Sherwood Webber on Denver Black Sky: "We don't want to become this gigantic metal fest"
Sherwood Webber (second from right) of Skinless is the architect of Denver Black Sky.
If you're a metal fan, clear your calendar, because Denver Black Sky is a must-see. A brutal "boutique" metal fest at the Gothic Theatre this Saturday, December 14, it's made up of killer death metal, thrash and grindcore bands, easily one of the best lineups in recent memory. Easy to see why: It's being curated by lauded metal man Sherwood Webber, who is reconvening with his old band, Skinless, specifically for the occasion. Skinless, the brutal New York gore-metal favorite hasn't taken the stage since 2011 or released an album since the 2006 classic Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead. We spoke with Webber recently about the show and Skinless's reunion.
Westword: How did Black Sky come together? As I understand it, this was mostly your idea.
Sherwood Webber: Yeah it was my idea. Danny Sax from the AEG office has helped a lot. I kind of selected the bands, and I work for AEG, but I'm a production guy. I do Red Rocks stuff and arena stuff, all kinds of multi-level production stuff. I'm not a booker, but I do have a pulse on the underground scene, so I wanted to use my resources with AEG and Danny Sax and our office to pull this together and present a metal show like it hasn't been presented before.
I grew with up with Skinless playing metal fests, and they were the most horribly produced things on the fucking planet. Any band from the Milwaukee Metal Fest era will tell you that you'd get there, and it was just a horrible-sounding, large, crappy room that wasn't meant for production, let alone metal. So this is my way to take my production knowledge from my day job and give it back to the metal community and say, "This is going to be well-produced. We're going to have a great time and have a real party."
Is this going to be a one-off, or are you going to try to do this every year?
The goal right now is to do one in the winter around this time every year, and then I want to do two dates in the summer, consecutively, like a weekend. So, really, we don't want to become this gigantic metal fest and start booking acts that we don't care about. It's more of a boutique thing, and it has to remain special, and it's never going to make money. It's just about underground camaraderie, working with bands that we like and producing it well. That's what I care about. I want to bring those bands that you're not going to see here -- that's the bottom line. There's going to be some struggles, but it's worth it.
Denver isn't exactly thought of as one of the Great Metal Meccas of America.
Well, I think there are a couple reasons for that. Geography plays a big factor when you're a metal band here. You can go to Albuquerque, you can go to Kansas, or you can go to Wyoming, but it's not like being on the East Coast, where Skinless came up. We could play Boston, we could play Philly, we could play Montreal, we could play New York City.
Bands here don't really have that luxury. You have to be really motivated to make it work here. It just doesn't fall upon you. That makes it a little stronger, too. The basis of this show is to take a look at that and say, yeah, we get tours here, but at the same time, nobody has been super creative in pulling in these acts and taking the risk. We had to fly Dying Fetus in. It's a little harder than just saying, "Hey do you wanna play a show in December?" There's a lot of preparation. A lot of production work to be done to really make it happen.
I wanted to ask you a few questions about Skinless, since you're getting back together. Have you guys gotten any shit for adding Dave Matthews to the line-up?
Not really. I mean, if it made someone click on us and read through, then great.
So he was added for PR value alone?
Yeah, and Dave Matthews is bringing a lot to the table with Skinless. We haven't ever had a second guitarist. In the studio, we've always had guitar harmonies, and a lot of things that would benefit live from a second guitarist. So finally, after twenty years of being Skinless, we're going to be able to do full justice to the sound.
Not that I think it's ever lacked, [guitarist, founder] Noah's always done an incredible job of representing the records, but we're bringing it to a new level. More importantly, for the songwriting, it's bringing another element. Not that we're going to change the sound. It's always made it go in the opposite direction and go "What is the core of this band?" and now we have this other creative force that helps us achieve that.
Let me read a quote to you from Noah from a few years ago: "To continue at this point would be forced and uninspired." What's changed since then?
Noah came out with that, and the band wasn't necessarily a band at that point, but it wasn't broken up either. I moved to Denver eight years ago, and the rest of the guys lived on the East Coast. I'd been commuting to be in the band, to write, record, and when we record the new record, I'll be flying out to do that.
At that point, it's tough; it's tough when everybody has a real job. Most of the guys in the band have kids. We didn't really have plans. We weren't like, "Hey, we're gonna take over the world." I think Noah had reached a point, being the founding member of the band, where he decided that it may have run its course.
Meanwhile, we're all complete metalheads. We all grew up together, toured the world together and had all these times. I think the two or three years that the band was not a band....The spark returns, you know? You always have that in you, and it never goes away. At this point, everybody's come together, and it's like, "This is the time. It feels great. Let's make a record." We're working on that, and we're really excited about the show's we're playing.
I have to ask, you weren't part of the Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead album, but are you guys going to be playing those songs?
Yeah, we're playing a couple songs off that for sure. Absolutely, it's part of the catalog just like everything else. It's harder when we have a lot of records to select a set list, but we're definitely playing songs off it and it's going to be a lot of fun.
Last question. Since you guys were really active, a lot of death metal has been going the hyper-technical, very clinical path. You guys have always stood out with your tongue-in-cheek, sledgehammer approach. Is there still room for the Skinless brand of brutality?
Now more than ever. We've seen the scene make all kinds of twists and turns. There comes a phase where everybody wants to hear the most technical stuff. Super technical, as many notes-per-minute as the drummer can cram in there. But as everything in life goes, you're always going to come back to some common ground.
And now that the scene has gotten that technicality and just gone overboard -- drums aren't even what they are; it's just a bunch of programmed everything -- I think people just want to drag their knuckles again and get to the primal sense of what death metal is, and it's not about notes. It's about a core feeling.