Concert Sutra Admiring The Critters Buggin Ambiance

by terri sapp

Photographs by Leah Yetter

© Concert Sutra, All Rights Reserved


click photos for photo gallery

            When Critters Buggin teamed up with the Benevento Russo Duo for an East Coast Tour in support of their latest release, “Stampede,” Leah and I were spiritually tickled to have been in the presence of four of the most talented men in the world right now two nights in a row.  Critters Buggin is comprised of the following giants of rock and roll:  Matt Chamberlain (on drums among many other drum machine type instruments and synthesizers), has performed for many years with Tori Amos, and has been musically associated with the likes of Edie Brickell and New Bohemians (founding member), David Bowie, Fiona Apple, Pearl Jam, Garbage, Elton John, Natalie Merchant, and Martina McBride, among many others; Skerik (saxophone GOD, keyboardist and sound effects extraordinaire) is one of the members of Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, as well has played with Garage-A-Trois, Crack Sabbath, and Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, et. al.; Brad Houser (four string, five string, and upright bass, and Moroccan Qarqaba) who was also a founding member of New Bohemians, plays with John Doe as well; and Mike Dillon (all kinds of percussion and vibraphone) has also played with Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, Garage-A-Trois, Hairy Apes BMX some, and many others. 

          Friday, October 15, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia at the Smith’s Olde Bar, Critters Buggin won my heart immediately and forever, as this was my first live show with these “Critters” in this form.  I have never seen so many knobs and petals!  I have to stress how special this crew is that they are primarily instrumental, and can still hold my adoring (short) attention (span) and a crowd’s full respect for over an hour.  This is a first for me.  Critters usually just use sampled vocals unless Skerik is singing/roaring into the microphone attached to his sax.  This rock and roll band kicks it harder with four guys and no guitar than most bands with many members and all the “bells and whistles.”  They are also known for deviating from any semblance of a set-list, but still make one as a sort of structure.  The Smith’s Olde Bar was set out to hear the following, but got much more than we even deserved:  (as written by the guys before the show) Mount Blasta, Sisa Boto, B Dub Streets, Punk Rock, Hojo, Shag, ManHog, We Are New People, Hello Kitty-New Luck, Persephone, Panang, Snaggle Tooth, and Burundi.   However, I know I heard some Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” in there somewhere, among other teases.  We had such a great time in Atlanta, and the guys in the band loved us so much that they invited us to come and catch the show on the Critters Bugginnext night in Asheville!  Don’t you love when life gives you the opportunities and you have the freedom to take them?  What a fantastic weekend this ended up for me and my girl, Leah!  These are the times to cherish.

                Saturday, October 16, 2004 in Asheville, North Carolina at Stella Blue was even that much better a show, with a quieter audience (why do people TALK LOUDLY during a great show?) and a more open performing space.  The set list, again, as written by the guys before the show, was as follows:  Punk Rock, Mount B, Sisa, Nasty, Shag, Brozo, Flouride, Fast J, We Are New, Persephone, Ba Dub, Snaggle, Hojo, Hello Kitty, Burundi, and Panang.  At one point, Matt Chamberlain dropped a stick, and, without missing a beat, kept on going, which is one example of what makes this group so special.  I have never seen a drummer and percussionist work so well together and keep better time than Matt C. and Mike D.

          Even though words like “sick” and “disgusting” (which I think are supposed to be a good thing in the context) were being thrown around all weekend, I found myself in Heaven on Earth!  When a band is able to pull off sounding just as good and better live than on their best album, you KNOW you’re dealing with a true “super group.”  Catch any chance you get to see a Critters Buggin show, and you will leave with a different musical outlook.  Below are the dates left on the Critters Buggin 2004 Tour.

11.10.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Grand Ballroom Des Moines, IA
11.11.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – The Ballroom – University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
11.12.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Park West Chicago, IL
11.13.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Granada Theatre Lawrence, KS
11.14.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Fox Theatre Boulder, CO
11.15.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Suede Park City, UT

11.17.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – The Showbox Seattle, WA
11.18.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Aladdin Theater Portland, OR
Matt Chamberlain11.19.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – The Independent San Francisco, CA
11.20.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – The Independent San Francisco, CA
11.21.2004 – Ropeadope New Music Seminar – Troubadour Hollywood, CA

For more information on Critters Buggin, or to purchase a copy of their new album,  “Stampede,” visit  Also, check out for a peek at the fabulous Matt Chamberlain.

Also catch Leah’s photo gallery of our incredible weekend of buggin out at:  Read on for an in depth interview with Skerik, and a few questions with Matt Chamberlain!

Concert Sutra talks…

Concert Sutra (to Skerik):  How did Critters Buggin end up playing together?

Skerik:   Well, Matt Chamberlain had just moved to Seattle, and he was looking to play with people.  He had played with Pearl Jam for three weeks while they were in between drummers, and so he had gotten to know Seattle by hanging out with those guys.  And so, he liked it and so he moved there from Woodstock or New York.  So, I met him there, and he was just real open to playing with everyone in town.  We just kinda hit it off, and we started playing and we wanted to find someone else to play, so we went through a bunch of different bass players.  Then, finally, Brad moved out, so we started playing with him.  And then, the percussionist John Bush, who used to play with the New Bohemians, he had moved to Seattle as well, so we started playing with him.  And it was just really easy and really fun.  We were just goofing around having fun, playing gigs and improvising.  Later John Bush moved back to Texas and was working with the guitarist from the New Bohemians, and he wanted to start this other band, so he left Critters Buggin, then Mike Dillon joined us.  All those guys had known each other forever. 

Concert Sutra:      What would you say is the greatest misconception about Critters Buggin?

Skerik:   Misconception?  That we’re a jamband.  Yeah, we hate that moniker.  It’s terrible.  It’s a painful misrepresentation, because it just kind of implies a certain pandering to a genre in order to be affiliated with some kind of larger…  That’s not what we’re about at all.  When we started in 1993…92, 93, it was like people would call us a Brad Houserfusion band, or in 93, 94, they would call us an acid jazz band, you know, and then that wore off.  It’s always something.  Whatever the flavor of the day is.  They’ll call us that, but Critters Buggin is a rock band, an experimental rock band that has always had a strong relationship with improvisation.  Nowadays, we’ve been trying to get away from more of the improvised kind of stuff and really concentrate more on songwriting and song playing at our live shows.

Concert Sutra:      So, as opposed to the “antics” you guys are kind of known for.

Skerik:   Yeah, I mean antics are good.  I mean, there’s nothing more pretentious than just watching some guys in t-shirts playing jazz music or whatever, and just kinda ignoring the fact that you’re on stage and are a visual sight.  You know what I mean?  You have to acknowledge the fact that you are on stage.  You are visually a focus of a performance.  So, you might as well do something funny about it and try and make it a little less serious.  We ARE very serious about our music, but it’s no fun watching people be serious about music on stage.  You know, so it’s like, might as well have some crazy video presentation or crazy props.  Lately we’ve been getting more into the music to try and do something different.  We are always trying to do something different.  I mean, we did the props thing 6 or 8 years ago.  We’re into trying new things, so we’re investing a lot of money and time, and investing in all these artists to develop these really crazy video presentations, so we’re hoping that comes together in the next couple months.

Concert Sutra:      Tell me your complete rig, including all the different instruments at your disposal on stage.

Skerik:   I use a Rhodes 54 electric piano that has a modified case, and I play it through a little 2 vamp guitar amp, and play it through a wa-wa, and other effects.  And then I also use some kind of synthesizer.  Sometimes in the studio we use a weird old analogue synthesizers, but they don’t travel very well on the road, so I’ve been trying to use the crazy new computer, Mac G-4, and been using a Reactor as a synthesizer and Logic Pro for the sampler.  Then I have my saxophone, and that goes through a bunch of effects.  But I mostly use a dry sound on the sax.

Concert Sutra:      I saw you using a different saxophone with the Frog Brigade.  Do you switch them out, or do you use one for Critters Buggin and another for another project?

Skerik:   No, I’ve used the same saxophone for the last 13 to 15 years. 

Concert Sutra:      The other one I saw you playing seem more like a bass-type sax…

Skerik:   Yeah, I have a baritone saxophone, too, that I use sometimes.  But for anything in conjunction with the tenor sax…they’re both Selmer Saxophones.  But I mostly use the tenor in Critters Buggin.

Concert Sutra:      So, when you guys are composing your music, is it all about a collaboration, or do one of you have an idea that you present to the rest of the group?

Skerik:   On the new record, “Stampede,” each person brought in two songs on their own, that they wrote on their own.  And then we brought them in, and then we flushed them out as a group, so the band would arrange the song and Mike Dillonadd, any person would add their parts here and there as they needed to.  We wanted to do something different.  Usually, we would write everything together and collaborate through improvisation and just through sitting around playing in the studio.  Sometimes performing stuff live in the studio.

Concert Sutra:      Do you see yourselves ever focusing totally on Critters Buggin, or will you always have other projects around?

Skerik:   I think we’ll always be doing other stuff, because our drummer, Matt, he’s very interested in, he has a very successful career as a studio musician drummer.  He’s very well known for that.  He’s played on a lot of really big records.

Concert Sutra:      Yeah, I have many of them, WE LOVE HIM!

Skerik:   Oh, Yeah!  OK, Yeah.  He’s played on probably over 60 million records, so, we loves doing that.  He loves working in the studio.  You know, that tour we did on the east coast was very far, a very long drive.  It’s hard on the band.  You know, we don’t make very much money.  It’s very difficult.  We love playing the music, but the music industry makes it very hard for a creative band to survive.  They really go out of their way to create barriers for us.  You know, they won’t let us on the radio.  They don’t let us in record stores, big record stores chains…The industry is very corrupt, and the FCC is also very corrupt, and payola is supposed to be illegal in this country, where people pay to have their songs on the radio, but it still goes on a lot.  And if you notice in the news recently, the Attorney General in New York, Eliot Spitzer is doing a big crackdown on insurance companies right now, and his next thing is a big crackdown on the record industry, Sony, Universal, BMG, all these big record companies, and he’s really gonna try, cause it just kills any kind of music that isn’t the “Top Ten” as dictated by the record labels.  Everything is really against Critters Buggin, and it is very hard for us to play…we’ll probably continue playing on the west coast doing some shows and some festivals and some in Europe and Japan, and then hopefully, you know, I’d love to do it full time, but it’s just not feasible right now.  Maybe some day.

Concert Sutra:      Does Critters Buggin have a motto or creed you live by as a band? 

Skerik:   Not really, something we used to say in interviews is, “Every band is our main band, and every band is our side project.”  You know, to help describe the situation.  You know, like when we’re playing, it’s like there’s no tomorrow.  We play like we’re just gonna die that night.  That’s very important.  In the study of music, every day, studying and learning of new musical form, techniques on our instruments, we’re students for life, know what I mean?  All kinds of music, all over the world.

Concert Sutra:      I know you’ve played with some of my favorite musicians of all time…Les Claypool, Matt Chamberlain, those kind of powerhouse musicians…which is how I have come to know you as one of newer favorite musicians.  I was just wondering if you can tell a difference when you’re playing with other equally talented musicians as yourself, or if it really matters, if you can just get into the groove no matter what, because you’re just that good?

Skerik:   Well, it’s always been very important for me to play with people who are better than me, because it’s an incredible way to learn how to play music, and I definitely owe a lot to all the people that I’ve played with in the past.  Concert Sutra with Critters BugginThat’s how I’ve learned the most is always playing with people better than me and working and practicing every day.  It’s very hard and important work.  So, you definitely feel a difference when you’re playing with Roger Waters, Les Claypool, Matt Chamberlain, Charlie Hunter.  It’s really exciting.  It’s great, and it makes you work your hardest, and play your best.  You know, you always have to be challenged.  Always looking for someone new to play with…it really makes it fun for me, and it’s important to the development of a musician.

Concert Sutra:      If you guys had a choice to play with any band or musician on tour, who would it be?

Skerik:   I’d just do what I do!  We were talking about it in the van at the end of the Critters tour.  If we won the lotto, we’d still be doing this!  If we were millionaires, we’d still be playing with each other.  We’d just be in a really nice tour bus.  Staying at nicer hotels and stuff.  We’d still be playing the same clubs, probably, and we’d be playing the same music.  There’s nothing I’d be doing different.  I get to play with everybody I wanna play with.  There are certain people I’d love to play with, but maybe I’m not ready yet.  Like, I need to work more.  I’m still such a student, still so young in this game.  The main thing you learn as a musician is the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know.  That goes for everyone in life.  It’s very humbling and very difficult, I mean, there’s a lot of people I’d like to play with, but there’s a lot of things I need to really focus in on and learn more, too, before I play with them.  I got to play with Dr. Lonnie Smith once, and he’s like one of my favorite organ players in the world, and I love him so much.  And I would like to play with him, but I don’t specialize in that kind of music, but it’d be really fun to do sometimes, or I’d love to play with ZZ Top, or some really great jazz people, or some really crazy rock.

Concert Sutra:      Ever toured with Fishbone?

Skerik:   No, but I’ve played with a lot of the guys from Fishbone.  I’ve played with Trulio Disgracias before.  That was really fun.  I grew up just loving Fishbone, and they were such a huge influence on all of us, and we have a tremendous respect for all of the original Fishbone guys.  You know, Fish Fisher did a three-week tour with the Frog Brigade and that was like a dream come true.  He’s so incredible, he’s one of my favorite drummers in the world.

Concert Sutra:      Fishbone and Critters Buggin would be a perfect tour lineup.  At what age did you start learning and playing music?

Skerik:   I started in 5th grade, as a kid when everyone starts in elementary school.  I started on clarinet, then switched over to saxophone in 7th grade.  Just went through the band department in public school.

Concert Sutra:      How does Critters Buggin travel?

Skerik:   Well, for the east coast tour, the one we just did, we traveled in a van.  I own a van and trailer that my bands can use.  Syncopated (Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet) uses this van and trailer, and so does Critters Buggin, and Crack Sabbath, some of my other bands.  Next month, beginning in November, we’ll be on a tour bus, with the Ropeadope New Music Seminar Tour.  We’ll have two tour buses.  Then sometimes we fly.  Like, we’ve played in Japan two or three times.  We’ve played in Europe once or twice, and then we fly. 

Concert Sutra:      I read on one of your sites that you guys recorded “Stampede” using analogue recording.  Do you always record on analogue? 

Skerik:   Yeah, in the past, we have recorded to tape, and then load it into Pro Tools, a software and hardware for Apple computers.  Apple computers that a lot of musicians use, but Matt owns the studio that we recorded “Stampede” in, and he has a really nice tape deck.  You know, the way we look at analogue tape right now, these days is that it’s the best piece of outboard gear in the studio.  You know it’s just something that has the sound and the recording process…Pro Tools is a storage device of sound.  It doesn’t really color the sound in a positive way the way tape does.  Tape does a lot of things, you know, it compresses the sound, it has infinite resolution…it helps color the sound in a real positive way that we really like.  We love any recording gear made up until like 1974.  You should ask Matt about that.  He has some really cool thoughts about that.  He is in the studio all the time.  He actually produced our last record!

Concert Sutra:      Do you know the name of the instrument that Mike Dillon uses that is a tube, and he uses what looks like a polishing cloth inside to make a (homemade sound effect) sound.  (It sounds almost like a DJ “scratching” a record)

Skerik:   Yeah, (Skerik’s homemade sound effect), Yeah, That’s an instrument from Brazil, it’s called a Qweeka.

Concert Sutra (to Matt):  I have always been interested in different types of recording, and understand that you used analogue recording with "Stampede," as opposed to digital recording that so many others are using these days.  Can you describe the different stages of recording that went into "Stampede," and the differences between analogue and digital that draws you to use analogue. 

Matt Chamberlain:  Well, the whole idea behind this record was to have everyone write at least two pieces of music, bring it in and have everyone play it down. We all agreed that as far as capturing a live performance in the studio, tape is still a superior medium.  It is sort of like comparing high quality digital to film, they both get the job done but film has that certain "thing.”  The digital world of recording is really useful when editing, overdubbing, mixing and manipulating sounds.

Concert Sutra:  When recording an album, does the record company that you are working with make a difference?

Matt Chamberlain:  Well, with this record, we funded it ourselves and shopped it around till we found a suitable home for it.  Traditionally a band would be signed to a label and have a budget which would dictate the way things went down, but with the state of the music industry today it seems like a better idea to just record it yourself and find a label/distributor to put it out.

Concert Sutra:  What advice would you give to struggling up and coming creative bands out there trying to make it in this industry?

Matt Chamberlain:  Things in the "industry" are really unstable.  The whole record business is dealing with downloading and the fact that there is no way to control and stop people from doing this, so very few people are willing to fund a project that is considered a risk i.e. creative music.  On the up side, recording a record is cheaper than ever.  You can make a record on your laptop with free music software and few mics, burn the cd and sell it at your gigs or on your website.