Melbourne's answer to funk: The Skylines
With their classic old school grooves they’re always certain to get the crowd up and dancing. With the start of the new year, everything seems to be happening at once for this incredibly talented band.
I chatted to vocalist James Sidebottom and guitarist Chris McKelvie about the launch of their new album, Electricity On Fire, on becoming famous, music festivals and everything in between.
Tell me about how The Skylines first got together.
Chris: I started the band three and a half years ago with the drummer, Stu (Hazelman). We started out as more of an instrumental jazz funk band. Then we found James (Sidebottom), which was a real blessing.
James: Sean got in touch with me and said he’d seen me audition on Australian Idol and asked if I wanted to try out for a band he was in. I did and I really enjoyed it because it was something very different to what I was doing with the acoustic/solo thing.
How would you describe your sound?
James: I think it’s a new take on old school funk.
Chris: It’s a cross over between jazz and funk.
Who would you say your music influences are?
Chris: One of my biggest influences would probably be my father. He always said to me, “You must try to be as successful as you can with your music but still enjoy it.” And certainly James Brown would be another influence. Listening to him was what first got me into funk.
Tell me about the band name.
Chris: The name came to me as a result of a road trip with my father. I was only seven years old when we were driving to Wellington in New Zealand. I was in the back and he woke me up and told me we were almost there and I looked up and saw the city skyline. It was quite an exciting moment and I’ve always found that when I go out at night and see the city skyline there’s always that feeling of anticipation, of a good night out. So that’s where the name came from.
Tell me about the making of Electricity on Fire?
James: We had these new songs and we were gigging them live and people were really enjoying them so we thought, we’ve got to get an album out there. Electricity on Fire was on the brink of not making it and all of a sudden, in the studio, it all just sort of came together. The best thing about it is there’s some space in it. A lot of the songs have a lot more space to breathe, as compared to our first EP. You can hear each instrument and what’s going on. I find it gives a lot more to the genuine experience.
Where there any challenges in making the album or did it all just come together really easily?
James: We went into the studio and we thought we had a full day to record. We got in there and there was a choir recording next door. We were told we had two hours and then the choir’s going to record for four hours and then we could start again. But in the first two hours, because we’d gigged the songs so much and knew the music inside out, we got all the tracks done in that time. So what you hear when you listen to the album is first or second take.
When Beat chose you as the winners of the Snowgum Film Competition how did you feel?
James: I was blown away, particularly because I didn’t even know we’d been entered. Our drummer Stu entered us and it was a complete surprise. We got an SMS saying we’d won and it was almost serendipitous because we’d just been looking at putting some money aside to make Skylines Groove into a video.
You made the video for the first single, Skylines Groove. How did you find that experience?
James: Making the video was almost like playing a gig and it was great working with the team. They were such a solid crew and really professional. They had good vision with what they had in mind for the video but also very much open to our suggestions as far as how we saw the song.
You’re playing at St Kilda Festival next month. How do you like playing at music festivals?
Chris: We’ve always wanted to play at festivals so we really look forward to them. We’ve got two more festival gigs coming up in the next couple of months which is great.
Would you say your music has evolved since your first EP, Right Track?
Chris: Definitely. There’s definitely more space in the music. We’re thinking more about the song construction. I think one of the big learning curves we went through with the new songs on the new album was gigging them a lot more. We gigged them for a good six months before they even went to tape. As you gig them, as a musician, you’re refining your part as you’re going along. Three weeks after we’d first written the song I might think of something else, just a slight adjustment to what I’m doing that might make a difference.
Any last words for your fans?
Chris: We just hope they buy some of our records and enjoy them!