MHF Talks With Skyliner

“Coping and connecting,” “catching the feeling,” and a big ugly baby.

Some twenty years ago, in Jacksonville, FL, the world was introduced to Skyliner. Well, sort of. Truth is, they didn’t even know how to play their instruments. But over years of the usual learning curves (and some unusual, no doubt,) they developed into a formidable Floridian firestorm. Some bands deliver flashy fretwork and mediocre lyrics, some bands bring grandiose words, but play it in I, IV, V. Skyliner come full force with the best of both worlds. With classic dirty guitar tones, tight and prominent rhythms, soaring vocals and more than a few twists and turns along the way, these guys should make it to your playlists post haste. We received the opportunity to ask them a few questions. And boy did they answer!

Jake Becker is quite the wordsmith. Thanks, man! We wish Skyliner all the best.  

  • Jake Becker – Guitar, vocals
  • Ben Brenner – Drums, percussion
  • Stuart Brinkman – Bass, backing vocals

1. Greetings from Metalheads Forever and Colorado! How are you guys?

Doing well. It’s colder than we’d prefer – it’s Florida. Considering the year that 2020 was for everybody, and including us, it’s a miracle we’re still here and this new album is finally out there for everybody to dive into.

2. There are tons of Metal bands in Florida, but not much in terms of Progressive and/or Power Metal. So…how did you guys get together?

 Ben and I were about 14, 15 when we met and got together. We were the weirdos at the church youth group. Both very new to playing, so we literally learned how to handle our instruments by being in this band. I’ve read stuff that talks about how the band has been around 20 years, but I think it’s misleading because at least the first 5 years were spent just learning how to play at all. That wasn’t really “a band”. And you don’t develop this style overnight.

We love all kinds of music and I just try to allow the sound to be what it is – as it turns out, ‘what it is’ has a home somewhere in those genres. The foundation is that classic heavy metal that’s anchored in me, and we build everything up around that.

3. I’ve been listening to ALL of your music, from Age of Virgo up to present day. As with any band, your sound has evolved a bit over the years. What would you say was the pivotal moment in your career? What (no names please) would you change if you could? 

I think the pivotal moment has yet to come. In terms of a bigger, defining, climactic band moment, maybe that has yet to come. I already have pivotal personal moments; anytime a fan has been positively affected by the songs, by what we do, it is a pivotal moment for my existence.

I’ve been thinking I might have changed the “Condition Black” track listing. There is a suite of songs on there called “A Divine Triumvirate”, and it’s its own concept within the album, it explores a lot of my personal thoughts towards the three main ideas of divinity and uses a lot of sonic tools to tie these things together. It requires some attention, and I think that we partially exist in a pretty unforgiving genre – a lot of people didn’t understand that suite at all, on that album. I would make it an EP so that, instead, it can exist in its own world – that’s what we did with “The Age of Virgo”…those songs were originally going to help flesh out this new record. So, I’m glad this time that we had this separate release so that everything can receive the fair attention it deserves.

I might change where we were born. It’s a lot harder to get out on the road in Europe when you’re American!

4. Dark Rivers, White Thunder. Amazing album. I’ve listened to it several times. It may be too soon to ask, but how has the reception been so far? Tell the world all about it. Now is your time brag!!

That means the world, thank you very much. I always say that putting out new music is like giving birth to the biggest baby in the world after 2 years of labor, only to have half of the room tell you it’s ugly! But with the new one, it’s still a little early to judge. I can tell you a lot of fans have been stepping up and supporting us, buying the CD – which is just invaluable when you’re trying to run your own ship. With us you either get it or you don’t, the people who do are very special individuals, and they’re the only ones who matter.

I think that in the metal community, the way a lot of people view or consume music is the complete opposite of the spirit of music. We need to be in that same vibe that the indie crowd is in, that the hip-hop crowd is in, but no, we’re still a bunch of squares, music here gets appraised like it’s wallpaper instead of the sound of the living, breathing universe. What gets me off about heavy metal doesn’t seem to be what gets a lot of other people off, and it’s disheartening. So, when we run into fans or writers or industry people who are on the same wavelength, we get hyped. I’m hoping we run into a lot of that this year.

5. Your overall sound has some familiar elements, but it also showcases outstanding percussion (djembe, rainstick, and cajon, etc.), tribal rhythms and chants. How did these things work their way into your sound? I must say, it adds a layer of intrigue.

We’ve got a rule that whatever makes the song the way it needs to be, has to be there. A song might reveal itself to require something a little different from time to time and it doesn’t matter, we oblige that process. There is a duty I have to be completely bound to what comes out of me, and that has always included this need to play with sound, as a form of hypnosis, meditation, evocation. That has been happening since “Outsiders”, there is a little of that on there, and it has just increased more with each release. We never consciously stop and say “these 3 songs need hand drums, that song needs grunts..”, or, “we can’t use this tool, that belongs in another genre”. It doesn’t matter.

Recently I’ve been in a place in my life where I’m just rejecting absolutely everything, I mean more than usual – and I’d tried to allow myself to go back, in a mental sense, a spiritual sense, go back to that old place we all began at, where a few humans were sitting around a fire, started banging on rocks and bones, and screamed out at the sky. That feeling still lives in our genetic structure. I think that’s a very pure place to be, and I’ve been living in that place, becoming more connected and aware of what I am, what this reality is. And I have to go on that journey, that’s one way I cope with different mental health issues I face, I’ve always got to go deeper.

The chanting parts are something I ended up with because there was no other way to say what I wanted to say. Vocally, that’s how I operate, the sections will show me what the vocal needs to be. So that extension is very pure, it’s not modeled after or based on any particular ancient tribe or culture. I think I’ve been traveling down some of the same roads, and so we are ending up at some of the same places.

 6. From my research, Jake is the chief lyricist? Clearly you each bring something unique to table, but do you have a standard songwriting process? How does it go from scribbles on a piece of paper to the subwoofers in my Subaru?

Yep, that’s me. I think our process may be fairly unique, because I typically have a whole set of lyrics ready before the music is there. Writing and playing music is how I first learned to express myself, so I never neglect that first part. I can be sharper and more precise with what I want to do concerning the lyrics if I’m not held back by an existing piece of music. So, I’ll bring that, with maybe some basic tempos and flow in mind, and then I’ll test out some riffs either on my own or in the rehearsal room. Whatever I bring, the guys are going to interpret and add their personality to, so it is my songs but it’s certainly our band. I can tell you that we go for the magic. If we’ve been working on a song and it just doesn’t bring something special to the air in the room, it’s not gonna make it. And you never know what is going to deliver that feeling, but if it makes it on a record, it’s because we all caught the feeling. I’m glad you mentioned the Subaru…we approve mixes based on what they sound like in your headphones or in your car, where you can be completely immersed in the sound. So, if you’re able to catch that same feeling, then we’ve done it right.

7. I’d like to visit a couple of specific songs from the new album. Both are extremely powerful. Lyrically, they are both wide open to interpretation, but what do they mean to you? Tell us about each song’s background.

 From “God With No Heaven”

 Speak to my bloodline.

Speak to the slaves.

Preach about how much they’ve taken, and how much you gave.

And your strength is in numbers.

Your thoughts unified.

And you revel in fame and in votes as you watch others die.

 “God With No Heaven” speaks about the way the State merges with or replaces religion. It’s indistinguishable in many countries around the world. Here in the States, the two-party system has the kind of fervent followers that religions would do anything to have. And those parties, what they represent, they are brands, the same way your smartphone or your car is a brand – there’s die-hard brand loyalty and not a lot of room for any other ideas. It’s a country full of freedoms a lot of other places aren’t privileged to have, and yet people choose to embrace this cult-like behavior. At the end of the day it’s all worship of authority and the collective VS the individual. That kind of god is what I would expect to find in a Hell if anything.

 From “We of the Shadows”,

 In solitary cells.

 In fields of living hell.

From the birth of this land, we’ve been dying.

We deny your flag.

With courage we still have.

A symbol of all we’re defying.

We of the shadows summon the storm.

We are the prisoners of holy war.

 In “We Of The Shadows” I’m thinking of groups that are marginalized, beat down, persecuted – outsiders. So, from line to line I might be thinking of Palestinians struggling against violent apartheid, I might be thinking of Cambodians in mass graves, I might be thinking of Africans who were scattered from the diaspora and forced to lay down new roots in a fertilizer of slavery, who still are dealing with that aftermath in daily life. Saudis and Iranians silenced by their fanatical governments, Syrians who have had war waged on them by theirs. The entire Rohingya crisis in China. I’m thinking of any victims of terrorism or colonial tyranny anywhere in the world. It’s everybody who’s suffered and everybody who’s taking a stand. They are always there, confined to the shadows by government or media regimes, yet maintaining the bravest and strongest spirits. So, the song was never going to be sad and plodding, those stories aren’t over, they can’t be silenced – it’s a rallying cry. Without their propaganda, without their big guns and tanks, these regimes and terror groups have nothing.

 8. Jake (guitar) and Ben (drums) have been in the band since day one. Stuart (bass) came along a bit later, following a few others. Why is this band so hard on bass players? 😊

Well, the short answer is we want something different, we’re not really cut from a typical metal cloth – at least not in a modern sense. We prefer the melodic and textural possibilities that exist when you have a lot of room for the bass, we love what it contributes to the music, and that means there’s just as much work for the bass player as for the guitar player.  So, you’ve got to be able to play with that attitude and that mindset, but then one also has to take into account things like personal chemistry and location. For a band like us, replacing a member is a unicorn hunt. I think we’re fortunate to have a pretty fantastic unicorn at this point in the game, we’ve been going strong for a few years now.

9. Three instrumentals on Dark Rivers, White Thunder. “Break the Surface,” “Singing Shaman” and “Winter Witch Moon.” Personally, I love instrumentals. Is there a story behind these tracks? Of the three, which would you use for a concert intro? May I suggest “Break the Surface?”  

We always have multiple things in mind when putting a record together. For example, we won’t ever have an intro track that can’t be used as a live intro. So, you are spot-on about that! My favorite to play was “Tidal”, but we will see how the new one feels.

“The Singing Shaman” and “Winter Witch Moon” are separate songs within a bigger track, “One Solstice Night”. I was trying to tap into these empowering masculine and feminine archetypes, taking things to a very nature-based, very pagan context. What I’d love to do for those two songs is an animated video, have some animators interpret the music, I feel that there are strong visual elements present. And again, there was magic there for us, and, these things still live in our consciousness, ready to awaken. Those are the kinds of places I’m interested in going.

10. You have shared the stage with acts such as Unleash the Archers (a personal favorite) and Theocracy. What have been some your best experiences with working with the bigger names thus far? Bonus question: If Unleash the Archers were to cover one of your tunes, which would it be?

It’s funny because we rarely have much of an experience at all. I think everybody is doing their own thing for the most part, and it isn’t really the bands communicating, the management and promoters have their say. For me, I’m busy in the crowd watching some of the show, or talking to fans, and then taking time I need completely by myself to clear the noise and make sure I’m focused and ready for the night. If something is off, you might not get the A1 performance, and everybody is disappointed. I disappoint myself, I don’t take it so well when there are issues in our set. So those shows tend to be very workmanlike.

That’s an interesting second question, I would think maybe they would do pretty well with something like “No World Order”, where there are a few playing styles and vocal styles to interpret, and then it always comes back to the big fun chorus.

 11. Finally, what our readers really want to know…If I were to visit Jacksonville (and I know several people nearby,) what is the best place for seafood?? And don’t say “my house”…unless that’s an invitation. 😊

 Haha, well a lot of our diet is plant-based, but I am a Florida boy through-and-through….I think I might have to vouch for Florida Cracker for the brunch, North Beach Fish Camp for everything else. Oh, if you want fish tacos with a strong side of liquor, you need to visit The Pier.

12. We thank you for your time and wish you all the best. Any parting words for our readers…and for your fans in Florida?

 All love and thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to listen to the new record and read this. Do we have more fans in Florida? Hit us up……enjoy the album, and make sure to follow us everywhere.

www.skyliner.bandcamp.com

www.youtube.com/c/skylinerband

www.instagram.com/skylinermusic

www.facebook.com/skylinermusic

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