Gayle Skidmore

San Diego native Gayle Skidmore started early (playing the classical piano at age 4 and writing her own tunes by the old age of 8), and boy... do we know it. How else can we explain all of the success that has come her way already?

  •  The release of seven independent albums (3 of which were on her own label, Raincoat Records).
  • Her “Cowley Road” EP was on the ballot for the ’09 Grammy’s for “Best Pop Album,” and “Best Pop Vocal Performance.”
  • In July 2009, she was featured in Germany’s prominent Seuddeutsche Zeitung, and has since won several song competitions in the Netherlands.

Her accomplishments come as no surprise, considering the multi-faceted musician plays over 20 instruments – something you can witness for yourself on her latest record, “Make Believe”. From piano, to guitar and banjo, to the dulcimer and folk harp, Skidmore covers it all in breathtaking fashion. She sat and spoke a bit with us, describing her 8th independent album: “’Make Believe’ was chosen as the title for the work because I felt that it encompassed all of the themes of deferred hope and longing for change that are woven through the album. Rather than its usual association with children’s stories and imaginings, the title track uses this phrase to suggest that in our dark hours we long for the ability to escape into a brighter reality. Sometimes you have to just believe in happiness until you can find it again.”

 Its modern-folk pop at such a beautiful level, you need to see a live show for yourself (and hopefully at the show you go to, Gayle will be in a cookie baking mood – she does that). She’s wrapping up a tour with one of our friends at Vanguard Records now (Ms. Stacy Clark), and will be on her own tour across the country after that. Check out the schedule, and “Make Believe”. There’s so much more to get into, so keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Gayle Skidmore (PEV):  How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?

Gayle Skidmore (GS):  I classify my music as indie folk pop, and sound like a melding of a thirties-style singer with a modern folk pop artist, set to quirky instruments like the banjo and dulcimer.  Patrick Watson, Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, Edith Piaf and Lhasa de Sela influence me heavily. If I must recommend myself, I’d say that I am a clever lyricist, compose and arrange all of my songs, play at least 20 instruments and sing from my soul.  

PEV: Calling San Diego, California home, what kind of music where you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?

GS:  I studied classical piano beginning at age four, and always enjoyed listening to the great classical composers like Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Brahms.  I then developed an affinity for The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the like.  When I was thirteen, a friend introduced me to Lisa Loeb’s music.  Her album 9 Stories was the first CD I ever bought, and it played a pivotal role in my decision to begin playing out.

PEV: Tell us about your first ever live performance.

GS:  My first official show was at a little coffee house in La Mesa when I was fourteen years old.  At the time, I only played my guitar at live shows. I had a big notebook full of songs that I had typed up, which I placed on a music stand that I could hide behind.  I didn’t look at anyone while I sang and I remember that the emcee made fun of my last name.  Subsequently, I released my first E.P. under “Gayle” and axed my surname until 2005.

PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?

GS: I think I was seven or so the first time I thought that.  I’m not saying I was right, but I remember sitting at the piano for hours, creating 50 different variations of “Greensleeves” and writing them all in my notebook.  I distinctly recall thinking, “Wow, I am really good at this!”  It’s amusing to me, now, but I was deathly serious about it at the time.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Gayle Skidmore show?

GS: I enjoy building sets for the stage when I am allowed the privilege, and I enjoy baking cookies for my fans when I have the time.  I enjoy telling funny and awkward stories when I play solo, of which I have quite a collection.  Music-wise, I like to change things up frequently.  I bring 4-5 instruments to most of my performances (I have instrument A.D.D.), and enjoy incorporating lots of other musicians, who have played everything from a musical saw to a full harp.  At one of my shows last month, I made some mini hot air balloons, which floated above my merch table.

PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?

GS: Flask? Check.

PEV: What was it like for you when you first started out and making the transition to professional musician?

GS: Scary.  I never considered myself to be much of a business-minded sort.  In 2006, I gathered my courage, did a lot of research, and started my own record label.  I’m not sure when the exact transition began, as I always took music very seriously. I suppose it was after college that I really began to be more intentional in my career.  The process has been an arduous one, and I am still constantly learning about various aspects of the industry.  In regards to being a performer, the change was gradual.  There were moments of rapid progression, and slow, painful periods of growth.  I believe it was in 2005 that I really began to be comfortable on stage.  

Gaining confidence from the release of my So Deep E.P., which was eons beyond my previous endeavor, I started to feel a strong sense of belonging when I would step on stage.  Nerve-wracking jitters became nervous excitement, which evolved to just excitement, and matured into true enjoyment. Slowly the stage became a place to unfurl my wings, to stretch my heart, and to make sense of life for a moment.

PEV:  What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?

GS:  I am inspired by almost everything.  If I don’t shut out the music in my head, I end up cluttering my phone with snippets of songs that I sing in my car.  Filtering out what I don’t care to keep was a difficult skill to develop.  My best songs stem from strong emotions and impactful experiences, both positive and negative.  For example, I wrote “Bad For Me” when a guy that I was seeing called his ex-girlfriend and had her drive down from LA to tell me that I “wasn’t the one.”  I realized that I had been blind to his almost toxic level of masked criticism and his cowardice.  I sat down to write out my feelings to him in a cathartic letter that I planned to burn, and what came out was a song.

PEV: Tell us about your latest release, your eighth independent album, “Make Believe,” which comes in a coloring book that you illustrated, on Raincoat Records. What can fans expect from this work? What made you choose this title for the album?

GS:  “Make Believe” came about because a close friend of mine, musician Rocky Green, told his producer that I needed someone to care about my music. The producer, Preston Parsons, had previously helped me release my “Paper Box E.P.” for my Tour de Felicité with Rheanna Downey in 2007.  When Rocky became terminally ill, we revisited the project.  I think it was a way to cope with what was happening.  We decided to record a full-length, revamping “Paper Box” and “Remember” and adding twelve others.  So many of my insanely talented friends poured into this project!  

I didn’t start with a budget for the record, because I didn’t have any plans to record again.  Funds for the project appeared miraculously as we went along, and I was also able to pre-sell a thousand copies of the album through the Dutch company Sellaband.  It took us two years to finish, and somewhere in the middle, Rocky passed on, Preston had a baby, and I lost more sleep than I can ever catch up on.  I had the idea for the coloring book while listening to some of the unfinished tracks.  I was sketching away when I had the lazy thought that it might be fun to draw a picture for each song on the album.  I was about to paint one when I thought that it would be fun if I let my fans color them instead!

“Make Believe” was chosen as the title for the work because I felt that it encompassed all of the themes of deferred hope and longing for change that are woven through the album.  Rather than its usual association with children’s stories and imaginings, the title track uses this phrase to suggest that in our dark hours we long for the ability to escape into a brighter reality.  Sometimes you have to just believe in happiness until you can find it again.  All of the songs on the album in some way connect to the concept of make believe. I believe that everyone experiences music differently, but I hope that my fans will be transported by my music, inspired by the journey, and encouraged to pursue their own creative endeavors.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Gayle Skidmore?

GS: I HATE the saxophone. H-A-T-E.  I have saxophobia.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew you wanted music to be a large part of your life, if not the biggest part?

GS: I have always known that I wanted to be a musician, and there has never been any real question of it being a large part of my life.  However, in 2007, while pursuing my Master’s degree, I wrestled with the decision to pursue music or school.  It was not possible for me to continue to pursue both paths, and I made the decision to put my degree on hold for a time.   

PEV: What one word best describes Gayle Skidmore?

GS: Whimsical.

PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?

GS:  The best part of being on the road is having random adventures.  Once, my drummer and I stayed with some folks who have a mink farm and they gave us a tour (yuck).  During a winter tour, I had a harrowing drive through the Siskiyous, and thought that I blew a tire. I even called AAA, but it turned out that I had only hit someone else’s tire. This year, I was fortunate enough to stay on a 66-foot schooner in Half Moon Bay during my February tour.  Something unexpected always happens, and I enjoy it to the fullest.  The worst part of tour is when your body starts to ache from driving too long.  In March of this year, I drove 30 hours straight to get back to San Diego and play a festival.  That was a terrible idea.

PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?

GS:  I would really like to play in Finland.  I have a strong connection with my Finnish heritage.  A few years ago I was taken with the idea of moving to Helsinki to study piano performance at the Sibelius Academy, but I moved back to San Diego instead.  I hear so many great things about the scene in Finland and it doesn’t hurt that it is one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?

GS:  A couple of years ago, I received a letter from my grandmother telling me to quit music because I was going to have a life of poverty and strife.  Ouch. Admittedly, it is a difficult career choice.  However, in the past few years I have been up for two Grammy’s, received amazing fan support for my albums, toured in Europe, and have really grown as an artist.  I currently have the most supportive community I could ask for.  My family has rallied around me as I’ve continued to push forward.  My grandmother changed her mind and writes me much more encouraging letters these days.  

My close friends have been a constant source of encouragement and a reference point for reality, as most artists desperately need.  I love playing in San Diego because I feel like I make new friends every time I play.  San Diego is kind of a small town in a way, and you end up seeing your ‘fans’ around so much that they become your friends. It is a bit of a strange dynamic, but not a bad one. “Make Believe” is currently nominated for Best Pop Album in the San Diego Music Awards.

PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

GS:  I enjoy so many nerdy things; knitting, painting, sailing with friends, helping my pals brew beer, hiking, swing dancing, reading fantasy books and playing scrabble are just a few.  Oh—and decoupaging stuff. Don’t leave anything lying around near me.  I will decoupage it.

PEV:  Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?

GS:  I would say that two San Diegans stand out in my mind:  Trevor Davis and Kevin Martin.  Both gentlemen have a boatload of talent, memorable songs, and are incredible performers.  I am privileged to know them and believe that you’ll be hearing much more about them soon.

PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?

GS:  I would have most likely finished up with my MA, pursued a Doctorate, and have been teaching Theology at a university.

PEV: So, what is next for Gayle Skidmore?

GS:  There are several tours in the works for me for the end of the year. I leave on July 14h for my After the Fireworks tour with Stacy Clark (Vanguard Records) and am planning a tour out to New York and back beginning in late August.  I plan on releasing two singles in the next few months.

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