The Sky Road Fly

An Interview with Sky Road Fly
by Max Ink
June 2013

Sky Road Fly Band Photo by Nick Berard - photo by Nick Berard

Sky Road Fly Band Photo by Nick Berard
photo by Nick Berard

Sky Road Fly has been working hard in the Madison scene for a number of years. On their debut full length album “Pure Danger”, the foursome came out of Smart Studios having produced a mixture of pop sensibility, extended arrangements and layers of rhythmic tension that really established a style of music all their own. Now working on a self-recorded follow up, the group was kind enough to allow me to sample some tracks from the new effort at their rehearsal spot in Spyder Studios. 

The new Sky Road tracks are a bit more stripped-down than their previous effort, leaning more so on big time hooks and accessible melodies. The album’s first track, “Radiator”, is a short and sweet introduction shrouded in a big, dreamy soundscape. “KBD” follows with a funk hook that would make Eddie Hazel cringe in approval, filled with layers of vocal harmony drifting above vintage guitar tones, tasteful syncopation and outstanding guitar interplay. “Sirens Of The City” is yet another hook monster, with mellow and groovy tones eventually giving way to a heavy middle section, all woven together perfectly to display the versatility of the group.

After a brief sample of the early mixes, I sat down with the guys to discuss the new album, their creative energy, and what the future holds. Sky Road Fly has crafted an effort that establishes them as a musical force to be reckoned with in the Madison scene, and they were happy to share their thoughts and ambitions.

MI: What has the recording process been like?  How was it different than “Pure Danger”?
Robert Halstead: It’s safe to say that we’re at the quality of Smart Studios, if not beating it. At Smart, we had to work around somewhat of a schedule, so it took a long time because we had to hop in whenever it was available. 
Ben Jarosh: Here, there’s an opportunity every day to work. We can really look at things closer here. 

MI: Was there any creative fatigue heading into this record? Or were you guys excited and ready to go?
David Payne: I think we were ready to go! We were pretty much ready to move on from “Pure Danger” as soon as it was in the can.
RH: We were ready to record the last record when Dave started the band, so we had to spend the better part of a year gelling as a new unit. Whereas this one, we’re more caught up, and there’s a desire to do recording as it happens.

MI: You guys tend to have longer arrangements and more complex melodies. Do you ever fear that may isolate some listeners? Do you care either way?
Dustin Harmon: Do you care? That’s the biggest question.
RH: I think we’re more conscious of that now. We aren’t going to necessarily force ourselves to write a specific way for a marketing purpose, but we realize shorter songs are going to have a better life in that arena than longer songs. I think this album has a lot more hooks than our prior album.
BJ: Songwriting in itself is like learning an instrument. The more you do it, the better you get at it. For us, its just a matter of us doing it for a longer period of time and really honing it.
DH: Myself, I’ve become way less concerned with what people think. If I’m happy, and if these guys are happy with me, that’s what I’m looking for, that’s why I play music. As far as being conscious of our audience, we want people to enjoy our music, but I’m going to play this music regardless of whether people like it or not, and I think that passion is going to show through.
RH: I will admit to seeking out some pop structure for this album.  Being able to create something that is raw, but can also compete in a pop sense is a challenge for me.
DP: From a drummer’s point of view, I’m always conscious of connecting with the audience. My main goal is to get people to move and dance. That’s the ultimate connection for me, to an audience, how they’re moving and connecting to the music.

MI: What do you think of the Madison Music scene as a whole?
BJ: Madison is divided. There’s the East and West sides, and then there’s UW-Madison. The East side has a growing music scene and has venues to showcase creativity. The West side is new development, there’s not a lot going on there. And there’s UW that’s…. ‘the man’. There’s no connection point between the UW and the local scene. In order to make Madison a very successful scene, there needs to be a connection between the University and local art. 
RH: I feel like its important to note, on the East side, we’d like to connect more so to the city, but I haven’t felt that they’ve wanted that connection. Figuring out how to get them to appreciate what we have to offer is the task at hand.

MI: Where do you guys draw influence and inspirations from?
RH: I wouldn’t say that there’s one particular band that we have collectively drawn from. That’s part of the reason our sound, in my opinion, is unique in our rock scene.
DH: I just want to be as good as these guys. (laughter)
DP: Growing up, I was into a lot of hip hop and punk rock. As far as direct influence, I’d say it comes from all over. 

MI: What is the writing process like for you guys?
BJ: Usually Robert and I will bring a simple structure to the table, but nothing 100% done. We’ll throw it out there, develop a feel and go from there.
RH: A lot of our songs are 2 and half to 3 minutes cores. I think thats where our cohesion comes from. It’s about collectively dicing up what’s on the table. I’m comforted in the fact that everyone in the band ultimately gets the pull that they want to have.
BJ: Yeah, we’re not “Robert Halstead and the Jerks” or “BJ and the Mums” or “David and the Payne Train”. (laughter) Yeah, we’re a band of brothers.

MI: What are your impressions of the new record?
DH:  I’m super excited about it. The quality is fantastic. We invested in a recording studio, and it’s paying off for us.
DP: I feel cautiously proud of it. I just want to hear it finished so I can be sure, but so far I’m proud. I think its going to be good, but I’m always cautious. It’s pretty much ours to fuck up right now, heading into mixing. (laughter) I think there’s definitely some solid shit.
BJ: Me too.
RH: I feel like the collective decisions we’re making are really close to my original strong vision I’ve had for this album, which gives me a lot of confidence in my feelings about it. It just feels natural, and I think everyone is feeling strongly about this album, overall.

MI: Ben and Robert, what kind of guitar tones are you guys working with on the new album?
RH: The tones are, in general, a touch cleaner. When we had more gain in our signal before, it was grittier, but the punch of the notes got lost, whereas now, there’s less gain, but the body of the tone gives us more punch overall. The heaviness is less, but it kicks more ass.
BJ: I’m using the same gear as the last album. Having used my gear for so long, I’ve really learned it and have been refining it over time. Gain control has been probably the most important aspect. This time around, we’ve realized that we don’t need more gain for a heavy effect. We’ve been using the songwriting itself and other tools to emphasize parts.

MI: David and Dustin, what do you guys set out to accomplish as a rhythm section?
DH: I fucking love playing with David (laughs) He’s the best drummer I’ve ever played with. I just try to keep up with him.
DP:  We don’t want to do too much, but there are times when we can shine. Together, we just work to be solid and not fuck up. (laughs) Maybe for 4 bars here and there, you cut time and do something crazy, but really just provide a landscape for these guys to fill with color.

MI: Ben and Robert, you guys do a lot of guitar interplay.  What is that communication like?
RH:  It’s literally just one person playing off the other, making sure the other person shines when they need to and knowing when to back off, but identify places where you can take the lead a bit.
BJ: We know each other well enough that we know where certain parts should be with each other. We know the feel, and write the part that fits that energy.

MI: What does the future hold for Sky Road Fly?
DH: We need a van.
BJ: Releasing the album in late June or early July.  Apart from that, we’re really going to make the most of Madison shows, and also focus on expanding to the outlying areas.
RH: We have a minimum of two more videos we want to shoot for the album.  And yeah, we’re going to need a van to tour on this album.  I think this album will be a great thing for us to show to people for the next couple of years.  I see us finishing it up, and using it as a shield as we plunge forth into trying make our band more known beyond the Madison area.
BJ: I really hope this album conveys a sense that we’re taking this seriously.

Sky Road Fly is currently nominated for three Madison Area Music Awards.  Their new album, “Head Out Of Mind”, is set for release in August. You can catch them at Atwood Summerfest on the Max Ink Radio Rock Stage on July 28th. Find Sky Road Fly on Facebook, or find more information on

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