Gayle Skidmore, Grammy nominated San Diego-based indie folk pop artist, is delighted to announce the release of her first full-length album/coloring book, Make Believe, on Raincoat Records. Make Believe showcases Gayle’s ingenuity and versatility as an artist with its intriguing range of styles, intricate melodies and depth of emotion.
Truly prolific, Gayle Skidmore has written over 1700 songs and counting. She plays at least 20 instruments, and illustrated the Make Believe coloring book. Her Cowley Road E.P. was on the ballot for the ’09 Grammy’s for “Best Pop Album,” and “Best Pop Vocal Performance.” In July 2009 she was featured in Germany’s prominent Seuddeutsche Zeitung, and has since won several song competitions in the Netherlands. Gayle was also named Germany’s “Die Schutzpatronin der Gartenzwerge.” She was nominated for “Best Pop Album” in the 2011 and 2009 San Diego Music Awards and “Best Americana” in the 2010 SDMAs. Gayle has toured nationwide in the US, and in the UK, Asia and Europe.
A classical pianist since the age of four, Gayle began her love affair with music at an early age. She began writing her own songs at the age of eight under the influence of Chopin, The Beatles, Bach and Led Zeppelin. From deep in the core of her being flows an abundance of lyrics and melodies inspired by her propensity for attracting adventure. Gayle finds constant inspiration in the whirlwind of life. When she isn’t playing the piano, Gayle accompanies herself on the dulcimer, balalaika, guitar and banjo. She played 14 instruments on Make Believe including the folk harp and the marimba, and composed all of the parts for her cellist and violinist. She enjoys baking cookies for her fans and creating sets for her stages.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I first saw you perform a few months ago and was taken by your musicianship, vocal strength, and impressive songwriting chops. Can you start us off with something of your background and journey?
Thank you very much! I began writing songs when I was eight years old, and started playing little shows in coffee shops when I was fourteen. I come from a musical family, and started playing the piano when I was four. It was a very powerful force in my life, and I would sit at the piano for hours making up songs or improvising on pieces I already knew. I knew by the time I was eight or nine that I wanted to be a musician.
I have to jump into your song writing – powerful. I think I read someone write ‘ferocious’. In what I do here, I get to listen to a lot of artists. I find that I find things I like, and concentrate on that when I ask questions. With you – what’s not to like? You have written 1700 songs? Very prodigious and prolific, but I have to ask being a songwriter myself – are they all good?
Ha ha – no. They are not all good. They are all meaningful to me, but I’m no Mozart. I think it is pretty evident in the albums I have released that it has been a growing process for me, and it’s easy to see how my songwriting grows with each album.
What has you write? Or… what compels you to write?
I have an innate need to translate experience into song. I am compelled to write because it helps me to understand my life.
Your musical arrangements are beautifully crafted and as powerful as your lyrics. What has to be in a Gayle Skidmore song cut? What makes a good song for you?
If I feel like I have expressed myself well and the music grabs me, I know I have something that I like. Often times I’ll write a song that will be stuck in my head for days or weeks, and those are usually the ones that I put on my albums, because they have the most meaning for me.
I’m truly stunned by you – I watched you pick up four instruments at a show – and you play them all well. Is there something in the tone and timbre of different instruments that you find important to the songs in which you include them?
Definitely. Instruments convey different emotions. Just like in a symphony, where the strings, woodwinds and percussion are all responsible for creating a certain mood or emotion, I try to find the emotion that I am trying to convey by experimenting with the instruments I know how to play. For example, when I first wrote “Nightingale,” I composed the music on the guitar. Somehow it did not feel quite right. Two years later, when a friend gave me a dulcimer, I knew I had found the perfect fit for the song.
“Don’t breathe a word, you’ll break me
My fragile arms are made of glass
And what remains of what’s within me
Is only wisps of smoke and ash”
I love the continuous cascading riffs in “Remember. Can you give us a mini-workshop on this song?
When I wrote “Remember,” I didn’t sit down and think, “I think I’ll start with a semi-chromatic walk down, etc. etc.,” I just tried to play what I felt. That’s the trouble with my music, I think. I don’t follow set pop formulas, because I’m attempting to write what I’m feeling, not manipulate what others should feel, and my hope is that by doing so, it will be more meaningful to those who listen. I wrote “Remember” about heartbreak and wanted it to have the feel of a lonely winter day. When I felt like it sounded like what I saw in my head, I knew I was done. I’m not sure that’s a workshop… but it’s all I’ve got.
“This I promise
I’m gonna love you better than you ever thought you’d know
I’m gonna be there for you, and where you go I will go
In the night we will sneak into each other’s dreams
And when we talk, our conversations brightly gleam
There is no brighter star, no lovelier thing than this, my promise”
‘Firecracker’ is an uplifting and sweetly innocent love song with a too-cool banjo. How did this song come into being?
“I have this obsession with writing the perfect love song. I was thinking about how I’d like to feel about the person I end up with, and this was what I wrote. I am a bit old fashioned and like Austen, Tennyson, and Mucha, and I like to convey sentiments in a poetic and innocent way when possible. It is my way of being like Whitman, singing loudly and holding tightly to the concept of romance and love in a society where lyrics like, “Find somebody sexy, tell ‘em hey” will sell more copies than all of my songs put together.
“You make me nervous
You double-talk your way under my skin
Oh yes, you irritate me so—and I don’t deserve it!
You complicate the simplest equations with your devilry and woes
You’re breaking my soul And I think you’re bad for me (woah, woah)”
You kill like a slow disease (woah, woah)
I think you’re bad for me (woah, woah)
I’m gonna pull your words out slowly from my head and keep you far away from me
‘Bad For Me’ My favorite – great song; a cool bluesy rock piece with a surprising banjo. Tell us about the decisions made in the arrangement.
“Bad For Me” just kind of evolved. I knew I wanted some dirty guitar with the banjo, strange as that is. It’s a pretty simple arrangement. Preston Parsons and I produced the song and had the singular goal of making it rock.
Great band – can you introduce us?
Ah, I love my band!! My drummer Erik Ekdahl has been with me the longest. He is a great friend to me and a talented and reliable drummer—it’s hard to find both qualities. He also plays for The Midwinters, a totally underrated San Diego band. My bass player Brandon Abel has been with us for a few months now and is the perfect fit. My guitarist Daniel Crawford is a long time friend who plays in a ton of projects—Blackout Party, April Ventura & the Magnolias, etc. He’s in high demand but manages to make time to play with me, for which I am very grateful. Marta Blalock plays violin with us when she’s able. She played on “Make Believe” on the record and it’s always a treat to have her lend her talents. I work with several other musicians, including Kelsea Little (harp) and Rheanna Downey (guitar, vocals, banjo), and Tiffani Matsuura (musical saw) but the first four are the most consistent.
I have been writing and performing for over 40 years. This is a question I have always asked myself, often with very unsatisfying answers. So now I’ll ask this soul searching question to you. How do you see yourself as a performer? How do you think your audience sees you?
I don’t really think about it that much. I focus on the experience, and am more concerned with whether or not I am connecting with my audience. You can tell when your fans are into it and like the music, or if they laugh at your jokes, but it’s hard to really know what someone thinks of you. I know that I’m much more confident than I used to be as a performer, and that I enjoy what I do.
You have toured Europe as a soloist and with a band for the last 12 years, entered and won songwriting contests in the Netherlands. This seems a silly and naive question -but I saw nothing in your bios that answer the question. Did you sing in English for those contest songs?
Yes. I’d love to be able to translate my songs someday. I’m learning Italian at the moment and have written a song or two, but I’m a long way off from being fluent.
It is the coolest thing about an artist I have read in awhile, but why the Netherlands?
When I was raising support for my “Make Believe” album through pre-sales, I used a Dutch site called Sellaband, which I actually found through a Paste Magazine tweet about Public Enemy. (I find that pretty funny). I was able to reach a lot of new fans from around the world through Sellaband.
You went to England to study at Oxford and took the hard road through out Europe and did some ‘busking’, there is a way to face performance nerves head on. What did you gain by that experience?
I gained confidence and a few Euros. I used to be pretty timid, but pushing myself out of my comfort zone helped me to grow as an artist. It’s also a great way to meet interesting characters.
Is there a difference in US audiences form European ones?
US audiences vary from city to city, just as European ones do. I think we’d have to be more specific and compare cities, and that would take a while. I can say that I definitely had my best show in Munich,Germany, where I found that the audience was attentive, responsive and very excited about the music. I was the only act at the show, played for over and hour, and got three encores. It was amazing! I think that as a foreigner, there’s a kind of added mystique, so I’d have to say I prefer playing abroad.
(Gayle, I think this is so important, – it’s something I saw in you when I saw you perform- call it a light whatever and because it has been a life long conversation for me – if you choose not to respond to these next two questions I understand. I started writing faith soon after I survived a five-year terminal disease – all of a sudden it was easy for me where it wasn’t before the illness.)
You studied Theology at Oxford? You are delightfully complex and a person after my own heart; do the questions that came across in your studies influence your songwriting?
Definitely. I think that there are so many facets of the human experience and I want to write about them all. My studies and my faith have definitely influenced many of my songs, and I think that they are songs that even people who would disagree with me about religion would connect with. I’m not writing songs to start arguments; I’m writing songs to interpret life. I have that innate need that all artists have to sing my songs to whomever will listen. So many people are searching for meaning in life, and my hope is that whatever someone believes about the world, they might be encouraged by my journey in some way.
You are certainly blessed, gifted, and a busy person- seven albums released, three on your own label – tell us about Raincoat Records.
I started Raincoat Records in ’06 after several sequential negative experiences with indie and major labels. A record label stole and threw away my antique piano. Another tried to charge me a bunch of money for a business meeting, and I had to take them to small claims court. Another turned me down and said that I’d never ‘make it’ unless I wrote better songs. I decided that even if I couldn’t do as much as a bigger label, at least I could look out for my own interests. I’ve learned so much from running my label, but I still hope to find a team of people who can help me take things to the next level.
You mentioned in another interview that each album and the songs you wrote for them were cathartic. Can you give us a rundown on your albums and a little of the back story on how they came into being?
You can find all of my albums, except for my first (rather embarrassing) E.P. on http://gayleskidmore.bandcamp.com/. It would take me pages and pages to talk about each album and the process of releasing all of them. There were so many generous people involved and people who believed in me, to whom I am eternally grateful. Mostly, I created each one for my fans, and I’ll continue to do so until people don’t want to hear anymore.
Is there anything else you want your fans to know about you that they don’t now know?
I’m starting an etsy shop! I like to knit when I’m not on the road, so I’m getting lots of scarves, hats, and other odds and ends together. I’ll be letting my fans know via facebook and my mailing list (www.reverbnation.com/gayleskidmore).
Any new projects or important news we should know about? What’s up next for Gayle Skidmore?
I’m working on some more classically influenced piano pieces that I hope to release in the New Year.
Thank you Gayle, I am a fan. Dave and I will be watching your career with great interest. Best to you.
Thank you.. All the best to you!
| 1. Set Me Free
5. Bad For Me Bad For Me
6. Paper Wings
8. Firecrackers Firecrackers
9. Turn Up The Radio
11. Paper Box
12. Honey, I’m Sorry
14. Make Believe
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