Tis the spooky season for ska-goth (“skath”) collective Grave Danger, who return from the, uh– grave, with the brand new single “Specter Inspector.”
The band’s David Schwantes says, “I’ve always enjoyed “ska spy songs”, in the tradition of Spy Market by Let’s Go Bowling and Seventh Street Gangster by Dance Hall Crashers and I thought the phrase “specter inspector” was just funny. This song was a chance to lean into a driving bass line, a slinky horn part, and lots of organ and build a film noir style detective world full of ghosts and supernatural intrigue.”
Grave Danger can also be heard on the soundtrack to the video game ‘SkateBird,’ a Tony Hawk-style skateboarding game where players control a tiny bird riding a Tech Deck through bedrooms and rooftops. The game is now available on Switch, Steam, Xbox, and more.
As high school students in Chicago’s suburbs, Schwantes and Dane Erbach spent the bulk of their gym class brainstorming fake bands with their friends in an attempt to avoid whatever physical despair their PE teachers had in store for them that day. These bands—which included a death metal band called Throbbing Reaper and a ’80s hair metal rockers Live Wire—never truly coalesced outside of their imaginations despite complete lineups and exhaustive discographies.
The idea of a “skath” band didn’t occur to Schwantes and Erbach until fifteen years later, but it stems from the same strange place: What would a goth ska band sound like, one combined the Misfits’s aesthetic with Reel Big Fish’s goofball schtick? The idea died quickly, another quirky idea that could have fun if there were enough hours in the day.
Neither Schwantes nor Erbach were strangers to ska and punk music—both were in a ska band in college and worked together on an online database for midwest ska bands in the early 2000s. Both also played pop-punk together until Erbach turned toward other creative endeavors and Schwantes moved to San Francisco. That’s when the whole skath idea crawled out of its tomb and stumbled zombie-like back into their imaginations. Schwantes started writing songs while Erbach put together a team of family and friends to fill in vocals, horns, and organs. They sent recordings and ideas back and forth halfway across the continental United States, intent on seeing this idea through.
Thus, Grave Danger was born. Full of eerie organs and thick horns, their 2018 debut ‘Let ‘er RIP!’ fulfilled their initial vision with surprising ease. A year later, the band finished ‘Tomb It May Concern’, their more realized five-song follow-up. And this fall, they will release “Specter Inspector,” the first of two long-awaited singles. Taking cues from Save Ferris’s “Superspy” and “Lady Luck” by the Dance Hall Crashers, “Specter Inspector” would fit right at home on the soundtrack to a “Spy Vs. Spy” comic. The songs features everything a good skath song should: a wagging bassline, swaggering horns, and just enough eerie organs and theremin to make the song spooky, not cheesy (or, well, maybe just cheesy enough). Singer Chris Marcanti’s gruff, soulful singing profiles the song’s titular character, who is either a ghost who is a private eye or a private eye that works exclusively with ghosts, following in the playful footsteps the band has tread since this project’s inception.
It might be easy to write Grave Danger off as a novelty because, well, maybe it is. But it’s also a daydream realized—or possibly a nightmare. It’s what would happen is Bobby “Boris” Pickett and his Crypt Kickers were still alive and listened to the BossTones: fun and furious music intended to make listeners laugh and dance. Most importantly, Grave Danger is a passion project created by dads and moms, aunts and uncles, software engineers and IT professionals, managers and entrepreneurs and CPAs, grown ups who work for nonprofits and public schools—regular people who, every once in a while, want to don corpse paint, pick up their instruments, shake off some dust, and blow the audience away.
Grave Danger is:
Dave Schwantes – guitars, bass, keyboards, tenor sax, bari sax, backing vocals
Dane Erbach – drums
Chris Marcanti – vocals
Margaret Miller – trombone
Andy Miller – trumpet
Emily Erbach – theremin