A talk with
JAKE BECKER (Vocals/Guitars)
(Questionnaire by Stefan)
For the very beginning of Jacksonville, Florida based Skyliner we must go back to 2000. Singer/guitarist Jake Becker and Ben ‘The Ben’ Benner were only 14 to 16 years old, they were determined to create a Metal act. What follows is the story of a band in the running for 13 years up until now, what they have achieved so far we hear from the band’s frontman and guitar player Jake.
Q: Hails Jake, I’d like to welcome you here at Metal To Infinity webzine. Skyliner might be a totally unknown band for most of our readers, I heard your two track EP “The Alchemist” and have to admit that I’m glad with final result. We will return to that point later on, first I’d like to ask your story on the very beginning of the band. How the band came to be?
A: Hail to you and Metal To Infinity, Stefan, thank you first of all for giving us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to your readers. Well, I started playing guitar around the age of 11 after already having been obsessed with music for a few years – a lot of classics, some usual and some unusual things, W.A.S.P., Styx, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Whitesnake..that was the stuff that hit me early on and stuck. I also had an affinity for a lot of more industrial or electronic rock at the time, Stabbing Westward, KMFDM. I’d sit in front of the speakers and rewind my tapes to hear and absorb the tones of the riffs, of leads, of different chords, and I was completely entranced with the sounds that could be made with a guitar and I knew I had to play. I had something of a rough upbringing, and I had also turned to writing to express myself around that time, so it just made sense to me to start a band whenever I figured out however to do that. Write songs, start a band. A time honored tradition!
I met Ben at a church youth group when he decided he had to talk to me and study me because of my Iron Maiden shirt (it was an ‘X Factor’ shirt, for the record!)….at that time, he was convinced that if you wore black, you were a ‘goth’, which was interesting to him, and he was interesting to me in turn because he was the other person who didn’t quite fit in, and we both had an interest in starting a project. So, I basically forced him to play drums with me – that, or maybe other people forced me to play with him because they didn’t want me, haha.
Q: Ben Benner and yourself were pretty young those days, from where the drive to set up a Metal band and what were the ambitions?
A: Well, those days, for probably a year or two, we were both very very new to our instruments and what we were doing…. Myself less so, but we evolved and developed with each other over quite a period in those years. We always had something long-term and permanent in mind, but this was our first band (and still my only band), so all the mistakes and hurdles have been here as well as the successes. My own vision became more focused as time went on, but early on it was also difficult because honestly nobody else really wanted to play the music that I was writing…it was difficult to get the band members into it, to get them to really understand the language. This type of music is the black sheep, the underdog, and is meant to be. But as a band, we always knew there was something great ahead for us and that things take time.
Q: What was the first solid line-up look like?
A: The first true ‘lineup’ consisted of:
Jake Becker – vocals, guitars
Ben Brenner – drums, percussion
Donnie Back – bass
The first RECORDING/live lineup was:
Jake Becker – vocals, guitars
Ben Brenner – drums, percussion
Kyle Sweeney - bass
Q: Who came up with the bandname, Skyliner?
A: That was mine. I was in the Keys with my father when I was around 10 or so, a rare family-ish thing I got to experience, and somewhere along the shoreline I decided that Skyliner seemed like a good name for a band, and I could never think of anything else that wasn’t pretentious, so it stuck.
Q: Every young band strives to deliver a debut demo CD, how has this come to you?
A: We had a number of songs we jammed on and we narrowed it down to the ones we were least worst at and decided they needed to be recorded. We were still all living at home, of course, so we shamelessly borrowed tons of parental money to make a demo CD and t-shirts.
Q: How would you describe the sound on ‘Light Comes Out Of The Black” – name a few bands to compare with.
A: The worst band you can think of. Haha, no, not really…but pretty close. We prefer it to be long forgotten, as I’m sure every band does of one of their old, old recordings. When I listen to it (not often) I feel like it has a little bit of old Helloween (‘Walls of Jericho’ era), a little bit of Rage. Maybe a hint of Fates Warning. This is in sound..not quality, haha. I feel that our synergy, the core synergy of what Ben and I contribute, has always given us a unique feel. I can tell the same feel is there today….but today the band is a lean, mean, machine of destruction…on that demo we were more like a slobbering, obese infant that liked to headbutt itself into a coma.
Q: This demo lived up to all of your preconceived expectations?
A: Of course at the time, when you’re a super young band, and you don’t know what you’re doing, and you finish your first real recording, you think that it’s God and that everybody is going to be floored about it. In reality, we just sort of showed up at a studio with a pile of money, they took it, and we were never really advised or instructed on the how-to of even basic tracking…overdubbing…quite literally we weren’t aware of the most basic practices in the studio…we set our stuff up and recorded it live minus my vocals which I added afterwards. And we were off time, weird tones, rushed playing.. everything you might expect.
I remember the mixing/mastering engineer with his head in his hands and some Advil on the console. We really had no idea. Speaking of my vocals, I had little control over my voice, absolutely no confidence or self-esteem, and even less technique…so the entire thing is this glorious, unlistenable disaster. Compared to bands who never get out of the garage, however…compared to a good many local bands... it was ambitious and it showed some fire and effort. But it was never 1% good enough for what we were supposed to be. But we were super young, we knew nothing, we learned, as all artists do!
Q: Did it led to a better disclosure of the name Skyliner, maybe a few concerts were booked in response to the demo?
A: We did play live quite a bit and we did find out that when things click live, they REALLY click. We demolished everything live when at our best, and still do. But again, we were also still growing, I was still writing.. my writing was maturing by leaps and bounds. By the time our silly first demo rock star stuff was being promoted, I was already sick of it and we were putting together a newer, better batch.
Q: Four years later, Skyliner’s second recording became reality. Based on the music style, what about the difference between first and second demo? Which one do you prefer and why?
A: The second, self-titled demo, is where we started becoming ‘conscious’ and figuring out our identity. Those songs are so good – two of them are actually re-recorded for our debut album. We had utilized a little bit of keyboard on the first group of songs, the first demo, but were always a three piece. But these new songs were so far superior to the old songs, and we found there was a lot more space for other textures and tones, so we added a keyboard player who offered to join and we fleshed out some parts and things just started to work. It was an exciting time, and we recorded ‘properly’ for the first time, but we were still rough around the edges in our performance… partially due to the fact that we just didn’t have a lot of time to track, mix, check tones, things like that. More learning experiences. But the basic sound of who we are and a lot of our range of what we do was something we unearthed with that demo.
The artwork also contributed. I didn’t really know what to do with the art, but there was some vague imagery in my mind and I picked out something affordable which seemed to fit, which was this stormy setting that had this imposing black monolith. I was obsessed with the idea of this thing coming out of the water that went almost to the sky. I also had this moon, planet thing added to it based off of a lot of dreams and other odd experiences I’ve had…this planetary body can be seen in everything since then. That has finally been fully realized in the artwork for ‘Outsiders’. The idea of the moon-body is that it carries a message on its surface, but I can’t tell you what it is..
Q: If you look back to the first decade of the band, how much would you give on a scale of ten in terms of satisfaction?
A: The first decade gets a 4, all things considered.
Q: Ten years of existence, only two demo’s were recorded which ain’t that spectacular. Do you have a reason to explain that?
A: I’m being a little harsh giving the first decade a 5 because we literally started out when we started playing...it’s hard to even consider it a ‘first decade’ because we were and are so young…but although we had a lot of extremely fun shows and other things, we also wound up wasting some time unintentionally....... the hard truth is that it’s very difficult to find musicians who are not only serious, skilled, and want to commit and work with you, but also want to play this particular type of music, and last but not least, work on a personal level. If we were punk, indie, almost anything else, that situation would be a lot different, but when you decide to stick to your guns, and it’s not something that’s very popular…you’re going to run into some trouble somewhere.
My hope was probably always too idealistic, that I wanted a group of friends reaching for something together and going there together, and along the way whether it was my fault or somebody else’s fault when we lost a member, I learned that there’s a reason why a lot of players never even get to the point where they make a record. We matured, we gained and lost members, we gained and lost jobs, but we made a record. It’s yours if you want it…..a lot of them either don’t want it bad enough, or they don’t want to get it the right way. There’s also a lot more control over things the more independent you become as a person. Things started moving a lot faster once we were more on our own and we got it together personally and financially. You also get cynical because a lot of people in your hometown just aren’t interested in coming out and seeing this music live, but our goals are far more than just playing where we live, so that doesn’t bother me. Boring, tough, but all true!
Q: As I’ve mentioned before, you’ve sent me Skyliner’s latest recording dated from 2011, entitled “The Alchemist”. This two song laden EP quite impresses me really. Nice blend of Heavy/Power and Progressive Metal, in what ways these songs differ from the older works?
A: Thank you Stefan and I’m really glad you enjoy it. This doesn’t really differ from the second demo in style, but the major thing with the ‘Alchemist’ EP is that we were fully ‘awake’ and decided that mistakes in the past would not happen on this recording, that we were going to do everything possible to get what we wanted and learn what we needed. To do everything absolutely right. There were not going to be any instances where a track is “good enough” this time. We were going to blow people away, and that’s what we did. There’s not a single negative review.
I also learned the importance of a team in this business when working on the EP. A team can use a leader, and that’s what I try to be, but they also have to be capable in the first place or your lead isn’t going to have a chance to be effective. On the EP, the ‘team’ wasn’t only the band but our engineer, Andrew Perlowich, and our mixing and mastering engineer, Jamie King, and our art director, Claus from Intromental. These capable hands helped show us the way and the how-to to bring the monster that Skyliner is to life, and we kept most of them for the full-length.
Q: What type of Metal maniacs would need to provide “The Alchemist”?
A: I think that people who generally enjoy power metal or traditional heavy metal in all their forms would find something to like about the EP. If you like, say, Grave Digger, Labyrinth, Megadeth, Rage. But we do it our own way, so I also think that people who maybe are not usually into this kind of metal could find something here. There’s nothing cookie cutter or imitating that we put down on the record..it’s about feeling and flow, rather than trying to sound like bands we like. If I want to put a high scream somewhere, or growl somewhere else, I’m going to do it, and if there needs to be a bass solo, that’s gonna be there too. No matter what, there’s going to be guitars hitting you in the face, there’s going to be a lot of passion, so if that all sounds good, jump on board.
Q: Are you agree with me when I say that your vocals are pretty good, still sometimes I hear a few shortcomings in the lower notes?
A: For both the EP and the full-length, I was really able to exorcise my doubts and I found myself as a singer. I’m blessed to have a unique tone, and it does help set us apart. I was extremely meticulous in my lines and am strangely satisfied with how the vocals turned out! From my perspective, I eliminated my weaknesses on these recordings and can only hope that others not only agree but end up loving my work. One thing I can tell you is that none of my vocals are auto-tuned or otherwise sweetened up, it was done the old fashioned way, hard work and hard tracking. If you can’t do it live, than you can’t do it period, and you especially can’t do it in heavy metal!
Q: I really like the way you take care of the guitar works. Both leads and riffings are great Jake ! One little argument, do you have taken into consideration adding a second guitarist to the line-up? I hear no overdubs and is fine to me. But while you start soloing, the riffage stops which basically feels like a gaping wound. Are you agree with me?
A: Firstly I appreciate the kind words about my playing! About a second guitar player, I would have to disagree, although I understand where you’re coming from.
The vision I’ve always had is to strike a balance between a lot of things…between live and studio, between the instruments in the mix, between a lot of elements. Two things that I want out of my music is: for the bass to be clearly heard and passionately played, and for my leads to be the same.
I’ve always thought it was far more interesting, and far more suiting to us, for the bass to carry the weight underneath my soloing. Some bands need two guitars, some bands need three, but it seems like a lot of bands are averse to having one, and I just don’t agree. I think a lot of bands who have two don’t necessarily NEED two. I had to ask myself if there NEEDS to be more riffs or more repetition of rhythm guitar underneath my leads, and I simply don’t think there does need to be.
You have to think about that when you’re creating – what is NEEDED? I would rather bring something different to the table and make the sound more lush and fresh by allowing the bass to breathe and rumble and growl like it’s meant to. I think there are too many bands that completely bury the bass, as well, and all the modern metal has got the bass-less mix, and that’s just not what I believe in. If you see us live, there aren’t two guitars, either, so I really don’t want to introduce something that major on the record which we don’t do live.
As far as another player…well… honestly, I just can’t deal with guitar players most of the time… which probably says something about what people must feel like dealing with me, but really, again, there’s just no NEED. We’re not a twin-guitar-harmony band, and when there are dueling parts, I think it’s just more interesting for us to do it with guitar/bass, or guitar/keyboard, or all three. That’s part of our identity. I’ve got a big tone, big riffs, and they’re perfect when they’re in the spotlight, sometimes that spotlight goes to someplace else. I think when people hear the record and really let it sink in and they peel away from some of the usual expectation, it’ll really sound natural and it’ll click with them. The music is still alive, it’s still unique, it’s still hungry..it has to sound that way.
Q: The cover of “The Alchemist” reflects a picture of three players, recently you’ve sent me a picture of Skyliner featuring four musicians. What’s the story behind?
A: David Lee Redding is a longtime friend of the band and has handled the bass on all our recordings since our second demo, but after our gorgeous mugs were right on the cover of the EP, he expressed more of an interest to be full time, so now he is…and probably regretting every second, haha!
Q: The good news is that Skyliner deliver hard labour recording a new album, I’m curious about so give all the necessary details on this new output Jake. First on, which label will release the new album entitled “Outsiders”? Maybe you’re still on the hunt to find a decent company to collaborate with… the word’s on you.
A: That’s absolutely true about the hard labour Stefan, as the album from recording to art is proudly funded by us and us alone, no Kickstarter, no begging, just our resolve and people we trust helping us make this something to compete with anything out there. And that being said – yes, we are currently shopping around to different labels to see if there is any interest. This is a special album and a special band, something we’re proud of, and we want to handle this release right and find a win-win situation with anybody who would take us on board. Hey, we already went broke – they don’t have a lot to lose!
Q: If you dare to state that this will be the strongest effort to date, I want to know why.
A: I do dare, because who dares wins!
And beyond that, it’s because this is the voice of Skyliner, this is the ultimate calling card, this is the showdown, the statement, this is the first step of a journey. You know what to expect if you’ve heard the EP, but expect 70 minutes of it. This is a real result of a real band putting real passion into real music and the real fans will hear it and feel it from the beginning, and there is no compromise in quality from the performances, to the mix, to the art – it’s a labor of love and vision, we are proud of it and I believe it has much to offer the world of heavy metal, especially at a time when there are so many releases that never take a chance..there’s a lot of music, a lot of art being made which is keeping it safe and keeping it very by-the-numbers and I’m just sick of safety.
Q: On which subjects, the lyrics are based on… who’s the writer in the band?
A: That would be myself, and one thing I can tell you is I don’t write about something I don’t know about. Everything I write is a catharsis in some way or another, and what you’re getting is a whole person. I’m a success, a failure, a Christian, a scientist, philosopher, someone who’s capable of great good and evil, love and hate. There’s a lot of anger. A great deal of my life has been characterized by pain and alienation so there is a lot of dealing with that, so what you’re getting is a real person from those perspectives and experiences. There’s something like ‘The Alchemist’, which frames a very specific spiritual outlook squarely in this ancient, mystical context. It merges a lot of beliefs and experiences I’ve lived within, concerning theology, concerning magic, concerning the ‘other side’, but there’s a strong philisophical foundation.
Then there’s a song called ‘The Human Residue’ which handles a lot of anguish which comes with emotional and physical relationships being there, ripped away, and repeated, over and over. That cycle has had an awful effect on me and is one of those things that makes me feel that alienation, not only because it’s a ‘normal’ and accepted way of living but also because you realize that, as a male, society kind of tells you you’re not allowed to hurt over those things, you’re not allowed to think it’s wrong, that you make mistakes, that it haunts you. There is still the carefree sexist attitude everywhere, there’s still a lot of that thought where a human being is supposed to be seen as some kind of ‘conquest’ or ‘experience’ and it’s a birthright the way breathing is, and that just isn’t my reality at all.
I’m actually very happy you asked about this, because everywhere I look in metal there’s just too much of the attitude of ‘throw the lyrics away’….well, I’m passionate as a writer and listener so that just doesn’t work for me. I think things need to change because this kind of music deserves better.
Q: What to mention on the cover art?
A: The cover art for ‘Outsiders’ is honestly (and literally) a dream come true, and it was done by an extremely skilled artist named George Lovesy, or novum1 as he’s known on the WWW. I consider him part of the ‘team’ now and that means that I’m going to force him to do all of our visuals from here on out.
We’re not a band about fantasy, history, or a lot of things that our school of music is known for, but we are about the esoteric, the spiritual, the unknown – things which meddle with or otherwise inform our brutal, yet also beautiful reality. I would probably be labeled an Objectivist, which is true in many ways, but I differ in that I do devote a lot of thought to things that can’t necessarily be proven or explained in any traditional train of thought…theology, dreamscapes, the supernatural, a lot of the more controversial corners of quantum physics and just a great many things that help piece together some of the universal puzzle. The art for ‘Outsiders’ is a big concept for me which involves a lot of these things, and in it the viewer can see a lot of tie-ins with many of the lyrics on the record, a lot of ideas which are expressed in an allegorical way….or are they?
Q: Spreading the word of your new album in foreign countries, how you guys handle this process?
A: Well, I don’t have a whole lot of knowhow and experience in that kind of big marketing, which, again, is why you need help in this business. You’ve got strengths and weaknesses in everyone and that lack of knowledge is a weakness of mine. Of course we’ve been reaching out to everyone we could with the EP!
The album is a whole different thing and I’ll do my part as much as I possibly can in working with people who want to work with us to introduce Skyliner to our friends the world over. So many fans are so serious about this music abroad that I have a lot of hope and ambition for the future. The second we can go and play and promote for any reason, we’ll do it.
Q: Give us the main reason why people should order “Outsiders”. Where interested people can sign up to place an order?
A: Well Stefan as I said before not only do we approach power, heavy, progressive metal with our own voice and own ideas but there is just a power and passion in this music that we believe in, there’s a power in this record, and there’s nothing plastic or typical in there, we don’t make stale, mass produced metal, and I really just think and hope that our music has a positive impact on anybody who hears it. For anybody thinking about picking the record up, I promise we won’t disappoint you either there or live if we get to see you! Information about how to get it will be there the second that things fall into place……I’m overhauling our site right now, which is www.skylinermusic.com , and over the next few months every piece of news will be on there so be patient and keep the faith.
Q: Would this new album the moment of truth for the future of Skyliner?
A: That’s the plan, and we’re doing everything we can. I’m not good at compromising, especially when it comes to this music which literally contains my blood, sweat, and tears. I know we’ll find a mutually good relationship with some good business people out there, and the album, well, that will speak for itself.
Q: Do you also have built up a fansbase outside the US throughout the years of existence? What’s the connection with Belgian Metal maniacs?
A: It’s your job now Stefan! Haha. Help bring us to Brussels so we can eat all your food!
I know that there are a small group of fans overseas that give us traffic and feedback, not surprising since Europe is truly home for this kind of music. I don’t know all of you in Belgium yet but hopefully that will change and we’ll make it over there to see and play in your beautiful country. That’s why we can’t afford to handle this release anything less than professionally and with a good team. I think it will open up some opportunities for us.
Q: Besides playing in a Metal band, which other occupations keep you alive and kicking?
A: When I’m not writing, playing, working, or trying to keep sane, I’m involved in a lot of photography and related visual art, photography is definitely a passion I have, film is a passion. I’m pretty enthusiastic on urban exploration. Of course I’m always reading and researching as much as I can. I’m very deep in the worlds of theology, UFOlogy, libertarian thought and philosophy, transhumanism. I’m venturing a little into those realms lyrically when I’m not exorcising a personal issue from my psyche. There’s always a lot to talk about.
Q: No more questions to ask my friend, awaiting the official release of your new album “Outsiders”, all the very best and we’ll spread the word around by the grace of US Metal !
A: Cheers Stefan and I hope to bring this music to all the Outsiders out there very very soon.