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Playing with Skunks stays independent

Local rock band Playing with Skunks are a DIY – do it yourself – band in every sense of the term.

They’ve never booked studio and engineer time at Scooter’s Place or with Doug Eagle, instead recording their songs in a studio the band built together at a band member’s house in Ignacio, with another band member handling the engineering duties, something he taught himself.

They aren’t signed to a record label, therefore, have no record label backing, which would include distribution of their songs to the public. Yet they’ve got an album’s worth of original material on a Bandcamp page, with another few album’s worth of music floating around in their heads, ready to be recorded at the aforementioned Ignacio studio.

Due to band members all being self-employed, their schedules keep them from regularly playing on stages at local venues, yet they manage to play together at least once a week. They’re an indie rock band made up of music-loving locals, and despite not having the backing “professional” musicians have, they’re doing fine. Playing with Skunks, who are Steve Jenkenson on guitar, vocals and harmonica; Jon Westrup on bass, guitar, vocals and harmonica; Mark Haughton on keyboards; and Tim Shea on drums and percussion are just dudes who want to play and record music at their own pace and on their own time.

They’re also musicians respecting the dangers of the pandemic, so building a recording studio meant making it a safe space, which they did. The Ignacio studio was built with individual space for each member, so not only would they remain 6 feet apart, but separated by walls and glass dividers.

“When we first started recording we were wearing masks but were also thinking singing is the thing that gets spit and COVID goo out in the air, so we figured we should probably be safe,” Shea said. “So we stopped playing, and when we could, we would hook up once a week and pound nails. We built walls, got glass up so we could see each other, and we wore headphones and used microphones to communicate. It worked out real well, we had four individual spaces.”

They choose not to fluff around in the studio, instead keeping things simple and efficient. They have a live-in-the-studio approach, meaning they plug in and go as if they were on stage. There are no multiple takes while recording the drum parts, followed by the bass, followed by guitar and keyboards with vocals piled on last.

“We tried that, and it didn’t sound right,” Shea said. “So we were like, ‘you know, let’s not pretend.’ We’re a garage band with a garage band sort of sound, so let’s play like we would play out. And so that’s been our style, mistakes and all. And it’s like ‘OK, I hit a sour note, whatever.’ We record and we listen to it back, and it’s OK, we can live with that mistake or we just do it again.”

It’s a very low-key approach from a band that just wants to write and perform original music with no other agenda. They’re self-described on their Bandcamp page as cult-country, dirt-rock, gram-jam, looser lounge and poor-punk, and their entire DIY aesthetic reveals they’re a band of music lovers who also just love to make music. It’s an approach that works out great, and a sound reminiscent of Pavement, The Ants or Friends of Dean Martinez – music filed on the record shelves between lazy alternative country and slacker-surf-rock. Their “play it live” approach in the studio, an approach void of audio recording tricks and vocal or instrument enhancement, means what you hear is what you’ll get.

“We record everything live,” Shea said. “That’s our sound. That’s what we sound like when you listen to our music.”

All of Playing With Skunks’ music is available to listen to free at www.playingwithskunks.bandcamp.com.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.