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A skösh of this and that: USM students’ band wins state-wide competition and prepares for debut album release

Sam Hill | The Free Press

Posted on March 04, 2013 in Arts & Culture, Features
By Sam Hill

“These guys are badass,” said Tom Trasher, manager of the Fusion Lounge in Lewiston where the high-energy fusion band Skösh performed on Friday. “Really. You’re going to love them.”

These guys are known in and around this town for their funky, upbeat covers. Listeners in the area come from all over to find them and tear up the dance floor to a collection of perfected covers. They’re always switching it up, playing a mix of Top 40 hits, classics and their original songs. The Fusion Lounge, where they played on Friday, is a sleek and stylish local hotspot that fills a big section in the first floor of the local Ramada Inn.

The five-piece funk band had already taken the stage by 9 p.m., jamming out and letting loose on a collection of danceable classics. Everyone hit the dancefloor, hooting and hollering after each song. And that was just the first set of the night.

The members took a break in between sets, retreating to the lobby to catch their breath and prepare for the surge of patrons that would be arriving for the fast paced second set of the evening.

“Are you guys Skösh?” asked a passerby.

“No. I have no idea who they are,” replied guitarist Sam Berce.

Skösh has developed a following throughout the area, drawing back fans and finding new listeners every time they pick up their instruments, but they remain humble, even with their local celebrity status.

Bandmates and brothers Jedidiah and Elijah Allen are senior media studies majors at USM. The brothers make quite the hard hitting rhythm duo, with Jedidiah working overtime on drums and vocals, while Elijah vigorously lays down some of the funkiest bass lines in the land. They have been playing with their friend, guitarist Tyler Russell for seven years now, dabbling in a couple other music projects before forming Skösh in 2008. After a few years of playing and some lineup changes, Berce and junior biology major and saxophonist Pete Richard joined the crew to solidify the “true Skösh lineup.”

Recently, they competed in the Young & Free Maine 2013 Sound Off Music Competition sponsored by Maine’s credit unions. Musicians from across the state entered by uploading a sample track on to the Young & Free website then waiting for fans to decide which artist deserved the top spot. Voting took place between Jan. 29 and Feb. 7.

“We had had some friends tell us that we should check it out, so we looked it up and entered on a whim. We submitted the single on our [upcoming] album as the song to get in and that was voted on online.” said Jedidiah Allen.

When the voting was over, Skösh had received enough votes to continue to the finals.

“Our fans were really awesome, “ said Jedidiah Allen. “They were sharing it [the website] on Facebook and spreading the word while keeping everyone interested. They’re great, dedicated people.”

For the finals, Skösh performed live at Main Street Music Studios on Feb. 15 in front of a panel of judges. Main Street Music Studios is a full-service music instruction and recording facility located in the heart of downtown Bangor.

After all the finalists performed, Skösh was declared the official 2013 Sound Off champion.

As a prize Skösh was awarded a full-day recording session at Main Street Music Studios and a spot to perform on the 2013 KahBang Music Festival main stage in August.

“That was the big one. We love both prizes, but for us, we’re ready to take our original music to the big stage,” said Jedidiah Allen.

KahBang is a four-day festival that, every summer, turns the Bangor Waterfront into the largest music, art and film showcase in New England. The festival highlights both local and national acts, with previous headliners including OK Go, B.o.B., My Morning Jacket, Lupe Fiasco and Atmosphere among others.

Kahbang recently picked up some off-season buzz by being listed in fifth place, as one of the “top 5 up-and-coming U.S. festivals” by DJZ, a website dedicated to everything connected to electronic dance music that was started last year.

Skösh plans on using their awarded recording time to work on their second album in the future. Their debut, self-titled album is nearing completion and is set to be released this summer. When asked if their album was going to be more focused and narrower than their genre blending shows, Richard let out a laugh and a defiant no. Jedidah Allen said if they had to break it down into ingredients, he would describe it as a blend of funk, rock and alternative country.

A skösh is defined as “a small amount” or “a little,” and the band lives up to their name by blending genres during their live shows.

“We got the name from a music teacher we used to have. [He would say] a skösh of this or a skösh of that. And we like to play a little bit of everything, so that’s how we chose the name.

People hear funk, rock, reggae, ska and Top 40. We love it all, so we play it all,” said Jedidiah Allen.

When asked to describe their influences each member listed their favorite musicians, but the general consensus was that they listen and are influenced by just about everything.

“Uh, I listen a lot… of stuff,” said Berce said after taking a minute to think.

“And jazz! We listen to jazz,” added Richard mockingly.

“But seriously –– My collection is constantly growing, but it’s everything from hip-hop to funk to straight ahead jazz to 50s jazz to blues. I like music a lot. Just in general, you know?” said Berce.

An audience member walked by and asked enthusiastically if Skösh played any Nickelback songs. He said his favorite song was “Animal.”

“No, we don’t know any Nickelback – I’m sorry,” said Jedidiah Allen with a laugh. “We’ll keep it in mind for next time though.”

He returned to the band shaking his head.

“No,” said Berce firmly. “No Nickelback.”

Other than that, the members of Skösh listen to a wide range of artists, from rock bands such as Grateful Dead, Lynard Skynard and Alice in Chains to funk legend James Brown and George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic.

“For Eli and I, Ween was like, one of our favorite bands growing up, and we admired that they didn’t stick to one genre. I think the one thing that unifies it all is that it all has a kind of classic sound,” said Jedidiah Allen.

The band believes that their performance at Kahbang this summer will be a big kick-off for their album release and will lead to a series of strictly original gigs.

“The reason we do these cover sets is to make money. I mean this is my job and this is Eli’s job, and we gig every Friday and Saturday night. This is our job and this is how we get through school,” said Jedidiah Allen.

And while they play at a variety of venues, they’re still looking for more stages to rock and dance floors to electrify.

“We play damn near everywhere in this state. I mean, our two furthest points are Rangely and Arundel, so wherever we can fit. We’ll play just about everywhere,” said Jedidiah Allen. “We just haven’t played in Portland much because we want to finish our album and have some solid, original work before we go down there.”

To listen to the first single on Skösh’s debut album and see a schedule of their upcoming performances, you can check out their Facebook and Reverbnation pages online.

“We give the people what they want and people come because there’s a little something for everyone,” said Jedidiah Allen.

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