Skycamp was a beautiful dream wrapped in a blanket of anxiety. It was a pure expression of late-aughts uncertainty, mixed with a healthy dose of 20-something angst, ending with a sigh of acceptance. That’s how I remember my tenure as the lead singer and guitarist of the Bay Area indie band, Skycamp.
Skycamp began in San Francisco as a collaboration between myself, drummer Ron Kutulas, guitarist/bassist Tobin Mori and electronic music producer Morgan Sully. Our strange blend of shoegaze, post-punk, and art rock cut through in our multi-instrumentalist approach and a melt-your-face sonic attack. Born in the Great Recession, and forged in a tiny underground Tenderloin rehearsal space, Skycamp quickly rose to the occasion by releasing highly textured and nuanced songs packaged in an impossibly loud and fuzz-laden sonic burrito. Having performed to the drunken masses at hallowed SF venues such as Slim’s and experienced untold hearing loss, we recorded and released two very different EPs: Transamerican in 2009, and White Cloud in 2010 (sans Morgan). Both EPs were mastered at Hyde Street Studios by analog wizard Mike Wells.
The Transamerican EP is an artsy expression of pure hubris. An ex-girlfriend described it as Dude-gaze, which was something I hated at the time but now find hilarous. It is loud, angsty, and life-affirming. It toys with some multidimensional and sometimes unsavory characters: An imaginary UFO-cult leader calling on his followers to join him in the New Mexico desert (Sky is on Fire), a scorned lover in a fit of jealous rage (Sonoma Skies), a displaced youth wandering through Chinatown while undergoing an existential crisis (Transamerican), an 1849-era gold rush miner longing for the love of a sideshow dancer (Edge of the World), a love song for a 1940’s experimental filmmaker (Maya Deren), and a portrait of an elderly man and his Folsom Street Fair dominatrix muse (Carnal Parade). After a short hiatus, we went on to write and record the follow-up EP, White Cloud, which had a radically different sound and lyrical approach. The songs on Transamerican were like intricate sketches of real or imagined characters, whereas White Cloud grew from a more direct and personal place.
It took a while for our drummer Ron to warm up to some of the newer songs. He thought they sounded too country, or early Bob Dylan. Ron is an art rocker and a die-hard Frank Zappa fan at heart, but the tracks eventually grew on him. Tobin loved the slower songs. He comes from a slowcore tradition, being the former frontman of indie darlings Ee and Korea Girl , though Ron, Tobin and I loved bands such as Red House Painters, Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies and Galaxie 500. That was a vibe we could all wholeheartedly agree on. And that’s how this EP came together — through our shared love of this slowcore aesthetic and that classic 4ad sound. The Americana aspect of it is a somewhat whimsical, almost tongue-in-cheek addition. I was born abroad, and lived a nomadic life until my 20s. This was, oddly enough, a way to connect with what had become my starry-eyed inner space cowboy. Couple that with a horrendous breakup, and you’ve got a recipe for something raw and undeniably real. The White Cloud EP begins with a sprawling, orchestral ballad (Escapade) that draws you into a vast landscape. Ron plays a wonderful syncopated beat here while Tobin makes gorgeous cello-like e-bow swells. The next three tracks flirt with the classic cowboy-western themes of longing and regret (Taste of Heaven), fate and mortality (Saturn’s Return), and a thematic leap of acceptance and ultimately, transcendence (White Cloud). We then decided to cover a song by Slowdive we all adore, just for fun (Alison- available exclusively on the Bandcamp release), and to remind the listener that, well, we’re still loud as fuck despite going a bit alt-country for a few songs. Ha.
After the release of White Cloud, the band began what would be a long, open-ended break. My photography and cinematography career had taken off, and I was traveling a ton. Ron had moved to Portland, had a couple of gorgeous babies, and was making some fantastic experimental music compositions. Tobin also started a family and moved to the DC area to pursue his career in tech (while continuing to write beautiful songs). Morgan moved to Berlin and is an established and well-respected electronic music producer there. I ultimately moved to Los Angeles, to further develop my film cinematography and classical piano career. Soon after, Barbara and I had Stella, a little girl who continues to inspire me to be excellent and treat every one of my artistic pursuits as a potential, if imperfect, heirloom for her to discover.
So here we are, at the beginning of 2021. The Coronavirus has forced the world into quarantine. The fabric of society is fraying. The state of everything seems dire. I’ve been busy composing and releasing classical piano music. Yet Skycamp decided to appear again, in its typical late-to-the-party fashion. Just like an ember carried on the wind of the Great Recession, it is still life-affirming, loud, and red like fire. The Skycamp: Ten Year Anniversary Edition LP is out- a full-length, deluxe LP of Skycamp’s best work. It somehow finds a way to combine the overly-confident sonic tapestries of Transamerican, with the dusty expanse of White Cloud. It also includes some previously unreleased tracks that add a new layer of atmosphere to the whole. Best of all, it can be heard on the Skycamp website, and downloaded for free via Bandcamp, and streamed on Spotify and most streaming services.
This band defined my 20’s. It was the heart on my sleeve. At 39, I look back with sense of nostalgia (and lots of eye-rolling!) and ultimately, as with all things, acceptance and appreciation. To my dear friends Ron, Tobin, and Morgan — thank you for going on this journey with me. Here is our time together in San Francisco, preserved in amber.
For more info, please visit www.skycampsf.com
Tidal (Master Quality Audio Streaming): https://tidal.com/browse/album/169471638