The unexpected answer from Orange County, California's skypark: Learn how to write music.
"All the bands I've ever loved...it wasn't because I saw them in concert. It was because they had that song, that sound," explains guitarist, Joey Aszterbaum. "After our fall tour, we listened to a cassette tape of the last show and agreed that the songs and the grooves were not up to snuff. A lot of our fans were in it for the visual performance, and that's great, but it was time for us to get serious about making music."
Am I Pretty? (Word/Epic), their major label debut released in 1998, received some raves in critics' columns, was nominated for a Dove award ("Best Modern Rock Recording"), and sold spectacularly for a band in their genre without much radio play or an opening spot on a major tour. But skypark's sights were much higher.
Founder and bassist Tony Deerfield put it this way: "After meeting the band Flick, I had a revelation. It's not only possible, but it is a responsibility to transcend the limitations placed on modern music. So much music today is made for the quick fix, easy marketability. But the greatest albums seemed to have little to no concern for that...OK Computer, Dark Side of the Moon, Abbey Road, Unchained. Ten years ago I was impressed that I could play the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." But now it's time to make rock history."
skypark decided that they could keep spinning their wheels on the road (they added 18,000 miles to the odometer on their fall 1999 tour), or they could spend some time at home with their families, getting more involved with their home churches, and creating an album that would sell itself. Feeding upon rock and pop's greatest offerings (the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, U2, Johnny Cash) and inspired by the ambition and scope of modern rock acts like Radiohead and Flick, that's exactly what they did.
"It's virtually impossible to write music when you're on the road, between hotel rooms, driving and sound checks," says Tyrone Wells, lead vocalist. He rents a house with seven other people in Fullerton, CA. "My room is out back, disconnected from the rest of the house, so I can play guitar and sing full voice at any time of the night."
With the record company's support, skypark pushed back their sophomore release to May, 2000. They began a Monday through Friday writing regiment, converting Tyrone's bedroom into a rehearsal and recording studio. Winter turned to spring, with the band inviting all sorts of people in to critique the music. Thom Roy, who produced their debut, dropped in, as did Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford.
"God has blessed us with a community of people and artists who have kindly offered their services to refine what we do," says drummer, Keith Gove. "We've tried to take advantage of those opportunities to improve. It was difficult sometimes, but it brought years of experience to our music that we didn't have."
By summertime, skypark had written over forty songs. They recorded their ten best, affectionately (and appropriately) naming the project Bedroom Demos. They then hit the road for seven weeks, playing festivals and small venues in California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado and Alaska. Meanwhile, the demos caught the ear of producer Ed Stasium (Living Colour, The Ramones), who signed up to do the record.
skypark's focus on songwriting has paid off. The new songs balance killer grooves and super-hooky choruses with edgy musical experimentation and thoughtful lyrics, showcasing the band's strengths like none of their previous material has. The powerful force, emotional depth and soulful agility of Tyrone's voice, the punch and finesse of Keith's drumming, the creativity and story-telling of Tony's bass lines, the aggressive and playful guitar attack and vocal harmonies from Joey all fit seamlessly together. And they should, with no personnel changes, three indie records and six years of gigging behind them. The songs are diverse, without being eclectic, and employ all the techniques that made their influences icons. But while skypark has learned much from those imposing teachers, they don't sound like any one of them. They've learned the best lesson of all; to take creative risks and forge their own sound.
But they've learned a few other lessons since their last record. And it is reflected in their sound and their lyrics. Joey explains, "Our last album was full of conflict and dissonance. We joked among ourselves that it could be called 'Thirteen Cleverly Disguised Songs About Struggling With Sin.' When that's what you're going through you don't necessarily want to be straightforward with strangers. The lyrics had to be a little esoteric...it was a confusing time. But this album has come from a much safer place for all of us. While the new album isn't blind to the struggle, it is far more innocent and simple lyrically, whether a song is about having a crush, the first concert on the moon or our gratitude towards God for what he's done for us in Christ."
With the leap in artistry between these two recordings, the long-haul dedication of all four band members, and the same work ethic applied to their live show as they have to the new record, skypark will transcend the modern rock scene and make rock and roll history.
All information courtesy of Word Records