BREAKING DOWN 'SAKI ~ THEODOSIUS': by Jason Michas
(linked to Spotify, but feel free to use your streaming platform of choice)
The following is a one of four write-ups on the four songs (‘Fast Lane’, ‘Hopscotch’, ‘Fresh Escaped’, and ‘Tear this Temple Down) former members of the band Omnibol (for which, Saki was the guitarist and contributing composer) collaborated on for Saki’s posthumous album, ‘Theodosius.’ Saki died of a fentanyl overdose in the fall of 2016.
‘Funk’: The Godzilla Slayer
After a long evening of tracking, Jeff Van Dyck sat back with Robin Steen, Amos Resnick and I and played us a few more of Saki Kaskamanidis' tunes that were being considered for development and inclusion on ‘Saki ~ Theodosius.’ Among them, were compositions we were hearing for the first time, including a sketch Saki had based on a melody from ‘Message in a Bottle’ and that Saki had turned into the plaintive guitar phrase that would become one of the building blocks for ‘Fresh Escaped’. Then came a simple, unadorned bass line and a beat done with drum loops – a classic and very catchy Funk progression. These were the bed tracks Saki had entitled, ‘Hopscotch.’
Such elemental, yet compelling architecture to a funk groove – like a wheel or an arch. The satisfying ‘umpf,’ ‘umpf,’ ‘umpf’ of the kick drum on the 4/4, the head-turning clap-back of the snare drum making an entrance on the down beat of the 2 and 4, the tick-taka-tick-taka-tick of the swung 16th notes on the hi-hat. It’s a meter we take for granted. And like the circle or the arch we just accept that it appeared out of nature, from the ether so to speak, self-evident. But of course, it t’ain’t true. We have James Brown and the legacy of African American music to thank for it.
Simple architecture but try not to move when you hear it. Try not to feel your brow furrow, your hips lighten and an impulse to punch the air and kick doors down take over. Suddenly, you’re a funk machine (one letter away from the expletive too!). You’ll be forgiven if you immediately visualize yourself marching down a boulevard, white lines receding beneath your feet, wind blowing, ticker tape streaming, sun shining, a field of vision opening up before you that you were too addled to behold before. Snapping your finger to its beat, watch as all the menacing and narrowing anxieties of a worried mind crumble around you like so many matchstick Godzillas and Hydras. The world is YOURS!!!................MUTHERF**KERS!!!
The mic was set already set up so I, channeling my best ‘Blowfly’ (proceed with caution), got up and goofed around a bit, mainly with just verbalizations. Jeff decided to record it.
There was no guarantee that anything would become of the tracks. Jeff still didn’t know anything about their origins either. However, Amos, ever the consummate historian, recounted Saki first jamming the idea as far back as the early 90s, even recording it on a 4-track with an early Boss-DR for the beats. It wasn’t until the final push to complete the project earlier this summer, that Jeff revisited it and remembered he had wanted to enlist guitarist Rashid Hille, a long-time friend and work colleague of Saki’s (Rashid had worked alongside Saki at EA), to play on a tune. So, Rashid laid down a guitar line based on a melody Amos recalled Saki playing to the tune years past. For reference, Amos had previously recorded himself singing the melody and passed it off to Jeff.
There were only days left before the album went to mastering when Jeff got it back from Rashid. He still wasn’t sure what to do with it. A funk groove is sort of like a radio frequency, eternal, tuned into – no beginning and no end. But it stills needs arrangement and a narrative arc with peaks and valleys, and as yet ‘Hopscotch’ didn’t have one. Jeff ruminated on it a bit more, whilst playing around with different guitar effects on Rashid’s new guitar part, before trying a classic ‘wah’ effect, when something clicked.
Suddenly, Rashid’s soulful guitar playing was lent an extra layer of 'droop' and 'ooze' that gave Jeff trajectory. In one afternoon, with a burst of purpose and without letting too much thinking get in the way, he assembled the tunes various parts. Editing together the vocal musings I’d improvised almost a year and a half earlier and Rashid’s groovy (there’s no other word for it. I checked. Nearest synonym was ‘far out’ and that’s just too ‘Janis Joplin’) guitar playing, Jeff then whipped off a ball-busting, fuzzy keyboard jam, pregnant with funk (;) for a climax. Finally, he added outtakes of the previously mentioned recording of Amos singing Saki’s guitar line, lending the song a playful, Sesame Street-esque quality, not unlike the children show’s timeless classic, ‘Manamana’.
Jeff felt the song to be one of the tracks he most enjoyed producing. “It was so fun and spontaneous. It became one of my favorite songs on the album.”