Ever since his first solo album Doppler back in 2012, Jakob Skott has remained ever-moving and ever-creative. Whether he’s laying down the serious grooves behind the drums in Causa Sui, working out synth/drum workouts on his own records, designing album art for El Paraiso Records album releases, or co-running the label he started with longtime friend and bandmate Jonas Munk, Skott has kept creative and on a constant forward motion.
But back at the beginning of the year Skott was sidelined with a massive headache that landed him in the hospital on New Year’s Eve. The diagnosis was a CSF leak, or cerebral spinal fluid leak. The prognosis was good, in that the docs said he’d heal, eventually. He spent several weeks doing nothing but resting as any sudden movement would cause severe cranial pain.
Skott was finally well enough to hit the studio and those initial recording sessions were the beginnings of Jakob Skott’s new album Instrumentality. If you know Jakob’s work, then this album will sound familiar. But underneath those spaced-out drums and blips and bleeps of synths and effects there’s an underlying narrative regarding the ordeal Skott went thru. It wasn’t planned that way, according to Skott himself, but sometimes our subconscious has a way of taking over the controls and writing out the narrative whether we realized it or not.
I sat down with Jakob Skott and we talked about the new record, the process of healing, not taking things for granted, and a possible El Paraiso Records memoir?
J. Hubner: So you’re readying your newest solo LP Instrumentality, which comes out at the end of the month. It’s your first solo album since 2016s ‘All The Colours of the Dust’. Tell me about the record. It sort of came out of a medical emergency you went through at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.
Jakob Skott: Yeah I had this thing where I had to lie down for weeks – the worst headache possible. A leak of spinal fluid had occured out of nowhere – a legit spinal tap (no kidding) – I just couldn’t get up without it feeling like my head being torn apart. I spent New Year’s Eve just sleeping in the hospital. They said they couldn’t find the hole, and told me “you’ll get better eventually” and sent me home. So I had a lot of time to just lie down and stare at the ceiling. So that really put everything into a different perspective. So when I finally got up I was like “shit I have to do something for myself!”. So this album is a part of that – doing something that’s sort of just for me.
J. Hubner: So that first session after brain fluid leak, what did you have in mind?
Jakob Skott: I was thinking about an ambient album at one point, but then I was gonna go record with Jonas ideas for a future Causa Sui album, and HE get’s ill – like a flu from hell. So I have a full day in the studio there, tons of Jonas’s Club Matte, Beer and my drum kit and I just worked all day – a lot of the ideas is just stuff I pulled out of my sleeve that day – recording a simple sequence on a keyboard, looping, then doing a few drum recordings, then percussion. Shit, on one of the tracks I just let a click run and first did drums, then ran over and shifted the mikes and recorded all the percussion one by one – so just one long take that I folded together afterwards.
J. Hubner: Your first big show post-brain fluid leak was a gig with Causa Sui for an awards show? How was that show, getting back out after such a frightening experience? Were you at 100% or still healing?
Jakob Skott: No, that was just a week after I got back to work – still getting heavy headaches. I didn’t wanna do it – for one it’s the kind of thing we’ve always shied away from. We never got help from the culture councils, music organizations, municipalities or anything like that. So I wasn’t 100% happy about showing up to help validate some institutionalized award show, but Jonas knew a few of the judges and said they were the “new Odense”, which is pretty culturally chic, and they were really rooting for us, etc. So I did it and my son got to see me play, but damn I had to lie down for most of it – luckily it was just 2 songs. But I missed out on the after party where they drank the huge bottle of champagne we got.
J. Hubner: Had your son seen you play with Causa Sui prior to that show?
Jakob Skott: No, he was seven at the time, so that was always way past his bedtime – so here I was able to bring his grandparents and people were sitting down at tables – so it was a nice night for the whole family, haha. Pretty different than usual to say the least.
J. Hubner: A nice night except for the searing headaches. Man, I can’t imagine that ordeal. But out of the darkness and into the light, you now have your new solo LP ‘Instrumentality’. Were you going in with a specific vibe this time around? There seems to be heavier vibe. The synths come out sounding like gnarly guitar riffs.
Jakob Skott: I did it with the same mind set as before: don’t limit yourself, just use the first idea, record it – and if it doesn’t work don’t try to fix it, just throw it away and come up with something else. Only this time I was using two bands as each starting formula – I can let you know one: “Purple Visage” has a working title that was Popol Wizard – so sort of like having Popol Vuh and Electric Wizard in the same tune – at least that was the a starting point. So yeah, heavier, deeper and more explorative. I also got a granular sampler that could chop things up creating this stuttering effect – it’s on every track and get’s that confusing vibe going where it repeats just a small part in a pattern or glitch. Very intuitive and fun to use, which was just where my mind was at.
J. Hubner: It does sound like a Jakob Skott album, but it definitely “feels” different in some ways.
Jakob Skott: Well in some ways it’s the same and some it’s different – the whole concept about this music, or anything on our label El Paraiso is about the constant continuation down a certain pathway. Or an exploration of an idea that’s next to the one you just did. We don’t work in quantum leaps, but small steady shifts. We’re always building onto the last thing we did, yet also exploring some new element. Obviously by now I have a pretty good idea about how the drums are gonna sound in the final mix when I play them, etc. But I still left a lot of room to make creative shifts in the mixing and layering process.
J. Hubner: As usual the record is an absolute sonic delight. Between your intense drumming and the swirl of electronics you create and I’m assuming the mastering by Jonas, the record is just an absolute delight to get lost in. What were some of the music inspirations going in to this album? There seems to be almost island and jungle vibes in the rhythms.
Jakob Skott: Thanks. Yeah, there are some elements I haven’t explored before – I also opened up on having stuff like delays on the drums, which gives it sort of an added percussion vibe, which I guess sounds pretty exotic somehow. There’s extra voodoo on this album, haha.
J. Hubner: Looking at the song titles, it feels as if this record really is a journey into your experience with the brain leak. From “The Dura Plane” to “Altered State” to “Tapping Into The Source of the Lords of Instrumentality”, these songs feel like chapter titles to the experience. Even the album art depicts sort of this expanse emanating from the center of a head. This is a very autobiographical piece from you.
Jakob Skott: Yeah, I mean when I was working thru it it was just like every other record, but at the end it felt like there was something I had said about myself – a more personal version springing from that experience. Which is weird because I always imagined that album would be something like my first album Doppler, which is way more stripped down. This one is loaded with ideas and directions – but I definitely ended up drawing on it for the titles and artwork – plus adding the story to the press release. It’s sort of in the fabric of the whole concept of these solo albums: embrace whatever happens to you and expand that experience to the fullest.
J. Hubner: What have you taken away from the whole experience, having now emerged from the other side of it?
Jakob Skott: I’m more aware what I’m getting into and I’m prioritizing. I only wanna do stuff which enriches me. That means fewer hours spent on the label, fewer artworks for other bands, fewer shows. I’m not doing this to make money or anything, so getting stuck in a grind on your hobby and passion just feels like a dumb trap. I’ll do whatever feels right, but also look ahead and make sure it doesn’t become a stone around my neck.
J. Hubner: You mentioned earlier your first solo album Doppler. There are definitely moments on Instrumentality where I’m getting the warm, bubbly vibe of that first record. It sounds like that was the direction you were originally planning to head.
Jakob Skott: Yeah like I said that’s where my mind was actually at, making an all-synth album – so I had to put this stuff on top of the drums because I got a whole productive day worth of live drums, but this album could just as easily be all synths. I’m still hoping to do that – maybe record some live piano as well since we just got one. I don’t think I was consciously channeling these vibes, but I did hear some really weird sounds that half hour I was inside the MRI scanner…
J. Hubner: Are you completely out of the woods with the CSF? Is it something that can return?
Jakob Skott: I’m 95% out, so it’s just a faint echo at this point. Probably won’t return, even though they have no idea what caused it.
J. Hubner: With Instrumentality coming out in a couple weeks I’m sure it’s a bit premature to ask what’s next, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask…what’s next?
Jakob Skott: I’m working on our legacy. Nothing less, haha. No, we’re currently collecting all our old releases which fits the El Paraiso catalogue: The 5 first Causa Sui albums as well as Chicago Odense Ensemble. I havn’t listened to these albus in years – so creating new artworks and layouts is just endless fun while listening again. I get to re-do the stuff I didn’t get right the first time – I love the idea of a cover changing over time – like a sci-fi book accumulating different visual representations that fit the times. After that I’m hoping that we’ll get to do some fresh sessions with guests – so the future of El Paraiso, which will be mainly us with different guests added. A whole new side to it. I don’t know exactly what it’s gonna be, but I know it’ll be fun and interesting for all who wants to come on the journey with us. We reached the 50th release this year, so it’s time to shake it up a bit.
J. Hubner: Yeah man, I loved what you did with the reissued Free Ride. The changes were subtle, but you seemed to have plugged into the aesthetic you’ve created over the years that’s the thru-line with your album art. What’s the process like, going back and improving on your old work? I love the idea of the changing covers with new editions, much like the old Philip K. Dick paperbacks.
Jakob Skott: At first I wanted to do a whole new sleeve. I was never happy with it, not even back then. But then again I started listening to the album, and slowly started to appreciate it. Not having heard it for about 10 years, I had over-thought the parts that didn’t work. Like “hey, this is not so bad – the sound is killer and there are some great ideas”. So I approached the artwork the same way in the end. Change the stuff that doesn’t work – so I got rid of the layout with the silly frame and photoshopped text. I just cleaned it up and it didn’t take me more than a few hours to get it done.
J. Hubner: Before we go, revisiting a point you made earlier about only doing things that enrich your life. What else do you want to explore in life besides music and art? What avenues do you want to head down still?
Jakob Skott: It’s not some well defined project, I’m just going with the flow. I think there is still more to be explored within the El Paraiso realm – one way or another. Ask me again in 5 years, maybe I got bored and started writing a book or something. Actually a book on El Paraiso would be killer, at some point…
Jakob Skott’s Instrumentality comes out November 30th on El Paraiso Records. Preorder it here. Jakob Skott’s El Paraiso memoir is still to be announced. Stay tuned.