Exclusive Interview with Johannesburg’s Skylight

BOOKLET_P.inddReady to be inspired?  From South Africa, the voices behind Skylight connected with EarnThis.net to chat about hope, growth, and their debut album.  Greg, Pete (who couldn’t join us), Brad, and Wes first transfixed me with their music, but over Skype they charmed me with their openness about issues close to their homes and hearts.  Preview their first two singles on SoundCloud and discover the band via the links at the bottom of this post.

It’s not about perfection.  It’s about heart.

You guys have just put out your album. How does it feel?

Greg: It feels incredible. The whole point of music, I think, is to connect with people.  Finally having a product, and people being able to take our music home with them, is a dream come true for us.

How long ago did you guys start on the music that we’re hearing now on Made For More?

Brad: About four years ago.  When we went into studio we had half an album, and then we wrote the other half while in studio.

Wes: And I joined the band during the studio process, so I only know from then.

What’s the songwriting process look like?

Greg: What we try and do is make sure that each one of us has an opportunity to contribute to the sound and the feel of the album.  So we try things at different tempos, different drum beats, different harmony ideas, and I think it was very important to us that it represented all of us.

One of my favorite things about the album is that it seems like nothing is wasted.  Every note—whatever you sing, whatever you play—every note matters.

Greg: I think there are a few reasons for that.  I think having an incredible producer [Darryl Torr] helped us a lot.  I think one of the biggest things I learned in studio was that it’s not about perfection.  It’s about heart.  It’s about playing the right note at the right time with the right feel.  And then also, it took a while for us to record the album, so it gave the songs time to breathe and for them to deepen, so there are a lot of layers and a lot of thought that have gone into each and every single song.

We draw from everything.

You can really hear that in the variety that comes out.  You have a couple tracks that are uptempo rock, and other tracks that practically sound like prayers.

Greg: I think that’s been one of the cool things, people have said the album is so listenable and they’re not getting tired of it very quickly.

As players or as songwriters or as singers, who do you see as your major influences or the people that you’re aspiring to sound like?

Wes: I love a lot of indie bands. I really like the indie scene at the moment, a lot of local acts and international acts as well. I play lead guitar, so a lot of our guitar parts in the music are not very technical, necessarily—it’s more about the sound and the tone and the placement of the notes than anything else.

Brad: On the drums I like to listen to stuff that’s got a lot of groove in it, you know, that makes the songs for me.  So I’ve been listening to something like, the early Maroon 5, to Coldplay, to Imagine Dragons, like all this stuff that’s got a lot of groove and gets you moving.

Greg: And I think I’ve been really influenced by a lot of guys like Rob Thomas, Matchbox Twenty, the earlier less-crazy John Mayer, that sort of stuff.  I really enjoy Lifehouse, Switchfoot…

Wes: We draw from everything.

If I asked any American to name a South African band, I think that there are three possible answers: they might say Dave Matthews, they might say Seether, or they might say “I don’t know any.”  So what I think would be cool is if you guys could tell us a little bit about what the scene is like down there.  How is South African music right now?

Wes: I’ve worked in the music industry for quite a while now.  I’ve worked at a recording studio for quite a few years.  And… a lot of people do it for the love of it.  I’ll say it like that.  We have really good musicians, and they love playing music. The scene is very interesting, it’s very diverse.  We have our own African musicians and our own brand or genre of music.  And then we have a lot of indie, a lot of rock.  Of course, we have nine national languages, so there’s a lot of multi-lingual stuff, a lot of stuff in Afrikaans or any of the other indigenous languages.  So it’s very diverse.  At any night, you can watch a lot of different gigs from jazz to rock, anywhere in the country pretty much.

Greg: I think from my side what I’ve been impressed with over the last few years is just the increasing quality.  I feel like guys are writing better songs, the record process is getting better, and the end product is a lot better than it was a couple of years ago.  It’s been incredible improvement.  So that gives us a lot of hope.  I think one of the challenges is that South Africa is just a lot smaller than things on your side.  So if 20% of people like pop rock, it’s a much smaller market locally than it is on your side.  We’re really hoping to take our product everywhere, and with media today and with all the opportunities, I think it’s possible.

Brad: It’s a really hard industry at the moment.  There are a lot of loyal fans but not everyone’s a fan, and piracy takes its toll on this country.  Prices are a lot different in South Africa to America: albums are a lot more expensive here.  People will just copy them.  So you end up losing a lot of money on album sales, rather than your gigging.  It’s a hard environment, but if you’ve got the momentum behind you, and you’re doing well touring and stuff, you can do very well.

Greg: I think it’s the perfect place for creative and forward thinking.  I think it takes limits and it takes challenges to force you to think creatively and out-of-the-box.

We do our best to create moments where people can actually catch up with themselves and be inspired.

You talked about how you can go anywhere in the country now and see some great musical act almost any night of the week.  Is it still centered in Johannesburg?

Wes: South Africa is laid out interestingly.  We’re in Johannesburg, and then Cape Town is quite far away, and that’s the other major musical hub of the country.  Most of the bands are centered around there, but then as you travel through the little towns you find a lot of other musicians and a lot of other musical influences there as well.

I’ve heard that you guys have a great live show.  What is it like performing, and how are the fans around there?

Greg: Someone asked me the other day if we have any crazy fans, and it got me thinking that in some ways we’re all a little bit crazy.   So I think the more we play the more we see.  But people have been so welcoming and friendly and have really enjoyed our show.  We try to put a lot of passion into our live performance, we work hard at creating a set that excites people, that moves people, because Johannesburg culture is quite a fast-paced, intense culture.  So we do our best to create moments where people can actually catch up with themselves and be inspired.  So we work really hard at that.  And now obviously with the release of our album we’re planning to get out there and invite as many people as possible along with us on the Skylight journey.

The title track is “Made For More,” and I’m curious what that means to you guys as maybe a rallying call.

Greg: I think, getting back to what I said about our Johannesburg culture, we try to observe people just getting through the days and I think that people get lost in the detail of life sometimes: just chasing the dream, trying to get your finances in order, trying to impress everyone around you.  It’s heavy on our hearts that there is more to life, and that everyone is made for more than just ticking off the days, living for things that I think are not as important as other things.  Pete always likes to speak about, you know, “It’s all about doing small things with great love,” which is a paraphrase of Mother Theresa.  So I think in whatever way we can go about being part of the solution, in our little way, we just want to play our part, that’s all.

You guys have such a hopeful message. I hope that you continue to develop and make more of this music.

Greg: We wish you all the best with your story and everything you’re pursuing!

 

The album Made For More is available now on iTunes.  Get in touch with Skylight on Facebook or Twitter.  The album cover, pictured above, shows the guys from left to right: Peter Klein (bass), Bradley Cumming (drums), Greg Jorden (vocals and guitar), and Wesley Ayliffe (guitar and back-up vocals).

Colton O.

Colton O.

Colton drinks straight out of coconuts and writes about music for Earn This. He joined the site in 2009.

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