Skeltr’s Sam Healey talks forthcoming record, fantasy big band and the meaning of practice

Manchester-based duo Skeltr combine acoustic instrumentation and music technology, jazz chops and a command of dance rhythms, to forge an inimitable and economical sound. Having worked closely with 808 State’sGraham Massey, toured with KNOWER, and been praised by Gilles Peterson, it’s clear that their spiritual, funky, inventive music is hitting the right notes with all the right people. We’re excited to welcome the band back to Band on the Wall for their first headline show in the space, supported by groove-and-synth-loving outfit Paltin and DJ Glue 70, on 8th March. Ahead of the show, we spoke to saxophonist Sam Healey about their forthcoming record, who he would call upon for a fantasy Skeltr big band, and what practise means to him.


You’re planning to release a new Skeltr album in the Spring. What can you tell us about it?

Sam Healey: ‘We’ve been approached by a couple of record labels and we’re in talks for a bigger and better release but this has put the time back to later in the year. This new album is very special, been working on it meticulously for over a year – a collection of music we genuinely believe will benefit and excite listeners.’



Have the ways in which you write and record music developed, since you put out your self-titled record in 2017?


SH: ‘Our recording process is very different. 1st album was done in 3 days….This album has been 18months! being really sure of every note and beat that goes down. Special mention to George at 80Hz studios in MCR where we’ve recorded. He has been a guiding light on this album and shown us new and better ways to get the most out of studio/recording work. It’s all about that signal path…


The composition element has stayed the same. I sit in Skeltr HQ, meditating on various subjects, and allowing melodies, grooves and harmonies to come to mind then playing them out! Often the big ending is composed first and work back from there. Then Craig comes in after the notes are made and lays grooves.’


Skeltr works perfectly as a live duo augmented by music technology, but, if you had the opportunity to put together a fantasy band for a one-off, entirely live Skeltr performance — no restrictions on budget, ensemble size, logistics etc. — who would you call?


SH: ‘I’ve been dreaming this up for a while…


Hayla – Vocals
Chris Potter, Shabaka Hutchings – Saxes
Emma-Jean Thackray – Trumpet
Alfa Mist & Dennis Hamm (Thundercat) – Keys/Synths
Taylor Mcferrin – Soundscape & Vocals
Thundercat – Bass 


You know, we’re lucky that Hayla is featuring on the next album, and there are some plans for 2021 that might make this question more of a reality than a dream! We’ll keep you posted…’



You’ve worked closely with Graham Massey in recent years: playing with Toolshed, collaborating in the studio, and co-hosting on Reform Radio. What has it been like to work with him? 


SH: ‘Graham is a shining star. An absolute legend. I wish everyone who knows 808state REALLY knew Graham and the depth of his full musical knowledge and output. He teaches me what it must have been like to be in Frank Zappa’s band, or similar. When experimenting was more important than what time rehearsal finished. When being musical rather than technical was the key to a good vibe. When heartfelt energy reigned supreme. I’ve been fortunate to be sat around in his studio over the last few years whilst he’s been writing and recording Transmission Suite (the new 808state record) and his process is sublime. I don’t have enough good words for this guy. But I would ask everyone to find the track How hot is a match by Danny & The Dressmakers, one of Graham’s earlier projects. You will not be disappointed.’



What music have you been listening to recently? 


SH: ‘Rafiq Bhatia, Clap!Clap!, Khruangbin, Thundercat, Baths, Brian Eno. Listen to ‘JAZZCRUISE LIFEBOAT ASSEMBLY’ on Reform Radio to hear my latest listenings!’ 




As accomplished players of your respective instruments, how do you approach practice? Do you play to maintain or reinforce your chops, are you still looking to improve or discover something different…

SH: ‘Maintaining comes as part of improving. Practicing new musical moves and shapes every week. A lot of time is also given to advancement in other areas. Getting to grips with various synthesisers, learning more about Ableton, midi routing takes up a lot of time haha! Graham has taught me that musical progress doesn’t mean you just practice your principal instrument. It means integrating more and more feelings and experiences into musical expression, regardless of the instrument that’s coming through. One of the most artistically opening experiences for me is making music through instruments that force me to limit myself because of lack of technical skills. For me, I get more of the essence of music through that way sometimes.’

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Sunday | 08.03.20

Skeltr + Paltin + DJ Glue70

Band on the Wall, Manchester