London – Now based in Amsterdam, the former San Diego, CA singer-songwriter Gayle Skidmore recently returned from a US tour to support the release of her new album, The Golden West. She took some time out to speak to Best New Bands about her songwriting and experiences.
You have been a really prolific songwriter since childhood. Where do you draw your chief inspiration from and has that changed over time?
When I was very little, around three years old, I would sing little songs to myself. It’s something I have always done, and I have funny little recordings of my early songs that my sisters made. I’ve always drawn inspiration from my observations and experiences, and so that has varied depending on the stage of life I’m in. I have been through a lot of loss in my life, so I have written a ton of songs about trying to understand that, but this last album moved me into a different and more focused phase of writing. When you want to move forward in life, you have to make a determined effort to do so and to leave certain things behind, so with The Golden West, I gathered songs that were all connected to my desire to move on. In that sense it was a much different album for me. In the past, I focused on a theme, but didn’t have as much of a personal goal with my releases.
Do you come from a musical family? Who were your early influences in terms of favoured artistes?
Everyone in my family sings and plays an instrument, but they don’t do so professionally. There were a few professional musicians in our family history, but not in my immediate family. I was very fortunate, however, to be raised in a family that had a deep appreciation for music. My early influences included a lot of classical music and oldies. I remember being obsessed with my dad’s Everly Brothers record at a very early age. When I started performing my songs, I was listening to a lot of Lisa Loeb, Fiona Apple, Susanne Vega, Led Zeppelin and Weezer- so I had a fun mix of things.
How do you feel your songwriting has developed or changed over the years, thinking especially about your latest album, The Golden West, compared to your earlier work?
The Golden West has been a big leap forward for me. For a long time I was focused on recording my more radio friendly pop songs, and with this album I really let a lot of that go. I have always written a wide range of songs stylistically speaking, but I’ve been pretty hesitant to share them. This album was very freeing for me in that I was able to let go of my fears and focus on the theme of the album.
The album charts your relocation from California to Amsterdam. Tell us a little more about how your life has changed and how you are finding life in The Netherlands compared to the West Coast.
My life in The Netherlands is different in so many ways from my life in San Diego. I live in a TINY town outside of Amsterdam where I recognize more birds than people — seriously. There are three bars here – the kind where everyone turns around to look and the music screeches to a halt when a stranger walks in. I don’t have a car here; I just have a bike, and it is culturally quite different from San Diego. Thankfully though, I live about a mile from the best studio in The Netherlands and I’ve made a few friends there already so I’m getting to know the scene and starting to feel quite at home, even though I will always be a San Diego gal at heart.
The new album is accompanied by a colouring book with a picture for each song. You have a bit of a history with colouring books! Tell us more about how that came about.
About eight years ago now when I was working on my first full-length album with my friend Preston Parsons of Vessel Drums, I had the idea to create a colouring book to accompany the album. I always loved drawing and painting while listening to an album, and thought that my fans might enjoy that too. My lyrics are really important to me, and I wanted to showcase them in a creative way. The response I received was incredibly positive, and I really enjoyed working on the book, so I made a few more. This last one was even more rewarding to work on because I received an artist grant for it so I had a lot more freedom.
You recently completed a US tour to support the album’s release. What were the particular highlights of the tour?
The tour ended up being 26 dates and was one of the more rigorous tours I’ve done, but it was also one of my favorites. My husband and I played a songwriter series at the Cherokee Ranch and Castle in Denver, Colorado, hosted by James Holmes that was very memorable. It was such a privilege to play in that gorgeous setting, and the storyteller format enabled me to share the journey of my songs in a way I really haven’t been able to do before.
Do you prefer playing live to recording, or are they equally fulfilling?
Playing live and recording are definitely equally fulfilling for me. They are so different, but I could never choose one over the other. When you play live you have the energy of the crowd, which is always unique and fulfilling. Recording in studio gives you the chance to go back and try new things and always sparks a lot of ideas and with an energy of its own. I love getting the opportunity to build layers in a song and kind of carve it out as I go.
How much of a ‘control freak’ are you when it comes to recording and producing an album?
I love collaborating when I record, but it’s easier to let go of control if I’m working with the right person. It is always a push and pull. I don’t need to have total control, but I have done some recording in the past where I’ve handed over the reins a bit to people who really shouldn’t have had them. I didn’t trust myself enough to know when I should speak up. With this new album, I was able to assert myself in a way I haven’t in the past. It was a painful but rewarding experience and it ended up helping me to create what I believe is my best work.
You have your own label, Raincoat Records. How did the name come about and how important is it to you to remain independent rather than risk being ‘modeled’ by a larger label?
I recoil at the idea of being “modeled” by a label and I think that I’ll remain independent as long as that’s on the table. If an offer comes along from people who believe in my work but have some ideas that I’m on board with to help me grow and progress as an artist, I will always be open to considering that. I’ve had some major label interest recently and have been very open to that, but I am doing what I love already on my own, so it isn’t my primary focus. I want to keep creating and evolving as an artist. That’s why I created Raincoat Records. The name came from wanting to be successful on my own terms – to just wear my own raincoat to weather the storms of the industry. I wanted to stand up for myself and do things my way instead of striving after other peoples’ approval.
You are known to play a whole bunch of instruments. Do you have a favourite one of all?
I’ve played classical piano since I was four, so that will always be my favourite. About a year and a half ago, Deering Banjos gave me one of their banjo ukuleles, so that has been my current obsession. It’s super resonant and I love playing it! I’m hoping to write a lot more songs on it this year since I’m finally done working on the album and book.
If you hadn’t made a career in music is there anything else you would have liked to have done in the Arts or via a different profession?
There are so many things that I’d love to do! Working on my colouring books has inspired me to pursue drawing and painting again, and I’d love to go back and study that a bit, but there was never really anything that held a candle to music for me.
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
I will be touring and promoting The Golden West, and will hopefully be traveling a ton with that this year. I hope to record a lot more songs in the next few months and am working on getting my band together in The Netherlands for some shows in the next few months. I’m finishing a music video for “Pale Ghosts,” and continuing to work on art and songs for my Patreon supporters.
Click here for more on Gayle Skidmore.
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Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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