Squirrelly Arts is not your typical band. They shun the limelight by wearing masks onstage, and with their aggressive industrial sound, they offer a challenge to what they see as the media’s artificial influence on society. Not unlike an early Marilyn Manson, the group uses a combination of incisive lyrics and outrageous theatrics to drive their point home.
I met up with the full band— Vikki SexXx, ZOMB13, Synn Hellscream, Synthmaster J, and Ridiculous Raymond Raye McShrimpton— for a talk about the band’s sound and unique stage show. They were kind enough to meet me without the masks, but it was clear they wished to keep their identities hidden...
How long have you been together? Explain the back-story of how you all met up.
Vikki: Well first, our real names are off the record. I’m Vikki SexXx. I was made in the mid 80’s at Birth of Plastics Inc. ZOMB13, he’s from the heaven/hell region. He crash landed down to earth—that’s what the crash in Roswell was, and on his way down he got with saint Synn, not much is known about him. ZOMB13 is able to give Synn physical form as different versions of the pope. Then we have Ridiculous Raymond Raye McShrimpton. He took part in the femfuck’s rebellion. Then we have Synthmaster J. He’s the scientist….
Vikki: So Vikki SexXx was build as a sex machine and was bought by a strip club owner in
So there was a big drug raid in a warehouse and they found Vikki SexXx and he was wanted so what they did was ship Vikki SexXx’s remains back to Birth of Plastics Inc. Now Vikki SexXx was able to feel things as a human. They shipped him off to a junkyard for termination. And Synthmaster J stumbled upon Vikki in a junkyard and started resurrecting/rebuilding Vikki out of flesh and machinery. So that’s pretty much the gist of where we all come from…
RRR: (laughs) He’s like “thanks for coming dude”
You talked about the whole back-story. Now with most musicians, the music stands alone, they just go up and play and they’re done. But explain this closeness you have to the story. Is there a strong connection between the music? Explain the theatrical side.
There’s a huge theatrical side. We represent our characters all the time. For example I never show my face. I’ll roam around the clubs as Vikki SexXx and that never changes. I’ll do a lot of crazy things onstage – Vikki SexXx is definitely an alter ego of me, the heavily sexual side.
Synth: The cross-dressing…
Vikki: The cross-dressing…yeah
Are you the only one who wears a mask?
No, everybody does.
So you’ve never been seen in any performance without your masks right?
ZOMB13: Well, we’re seen around the club without our masks and no one pays attention, then when we put our masks on, nobody knows we were those guys walking around.
RRR: Its pretty funny man, how for the longest time people don’t realize we’re in the band they think we’re fans coming to see the show. It’s funny as hell. There’ve been a couple times when people see me at the show and say “I love these guys” and I'm like “I know, they’re so cool” and they have no clue who they’re talking to! (laughs) That’s half the fun. Eventually we want to take it to the point where we can’t show our faces at all, and have our masks on at all times.
Vikki: Especially when you look at MySpace and all these other typical bands, they’re so hungry for credit that they have to show their faces and look cool or sexy, and basically it’s a rebellion against sex sells. If you look in the media, sex sells everything. I wanted to be the entire opposite.
So there’re other bands, Slipknot, Mushroomhead, even GWAR, real theatrical bands. What is your opinion of bands like that? Are the masks for that same reason or is it just for shock value?
Vikki: Well from what I know about GWAR, they’re all about theatrics. They’ve never really shown their faces. Slipknot, I really can’t say the same about them because they have come out and shown their faces….I mean I just know what we’re out to do: the anti-sex sells movement. Especially in the music, the lyrical content, we talk a lot about that.
Let’s get into the music a little. I was listening to a few of your songs and I’d generally call them industrial. How would you categorize your music?
Soundwise, the first thing that popped into my mind was an early Marilyn Manson and maybe some KMFDM….that kind of sound. So for people that haven’t heard you before, could you name a few bands that you sound like?
RRR: That right there is a great representation. But how we sound live now is way more guitar driven. There is that element of KMFDM or Skinny Puppy in there, but I think we’re really getting into that low tuning—that Korn aspect is coming out, we have some Nine Inch Nails and some black metal influences, the Cure influence…some goth… we even do some southern rock slide just to kinda break things up. We don’t just want to be one thing. We want to take that mold and shape it into our own vision.
Do you have a drummer?
Vikki; No, as far as the electronics are concerned, we use virtual tracks. Bass was recorded, some live drums were recorded for the album, but it was mostly drum-machine driven.
Ok. So in the lineup we have…
Vikki: So we have ZOMB13 on guitar and backup vocals, Vikki SexXx lead vocalist, Ridiculous Raymond Raye McShrimpton as guitarist and some backup vocals. Synth the keyboardist and Synn with the backup vocals, like my other half on stage.
So when it comes to vocals, do and Synn trade off? I'm sure you have different styles and voice tones.
Synn: there are some times in certain songs where we trade off. And some songs that to accentuate a part we’ll do the same part to make it more driven and keep it moving.
Vikki: The first album just started out as one individual recording everything. And like Ray was saying, from that mold, we took the songs and started growing. The guitars are more driven live. Just pounding!
SMJ: If you listen to any track on our CD or website and then hear that same track live, you’ll notice that it’s basically the same but bigger, bolder, and more enhanced.
Can you talk about the songwriting process? Do you all write together or go off separately and then combine your ideas?
RRR: Zom will have an idea and will get together with Vikki and come up ideas, and I and Synth will do the same. And we’ll all add our little pieces. It makes for interesting songwriting because everyone brings their own piece of the puzzle and there’s times when I’ve heard things and thought “wow I’d never have thought of that”. And with us having such different backgrounds as guitar players it’s interesting to see our stuff combine. So there’s no “jam” or anything like that. We don’t have a live drummer so we don’t do that… its more just one idea after another and we add to it and it comes together in a roundabout way.
And lyrics. Is there just one lyricist?
Vikki: Yes. Content just comes from within me. I’m sure that’s clichéd, but everything I write has a point. In tracks like “Learn How to Murder”, there’re lines in there like “do you do everything the media tells you to/and go kill yourself”. It’s an ironic thing and most people won’t get that. I had to put a disclaimer on there, stating what’s on the record and to be aware of that. So “Learn How to Murder” talks about the media and how everyone is so eager to point the finger at what’s not the problem.
So would you say the lyrics are not what they appear on the surface?
SMJ: A lot of it is an exercise in getting society to take a good hard look at itself.
Vikki: Yeah. other statements I make and I strongly believe this – child molesters should be castrated….I talk about that a lot. “Strumpet” and “Guilty Pig” talk about sexual frustration and sex addiction. “Choad” talks about how I view certain females. I think a lot of people can relate to the lyrics.
So the lyrics are definitely controversial, and the stage show is definitely controversial, so can you talk about the reaction, especially the negative reaction? Have you ever been shut down, or denied from playing at certain places?
RRR: But its coming…
Vikki: With a lot of people, its like they don’t know what to think..
ZOMB13: They’re too much in awe to even react to the music, which makes them just stand still and observe what’s going on onstage…
Do you play with similar bands? Or do you get booked with random bands?
SMJ (laughs): There’s no one similar to us…
Vikki: Sometimes it’s random.
RRR: We played this one place and we though we’d get lynched. At the beginning of the night we came, all done up and no one in the place was under 60. And we thought “Oh fuck”…but it turned out to be the best damn show we ever had. All these people turned out that heard about us and packed the place. And I was really anxious beforehand, borderline angry, thinking we’d get kicked off. We heard all this talk before the show… “Who are these freaks?” So I thought this might be the show where we got stuff thrown at us. But every time we think something’s going to happen, so far, it hasn’t. It’s been mainly a positive reaction. So we’ve lucked out so far.
As you get bigger, and gain larger audiences, do you feel that constrains what you can do? Like back to Marilyn Manson, when he first came out he was this crazy revolutionary dude, but he went mainstream pretty quickly and greatly changed his style…so for you, do you think it would ever change your approach?
Vikki: I think as far as us getting big, it’s never gonna get to theat point, because we don’t want to go in that direction. I think we’ll always be underground and get a huge underground following. I have no desire to be in the mainstream or on MTV.
And all of you feel the same?
Vikki: we’re just doing our thing and its not going to please a lot of people. But a lot of people are afraid to go to the show and they end up being entertained and having a really good time. And I make a point of going down to the audience and interacting with them….
RRR: It’s about growing an underground army…where we can get people who come to the shows dressed up, not unlike the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and they find their own voice and own character and we turn it into one giant Halloween party every single night. That would be so much fun!
Vikki: We try to involve everybody. You see bands play and they try to act bigger than life, as if they are above everybody, and I state that we are with everybody, you come to the show and you’re part of us and having a great time.
So how would you convince people who would never go to come to a show?
Vikki: A lot of guys are not as receptive compared to girls. And I was surprised. It’s weird that they’re more receptive. I think some of the message I talk about they might relate to. In “Death of Plastic” I talk about how “Its so beautiful to be ugly because then I'm nothing like you” and I think that’s one lyric girls can relate to as far as what the media says you have to look like and all this pressure in school and the cliques and the popularity, and they’re like “fuck that shit, here’s something that I relate to”… and I welcome them, I welcome everybody. I'm not going to judge a girl, we don’t have that generalization.
SMJ: …Not having to live up to society’s standards
Vikki: Yeah, and hopefully those that can relate to it can find a home with us.
ZOMB13: Every show gets larger and more creative and more original. From the first show we came up with more effects and more characters, more props and stage setups…so people come to a second show and say “Wow, it was better than last time”.
Vikki: It’s almost to the point that no one knows what’s going to happen, including us. We might have an idea, but everything’s just at the drop of a hat, whatever I do on stage is what I feel like doing in the moment,
RRR: Watching what he does releases the inhibitions of what’s normally done on stage. The masks really help with that because you just become this different animal, and you do things that you normally wouldn’t do if you were in a normal band. You can ham it up. It’s a good thing I wear a mask because I'm laughing my fucking balls off at every show, I'm having such a great time. We will never, ever de-mask ourselves; we’ll never do the KISS thing…
Vikki: I've heard all kinds of rumors floating around about Vikki SexXx… Whether they’re true or not, I can’t state…
That’s good though, it adds to the mystique
Vikki: Yeah, no one knows what’s up…
I saw one of your videos on YouTube, can you talk about your approach to videos?
Vikki: Were definitely going to do other music videos.
Synth: We’re planning another one right now
RRR: I think it adds to the art. Film and music can really coincide, but only if they’re done well. So many videos are done where you’re like “what does that have to do with that song”, it was just some director that decided “ok I have my own vision, lets go with this”, and it does not even add to the song or anything like that. That’s where we feel were different. We want to take that song, put that film together and it’s going to pertain to it number one, and its going to add to it.
Vikki: We’re a complete art form
Where did the band’s name come from? What is its significance?
Vikki: Well, it was a nickname given to me because of hyperactivity and later on I just took it and made it “Squirrelly Arts….”
SMJ: The name doesn’t limit us to being just one thing. You have band like Metallica. Well, that’s obviously metal. They’re going to be known as a metal band. Whereas the Squirrelly Arts—we can do any genre, go in any direction we want, there’s no boundaries, no limits, you know, anywhere we want to go with this art form, we can.
I guess the first thing people would think is: “these guys are devil worshippers”…would you say you’re anti religion?
Vikki: I’d say open your mind and question things. A lot of people view things in black and white. I look at things in gray and I rationalize. I'm not saying there’s anything wrong with organized religion— until there’s wars about it, and this and that and… I’ve talked to Christians that feel high and mighty over me. I think that’s where some of my frustration comes out….
RRR: It’s so funny because so many religions are so similar in their basic beliefs. I'm fascinated by it, including Satanism. I probably lean more toward Satanism than any other philosophy,
You mean LaVeyan Satanism?
RRR: That’s a fantastic book, the guy had some very poignant things to say, but not to say there aren’t other killer stories such as in the Koran, which I’ve read, but when it starts to branch off and take on lives of its own, not unlike music, it’s interesting to see. I look at religion as an outsider looking in, like “what the hell is going on with that, its fascinating…like watching lab mice.
SMJ: I can respect the fact that there are multiple religions in the world and everyone has the right to have their beliefs, and convictions, but don’t shove it down my throat. If I believe one way and you believe another, that doesn’t make me wrong, and it doesn’t mean you have to view us in a certain way. We don’t have to go to war for it.
Vikki: I think the bottom line is it’s about whatever gets you through the day. If you go to church and you’re a Christian, and that gets you through, then do that, if that makes you a better person, but don’t think that works for everybody…so bottom line…were not devil worshipers (laughs).
RRR: But don’t get us wrong, it’s not contrived. Don’t think we’re doing it just to get a rise out of people. I really believe in what we’re doing and having fun but delivering the message and entertaining people at the same time. We’re not just trying to shove it down people’s throats like “we’re gonna shock you!”… and I don’t think we’d do as well in areas that aren’t as conservative as this town. If there were other bands here like us we’d be seen as run of the mill, but because everybody’s got the image and the posing and all that… it’s so killer to shake up a crowd in a town like this.
Vikki: You see all these bands like on MySpace into the superficial side, but with us people will come if they’re into the art. That’s what I want.
SMJ: We don’t want to be poster boys.
Yeah, you guys don’t look like the Backstreet Boys…
To switch gears a little, can we get into the equipment and the effects that you use? How you get the type of sound that you’re looking for?
RRR: It’s spawned from the souls of fornicators! (laughs)
ZOMB13: I use seven strings, really downtuned.
Yeah, Ibanez. We also use six strings. We like to keep it heavy, drop tuned. And we just run through a pedal box. Personally I stick to all Ibanez. I apply the color to the rhythm that Ray plays. We switch off, but most of the time I'm playing lead. And it’s totally different because you get two sides. You listen to one side and it’s totally heavy and the other side is totally melodic, and you combine them together. Ray has a totally different setup than mine.
RRR: I think if they were exactly the same, it would be boring…My main guitar is one that I designed and built with another luthier. It’s called “the Tsunami”, I also just call it the Beast. It’s almost four feet long, just a destructo machine, downtuned to A, and I play through Marshall. Distortion pedals, I play with a Dimebag and Expandora distortion and a wah every once in awhile and just go full balls. That’s it, just loud, proud, and mean.
Vikki: Basically, how the guitar parts are written— I look at them like an A and B in how they relate to each other, rather than rhythm and lead.
Is there ever any creative conflict, like you want to take it in a heavier direction, and you want to take it in a more melodic direction, and so on?
RRR: You’d think with the different backgrounds we have, we’d be at each other’s throats by now, but we’ve been together, what, two years now, and we’re still the same fun retards we’ve been since we got together. There’s all these differences between us and if you look at it on paper, you’d be like this will never work, you got Depeche Mode, The Cure, ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and fuckin’ Korn over here and Norwegian Black metal, you’d think it wouldn’t work, but it does. I don’t know how it happened, but it does, but I personally can’t wait til we write our next album.
SMJ: We decided to set egos aside and be musicians first and foremost.
Vikki: Yeah, everybody brings a different color to the palette. Like Ridiculous Ray had this idea: “Lets do Girls on Film” by Duran Duran. And we were all like “I don’t know man, but let’s try it out”. And lo and behold, we took it and made it our own.
RRR: There’s some slide guitar in there. It’s like Ministry meets the Allman brothers. It was gonna be Planet Earth or Girls on Film. When we first started it was fuckin’ awful. And we thought ‘we have to rework this”. Most of the time we’re our own worst critics. And now everybody wants to hear it. It’s a killer song the way we revamped it and I’m diggin’ the direction we’re going in…
Vikki: I think what’s really cool about this project is that we all play multiple instruments, and it doesn’t really matter who plays what on the recording, its that it gets done. So it’ll be all these different styles going on.
SMJ: Ok we talked about the guitars, can we focus on the keyboards? I want to have my moment…
Vikki: Everyone forgets about the keyboard player.
SMJ: I'm here to say that keyboard players fuckin’ rule. I’m using a Korg and Kawai synthesizer and in the studio I use Ensoniq and Roland. And we use virtual tracks because what we do live is difficult to reproduce. The technical process has time constraints. We wouldn’t be able to set up in 15 minutes. That’s why much of what we play is prerecorded. And we play over it live.
RRR: Probably 2010. Right now we’re pushing Plastic Doll Hole and we’re going to take our time. We don’t want to rush it. We just want to get our name out there. In ’09 we might hit the road….