Bands Are a Flat Circle
Small Skies Twisted Path to Performing Solo
Benjamin Tyler grew up in the southwest, studying jazz in Tempe, Arizona. Despite jazz’s propaganda as an outlet for musical freedom, he felt boxed-in.
“I had a lot to get off my chest, and I just felt a little stifled in school,” he says. “And no one really wanted to be in a band with me, so I was like, screw it, I’ll just be a solo project.”
Tyler had been learning about electronic music from a friend and channeled that new interest into his solo band, Step Kid. The Fischerspooner meets Radiohead electro-pop it birthed didn’t really jive with the jazz-cats of Tempe, but it killed when he moved to Portland and started playing the basement circuit.
That momentum built until it was time to as bands are wont to and record an album. Strangely enough, the process of recording the album is what made Tyler decide to toss the band out altogether and start fresh.
“It started to snowball into a new thing,” he says.
Everytime he brought a friend in to add a part or a track, he started to become less and less enamoured with being a solo act.
“I’d gotten this idea of going alone,” he says. “But I made so many musical friends and connections in Portland, and I wanted to bounce it off more people. And I was now mature enough to do it.”
Tyler entered the studio as Step Kid, and he came out as Small Skies, with a full head of steam to create and a full band at his back. That full band moved the more straight-ahead electro-pop of Step Kid into a lush, dreamy direction, with layers upon layers of synth textures and lo-fi beats in the vein of Gold Panda or Flying Lotus. It’s a soundtrack fit for something between a futuristic cocktail lounge and a summer day.
“I tend to write songs in stages, where I’ll just be brainstorming and I’ll make a ton of samples,” says Tyler. “And I go back through it and go back through things and find something I really like, and then latch on to it, and use it as a jumping off point. I think that’s where the layered quality comes from. Starting with that one thing and adding to it.”
Tyler says its definitely a slower process than sitting down with a guitar and finding some chords and a melody, but he likes the idea of taking a sound and then forming it into a song, especially when you incorporate all the new players with their various new ideas.
“The personnel has changed a lot since the beginning,” he says. “It’s one thing that I think is really cool about it. Seeing what kind of chemistry different people bring.”
There was only problem with the full band.
“It kept getting bigger and bigger and people didn’t know if they could make it out on tour,” he says.
That’s why when Tyler comes through Southern Oregon this month, he’ll be taking all that material and re-imaging it yet again, back to being a solo act.
“I felt this could be another chance to get back to the old Step Kid roots of Small Skies,” he says.
And he means it more ways than just about returning to performing solo.
“What’s been really fun with this tour is to go back and hook up with a lot of people that I knew in California and Arizona and New Mexico and take it back to the roots, but not in a kind of angsty way that I had with Step Kid,” he says. “Small Skies, the big thing about it was friendship, incorporating friendship. Even though it’s a solo tour, I’m excited to play with old friends and make new ones on the road.”
Small Skies, with Polysemy and AL_X
5pm, Mon., June 15
Club 66, 1951 Ashland St., Ashland
$5, All Ages