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How Saigon Brought Together Skeleton Goode, the City's Latest Psych Rock Band

While some may find it hard to explore Saigon's music scene given the dearth of live venues, record labels and media coverage, bands like Skeleton Goode ensure that Saigoneers can enjoy a wide range of music.

Formed late last year, the four-man outfit plays psych rock, with guitarist and vocalist Jack Briggs listing the Beach Boys, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa as prominent influences.

His bandmates include drummer George Bussell, bassist Kyle Kersey, and guitarist Kai Horino.

"I used to have a band in England and that broke up so I came out here, I wanted a change," Briggs says over an early-afternoon 333 on the small balcony of their studio near Ba Chieu Market. "I had some songs and didn't really know what to do with them, and recorded two at a friend's studio back in northern England."

Eventually, Briggs decided to team up with Bussell, as they both played in a cover band for events here in Saigon. They had both seen Kersey, a Berklee College of Music graduate, play around town, and Horino was a friend of theirs. Like that, Skeleton Goode formed.

As for the name? Briggs again named Captain Beefheart, the prolific, multi-instrumental, oddball American musician who died in 2010. "The last song on his last album is called Skeleton Makes Good, and I loved that song," he says. "I tried to make it into a character name, as this was a solo project at first, and I combined with a 'Johnny B. Goode' type, so it came together as Skeleton Goode."

The band released their self-tiled first album on November 15 under the British record label Mega Dodo. Consisting of 10 tracks, it was produced on CD, vinyl and digitally, though it is currently only available in Vietnam on Spotify. They have also released several music videos produced here, including for 'When the Dragon Flies Low,' their album closer.

Video from Skeleton Goode's YouTube page.

In addition to the influences named above, Bussell says the band is leaning into a "surf-y" sound as they continue to write more music — though this can certainly be heard on their album as well. This sound is partly driven by Briggs' guitar choices.

"I buy and collect guitars, particularly Japanese guitars, and a lot of them are built for this sort of sound — they're really twangy and they've got tremolo arms," he explains. "I came here without a guitar and now I've got 40. It's purely by chance as these are the only thing I could find over here that I really like."

Skeleton Goode are bringing this psych rock to Coracle Music Festival in Ho Tram this weekend, where the musicians look forward to seeing Vietnamese bands play as well.

"I'm pleased some are playing Coracle," Briggs says. "There should be more mixing of foreign and Vietnamese bands."

Festivals like Coracle are a sign of the vibrancy of Vietnam's music scene, though not everyone is aware of how healthy it is. I'm certainly guilty of this, as I partially wrote off live music in Saigon after the closure of Cargo a few years ago.

Meeting groups like District 105 and Skeleton Goode, however, shows just how wrong I was, and their rising visibility will help everyone playing music here. BBC Radio 6 Music, for example, played some of Skeleton Goode's material, and the host even gave Saigon a shout-out.

"That was great to hear," Briggs says. "We want to show people that there is a scene here, and there's a lot of really good, talent people making great stuff. I think more people would come to the shows if they realized they were going on. A lot of people just don't know what's happening."

Word is slowly getting out though, especially as more bands tour. Skeleton Goode did a three-week, 18-show tour of Thailand and Malaysia earlier this year with Saigon-based rock outfit OPN AIR DRG MKT, giving Vietnam some regional visibility.

They plan to play in Hanoi in the near future, and potentially central Vietnam as well, though Coracle is the immediate priority. In the end, Briggs, Bussell and their band mates simply want to do their part for the music scene.

"Ultimately, we just want to put something back into something we like doing," Briggs shares. "We love music, and we want to have something that people can share."

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