28 May 2012

Sky Picnic's Chris Sherman Interviewed.

Chris Sherman from Sky Picnic was kind enough to allow me to interview him recently.
We talked extensively about Sky Picnic's  upcoming album, their influences and Chris' love of vinyl and psychedelia.
Why not stream their last album "Farther In This Fairytale" here while you read?
You can read my review of Farther In This Fairytale here.

Active Listener : Tell us a little bit about yourself and your fellow band members.

Chris Sherman : First off, thanks for allowing me to do this this interview.  I enjoy doing these more than I probably should...

I'm Chris Sherman, the guitarist and singer of Sky Picnic. We also have Leah Cinnamon on bass and vocals and Pete Meriwether on drums.  We're based out of New York. We got our official start toward the end of 2008 and things have been rolling along since then.  It feels like we have a lot of momentum with us right now, and things are really going well and the future is bright.

A.L : How would you describe Sky Picnic's sound to those who haven't heard you before?

C.S : Our sound is a very classic psych-rock sound, rooted more in the European model than anything you'd ever hear coming from the United States, tinged with some progressive rock leanings and perhaps the tiniest bits of folk.

A.L : You've stated in previous interviews that Pink Floyd are a major influence. What are some other influences of yours that we may not expect?

C.S : Does Donovan qualify as unexpected?  I will go through periodic binges with his late 60's output and that always gets the creative juices going.  Currently, my biggest influence is the psych music coming out of Sweden.  From Dungen to the Amazing and Life on Earth to Landberk before them...words can't describe.
I also get highly influenced by literature, with Aldous Huxley being at the top of the list.  I love his writing style, and his descriptions of characters in particular, so much so that it has paved the way for how I will approach shaping a set of lyrics.

A.L : You and Leah had a band called Universal Mind Decoder before forming Sky Picnic. Tell us a little about them.

C.S : It started as a solo project and was just basically the "musical alter ego" for myself.  Then Leah joined on bass and it slowly started to morph into something else while still remaining an extension of solo stuff. We went through a few different drummers and played throughout New York, but it wasn't psychedelic enough for what I wanted to do musically, nor did it have a band dynamic so to speak.  So we changed our sound and approach, got Pete on drums, and it leads us to today.

A.L : Was anything recorded by Universal Mind Decoder that might find release at any point in the future? You know, when you get huge and Universal are preparing the deluxe edition reissues of your albums?

C.S : Definitely not!  For starters, they really don't have much in common stylistically with what Sky Picnic is currently doing.  Even if there ended up being some huge demand for them amongst our fans (which I doubt would happen anyhow, but let's pretend), I still would not release them under the principle of not releasing anything I would never personally want to hear from one of my favorite bands.  I hate when bands put out demos as bonus tracks, or worse yet, as a stand-alone release.  You listen to them once, then that's about it.  Like the Beatles Anthology for instance...sure it's got some amazing stuff, alternate takes and all, but most of the demos leave a lot to be desired.  It's the kind of thing that might be nice to have, but is it essential to anyone's life?  There's enough music out there and some things are better left unreleased.

A.L : Your last album, Farther In This Fairytale sounds very much like a lost classic from 1968. Did you set out to make an album that captured that atmosphere, or is it just a byproduct of your influences that comes out naturally?

C.S : Thanks for the high praise! I think if anyone is immersing themselves in something, it will naturally come through in your creative output.  So it's never necessarily conscious.  You absorb your influences and then it comes out in the writing.  I think sitting down and trying to force a record to sound like something is almost a cop out and a form of imitation.
From a production and mixing standpoint though, yes there was a nod to past recordings.  Things like adding in Leslie on vocals, or extreme panning.  We also had it purposefully mastered for vinyl, and not brickwalled like most modern recordings tend to be.
Another part of it is the gear we used to make that album. We didn't use a ton of modern gear or digital effects, so as a result, it will have a vintage sound.
A.L : Does the writing process come easily to you? How much of your songwriting comes out of sitting down with pen and paper, and how much from jamming?

C.S : With writing, I tend to go through phases where I won't write anything for three months, I'll think my muse is gone for good and get paranoid about it, and then I will suddenly get 3 or 4 songs that come to me in a month's time.  I have a huge back catalog of ideas right now, and if I was to sort through it and improve on some of the loose ends, I think it could easily make our third and fourth LP's, and this would not be taking into account anything Pete or Leah has, nor any jammed on ideas we might create.  For the most part, the songs all start as ideas I'll play on an acoustic, then I'll start adding on parts, maybe a simple melody, I'll get a quick demo done, and then will come back to it down the road.  I never force anything out- I've found it just needs to flow, and if it doesn't, then it's probably not a good time to write. Then, when it's time to bring these ideas into our rehearsal space, I'll show off the basic idea, the band will work on the arrangements and after a few weeks, we tend to have a semi-finished product.

As for jamming, the next record has two pieces that began that way, but of what's been released thus far, we really don't have much that would fall under that category.  Most of it was pretty well thought out ahead of time.  I would definitely like to strike a better balance of that going forward though.

A.L : And what do you see as the defining Sky Picnic song up to this point?

C.S : Probably "The Universal Mind Decoder" (listen here). It has everything in it that sort of defines our sound.  From the chilled out verses with surreally introspective lyrics to the freak out section in the middle, I think it gives the listener every aspect of the band in one place.  And our live version takes it another step beyond the recorded version because it adds in some more improvisation and jamming to the piece.

A.L : One of the things I like most about Farther In The Fairytale is that it sounds very heavily psychedelic, but doesn't rely on studio trickery. Is it easy to replicate the sounds you've captured on record when you play live?

C.S : For the most part, yes.  We clearly don't do a lot of layering on record and tend to keep things very open, so it translates to the live setting rather well.  The songs are also a little more raw live obviously, so having them in that slightly less polished place gives the listener a different experience. I personally can't wait for the day when we can have our own sound crew to do vocal mixes and stuff for us because that is the one thing that suffers live it seems.  Getting a good vocal mix, getting the right effects on them...it's a mixed bag every show.

A.L : What's more satisfying for you - live performance or capturing something in the studio just the way you want it?

C.S : As much as I love performing, the rush of adrenaline that comes along with it, and taking some songs into really awesome places that you really can't when tape is rolling, I will always be a studio guy.  I like having that control over the situation, where if something isn't right, you start over.  If you don't like the sound of something, you can manipulate it to get it as you wish, then take it from there.  Live shows are such a finite experience, for better or worse.  When making a record, it's more of a creative process, which I where I prefer to be mentally.  I love thinking through the situation on how to add to a song.  And also, that moment is captured forever.  To me, that is the ultimate.

A.L : You've got a new album on the way. What can you tell us about it?

C.S : Well, the tentative title is "Paint Me A Dream".  It is another concept record for us that follows a dreamer through a cycle of dreams and nightmares.  We had ten songs as part of the "cycle", but have whittled it down to eight on the final LP, both as a creative decision and a practical decision as pushing 50 minutes for a record seems rather adventurous these days.

The amount of growth I hear between "Farther" and the new one is just incredible.  The band has really come into its' own.  A lot of different influences came out this time around, there are lots of new sounds and Pete and Leah definitely play a way bigger role in the record than previously, which is great.  It's a super tight collection of songs, everything flows into each other organically.  We have definitely reached new territory that I didn't think was possible just 6 months ago!  It just takes the band to a whole new level.  And soundwise, it has a very retro, warm and analog feel, so it does not sound like something created in 2012.

Also, I don't want to jump the gun yet on how soon it will be coming out...!  We're going to send it around first as we did with the last one so it can get picked up again.  My hope is that it will be out by the end of 2012.  We also have a potential 7" non-album single in the cards containing the songs that wouldn't fit in with the full-length, but again, no idea on the time frame for release.  People will have to come to the live shows to satisfy their cravings for the new material for now.

A.L : How has the recording process evolved for you from your first recordings up to the new album?

C.S : I think as time goes on, you get more comfortable in the studio setting.  You learn from your past mistakes, learn how to be more efficient, and most importantly, that you can't rush ANYTHING!  When we did Synesthesia in 2008, it was just, let's set up mics and hope for the best.  It seems so primitive now, but it worked at the time.  You assume the first good take you get is the final product, but that's never the case.  You learn you have to strive for perfection because that is how I want our recordings to be, at least to my ears.  
From a production standpoint, I've learned how to capture the atmosphere more, and how to get the sounds in my head out to how I ultimately want it to sound on tape. We've also worked with better gear now as time goes on, this time using some nice ribbon mics for the vocals to generate some warmth.  The Klemt Echolette played a huge part in shaping both the guitar and vocal sound of the next record as well.

A.L : Farther In The Fairytale was released on vinyl ( the preferred psychedelic format of course). Are there plans for a vinyl release of the new album?

C.S : I think our only choice for the new release is a vinyl pressing (and of course, a download for those not into the vinyl scene).  This is the type of album that begs to be pressed on vinyl.  We even sequenced the concept so it would fit side A & B!
And it's great that vinyl has become the preferred format again.  Especially once you've heard enough on record, you start to hear the imperfections of the digital mediumsThe CD as a format is dead.  I understand the convenience of the MP3, but listening to them does a complete disservice to the musicYou're missing so much of the information that should be there. It's what kills me about people today- everyone wants the highest quality movies in bluray and the best possible flat screens, but musically, everyone seems content with their .99 cent download from iTunes running through stock earbuds.  I guess it just shows how disposable music is to the masses, which really is sad. 

A.L : Are you a vinyl collector? If so, do you have any treasured finds to tell us about? Rarities or obscurities?

Photos supplied by Chris.
C.S : Yes, I am a rather avid collector.  I've scaled back a little bit these days and only buy the essentials, but I have a large portion of my tiny apartment filled with LP's!  I think one of my greatest finds was at this flea market where this guy had all original US pressings of the Beatles mono LP's for $2 a piece.  The "Sgt. Pepper" mono (in a mostly near mint condition with the inserts!) was by far the best find in there.  Randomly stumbling upon Dungen's "Ta Det Lugnt" a few years ago was a life changer.   Finding a super limited edition copy of Primus "Tales From the Punchbowl" was amazing.  One of my first purchases (an early 80's pressing of "Pet Sounds") will always hold a ton of sentimental value.  I have some early Floyd reissues on the Fame label (from the 70's) that are some of the best sounding records I own.  It's tough to narrow down my collection to specifics.  I love most of what I have! ( You can check out photos of a few more of Chris's favorite finds at the end of the interview )

I'd love to get into a friendly debate about your top 40 psych albums some day too...

A.L : Certainly. That's proven to be a pretty controversial list. Still I'd find it a little creepy if someone admitted to liking the same forty albums in the same order as me. 

Who do you admire in the current psychedelic scene? I'm especially interested in those that capture the feeling of the sixties as your recordings do?

C.S : Dungen, who is my favorite band.  I caught them live in 2010 at this tiny club in Brooklyn and it was quite possibly the best performance I have ever seen.  Stardeath and White Dwarfs.  Black Mountain.  Tame Impala.  Wolf People.  The Amazing.  Entrance Band.  We've also had the pleasure of working with a ton of great bands on the Fruits De Mer Records compilations we've been part of (like Octopus Syng and Extra to name a few) and shared bills will some really awesome ones too along the way.

A.L : What's the question you most wish you'd get asked in interviews that no-one ever seems to ask?

C.S : Well, we got to talk records just now which was fun.  Anytime I can geek out on vinyl, my day is made.  That hasn't come up before in an interview.  No one ever asks about gear, but I suppose that's understandable as this isn't a guitar magazine or something.  Honestly, I don't know!  You've already broken some new ground above, so that's already exciting.
Perhaps something like- where would I want to live and relocate Sky Picnic to if possible?- because, and not to slander NYC or anything because it really is great, but it is a tough city to get anywhere musically.  Everyone comes here thinking they can make music, and it really dilutes the water, so to speak.  Day to day life wears and tears at you, and a lot of the time, you get stifled creatively (at least in the psychedelic genre as I've learned.  It goes to show you why certain types of music thrive in certain cities and fail in others, which would be an interesting study, but I digress...).  So if I could up and move, I'd love to take the band to northern Europe, where most of our fan base seems to be anyway.  Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen.  Somewhere in that region.  If we had to stay in the US, then San Fran would be logical.

A.L : Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

C.S Thanks again for the interview.  I hope everyone out there checks out our tunes on the bandcamp site (http://skypicnic.bandcamp.com), and if they dig it, please support us by ordering the vinyl through us there, or via Nasoni Records (http://www.nasoni-records.com/SKY_PICNIC_release_Farther_In_This_Fairy_Tale.html).  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the new material, hopefully out later this year.  Help spread the word about Sky Picnic if you can, and if anyone ever wants to talk vinyl or music with me, drop me a line!

1 comment:

  1. Great back n' forth here! Chris is a great guy, in a great band....
    Trip Inside This House