Friday 23 October 2015

Interview with SKIES BELOW

Skies Below impressed me in a big way with their blistering debut album – Aphelion. An emotionally involving Progressive Doom Metal opus that includes elements of Jazz, Prog Rock, Post-Metal and even Psychedelic Rock.

The band were very kind enough to let me premier one of the songs from the album before it's official release which I was extremely grateful for. If you haven't heard Aphelion, then do yourself a favour and headover to BandCamp and check it out.

Skies Below are highly thought of in their local Seattle Rock/Metal scene. They have even managed to get Tad Doyle to co-produce their album as well as mixing and engineering the album. So it sounds loud as hell.

I wanted to find more about Skies Below as they've literally came out of nowhere onto my radar. And Skies Below have kindly agreed to this interview.

Hi Skies Below. Thanks for doing this. And allowing me to premier Doorway_Descent_Dissolution on the blog. Meant a lot. How are things with you all today.

Liz - Fantastic! We've been playing local shows and focusing a lot on getting our music out to the public. It's great to be in a scene where there is support to continue doing what we enjoy.

How did the band come about. Can yo give a brief description on how you all met, how the band formed and where it is today.

Tim – Dan, our guitarist, found our Drummer Tim via craigslist. Something about Blue Oyster Cult. Liz and I have been friends for ages and we were connected with our Bassist Ryan through Andrew Chapman of Princess.

Dan - I started out jamming and writing with our former 2nd guitarist and cellist. After a while, I posted on craigslist looking for a drummer (yeah Tim, something about Blue Oyster Cult and Drive Like Jehu). Ryan and Liz were eventually brought on and we scaled down to a four-piece earlier this year.

Liz - I jumped in after Tim Ryan and Dan started jamming and were thinking of adding a vocalist. At the time there were 5 dudes in a stinky rehearsal space and I wasn't sure what to do with the music that was starting to take shape. I've been friends with Tim for many years and we both had worked in other bands so his wife Angie suggested that I try out. It was kinda like yeah OK let's see what happens. The songs just kept coming so we started practicing and sharpening up to play our first live shows. We started out in September 2012.

Ryan – It was the first time I’d ever “tried out” for a band. I was all set to pack up my stuff and let them talk about me when they asked me to join the club.

Your debut album – Aphelion – has just been released. You had the official release party recently. How did that go.

Dan - The release show was great. We had a great turnout, everyone was very supportive, and I think we all agree we played our best set as a band that night.

Liz - Party was a blast! Our friends and family who were here came out and celebrated our release. It happened to be my 40th birthday so that was quite a way to commemorate that. We had a major windstorm that knocked power out to many homes so it was relieving to see so many still willing to come out.

What can people expect from the album if they haven't read my review of course.

Dan - It's definitely a mixed bag, some heavy stuff, some atmospheric stuff, sometimes brooding, sometimes frenetically paced. Oh, and a little bit of disco. Hey, it worked for KISS.

Liz - Heavy mellow music stew. There are shades of Psychedelic, Progressive, Doom and Metal in our recipe.

Ryan – Musical magic. I always have a hard time with genre labels, so I have trouble explaining what our music sounds like. I have heard a lot of people use the term “doom” with our music lately, which is a little confusing to me, and seems like it might lead people to expect something darker than what we do. That’s not to say we are all sunshine. I don’t know what people think when they hear us for the first time.

Why did you choose Aphelion for the name of the album.

Tim – We’re all a bunch of nerds and the space theme was pretty natural for us.

Dan - We decided on an astronomy-themed title and made a list of potential titles. We settled on Aphelion because it sounded cool to us and I think we dug the metaphorical connotation. Aphelion is the point in the point in a celestial body's orbit when it is furthest from the sun.

Your music is very different to other Progressive Doom Metal bands. As you include Jazz, Prog Rock, Post-Metal and Psych. How would you describe your own music.

Tim – Hotdogs of rock. Take everything out there and mix it in a meat grinder.

Dan - The eclectic musical tastes thrown into a blender to make a delicious and nutritious smoothie.

Liz - I think what makes our sound so different is that we all have such varied taste in music. I grew up listening and singing Latin music so I apply that flavor into what I bring vocally. I also love rock music of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and there is that element sprinkled in there as well. It's a wonderful mix and I'm real happy with it.

Ryan – I think it’s definitely a product of the different styles we all listen to and have played in other bands. I definitely like the slower, more melodic style, while Dan tends to have much more tension and quickness in what he plays. Tim is great and helping us blend things together, and Liz layers herself in with unexpected patterns and melodies.

I love the Latin based vibes especially on the beautifully written – La Loba. I suppose this is a question for Liz. What is this song about. I have a feeling it's quite a personal song. Was it a hard decision to include a song such as this on the album.

Liz - It was decided early on when we were in stages of writing that I would sing a Spanish song. My good friend Lissa was gracious enough to let us borrow her poem that was just the right amount of intensity for translation. This song is about a woman who is cold and destroyed basically so she does not want to feel or be attached to anyone. She is the stone goddess a heartless wanderer who is wanting nothing more than to bring ruin.

How did you manage to get Tad Doyle to work on the album.

Tim – Tad a super nice guy. I ran into him at another recording studio opening and mentioned the project. He was interested and the rest is history!

He's done a fantastic job on the record. Co-producing it with you guys, mixing and engineering the record. What was working with Tad like and did he provide any useful advice for you as a band.

Dan - Tad was great! He has been making and recording music for quite some time and obviously really knows what he's doing. He was excellent at striking a balance between offering suggestion and direction during recording and mixing and sitting back and letting us do our thing. That and both he and his wife, Peggy, were super hospitable.

10 – You're from Seattle which is mainly known for the Grunge scene. Though I know it has a more vibrant Hard Rock/Metal Scene other than grunge. What is the local music scene currently like in Seattle.

Tim – Seattle has a very healthy heavy scene and can be very supportive. I think we have seen a lot of growth in the Doom Metal genre, which is definitely where my tastes of gravitated to recently.

Ryan – Tons and tons of great bands. Some really great musicians live in Seattle, and we have gotten to play with a bunch of them.

Do you get to perform gigs in your home-town or do you have to travel further afield.

Tim – We stay local to the Puget Sound area, but are planning on touring over the next year.

The album cover for Aphelion is superb. Who designed the cover. And what does the cover mean to you as a band and for the album in general.

Tim – Our friends Jules Inkwell and Matt Jahn (Into The Storm) collaborated on the artwork. And the originals are 24x24 oil on canvas. We are all big sci-fi/fantasy nerds and almost all of our songs are about a book we like.

13 – What's the song-writing dynamic within the band. Is it a group collective or down to one individual.

Dan - Nowadays, either Ryan or I will come in with a riff/some riffs and a loose structure. As we go through the process of developing the drum parts, the songs take form. Then Ryan and/or I write lyrics and send them to Liz to chop up and form along with her vocal melodies.

Liz - It is group collective. Dan and Ryan do the bricklaying along with Tim. I come in with melody and chorus building. The guys also love science fiction so a lot of our songs have lyrics that are related to that.

What have been people's reaction to your music. Good or bad reactions.

Dan - For the most part, people are pretty receptive and into what we are doing. My dad said “it sounds like music”.

How do you deal with negative reactions to your music. Do you take suggestions or criticisms on board or do you focus on your own thing.

Tim – Constructive criticism is always welcome and I think hearing what people do not like helps me grow as a musician.

Dan - I personally love receiving criticism whether it is negative or positive. We definitely write music that is, first and foremost, stuff that we dig, but it is nice to hear the opinions of pairs ears outside of the four of us.

Liz - This is very much our own thing but I like to know if there is anything we can do to make it better. I think taking things to a four piece made the world of difference to our sound live. The studio is a different beast altogether. I appreciate honest feedback always.

Ryan – I think I always have an ear open to what other people might be hearing, but at the end of it, we are the ones writing the music, so we have to be happy with what we are doing. We have enough differences of opinion between the four of us that we don’t need to include a lot of other voices in our process. We aren’t after the “in” sound, we do what we like.

Which bands and artists inspired you to become musicians. Any particular albums that stand out.

Tim – I grew up in the Midwest listening to 60’s and 70’s rock (Zeppelin, anything Clapton or Joplin), some good metal (Pantera), and a lot of bad metal. Since I became more serious about playing music, my inspirations have come from a broad range of music. (Kylesa, Shellac, Fugazi, Dead Low Tide, Russian Circles, Death From Above 1979, Pink Floyd, Tool, Deftones, Helms Alee, Lesbian, Isis, Botch, Gaytheist, Lord Dying, DETHKLOK!, Whores).

Dan - Not that I am anywhere near his level, but Robert Fripp of King Crimson was one of the musicians in particular who inspired me to pick up the guitar. Heavy bands like ISIS and Melvins are definitely a big influence on how I play and write. Also, I really love the B-52s.

Liz - I had always been into music and singing from a very young age. My dad sang classic Latin ballads and folkloric music so that was my first influence to start learning how to vocalize. He taught me my scales and breathing. I love Janis Joplin and her album Pearl is one that influenced me to belt out with soul and heart.

Ryan – Well, when I was a kid, Def Leppard was number one for me. I almost hate to mention it at this point, but Undertow by Tool was the album that really shifted my perception of music. All of a sudden, I was listening to the dynamics of the music instead of just the vocals. I still spend a lot of time with Tool, as well as bands like Neurosis, Failure, Mastodon, Don Caballero, Electric Wizard, High on Fire, Kyuss, Sleep, Mogwai, Sons of Otis, Pink Floyd. Mostly stuff with a sense of drama to it.

Thanks for doing this interview. All the best with your new album. It's a superb record.

Thanks Steve!

Words by Steve Howe and Skies Below

Thanks to Skies Below for doing this interview. Aphelion is now available to buy now.


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