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Q&A with Skyway View

This Thursday at 6pm San Jose/Salinas indie rock outfit Skyway View is playing a free in-store concert at the San Jose Streetlight Records. Here, guitarist Ruben and drummer Jerald talk about the band’s origins, its evolution, the stories behind some of the songs and the local music scene.

Streetlight Records: Can you give us a little background on the band?
Ruben: The band came to be in the winter of 2007. We had recently changed our name from Breaking Hour, and had recently changed our male singer for a female singer, which totally changed the dynamic of our sound. At the time, we were not having any luck playing in San Jose, since there were so few venues to play at, so we took our act to Salinas. In Salinas we began to network with lots of bands and did a number of shows that helped develop our live show as well as our sound. We had some success and gained a good fan base. However, our singer at the time was a rather troubled girl, she was a runaway who choose to live on the road, crashing at different places, and started having black outs constantly.

We eventually put out our first record, Vanity in 2009, and got some press exposure as well as a cool tour that saw us playing at all the bay area Hot Topics where we would perform acoustic sets, as well as meet and greets. At this time, our singer began to come undone, and ended up in the hospital after a number of shows due to her black outs, which I felt were from a combination of a lack of sleep, being mal-nutritioned, and drug use. (It’s just how I saw it) Eventually this caused us to pull out of a number of big show opportunities, so we parted ways with her.

Unfortunately, the band underwent a big fallout, and I had to put a roster back together from scratch. Luis the bassist was the first to come on board in 2010, then Jerald the drummer in early 2011, and finally Daniella The singer in late 2011. I really feel we were like the Phoenix, because we arose better than we were before. We all were on the same page, were on the same level as far as musician ship, and had lots of chemistry with each other.

SLR: How did Skyway View come to be?
Ruben: Truth be told, I was getting ready to leave the music scene, and sell all my stuff, I started playing in 1993 and had gotten tired of all the tough times, and the loss of many good friends over bands breaking up. My cousin convinced me to give it one last shot, and so I decided to approach music with an honest set of songs, that found me writing songs about all the things that I would never talk about. The things that were dark in my past, things I saw common in the human condition, conflict, and disillusion, the low points I have had in life, and the power of overcoming those times. So fast forwarding a bit, I knew Jerald through a number of mutual friends, I had actually gigged with one of his former bands back in 2003, but didnt really know him too well, but the moment we got to jam together in Skyway (at least for me) I knew that we were speaking the same language. It was like we were communicating with our respective instruments. To date he is the one musician I have had that kind of connection with. When we jammed the first time, he came at me with all his chops right off, he was and still is the most amazing bassist I’ve ever jammed with. He can do super-human things on the bass, that I can’t wrap my head around (technique-wise) I felt that this was the first person to push me as a musician right off the bat, I had to come back at him guns blazing with all the best chops I had. He was a great addition to the group, not only for his chops, but also because of his mellow cooperative attitude.

With Daniella, we had been searching for a singer for a number of months. I replied to her Craigslist ad, and sent her a few rough demos of our songs “Stay” and “Ojos Sin Fin,” she contacted me right away. We met up, and I was impressed with her voice right away. I told her that even if she wasn’t selected for the band, I would continue to jam with her and at least do open mics. The day she was going to audition for us, she had to cancel due to being severely sick with the flu to the point where she couldn’t get out of bed. So we had to audition another girl, who impressed the others, we actually ended up going with that girl as our singer, (Though I really liked Daniella) . I told her what had transpired, and she was cool with it, and we decided to jam anyways like I had said.

In a matter of two weeks, the other girl began to flake, so I recorded Daniella performing our songs, and showed the recordings to the band. They were impressed, and we decided to actually let her audition for all of us. She came in and had already memorized a majority of the songs that made up Under the Digital Sky it was like we were meant to play them as this line up all along, we didn’t miss a beat with her, she actually led us in the songs.

SLR: What was the inspiration for the name?
Ruben: To me, Skyway View, the band name, comes from a critique of the modern society we live in, A skyway is a bridge that exists between two buildings, much like the walk ways that connect casinos in Vegas. The idea or interpretation I give the name is, we have all these luxuries that make life better for us as a society, however we have lost touch with the world that surrounds us, and in a sense have become disconnected from it and each other.

Skyway View, in my opinion, is being able to see the beauty outside of the safety bubble we have created, and longing to reconnect with it as we stare at it off in the distance. The person who came up with the name actually left the band after Vanity came out, He was the former bassist Joshua Torres, who is still good friends with all of us, I always make sure to give him credit with coining the name, which was influenced by the street Skyway Drive which was the street his girlfriend lived on. He felt the name had to do with his vision of the future.

SLR: Skyway View’s sound is a well-crafted balance of high-energy, heavy and creative instrumentation and really lovely vocals gliding along the top. Can you talk about how the band’s sound came to be? Did you know where you wanted to go with it from the beginning?
Ruben: I have always been a fan of bands like Depeche Mode, London After Midnight, and many of the new wave bands from the ’80s. However I also enjoy bands like the Deftones, Korn, Adeema, and Orgy. I found that those bands had lots of melody in their music, So much of my guitar playing was developed by trying to imitate the synth sound. At the same time, I learned how powerful a good hooky chorus can be by listening to bands like Nirvana, Coldplay and STP so I tried implementing those elements into my songwriting as well. I feel I developed my sound a few years ago, comfortably, however, Skyway got its sound from the other three members performing in their unique way, Jerald’s musical theater background helped set the mood in the songs, Luis’ groovy playing and sense of allowing space in his phrasing and his ability to lock in with Jerald gave us a sound I get lost in sometimes when we perform. And Daniella, has a dreamy, clean vocal tone, that fits the songs like a glove. Her ability to feel the emotions that were written into the songs really helped bring across our collective vision. To tell you the truth, I feel like many of the songs wrote themselves, and I had been lead to play the riffs by something else, the melodies and lyrics then were developed afterwards, but I always like giving a haunting feel to the vocals.

SLR: I hear a lot of styles in your music including prog, rock and goth. How do you describe the band’s sound to someone who has never heard you?
Ruben: I tend to tell people I’m in a rock band; ambient rock, to be a little more specific. If I get a puzzled look, I reference bands like Paramore, and Flyleaf, with elements of the Deftones and 30Sseconds to Mars combined. I feel that sums us up to some extent. We do definitely identify ourselves as a prog rock band as well, and I feel the goth has to come from my love of bands like London After Midnight, and Velvet Acid Christ.

SLR: Can you tell us a little bit about the new album, Under the Digital Sky?
Ruben: Well, this album was recorded in 30 hours roughly. We had prepared for a few months prior to when we actually tracked the record. The record was actually developed over the last few years, as soon as the first CD Vanity came out, I began writing the songs for this record, in the hopes that it would come out in November of 2009. The songs are about personal things that I have experienced in life. I wrote the song “Ojos Sin Fin” about a girl I use to date as a kid. I grew up as a real wall flower and I consider this song the anthem for the wall flower. She was very guarded because of abuse she had suffered as a child. She wouldn’t let anyone in, and was rather mean to who ever tried to get close. I had never been the one to try and take a chance in romantic matters, but in this case, I was lucky enough to see past the rough exterior, and over come my insecurities, and actually became involved in a loving relationship with her once she put her guard down, that’s roughly what that song is about, feeling like your not good enough for that person you hold on a pedestal, then taking that chance and finding success and reciprocation of those feelings.

The song “Seventeen” was about asking a higher power for the strength to get out of a deep depression I found myself in that actually led me to a failed overdose suicide attempt. I knew things had to change, and that I needed to do better in this second chance I was given. The song says remember when we both were seventeen, people assume I’m talking to the girl, whereas I’m actually talking to God, saying, Do you remember when I was happy, help snap me out of this.

The song “Wall of Hurt” is a song about a point in my life where I had been struggling with anorexia. I had secluded myself for the three months of summer vacation before my junior year in high school, starved myself and worked out non-stop, in the hopes to lose weight or die trying, In that time I lost 130 lbs, and got down to 155 lbs, I returned to school and found a new popularity, I was disgusted that everyone wanted to know me now. I thought that these people had no idea what i went through to get here, and even began to battle bulimia with the added pressure of staying this size. That’s the line, The faceless pretenders will haunt you. The song also makes reference to being aware of that and overcoming it. I’ll leave it at those three to keep this answer a bit shorter.

SLR: How did the recording process go? How is it different from your earlier album?
Ruben: This time around, it was great to actually have everyone in the studio at the same time, to develop unique little parts to the songs to make them more interesting, and to have that positive energy through the whole process. It was also great to have a group of great musicians who cared about the end product as much as I did. On the Vanity sessions, I went in with my cousin who was filling in for the drummer, and knocked out the record, did overdubs on the guitar, recorded the keys, then brought in the bassist and singer on separate days to do their parts. It felt very disconnected, but it was where Skyway View was at that point in time.

I would have to say [this one] was a complete 180 degree change. Everyone was involved in the process. We rented the Workhouse Recording studio for the entire weekend, and were able to get real good takes out of everyone. We brainstormed the artwork and layout, which was also a great experience in itself. And now, have a great record that we are all proud of.

SLR: Who are some of the band’s key musical influences?
Jerald: A Perfect Circle, Deftones, various jazz artists (in terms of the drumming) Ruben: Nirvana and many of the Seattle scene bands from the ’90s were influential in my getting into music. As well as Coldplay and the Cocteau twins as far as learning or better yet understanding songwriting structure. Stone temple Pilots, Muse, Keane, Portishead, Radiohead, Circa Survive, Dredg, Carlos Santana, Bjork, Victor Wooten, and Billy Sheehan (Luis’ influences) As well as many of the great soundtracks from some really good Animes such as the Wolfs Reign soundtrack, we all are really into anime, and me being the novice of the group feel that aside from the great stories they tell, get a reaction from the viewers by using beautiful music that can take you to another place.

SLR: What are your thoughts on the San Jose music scene?
Jerald: I feel the scene is, well, lacking, although there is definitely talent hidden in the city’s crevices.
Ruben: I can remember there being more life in the San Jose music scene, having huge turn outs at shows, and people going to see entire shows, not just going out to see their friends band, and text the whole time they are playing, but mingle, meet people, get stickers, try to get demos find out where the next show was going to be at . I feel the instant gratification that today’s generation is accustomed to is to blame for the loss of the show experience. However, I can see the scene is turning around. Little by little I am starting to see venues downtown filling up again, and it’s starting to feel great to be out in our own town.

SLR: What’s Skyway View up to these days? What’s next for the band?
Ruben: We are playing shows throughout California to support our release. We have also began writing our next album which will be a concept record. It’ll be a sort of leitmotif or a kind of “story told through music and lyrics.”

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