|Aaron Skiles - Credit: Elle Jaye
Aaron Skiles' journey in the music world is as unique as it is inspiring. From his early days at the United States Military Academy at West Point to his current success as the front man of Bourbon Therapy and his solo career, Skiles' story is one of constant evolution, resilience, and creativity. This article delves into his experiences, inspirations, and aspirations, offering a comprehensive look at a musician who has seamlessly blended genres and experiences to create a distinct musical identity.
West Point Influences
Skiles' time at West Point was more than just an academic challenge; it was a crucible that shaped his future in music. The rigorous environment pushed him to seek an outlet, leading to the formation of an alternative rock band. This escape from the pressures of the Academy not only provided relief but also planted the seeds for his future endeavors in music.
Transition to Bourbon Therapy
After years of being a supportive band member, Skiles found new inspiration to step into the limelight. The decision to front Bourbon Therapy, alongside his wife Rebecca, marked a significant shift in his musical journey. His experience in previous bands, coupled with the realization of his wife's vocal talents, catalyzed this transition, leading to the formation of a band that would soon make a mark in the indie music scene.
Bourbon Therapy's Sound
Described as a fusion of indie rock, alt-country, and echoes of bands like Counting Crows and Soul Asylum, Bourbon Therapy's sound is a testament to Skiles' ability to weave diverse influences into a cohesive musical tapestry. The balance is achieved not through a conscious effort to blend genres but through a natural process of creation, guided by Skiles' unique style and approach.
Creative Process and Diversity
The diverse range of Bourbon Therapy's music, from intense riffs to soulful ballads, is a product of a collaborative and thoughtful creative process. Skiles credits the distinct vocal styles of the band's three lead singers, including his wife and Maria Long, as a driving force behind the diverse sound of their albums.
Hymnals and Hangovers
In discussing "Hymnals and Hangovers," Skiles reflects on the evolution from his debut album. This work represents a significant leap in terms of production quality and songwriting. It's an album that speaks to interpersonal and emotional issues, showcasing his growth as an artist.
The unique blend of piano, strings, harmonica, and guitars in Skiles' music is not random. The selection of instruments for each song is a deliberate choice, influenced by the song's character and the available talent within Bourbon Therapy, a band known for its multi-instrumental prowess.
Partnership with Rebecca Skiles
Working with his wife, Rebecca, added a unique dimension to Bourbon Therapy. Skiles discusses the challenges and rewards of this partnership, noting the transition it underwent during the Pandemic, which led him to explore his solo career more intensely.
Whistle Past the Grave
Skiles' latest album, "Whistle Past the Grave," is an intriguing blend of Americana Rock and 90s Grunge, reflecting his personal connection to the 90s Seattle Grunge scene. The album's themes of justice and introspection are a reflection of his current thoughts and experiences.
Collaborations and Influences
Collaborating with various musicians has given each of Skiles' albums a distinct sound. He places great value on these partnerships, as they significantly shape the direction and tone of his work.
Personal Highlights and Songwriting Process
Discussing personal highlights, Skiles singles out the song "Rubber Raft," inspired by a heart-wrenching historical event. His songwriting process, particularly for this album, is deeply introspective and influenced by his observations of the world.
Evolution as an Artist
Skiles candidly shares his evolution as an artist, acknowledging his progress in songwriting, instrument skills, and finding his unique musical "voice."
Personal Touches in Songwriting
He also touches on how personal experiences, like writing songs for significant family anniversaries, have influenced his music, adding a deeply personal touch to his work.
Message to Listeners and Future Plans
Skiles aims to uplift his listeners, even when addressing serious topics. Looking ahead, he reveals plans for new projects and collaborations, indicating a relentless pursuit of creative growth.
Reflection and Advice
Reflecting on his musical journey, Skiles finds the most rewarding aspect to be the impact his music has on others. His advice to aspiring musicians is to continuously create and persevere.
Impact of Profound Themes
Finally, Skiles discusses the personal and professional impact of exploring profound themes in his music, particularly in songs like “Keep Me,” which he wishes to be played at his funeral, highlighting his philosophy on life and legacy.
Aaron Skiles' musical journey is a testament to the power of evolution, resilience, and authenticity in the world of music. From his days at West Point to the diverse sounds of Bourbon Therapy and his solo endeavors, Skiles continues to inspire and captivate with his unique blend of storytelling, musicianship, and heartfelt expression.
Interview with Aaron Skiles
Early Beginnings: Aaron Skiles' Musical Roots
How did your experience at the United States Military Academy at West Point influence your musical journey and the formation of Bourbon Therapy?
West Point was a challenging school to attend and the kind of place where I often found myself questioning whether I could make it through to the end. I knew that I wanted to graduate from West Point, but it wasn't easy. As a sophomore I started up an alt rock band in an attempt to find an "escape" from the day-to-day challenges of the United States Military Academy. It turned out that playing rock'n'roll worked so well that I kept it up even after leaving West Point and have continued it to this day.
What inspired you to transition from being "just the bass player" in various bands to fronting Bourbon Therapy with your wife Rebecca?
For years I was content with just being a member of the band--a bass player who contributed some backing vocals. I'd always written a little on my own but had never really pushed to get my own songs performed by the bands I was in. When I was in the San Francisco-based band, Anaura, we spent nearly a year recording the album Champion of the Moon, yet my contribution on bass was literally one 8-hour session in the studio. Sure, I was around as we recorded the rest, but I felt like I was on the sidelines. I also felt like I had learned a lot through that year about how to really write, record and produce a record. I was also coming up on my 40th birthday and thought what better way to celebrate than to make my own album. I'd known all along that my wife had a great voice and, although I'd suggested starting a band together over the years, we'd never done so. Well everything just timed right and we created Bourbon Therapy in late 2014/early 2015.
Bourbon Therapy's sound is described as a blend of indie rock, alt-country, and elements reminiscent of bands like Counting Crows and Soul Asylum. How do you balance these diverse influences in your music?
I really don't think about these influences when I'm creating music. I will sometimes get the basics of a song going, maybe just the guitar tones and structure, and think to myself, "This sounds like such-and-such band." But I've found that even if I wanted to write a song that mimics an artist I admire, because I play differently and I sing differently and I create differently--it's not going to come out the same.
The dynamic range of your music, from heavy riff-laden songs to expressive ballads, is a notable aspect of Bourbon Therapy's style. Can you discuss the creative process behind achieving this diversity in your albums?
For Bourbon Therapy (which went on indefinite hiatus during the early stages of the Pandemic), the make-up of the band really drove the creative process. While I did almost all of the writing, we actually had three lead singers: me, my wife Rebecca, and Maria Long. And each of us had a different singing style. So as I'd write, I'd think about who would be best suited for singing a particular song and that would guide the way I wrote.
With your album "Hymnals and Hangovers," what were the key themes or messages you aimed to convey, and how do they represent an evolution from your debut album?
This album, released in 2016, changed everything for me. My debut solo album was clearly a debut--I'm proud of the fact I got it done and did it myself, but I had so much to learn and so far to go (still do, but that record was not the best). But when we produced Hymnals and Hangovers, we created a diverse and dynamic album that covered a range of interpersonal and emotional issues. The production quality and the songwriting was so far and above my debut album...and I feel like I've only continued to grow from there.
The incorporation of piano, strings, and harmonica alongside big guitars is a signature aspect of your sound. How do you decide which instruments to use in each song?
Bourbon Therapy was a talented band with several multi-instrumentalists. So as I wrote for that band I knew the various options I had available to me. And just as I'd let the song help me determine which of the three lead singers should sing it, I also let the song speak to me about what instrumentation should be included. Sometimes we'd figure it out in the studio, but I usually had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to add before we started recording.
The collaboration with your wife, Rebecca Skiles, adds a unique dimension to the band. Can you share how this partnership influences the music and lyrics of Bourbon Therapy?
Being in a band with your spouse can be so great and so tricky at the same time. For us, our kids were young when we started so even rehearsals and shows were difficult in that we always had to arrange for babysitters. But the other aspect is that you end up spending so much time working in the same environment together that it can be a challenge to create your own space. When the Pandemic hit and several Bourbon Therapy members moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area, Rebecca took the opportunity to step away from the band as well. And really I was fine with that. It was better for both of us and it gave me the chance to explore my own voice and my own writing and really focus on my solo stuff--which has been a great ride so far with two albums in the past 2 years. Rebecca is still engaged in my songwriting but now serves more of a consulting role, providing feedback on what I'm creating.
|Aaron Skiles Credit Elle Jaye
From Info on Aaron Skiles’ Website
Inspiration Behind the Album:
"Whistle Past the Grave" seems to blend Americana Rock with 90s Grunge. What inspired this unique combination of genres for your album?
First of all, I came of age in the 90's and even played in bands in Seattle in the mid-90's, so I was a part (albeit an itty bitty part) of the 90's Seattle Grunge scene. So 90's rock has always been in my veins. And I think my songwriting approach from Bourbon Therapy helped me move a bit into the alt-country/Americana style. I simply kept moving forward with that from Wreckage From The Fire (released April 2022) through Whistle Past the Grave (released September 2023).
Can you share some insights into your songwriting process for this album? How did you approach the themes of justice and introspection in your lyrics?
The songs that I put on albums tend to be written in somewhat time-bound groupings. While I may add a song I've written well in the past, typically most of the songs I include in one particular album have been written around the same time and sometime close to the recording of the album. As such, those songs are a true "record" (as in the recording of an historical time period) of the things I'm processing at the time. For Whistle Past the Grave, I'd been thinking a lot about justice, or the lack thereof, in the world around me. And as I continue to age, I find myself becoming more introspective on my past experiences and the experiences of those around me. And that's what drove the writing process for this batch of songs.
You've worked with a range of talented musicians on this album. How did these collaborations shape the sound and direction of "Whistle Past the Grave"?
Every solo album I've done so far has had a different group of musicians on it. And I think that has been an incredible way for me to learn more about the recording and production process as well as to get to know more and more talented musicians all over the U.S. And what I have found is that, based on the crew I have on any particular record, the sound comes out slightly differently--and I love that.
Is there a particular song or moment in the album that stands out to you as a personal favorite or a significant achievement?
"Rubber Raft" is a particular highlight for me on this album. I've always been so impressed with songwriters such as Jason Isbell, Patterson Hood or Ben Nichols who can craft a song based on an historical event. And I'd never really done that until I wrote "Rubber Raft." I think this song turned out great and I even find that Taylor Hollingsworth's lead guitar solo in the bridge of this song is probably my favorite musical progression that I've yet written.
You mentioned using multiple layers of guitars, bass, piano, keys, and vocals. How did you decide on the specific instrumentation for each track?
I went into the studio with a basic idea of the layers I wanted. But as co-producer Ben Bernstein and I progressed, we'd sometimes hear another layer that needed to be added. It's always a balance between too much and too little, but it starts with a vision of what I am aiming to produce.
Influence of Previous Work:
How does "Whistle Past the Grave" compare to your previous album "Wreckage From the Fire"? Did the critical acclaim of "Wreckage" influence your approach to this new album?
If anything, the critical acclaim that Wreckage From the Fire received made me a little bit nervous about making Whistle Past the Grave. I was thinking, "what if Whistle Past the Grave doesn't compare? What if it's horrible? What if I can never make an album as good as Wreckage From the Fire?" But I put those thoughts aside and went to work. I know that no artist can make every single new work of art their absolute best work of art yet, but I do think that's the goal--at least it is for me. And the great part about art is that it's subjective. Perhaps I have already done my best work...but I don't think so!
Song “Rubber Raft”:
The song “Rubber Raft” is based on a historical event and Isabel Wilkerson's book, "Caste." What drew you to this story, and how did you translate it into a song?
“Rubber Raft” is based on an historical event that occurred in 1951 which I read about in Isabel Wilkerson’s best-selling book, Caste. A little league baseball team in Youngstown, OH had won the city championship. The team, and their families, went to the public pool to celebrate, however the pool would not allow the lone black player to enter the pool. They made the 12-year-old boy sit outside the fence, unable to enter the pool to swim with his celebrating teammates.
Parents periodically brought the boy food and kept asking the lifeguard to let the boy in. Finally, the lifeguard relented. He kicked everyone out of the pool, pulled out a rubber raft and made the boy get in the raft. The lifeguard slowly pushed the boy around the pool a few times, whispering, “Whatever you do, don’t touch the water.” The lifeguard then kicked the boy back out.
As a former baseball player and coach, and just as a human being, this story struck me tremendously and actually brought me to tears when I read it. The lifeguard’s racist views made him see this boy’s skin as a contaminate to the others. The families of the other boys decided their comfort in staying at the pool was more critical than the young black boy’s desire to be able to participate. They could have easily left the pool to show support for the boy. And what must that young black ballplayer have perceived about his own place in society and even his importance to the families of his teammate? I truly cannot imagine, but I can write a song about it. It’s a reflection on race in America, based upon a little-known historical incident, that I felt needed to be told in song.
This song has what I call a “reverse chorus” in that it gets quieter in the chorus than in the rest of the song. Lucero did a song recently, “Back in Ohio,” that had a similar style with a chorus that was less intense than the rest of the song. I’m a huge fan of Ben Nichols’s songwriting and that inspired my “reverse chorus” idea on “Rubber Raft.” I felt that the quieter chorus mimicked the lifeguard’s whispered instructions to the boy about not touching the water. “How could they be so cruel? Little black shortstop at the pool. The only way they let him swim…”
But the final line is loud and almost sung in a scream to portray the angst, anger and shock at the circumstances…“Is in a rubber raft so the water won’t touch his skin!”
I’m quite fond of this song and especially that chorus, but what I think really ties it all together is the repetitive lick that Taylor Hollingsworth plays in the front of each line of the chorus, this sort of simple up and down riff that frames the lyrics just right. And when we get to the solo of the song, Taylor wailed on it like only he can. That sequence of chords and guitar solo—an organ playing underneath, building up to what sounds like a huge crescendo but ends up quiet in the final chorus—is probably my favorite sequence of music that I’ve yet written.
Evolution as an Artist:
How do you feel you've evolved as an artist and musician since your earlier works?
I recognize that I've come a long way. I mean, if you listen to my first solo album, Bourbon Therapy, it's really clear to see how my writing and playing have progressed. I've been studying songwriting seriously for the past decade or so...from reading about it to taking classes to listening critically to structure and even trying new things out. And at the same time, I've been practicing and practicing more and more and I feel like I've improved on guitar and vocals. I mean, until Wreckage From the Fire I'd never even tracked guitars on any record--only bass and piano. I think one of the areas where I've developed the most is that I've begun to find my own "voice." By "voice" I don't just mean my singing voice, though I think I've found and improved in that area as well. But what I really mean is that I've found the type of music, the song structure, the lyrics, the themes and the tones that fit my musical voice.
“Ain’t Been Luck” and Personal Touches:
You wrote “Ain’t Been Luck” as a 50th-anniversary present for your parents. How does incorporating personal experiences and relationships influence your music?
I love being able to write a song for an occasion. I've actually only done it twice: "Ain't Been Luck" for my parents' 50th anniversary, and "Into Your Arms I Will Fall," for my wife and my 20th anniversary. I've realized over the years that I'm not particularly creative with visual art or any sort of hand-crafted work. So there's no way I'm going to use tools or paints or what not to create a personalized gift for someone. But I do craft songs! For each of these special songs I began working on them one year in advance. And for each occasion I created several different versions, several different songs really, until I suddenly found the one that "was it!"
Message to Listeners:
What message or feeling do you hope listeners take away from "Whistle Past the Grave"?
Aaron Skiles Credit Elle Jaye
I was actually thinking about this recently and I know exactly how I want my listeners to feel about my music. I want my music to be the type of music that someone puts on while they are getting ready to go out on a Saturday night and have a great time with friends--or stay in Friday night and have a great time at home! I want to make people feel good and lift them up. And even though I sometimes cover some pretty serious topics, I'm not trying to bring people down. As Jason Warburg of The Daily Vault said about Whistle Past The Grave, it's a record that “manages to tackle serious themes without ever appearing to take itself too seriously. Like all the best parties, it leaves you thinking long afterwards about what was said.”
Looking ahead, what's next for you? Are there any new projects or collaborations on the horizon?
Yes...I'm pretty much always creating. First of all, I have a radio-edit of a Bourbon Therapy single that was never released, and I'm releasing that. "Last Words (Radio Edit)," on January 5th, 2024. But I also just wrapped up a 4-song EP that will be released under my name. I recorded it with co-producer/lead guitarist Josh Jove' (Social Distortion, Eagles of Death Metal, The Shelters, etc.). I'm really excited about this yet-to-be-named EP because it's a continued progression of my songwriting style. These songs sound more like Green Day or Social D or even Bad Religion versus anything I've yet written. Really, they are probably my most radio-friendly set of tunes so far--four songs, 12 minutes, catchy melodies and amazing harmonies.
Reflection on Musical Journey:
Reflecting on your musical journey so far, what has been the most rewarding aspect of creating and sharing your music?
I write music because I like it, it makes me feel good, and I feel like I simply have to be doing this. And when I hear from people, whether they are fans or fellow musicians or even music writers, that they have enjoyed my music, that's the icing on the cake for me!
Advice to Aspiring Musicians:
As a seasoned musician, what advice would you give to aspiring artists who look up to your work?
ABC--Always Be Creating. Seriously, don't stop. Don't be discouraged. Your best is yet to come.
Impact of “Keep Me”:
You mentioned that “Keep Me” is a song you want played at your funeral. How does exploring such profound themes impact you personally and professionally?
This song is special to me because I think that it's the song that most directly explains my own philosophy on life; my own mindset and approach. And I am serious that I'd want this to be played at my funeral because I think it explains who I am.
KEEP ME Lyric Review
"Keep Me" by Aaron Skiles is a touching and evocative song that explores themes of love, memory, and the enduring impact of our relationships. Here's a breakdown and review of the lyrics:
Verse 1 & Verse 2:
These verses set a reflective and poignant tone, focusing on the idea of love persisting beyond one's life. The lyrics suggest a desire for one's love to continue to positively affect others even after death, emphasizing selflessness and the lasting power of love.
The chorus introduces a more direct and personal appeal, asking to be remembered in everyday acts of kindness and farewells. It's a heartfelt request to be kept alive in the hearts and actions of others, which is both touching and deeply human.
This verse beautifully expands on the theme of enduring memory, expressing a wish to be a source of warmth and joy in someone's recollections. The imagery of being a comforting memory that "warms you to your bones" is particularly vivid and emotive.
Verse 4 & Outro:
The final verse and outro reiterate the central themes of the song, emphasizing a desire for love to be an endless and renewing force. The repetition of "keep me" in various contexts underscores the longing for a legacy of love and kindness.
Overall, the song effectively conveys a deep and universal sentiment about the desire to be remembered with love and to have one's love continue to influence the world positively. It's a poignant reminder of the power of love and the human desire for meaningful connections that outlast our physical presence. The lyrics are simple yet profound, and they resonate with a sense of sincerity and emotional depth.
Song Story based off these lyrics Echoes of Love: Eliot's Legacy
(C) Aaron Skiles, 2023
In a quaint village nestled between rolling hills and whispering forests, there lived an elderly man named Eliot. His life had been a tapestry of simple joys and profound sorrows, woven together by the threads of time. As the twilight of his years approached, Eliot often found himself sitting by the window, gazing at the setting sun, lost in reflections.
One quiet evening, Eliot's thoughts drifted to his cherished memories, especially those of his late wife, Amelia. They had shared a love so deep and pure that even after she passed away, her presence lingered in every corner of their home. Eliot's heart ached with longing, but also swelled with gratitude for the love they had shared.
The song "Keep Me" by Aaron Skiles played softly on the old radio, its lyrics echoing Eliot's feelings. "When all that’s left of me is love," the song began, striking a chord within him. Eliot pondered the idea of love outlasting life itself. He yearned for his love for Amelia to endure, to be a beacon for others long after he was gone.
As the song continued, "Once I’ve breathed my final breath, Walked the light to face my death, I wanna know you’ll give my love away," Eliot's mind wandered to his children and grandchildren. He envisioned them gathered around, sharing stories of his and Amelia's life. In these stories, he hoped they would feel the warmth of their love and learn to cherish and spread it further.
The chorus of the song, "Keep me in the way, You say goodbye to friends each day," inspired Eliot to write letters to his loved ones. In each letter, he poured his heart out, expressing his deepest feelings and the lessons he'd learned about love and kindness. He hoped these letters would be a source of guidance and comfort, a way to keep his spirit alive in their hearts.
Eliot's reflections were interrupted by the laughter of his grandchildren playing outside. Watching them, he realized that he was already a living memory for them, a source of joy and wisdom. This thought brought a smile to his face, as described in the song's third verse, "I want to be a memory, That makes you smile suddenly."
As the song neared its end, Eliot felt a sense of peace. He understood that his love for Amelia and his family was a legacy that would continue to thrive. The song's outro, "When all that’s left of me is love, And wondering if I rest above, Please take that love and give it all away," resonated with his newfound realization.
Eliot's story, intertwined with the lyrics of "Keep Me," is a testament to the enduring power of love. It's a reminder that our affections and acts of kindness are the true legacy we leave behind, echoing through generations and keeping our spirits alive in the hearts of those we've touched.
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