In “Beautiful Soul,” Gayle Skidmore sings, “I may use words that’ve been used before, but I’m trying my best at letting them go.”
That’s the aim of every good singer who cares more for the music than the perks of standing onstage in front of everyone. The three-time San Diego Music Award winner reaches for the stars in the quiet conversations we have with ourselves in her new, April 7 album, The Golden West.
For her, the matter is more about moving on from the troubles of the past and forging a promising new tomorrow. This universal theme rings true because of Skidmore’s wood nymph voice projected from an echo chamber, everything riding on a prophetic mantra about running out of time running through her 10 lithesome, original tracks. She wrote the songs she sings, playing several instruments too, including the banjo.
Skidmore meant for her new album to be “whimsical, melancholic music for the romantic intellectual.”
The singer-songwriter is also on tour for the gauzy, folk-pop album, coming to Seattle’s Central Saloon next Thursday, 8 p.m.
Making the album, her 20th indie release, proved just as extraordinary.
“Once I drove fourteen hours from Chicago to Denver to play a show and was certain I had poisoned myself with energy drinks. I’ve slept in my car, been in accidents, been harassed in the South for looking ‘alternative,’ had a few stalkers, and have had all kinds of funny adventures with tour mates. I’ve opened for my musical heroes, performed in a castle in Denver, toured in Europe, recorded 20 independent releases, and been sponsored by a fantastic brewing company [Ninkasi]. The last few years of performing have been an intense and incredible journey and I can’t wait to see where this new album takes me.”
Skidmore planned to record an EP in 2015. But she had more songs within her, waiting to go. She worked through some issues, time constraints, fundraising, and artistic conflicts. Throughout the process, she let the muse take her where it wanted — replacing an unfinished song with one she wrote one night while on tour in Lubbock, Texas.
“I kept working for another year until I finally finished tracking. … One year, four cities, and four producers later, we finally had an album. Finishing it has been one of the most challenging things I’ve done,” Skidmore related, in a press release from In Music We Trust.
She didn’t just lay down tracks, she also created an adult coloring book — the third time Skidmore’s done this with her records. The adult coloring book represents each song, leaving the colors up to each individual listener. This is a cool way of personalizing the singer’s music and drawing strangers closer. (But then this artist has been known to drive for hours, bake cookies and knit for her fans.) Studies have shown that releasing tension by coloring can help anybody of any age.
Her music does that immeasurably.
It’s not so much the lyrics — although they come from a good place, and develop quite naturally — as the way she cradles them in her fertile soul before the ultimate liberation. I can almost see her watching trails of pastel colors shudder and shimmer before flying away on a vibratory wave, children ready to graduate, explore, discover.
“We weren’t able to finish one of the tracks, so we replaced it with a song I recorded in the middle of the night while on tour in Lubbock, Texas. One year, four cities, and four producers later, we finally had an album. Finishing it has been one of the most challenging things I’ve done.”
The Golden West contains a catchy hook in the chorus, the twist of that banjo she plucks, full melody a pop fan could love throughout, and so much meaning behind the lyrics, which she births through that nostalgic-feeling echo chamber.
“On my tour up to Eugene to begin recording, I penned the chorus to a song I’d been working on while the sun set on the old mining town of Sonora, Calif. I knew immediately that this would be my single and title track for my upcoming album,” Skidmore continued. “Since I was contemplating a move to Amsterdam at the time [for her fiancé], it seemed only fitting that this album about letting go would be titled after the song that talked directly about leaving California.”
This song is her anthem, a common theme in the entire album about leaving the past behind and starting over. It’s a song I find myself mentally reaching for, singing to myself as I go about my day fulfilling tasks set before me by other people: “Tear me away from this mess of a day. I’m gonna leave through my window, fly away. I’ll build a ladder to the sky, I’m gonna leave this all behind. Forget every worried word I’ve said, just forget.”
It serves as a kind of surreal, groovy portal of escape, where I am blasting her music on my magic radio as I drive down some forgotten coast in the middle of an Indian Summer with my best friends from childhood.
Another fast favorite goes in the opposite direction. She becomes a ghost of her former self, whispering the words to “Hourglass,” drawn down into the bottom of a melancholy looking glass of regret, yearning for a second chance, a time machine.
The wistful ballad features strings on a downturn, growing more sorrowful as Skidmore remembers better, more innocent times in such beautiful, fragile lyrics: “Don’t waste it, don’t let it slip by. We’re running out of, time. I remember when we were free, watching fireflies in the trees, and our sights were on the sky and we knew that we’d never die, … never doubting we’d survive, were glad just to be alive.”
“Beautiful Soul” sings with a bare, yet pregnant, pureness, Skidmore’s voice seemingly backed by a choir of angels unraveling oceans, spotted by the curlicue of a country western guitar squeeze play.
“Everyone who was involved in the project brought their best and I feel like they all caught the vision of what it could be. It is entirely different from what I thought it would be when we started recording a year and a half ago, but at the same time it’s exactly what I hoped for.”
This is an indie-emo pop lover’s dream of a mini-epic song to put on repeat during those days when nothing feels right but the vibes Skidmore leaves: “I’ve never been good at speaking my mind. Delicate words are so hard to find. But I’ll try my best at letting you know, I’m in love with your beautiful soul. I’ve always been scared to say what I mean. I’ve been racking my brain for a way to come clean. So I gather my will, find courage, and oh, I’m in love with your beautiful soul.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.