Well, colour me surprised, because one of my fave musicians of all time, Jeff Garber, kindly agreed for this interview. I grew up listening to many of the bands he performed but my clear fave has always been National Skyline. After a bit of radio silence, National Skyline came back with Love Letters for the Disenchanted, an album we absolutely adored. Naturally, we had to ask about the current venture but we also indulge a bit into the past…
1. We haven’t heard from you in a while! What’s National Skyline up to these days?
I know. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever do a National Skyline record again, yet here we are. Most of the new National Skyline record was born out of songs I was writing for TV. Whenever I’d have something that I deemed “too good” or had a vocal idea, I would set it aside and sing on it…and that became an album. I composed a couple of TV shows this year (MTV’s Are You The One?), and I also did an indie film called “Under The Hollywood Sign.”
2.Has working for a schedule-heavy atmosphere like TV networks and MTV changed your way of composing music?
For sure. I think I’ve written around 2000 songs in the last four years. Most days I make at least one song if not two. So I’ve learned to work super-fast and stay super focused. I have to separate TV music from personal music in my head. I try to put different ingredients in each pot.
3.You haven’t done physical releases in a while, so I need to ask you: do you prefer digital releases for budgetary reasons or do you think this is the future of music?
I release music digitally for budgetary reasons only. I’d love to make vinyl, but I can’t imagine I’d sell much, so it’s hard to justify. I think Spotify is here to stay. I release my records through my own label, and I put them on Spotify the same day. I basically just drop records from out of the clear blue sky. I do no promotion, other than a Facebook notification. National Skyline is like a private thing. If people find it, good…if they don’t find it…still ok.
4.Let’s talk about Love Letters for the disenchanted (which made it to our “best of 2014” list). Is the majority of the album themed around love going sour?
Thanks! I didn’t really write the album from my current state of mind/perspective. I tried to write as a character from the past. When I write songs, I usually have most of the lyrics done within a few minutes. Most of the lines come out on the demo, and I just write around those words. It’s basically a stream of conscious style of writing, although I do try to make sense out of the streams afterward.
For this record, I really tried to mine the headspace of a younger me, or younger people in general. After all, it’s the youth that are impacted by music the most, so I wanted to write for them.
5.There are a lot of nostalgic tracks in the album, like ‘Golden Days’ and ‘Young and beautiful’. How much from your past releases do you keep around before writing?
None. I hardly ever listen to old stuff, whether it is mine or old records in general. I don’t listen to 90’s music anymore. I like to buy new records and stay fresh. I’m not nostalgic about music from my youth, other than 80’ stuff. I still love Tears For Fears and INXS. I listened to National Skyline’s This=Everything the other day on vinyl…every word sounded out of tune to me and I turned it off.
6.I got hooked on the first listen to ‘The Wrong Kind’ so, what’s the story behind the track? What inspired its cinematic feel? And what is the song about?
Most of the album was written and finished, and I wasn’t really sure if I should call it “National Skyline.” I decided to write a couple of fresh tracks so fans of my older stuff would have tracks to gravitate to. So I wrote ‘Nobody Loves You’, ‘The Wrong Kind’, and ‘Desperately Seeking’ at the very end of the recording process. Consequently those are my favorite tracks, and are probably the only designated Skyline tracks on the album. All of the other tracks were simply “cues” that I turned into songs.
‘The Wrong Kind’ is kinda my favorite too. It’s a song coming the perspective of a 20-year old version of myself. As you pointed out, the whole record reflects on youth, etc, so I was trying to get into the headspace of a younger me. I would always get into relationships very quickly and get out of them very quickly. I wanted to paint a picture about quick love and exits, letting the characters move on with their lives knowing they didn’t pick the wrong partner. The characters try to save each other from mistakes. ‘The Wrong Kind’ is connected to ‘I Hope You Found it’. Perhaps the same people are wishing each other the best later in life.
7.Are you planning to keep working with MTV or other networks? How about film scores?
Yeah for sure. I want to compose shows forever. I love it. Film is a little more fleeting/fun, but TV is fun too. It’s kind of a grind, but I try to stay as fresh as possible. I listen to new indie rock and rip it off daily.
But to keep my sanity, I always have a vanity project in the oven, something that is fleshed out and has vocals. Most of the music I make for TV is instrumental, so when I want to be National Skyline, I sing.
8.If you let us indulge for a little moment in the past: what were the lessons you learnt with The Joy Circuit, Castor and Year of the Rabbit?
Well, Castor was a young band full of funny personalities. We smoked a lot of pot, and tried as hard as possible to be different…albeit confusing to most ears. I learned that I wanted to be in a more listenable/pop band.
Year Of The Rabbit was the first band I was ever in where I wasn’t the singer. That was fun to not have the singing pressure, but it ended up being not quite as fun as I wanted it to be. There were a lot of personalities thinking different things. I think we would have started to make some good stuff if we’d stayed together. We started to write as a band on tour, and had a couple of rad ideas going…but we burned bright in our short time together, and after touring, we we’re a little deflated. I don’t know if we ever broke up even…
Tim, Sol, and I tried to keep the dream alive, but without and audience, it was hard. Fun though. I think we wrote hundreds of songs.
I was always the guy that walked into band practice with new material, and most of the time, my band mates wanted to focus on the older stuff, but I always hated old material. I always just wanted to do new stuff. So now my entire life is creating new stuff. There’s not a lot f glory in TV work, but I still get to play music everyday and that’s fun.
9.There’s a lot of nostalgic fans for The Joy Circuit, would you consider re-releasing some of those tracks/demos or revisit them?
I’ve lost all the hard drives with the songs. Whatever we released I spent a lot of time on, so I doubt I’d want to touch that stuff, but I do wish we had started to focus more. But again, I didn’t have much confidence as a singer, and you can’t really do much without confidence. But funny you should ask because Tim, Sol, and I have been in a lot of contact lately. There is a little bit of chatter about getting back to it. I haven’t played a show since the Joy Circuit. Roughly 10 years now. Seems weird. I’d be into the idea if we could do something awesome.
10.What is the future of National Skyline? Any plans for live shows?
I still don’t have too much confidence in my singing, and I don’t want to put together a bunch of people to play my parts, so I don’t think I’ll ever tour for Skyline.
But I feel like I have a million things left to do musically. I figure when I’m 40, I might start making things I’ve always wanted to make. I sit around with acoustic a lot, and that feels really natural to me. Maybe one day I’ll take the layers away and just concentrate on songs. I’ve been listening to more Neil Young and less Coldplay, so fingers crossed for inspiration.
Thank you, Jeff!
Words: Sam J. Valdés López
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Our review of the latest gem by National Skyline.
Care to listen to a little bit of The Joy Circuit? Here’s EP 2 and here’s our tribute.
2 thoughts on “Interview: National Skyline”
Good read. Castor is and will always be one of my favourites, TSA especially. So raw and emotional. I hope you continue Skyline and play live again. It would be great to see you on tour (come to europe!). I’d gladly drum for you :p