Over the last decade, Erik Sanko has divided his time between the Lounge Lizards and Skeleton Key. In 2001, Sanko released his only solo album, Past Imperfect / Present Tense (Jetset Records), which contains eleven unusual and haunting songs that address loss of all kinds. On the album, Sanko performs on foreign-sounding homemade instruments alongside gently plucked guitars. Perhaps the greatest impression, though, is made by the lyrics, which are blunt and heartbreaking. Lines like "The soldier still feels his missing arm move the same way that I can still feel you," ("Easy to Remember") make for a lovely and unsettling experience. Identity Theory asked Sanko to revisit one of his compositions, "The Perfect Flaw," and share the story behind it, some of its secrets, and how it strikes him now, seven years later.
The song "The Perfect Flaw" is inspired by the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. In wabi-sabi, the quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction add uniqueness and elegance to the object, or in this case, the woman. The embodiment of this philosophy can be seen in Japanese pottery where cups used are often not quite symmetrical; "The Perfect Flaw" is about this aesthetic concept as applied to a woman and how all her "imperfections" add to her desirability. The song describes different elements that would normally be considered flawed or less than perfect and ascribes them to the physical and behavioral properties of a woman.
In wabi-sabi there is also a sense of longing for something intangible. That sense is referenced in the lyric, "Is there a magic cipher I read too much that says there's something inside her I'll never touch?" Also, in the general sparseness of the arrangement intending to evoke a sense of vulnerability. The song was recorded at home (The Hiss Factory) on an old, semi-functional 8 track, using a borrowed keyboard (I think it was some kind of Casio), and a delay pedal. I cleverly tried to hide my mediocre keyboard playing by continually changing the delay time with my left hand while playing the melody with my right and giving the sound an overall unstable, watery effect and hopefully blurring any flubs. It was like putting Vaseline on the camera lens to give the starlet a soft and dreamy look.
The song was then transferred to a very expensive computer where it was mixed by Peter Freeman (presently Jon Hassel's bass player and collaborator) who diplomatically kept all the idiosyncrasies while balancing all the levels, which is a very tricky thing to do when there are so few ingredients (I think I only used six of the eight tracks).
All highbrow musings aside, it is really just a simple pop song, and at the end of the day if it doesn't sound good, nobody's going to care, no matter what the subject matter may be.
The song still sounds pretty good to me, and I feel that it at least was able to get a little bit of the feeling I was aiming for, but as in the concept of wabi-sabi, how successful it was is completely subjective.
Listen to "The Perfect Flaw" on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/eriksanko
Image courtesy Scott Irvine