And now, back to where we left off.
And now, back to where we left off.
Shannon Cleary: You have somewhat of a reputation for being a prolific songwriter. I wonder is that something you feel like you have been able to maintain over the course of your musical career?
David Shultz: It’s just about every two years. I’ll write a bunch of songs. It’s not like I’m always writing songs. I’ll even purposefully not always be jotting down stuff. It almost works better for me to just hang out for a while and then start writing. So, it seems like it is an eighteen to twenty-four month cycle where all of the sudden I am writing a song a week for a couple months. It could go for a year until I start doing that. But every now and again, in between those big chunks of time there are little guitar parts and lines. Things that kind of help that time along and act as little seeds.
Before we get into the new record, I think we spoke about this once before. You mentioned how once you put these songs down on tape, you will suddenly be sequestered with questions about them. Your usual response will be that you haven’t had enough time to remove yourself from them and so you don’t really know. Now that there have been several years since the release of the first two full-lengths. How do you reflect upon them now?
Shultz: I haven’t listened to them in a little while. I did listen to some of Sinner’s Gold one night on an Ipod and drinking a little bit. So, I don’t really remember but it turns out I liked it a lot (laughs). But what do I think of them? They seem like good albums to me. You know, when I look at them and sort of read through the lyrics. I can hear the songs in my head. They seem like…after all of this time, it’s like I realized I wasn’t lying about anything. I look back at it and I feel good about it. Like, yeah you know, this doesn’t seem like bullshit. Even though I was like younger and all kinds of weird things are going through your mind, you deal with a lot of bullshit growing up.
Looking back at it, I feel pretty good to see it as a pretty honest expression of song by song with little moments. So, I’m just really happy with it. I don’t put on the self-titled record and dance to it, but I started thinking about it as far as things that I have made. I’m happy that I made them. I’m not embarrassed by anything on them. It’s really cool that’s how I started off. Just to think about it, there’s no reason why we would even be making those songs. I wasn’t trying to start a band or be like any other band. There really isn’t a reason for them to exist. It just happened and I’m lucky. I’m happy that they did. I hope that all of my albums are kind of like that. What does this even exist for? Are you trying to sound like that band? I just want to be like I don’t know why I made that. It’s pretty cool.
With Rain In To The Sea, what was the biggest change with this recording process? Also, were there expectations going into the recording of this record or for that matter, do you ever place expectations on yourself for any of your creative output? Or what about the expectations of others?
Shultz: No, thankfully I have no idea what other people want. That’s the cool part. I never have to think about that. Maybe if I was popular and we were being written about in stuff, then I’d be aware of what people wanted. Thankfully I’m not though. From my first song all the way until now, nothing has changed about the way I feel. So that’s pretty good. With this album, it starts out the same way they all do. I had a whole lot of time to write the songs. That’s another thing with that whole prolific thing, I tend to edit a lot. I don’t really use everything or I’ll say this…I am quick to quit a song if it doesn’t feel right, I’ll wait years. I went through to find the right ones that seem to be finish-able in that particular six months. Then I finish them all and I show them to the band. We take about another six months to just play these songs. So in a way, everything was the exact same as it was for Sinner’s Gold. I wrote songs. I showed them to the band. What was different was that this time and even if with Sinner’s Gold, we take them into the studio and they become this sort of different thing. With Kenny (Shultz) on Sinner’s Gold, we worked with him to change things so that it was a better thing than what it was in our practice space. So, even that’s the same. We took it to a producer.
This time it was Sam Kassier in Maine and he made it even better. It was generally the same except for the way I edited these songs. I tried not to include songs that were super duper skip-able. If that makes sense, I wanted the album to sound good when I drove. Hey man, I drive a lot (laughs). That might be it. I wanted to make this thing that when you’re driving and I drive for a fucking living, it just flows. I’m not sure I made that record. I tried to, but you kind of know what you want to hear. It has to have some atmosphere. It has to have some energy and warmth. It also has to have someone’s lyrics that kind of inspire the trip a little bit. It has nothing to do with traveling, the album doesn’t at least; I would hope that this would be a good album to travel with. That’s kind of what I mean and I haven’t really been able to explain that until just now. What I usually come off as saying is that I’m looking to make a pop album or a catchy album. This album isn’t terribly catchy, but this album does have a momentum to it. I took away the things that might have made your trip a bummer. Sinner’s Gold had a couple. Those are songs that will never go though. The songs that I held off from here will be something I record someday. There is a nice driving element to this record though, not that it has anything to do with driving lyrically. I don’t think I tried anything lyrically different. As far as bands I was influenced by, it was a combination of a few bands I listened to and the fact that I don’t really listen to much music. So basically, this album was done similarly to Sinner’s Gold with the exception of the guy who recorded it.
Was it beneficial to be removed from the city while recording in Maine?
Shultz: It was one of the best experiences. That house in Maine is something I have craved since I have been there. It makes me really want to go up there and record again. I really want to record my next album there. I believe the whole band had this wonderful experience there. It was beautiful. The producer worked with each of us on each song. It was done carefully and we all felt really comfortable. I think we could do it even better. Now that we know about it, I’d love to go back up there again. I hope we can make that work. I’ve got about the next year to write the next album, then go back up there again. That would be great. I put out an album in 2005, an album in 2007 and now an album in 2009. I think the two-year gap works. It lets me fit in some things in between albums. I’m working with Jonathan Vassar and we have been writing songs. I think we’re going to try to do a split album.
I should have probably mentioned this earlier, but you have contributed on a number of records. At least a couple records within the Triple Stamp Catalog including Homemade Knives and Jonathan Vassar’s EP. Vassar had some pretty good stories about that, but I should probably just leave those as stories not worth mentioning.
Shultz: That was a lot of fun. Vassar is one of the most amazing songwriters. It’s something where I’ve learned so much just from learning his songs and playing music with him. I really have a great time going down to his house and sitting on the porch to play songs. I’m not approaching it as a deadline sort of thing. We’ll definitely end up making some music together. I think it would be great if next year we could work something out.
Totally. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be game for something like that. There’s an admiration and respect you both mutually share when it comes to your craft.
Shultz: Another thing is that band The Hotdamns was talking about doing a split seven-inch with us. I think that could be really fun too. We have a couple of songs that didn’t make it on to the album. They are really cool but they just didn’t fit in with the vibe of the album.
That is one thing that I think is really missing from this genre is the seven-inch. It seems like most seven-inch releases are exclusive for bands within the punk/hardcore genre. At least, when it comes to most local Richmond releases. The only time I feel like a release has kind of crossed that spectrum was the split with A Roman Holiday and Triple Twins. Something like that is branching out, but it can sometimes feel exclusive. I’d love it if I could see a split happen between someone like Prabir and the Substitutes and Orioles or Great White Jenkins or whomever.
Shultz: The Hotdamns were the ones who brought it up and it seems like a really fun idea, especially because we already have two songs that they could use if they wanted to. They did say they have their own studio space that we could stop by and record some stuff in necessary.
I have like two questions left. With the release of this album, you are about to embark on a long solo venture with the band Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. Then you will meet up with the Skyline by the time you make it back to the East Coast. How do you prepare for an experience like this and what do you hope might be the foreseeable outcome after a tour like this?
Shultz: I suppose I have had so many years of things happening differently than I expected them. For better or for worse, I am actually not thinking ahead of the tour at all. I have come to this point where if I play a show or do anything, I don’t try to think past that moment. Like when a football team talks about how all they think about is next Sunday. We can’t look to week twelve when we play the Patriots. Well, I’ve kind of gotten to that point. With this tour even, I’ve just been thinking about myself. In that respect, I’ve been thinking about doing my best to just focus and play my best. Be there in the room and not just in my head. Be a real person and be there with everyone else and play songs for people. Sell some CDs afterwards and just have a normal night. I’m focused and it’s easy to get caught up in the newness of the city and your nerves and the beer you’ve been drinking. Every night, I just want to be very with it. I think if I can manage that for thirty nights of the tour, I think what might follow that tour could be really positive if I was able to focus and take it really seriously. Not in the sense that it’d be a downer, I want to have a good time and just be with the room. That’s kind of where my head is and I’ve been talking to one of the guys from the Portland Cello Project who will be going on tour with us. As well as the guys from Thao’s band and we’re trying to put the pieces together where they could play along with some of my songs. So with things like that and trying to have a good night, then that’s a pretty good deal. As long as I work really hard, think about what I’m doing and do my best. Nothing bad can really come from that.
For the last question, up to this point what do you think is the best song you have ever written? It doesn’t have to be structure-wise. It could be in terms of honesty, pop sensibility or what have you. There’s absolutely no criterion for this.
Shultz: Right. I’m trying to go through the tracks for myself in my head. I’m not even going to say one just because I think it’s been ignored. I’m going to say one because I think it might be one of the best songs I ever wrote. And that’s “Cant Cant.” With that song from Sinner’s Gold, I love the way it sounds and I love the lyrics. When I talk about my songs, I don’t feel like I am talking about myself. When I think about it, there are some really neatly laid out lines in that song that came out so effortlessly. “Cant Cant” is great. Can I throw a few other ringers out there if you don’t mind?
Go for it!
Shultz: “The Room” off of my first album is great, but the only thing is that I wish I had recorded it differently and played it better. It’s definitely one of my favorites though. I think I was talking to you the other night about “The Key.”
Yeah, at the RVA Mag new issue release party, right?
Shultz: Yeah. Man, “The Key,” you gotta check that one out again. That’s a good one. There are a few that I can think incredibly fondly of. With “The Key,” I was in the house that I grew up in and it was completely empty. I was in charge of getting it ready right before they were ready to sell. For some reason, I had my guitar with me. I made that song in my old house. I think that maybe the best song I ever wrote might be “Cant Cant.” Is there anything on here? (Looking over the tracklist for Rain In To The Sea) Off of this album that I really like because of how catchy it is would be “Wide Eyed.” I like that one a whole lot. I like the lyrics. I also like “Breaking Beauty.” That was like a poem I had for so many years and then I turned it into a song. Those are two that I really like off of this new album. “Fallen Tree” is really good too. I’m not really saying those are my favorites, but with the tracklisting right in front of me, it’s easy to point them out.
If there is anything else you want to add, please feel free to add anything. I guess my main idea was to try and cover as much about you musically that I had never really seen touched upon in any other press about the band.
Shultz: Yeah, I think that was some good stuff. We covered the three records, the tour with Thao. I am playing soon in Bristol and I have to make a few deliveries. Marcus can’t be there because his brother is getting married. Besides that, we have no record label. It’s out on Not A Blue Jay Recordings. Whatever that means, Not A Blue Jay Recordings will probably never appear on anything ever again. I think we covered a lot of ground.
photo by Jaime Barnett
After all was said and done, the conversation persisted on with diatribes about shows we had played, how Jonathan Vassar’s song “A Match Made in Heaven” might be one of the best songs ever, West-Virginian author Breece D’J Pancake, JD’s Chicken and Waffles in Southside and a number of other things. Perhaps that helps define what attracts people to Shultz’s music and personality. He emits a vibe of incredible honesty that is rich with the confidence of a veteran storyteller.
These attributes find themselves present throughout Rain In To The Sea. Before I had the opportunity to hear the entire album, I was concerned. I didn’t want to create grandiose expectations as to what the natural progression of the group’s music would inherit, but it was inevitable. I wanted this album to be as memorable as the last. It’s amusing to think that something Shultz would say would place the record into a defined context. The forward momentum that each tracks lends to the next is necessary to fully appreciate and understand what is taking place on Rain In To The Sea.
To listen to a song like “Fallen Tree” or “Give It Back” on their Myspace player is an injustice to this record. This is an album that requires you to put a little effort into. Whether that means you find yourself lying on your living room floor blasting this record through a pair of headphones deciphering every word; or even just driving around the Fan District on a night full of slight fog and flurrying rain drifting towards an unknown destination. The unique merits of this record materialize after repeated listening.
It almost takes me back to how this whole article started. The music of David Shultz and the Skyline fits perfectly into the setting of familiarity, as do most experiences. The moments of joy, heartbreak, disappointment and loss are ever constant. The songs created by David Shultz are the soundtracks to a budding life well spent, thus far.
With a songwriter like David Shultz, you can never be too sure what to expect, but if the roads ahead were paved in commonalities and certainties. I’m not sure I’d want any part of it either.
Author’ Plea: If this coming Saturday at Gallery5 is anything similar to their CD Release Show celebrating Sinner’s Gold, it will be a night worth talking about for the rest of 2009.
For more information about David Shultz and the Skyline, please visit www.davidshultzmusic.com or www.myspace.com/davidshultz
“Give It Back”