will play the Elbo Room at its Oakland location on May 22nd, 2018.

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