A multi-part, rip-rock sound
Scott Sellwood, of American emo/alternative rockers Skiptrace, discusses their origins, the overwhelming reaction to the debut EP and the influences on their forthcoming album.
Scott Sellwood and Scott Pribble dreamt up the concept that would become Skiptrace the day after they broke up their original group, a break-up that came about because of musical differences. "Varying influences and conflicting ideas are great", Mr Sellwood explains, "but if they are too disparate, you're going nowhere." It took the two of them until February 2001 to take things from the concept stage and to convert it into a fully functioning live band. A band whose current line-up only came together in August 2001, little under a year ago.
Somewhere in the time between, the two Scotts managed to head east, from California, to record a six-track EP, partly produced by John Agnello and partly by Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom). The result ended up in my hands in November of that year and was a breath of fresh air in what was quickly becoming a stale and claustrophobic musical climate. It's dynamic soundscapes and genre-blending, but over-all American college rock feel making it pleasing to the ear of any fan of Weezer, The Frames, Jimmy Eat World and Wilt. The band may now be in the process of recording the follow-up, a full-length album, but Scott is still in awe of what the EP achieved.
"We've been overwhelmed by the response to the EP. Our music certainly isn't for everyone, no music is I suppose, but the college radio and indie press have been very supportive. We had no label and no real connections prior to the release of the EP so we're doubly appreciative." Unfortunately for the band, there were a few setbacks along the way. "We had some business problems, with booking agents and the like, but that's all behind us now. This summer we're focusing on recording, but we have a number of shows up and down the West Coast planned. Still, we've been fortunate enough to have played with bands that I think released some great music last year, like Jimmy Eat World and The Pernice Brothers. Starting this fall, we'll do a US tour to support the new record."
Their new album, if it's anything like the preceding EP, with its stunning songs like 'Don't support the band' and 'The family cratered', should be a spectacular piece of work. Scott is modest when praised, but is eager to talk about how the older songs have developed and how the new record is shaping up. "It think the new songs we're writing are a natural step from the first EP in many ways," he enthuses, "but they would also fit well on a single album with the earlier material. We've been playing a few new, slower, eerie tunes live to positive response, but our strength is still the multi-part, rip-rock song. We're always changing things here and there live. The jam at the end of 'Family cratered' is somewhat different every show and 'I'm not here', probably the least accessible song on the album, has blossomed into our best and most intense live song."
The lyrics on the new album, Scott goes on to explain, "range from abstract things like apathy or individuality to more whimsical topics like women who fall in love with their prison inmate pen pals. Collectively we're influenced by almost everything: books, politics, friends, day jobs. We'll turn almost anything into a song, whether that song is good enough to see the light of day is the question."
The Skiptrace plan at the moment is to record the new album in bursts this summer. "We have ten to fifteen new songs and are writing more every day", he continues. "Best case scenario allows us to pick the top ten or twelve for a full length and then possibly release an EP or 7" or two as quickly afterward as possible. Right now we're working with a San Francisco producer, Justin Phelps, but we'll probably work with one or two more."
Which is exactly what they did the last time around. Most bands have one or two producers they "click with" and they work with for their entire careers. Other bands spend their entire careers trying to find that one producer who can make them sound they way they really want to. Neither of these applies to Skiptrace. "I love the idea of having multiple producers on a single record. It complicates things as far as continuity goes, but it is not insurmountable by any means. We'll work with as many people as possible for every record we do.
"John Agnello (who co-produced their debut EP) has just produced some amazing records, so we really wanted to work with him. His records sound so powerful. We were pretty sure he could draw that type of vibe out of us, and he did. Scott Pribble and I have been huge Buffalo Tom fans for years, so getting to work with Bill Janovitz was a thrill. I would work with either of those guys again, anytime." The straightforward route doesn't really seem to be an option for Scott or his band, does it?
by Ken McGrath.