We caught up with David Bernabo, this months featured head on HughShows Live @ Eide’s flier. Bernabo is the vocalist, guitarist and pianist for Pittsburgh band Host Skull. The band also consists of primary member Will Dyar who sings vocals, plays bass, drums and guitar. The 4-5 piece Pittsburgh version of the band consists of Erik Cirelli
on guitar, Christopher James on bass and vocals, Rich Kawood on drums and vocals and Michelle Horsley on keys and vocals. Other major folks are Brandon Masterman on vocals and soprano and baritone saxophone and Ben Montgomery on trumpet, vocals and bass.
Sound Scene Express: What’s the name of your band? What’s the origin of that name?
David Bernabo: The band’s name is Host Skull. The band name comes from an instrumental piece on our first LP, Totally Fatalist, called “Host Skull”. When searching for a name better than the sure-to-be-ill-fated Bernabo-Dyar, we chose Host Skull and named the LP Totally Fatalist, but we were debating switching them. The name has worked out conceptually since we experimented with having different versions of the band – a studio group, a live group, a module-based experimental dance group, and an art group. Essentially, the band forms around the members that are participating in the recording or the performance.
SSE: What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?
DB: Personally, I would consider Host Skull to create avant-rock, I suppose, meaning there is much consideration for harmonic progressions and harmonies, room for free improvisation, and structural and contextual twists. Some of my influences are Jim O’Rourke, Steely Dan, Robert Ashley, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Van Dyke Parks, Joni Mitchell, Deerhoof, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, Joanna Newsom, Luc Ferrari.
SSE: How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
DB: I met Will while working on projects in a Lawrenceville studio about 7-8 years ago. The rest of the band – I’ve known them about 10 years or so. In Pittsburgh, you tend to meet folks involved in the music scene(s) fairly easily.
SSE: Who writes your song lyrics? What is your inspiration?
DB: Both Will and I write lyrics, but on the recent LP (due this fall/winter?), I handled most of the lyrics. The goal with this record attempted to set each line as an interesting statement. Not sure how, but there is frequent reference to religious concepts, despite being decidedly agnostic. Many of the lyrics go back to memories from youth and allow themselves to shift time periods line by line.
SSE: When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?
DB: Will and I started to record in 2010 when I proposed a long distance 7″ idea. From there, we were able to release music through Chicago’s Contraphonic label and the 7″ turned into the first LP. We have since released a second LP on Wild Kindness Records last September and are nearing the third. Working with Will is a dream and is incredibly fun. Also, working with the band has been the best band experience I have had. Everyone is incredibly talented and has a great feel for the material. My musical output has slowed a bit in the recent years, but I’m finding myself interested in problems and how to solve those problems with music, structure, harmonic considerations, or textural choices. Recent years have seen less focus on “songs” and more focus on music for dance and theater so that when we return to Host Skull, the music and feeling is very fresh and exciting.
SSE: Where have you performed? What are your favorite venues?
DB: Host Skull has performed at Brillobox, Wood Street Galleries, The Shop, and a few other places. Personally, I’ve been able to play most places that I would have hoped/dreamed to play by this point: Arts Festival, Farm Aid, Mr. Smalls, Carnegie Music Hall (pgh). We always enjoy Brillobox, but I think there has been some satisfaction in making events in non-venue spaces like Wood Street Galleries. Wood Street has an incredibly supportive staff and we were able to do a very nice evening with friends, Sleep Experiments, last year with projections.
SSE: What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
DB: Rehearsals are pretty tension-less. We generally run through the material a few times and hang out a bit. Due to schedules, we vary between a bi-weekly and a “we have a gig coming up” rehearsal schedule.
SSE: What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
DB: I’m thinking with the corporate structure of the music industry and general “pay-to-play” nature of promotion companies, record labels, music press, and (bizarrely) music venues with bars, fame and fortune is not much of an option or desire. I would love to get to a point where 2,000 people pick up the new record, but I’m happy to record new records as long as new ideas and collaborations present themselves. It is a blast to play with Will and with the Pittsburgh band, so it is very rewarding to collect those experiences.
SSE: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?
We have released two LP’s, a longform composition, and a handful of limited edition (and sold out) triangular and hexagonal lathe cut records. CDs, in limited editions, are also available. Sound Cat Records, Mind Cure Records, and Desolation Row have copies of Host Skull records.
SSE: How do you feel about being featured on HughShows Live @ Eide’s flier?
DB: It’s great! Hugh has been an incredibly supportive entity for the Pittsburgh music
scene and has documented a number of our gigs and installations (thinking about the 2010 one-copy-of-a-record installation in the Carnegie Library). Hugh and I worked on the first Host Skull music video. Always happy to be Hugh-approved.
SSE: When is your next show?
DB: May 10th at Eides!
SSE: Is there any thing else you would like to add?
DB: Shout outs to Joe Mruk and Bearded who have created our artistic presence (LP covers!)
HughShows Live @ Eide’s is a free monthly family-friendly Pittsburgh concert series featuring:
Host Skull (Rock/Folk/Avant/Pop) 2pm
Brooke Annibale (Pop/Folk/Singer-Songwriter) 3pm
The Wheals (Roots Rock & Roll) 4pm
presented by The Wilderness Recording Studio
If you are attending, please consider bringing a new school supply item (listed below) for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund’s GEAR FOR GRADES BACKPACK DRIVE. http://www.homelessfund.org/gearsforgrades.html
-Small Boxes Crayons
-Small Tissue Packs