(Monday, August 9th, 2010)

SKIP

Photo: Marcus Adkins

I first met Skip four years ago, right around the same time I fired up this blog. I wanted something tangible to remind myself of my new commitment to creativity. So I was on a mission to find something cheap to slap my waringis.com logo on. Buttons, you know, the little round pins that served as trophies from intoxicated nights downtown, were the trend at the time, at least they were something I had started collecting without much effort. The buttons I collected sat in the dark, deep depths of my purse, and every time I would accidently grab one while digging for something else, I’d wonder, “Who actually has the time and effort to make these little things?”

“My boy Skip makes them,” Swamburger began. “Go get you some, yo. He’ll cook you up a deal.” And that’s how I first met the young hip hop artist, aka. Skip.  He designed and cooked me up some buttons, just like the ones I had seen in Swam’s shop, Culture Mart. For those who don’t know Swamburger, he’s a local artist, musician, store owner and founder of his own record label. He’s one of the first interviews I ever did for this site, and still, in my opinion, one of the hardest working entrepreneurs downtown. [Read Swam’s interview now.]

To do the exchange of buttons for cash, Skip and I met at Panera Bread by Lake Eola. I had never seen him before, but based on what Swam had told me about him, I was expecting Skip to look like him, a medium-sized black man with dreads.  So you can imagine my surprise when a rather small, skinny white kid approached me. “Have you heard of my album?” he asked. All the common courtesies had already been exchanged. “No, I haven’t.” I felt bad because all I could do is sit there and think, “Is this kid serious?” Certainly, in rare occasions, white kids can rap.  Eminem happened to be riding his first wave of success and receiving respect from Dr. Dre, among other qualified hip hop artist, during the same time. So the idea wasn’t too outlandish. But then again, Eminem also had a hard-core image, all covered in tattoos, with a baby and baby mama drama, and then there were people that openly boasted about killing him. Skip, on the other hand, I don’t think he’d kill a gnat, even if the little bugger was on a suicide mission aimed straight for his nostril. The guy is just too nice. He’s polite, gentle and everything about him is completely non-threatening.

And then he goes on stage.

When in his element, Skip is everything but small. It’s incredible to experience the power and energy of such a delicate being. If you don’t trust me on this one, go to one of his shows so that you can feel it yourself. It’s mind-boggling.

I hope you read this interview in its entirety, and it gives you the heart to support Skip on his latest venture. After three years, and some careful introspection, the young artist is ready to share his journey in a new album titled, Until the Very End.he The problem, however, is that he’s ran out of money. He needs to raise $3000 by September 16, 2010 just so that he can finish mixing and duplicating the CDs. To get a taste of what he’s up to, download his first single “Red vs. Blue” for FREE by clicking here, and even if his music is not your style, donate just a few dollars. It will make his dream a possibility, and it only takes minutes. What if someone gave you an opportunity such as this? What would you do with it?

Jana: So I’m just going to get straight to it. How does a skinny, white guy gain credibility as a hip hop artist? And then how do you do that being from Orlando?
SKIP: When I first started performing—nearly eight years ago—that was the same question I had to ask myself. I spent a long time trying to answer that question. Before I ever did a show, I was working with Swamburger. You know, the basics, like running while rapping my lyrics to try and build breath support, so that when I did my first show I wasn’t out of breath. I had to work on my people skills, because for my whole life I’ve been so introverted, like not able to talk to people at all. So I had to learn how to communicate.

I did a lot of open mics. I started to get to know people and putting my name out there, stuff like that. Then with doing shows, releasing CDs and selling them around town, meeting people—all those things brought me to a point that when I’d walk around downtown people would recognize me. They’d say, “Oh yeah. That’s SKIP.”

Then I reached a point where—I mean, I haven’t reached the point where I’m famous or anything—but I had become really well known as the white kid that raps. Ya know? But because of my musical upbringing and training, and stuff like that, it was really unfulfilling. I didn’t want to be the white kid that raps anymore. I wanted to make art. I wanted to make music that moves everybody. I wanted to sing. I wanted to play instruments. I wanted to play a show that has live instruments in it. So I started playing around with a full band, and finding different ways of using instrumentation, things like that.

Autobiographicology, the last solo album I did, was kind of a playground of trying new things. Half way through that album, I was like you know what, I don’t want to rap anymore. I’m tired of this. I don’t just listen to rap music, I listen to all kinds of music. I wanted to do something different. So me and Swamburger had a conversation and decided to completely change my direction, like who I am as a person and musician, and also how people saw me and how I presented myself to people. At that point in my life, I was twenty-five years old, angry and kind of rebellious. You know, with politics, power, and this and that. When I started growing up, I realized I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted to be able to relay things from a heartfelt perspective, not a brain perspective. I had to make that switch, and then ask myself how I could be respected as an artist. You know what I’m saying? I had to make adjustments.

I want to make things that capture the imagination of the people, whether it’s music, a painting, or making a comic book.  I’m not a fly by night fan—I’m dedicated. I love getting a CD and looking at the art work and thinking, “What were they thinking when they made this song?” There’s so much that goes into that stuff. When Swam would lay down a beat and I’d rap over it, we put it on the album as my song. It wasn’t really my song. I felt I had so much more to offer. I’ve been in band since I was twelve years old. I was a music performance major at UCF for three years. I was in the head orchestra at UCF. I’m a classically trained artist, so I always felt like I was in a box, especially with the white kid thing. I wanted to do something that transcended all that, with the acknowledgement that I’m from Orlando.

So this new album is really a reflection of no intentional endeavor, like just a reggae album or hip hop album. But you’ll see all those things flow together dynamically.  It’s meant to take you on an adventure, like you’re experiencing someone’s heart and mind. It’s a concept album, so you’re getting stories, and you’re getting a little piece of this and a little piece of that. I don’t know. It’s fun for me.

Right now it’s all trapped in my head. [Laughs] But I can’t wait to share that with people. I feel like my duty here in Orlando … I feel like if there were ever a point that I’d leave Orlando, it’d be because I failed to capture the imagination of its people, not because I gave up on this city or because it’s easier somewhere else. My passion at the end of the day is not money or fame, or anything like that, I want to be able to tell a story and have people be excited about it. No one cares about you unless you’re famous already, especially in Orlando.

So that’s kind of where I’m at now. The last few days we’ve started that Kickstarter program and made a promotional video. It’s the first time in eight years that I’ve been flabbergasted that the people have really latched on to what I’m doing. I feel that. People can see what we’re doing, and they get it. The time machines, the cards with my name on it, the walking around downtown, they get it. People want an imaginable escape. I want to provide that, just give them something that makes their day a little easier. Ya know?

Ha. Yes. I had a million questions to ask but I think you answered most of them in that first answer. [Laughs] Let me regroup here. How did you even know you had the talent to rap?
I used to listen to really, really bad music in high school. And probably the best thing that I took from that—and I really don’t even want to tell you what I was listening to—but one of the positive things I took away from that was that I thought I could rap better than those guys. [Laughs] Not to put them down, but to put me up. You know what I’m sayin’? I’m sure you could rap better than some of the stuff I was listening to. So I just wanted to try it.

I imagine you’re not going to share what it was you were listening to, not even if I ask really nicely?
[Pauses] I used to listen to a lot of new metal stuff, or rap rock. I really am truly embarrassed to even tell you that stuff—Cash Money Millionaires, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, a lot of stuff like that. I was a huge No Limits Soldier fan. Wu Tang, although I’m not embarrassed that I listened to Wu Tang.

Are you ever scared to put yourself out there to people?
When I first started, I was in a situation where I lost my job in a workman’s comp incident. I was injured and have a really bad knee because of it. I was inspired by what the Solillaquists [of Sound] were doing, and from being friends with Swamburger. I wanted to make music as a career, as a professional. So I would go downtown with my CD that I had, and I would go up to strangers and force myself out of this shell that I was in. I was laughed at. My CDs were thrown on the ground. One guy spit on me one time. And I’d go into the bathroom at Bar B Que Bar and cry for about fifteen minutes. Then I’d psych myself up, and go back out and keep doing it because I had no job and no money. All I had was an idea.

How did you first meet Swam?
I was going to Valencia at the time. I had just left UCF. I had had this professor who saw potential in me and rode me extra hard. Looking in hindsight I can see that now. When you’re a music performance major at a school like UCF, you spend four hours of your day practicing, four hours in orchestra, two hours of assemble and still you have to do all your classes and homework and stuff. So you’re playing about eight hours a day, every day. My professor just pushed me way too hard. I completed my third year and did my trials, which is like finals, and then walked out with middle fingers up. I wanted to go to Full Sail, but couldn’t afford it, so I ended up going to Valencia for their audio recording program.

Anyways, I had started getting into underground hip hop music. I was finally exposed to some good music at Park Ave Cds Jr., back when I was at UCF. So I started teaching myself how to rap. I walked out of one of my classes at Valencia one day, and out sitting on one of the benches was this skinny dude, a black guy with dreadlocks. He had his headphones on and he was writing rap lyrics on paper, and doing ‘em out loud. I was like, man, I’ve really been wanting to meet someone else that raps. I never had before. So I was like, I should just go up to him. And I did. I was all awkward and said, “Hi, my name is Justin and I rap, too.” He was like, “That’s cool. It’s nice to met you.” We went back and forth, and he started talking about how he goes to this place called Vocalization. He also started telling me about the Solillaquists, and telling me that I needed to meet them. And then one day, he took me.

I had to call sick into work that night, and I’m glad I did. I absolutely fell in love. I was kinda in a bad place at the time, battling depression, and the job I had was third shift, so I’d be up all night and sleep all day. To be able to get away from all that and the St. Cloud environment, where there’s no art, no culture, no place to go and be inspired, and heck, you had to drive twenty minutes to get to the shopping mall, I was just blown away by the vibrancies of it all. It was an energy I had never experienced before. I never saw that guy for two years after that. In my mind, I needed that guy. I wanted to get out of my shell, open up a little bit, and allow something new into my life.

I started following the Solillaquists and going to their shows, even the ones that were out of town. Over time, and one day, they asked me to come back with them and chill since it was so late. Then at another show, they invited me back to the house. I stayed and had a blast. There were eight people living in the house at the time. We had a blast just talking, watching movies and playing video games. It was having all the friends that I wanted, but never had before.

There was one night in particular that I had just gotten off of work, and I was dirty because I worked in a warehouse. I got home and sat on my bed. I had just driven to St. Cloud from the Florida Mall area. I wasn’t watching a movie or anything, just sitting there, bored, sad. And I decided that I didn’t want to be in St. Cloud anymore. So I packed a bag and grabbed a pillow. I didn’t want to be there, but I knew a place that I did want to go.  I showed up at Swam’s and knocked on the door at 5 o’clock in the morning, of course he was up. [Laughs] He was like, “Hey SKIP! What’s up man?” It was the only place that I felt like I belonged. He was like, “Yo, come on in.” It was a huge moment for me, pride wise, and having to be mad humble. I was like, “Can I just be around you? You affect me.” He was like, “Yeah, of course.” And I lived on his couch for six months.

Our house was destroyed in the hurricane, and we ended up going on this tour all the way up the east coast. They met Sage Francis and got signed to the label Anti Records. And when we came back, they were like, “We have this new house with an extra room, and if you want, you can still sleep on the couch, but we welcome you and would love to have you as an actual roommate.” I lived there for five and half years after that.

What do you think Swam brings to this city?
Something that’s not Orlando. That sounds like an asshole comment, but he provides an experience of something that the city hasn’t been exposed to. Even in other cities, he’s an original article. His determination and motivation and selflessness …. he’s a mentor. He operates and behaves now, like most people do in their fifties or sixties, with wisdom. Like, if he’s presented with an opportunity to take the easy road or the easy way out, he won’t do it. It’s not an option for him. Me? I’m like, “Fuck it, I‘ll take the easy way. I need money so that I can eat or whatever. I’m broke.” He takes the higher road every time.

I’ve known him for eight years, and he still inspires me. If I’m ever down, he’s like, “No. You got to fight that. You got to be now, what you want to be.” And I’m glad that some of that has rubbed off on me over the years. I’m not so quick to do what’s easy anymore.

Let’s talk about your upcoming album, Until the Very End. What does it mean to you?
Um, Jesus. The first thing that comes to my mind is totally cheesy, but I guess I’ll say it, transformation.  It’s taken over three years to complete this album, and after the first year when it was almost done, we scrapped it to start over. When I did “Red Vs. Blue,” which is one of the last songs I did for the original album, we decided we needed to start over, and start with it. We kept pushing from there. We did this song called “The Pride, The Cure, The Cancer,” and I’m singing like David Bowie-Robert Smith-The Cure kind of stuff—that’s when I found my voice.

When I first started rapping, my voice was nasally, up here in my sinuses. When I did Autobiographicology, my voice moved own into my throat. In this album, it’s coming from my lungs, my chest, my diaphragm. It’s a different sound. It’s funny, because even when I was doing the first batch of songs for this album, the songs scrapped were very throaty. It’s wild. There are so many aspects to life that change when you become comfortable with yourself, like my voice changing.

What was your original question? Oh yeah, basically this album chronicles a path and journey. I keep on saying on this cheesy, cliché’ like shit, but it’s the reality. It’s about a character that is trying to grow up and be a man.

Who or what’s influenced this album?
This album is completely unoriginal. It’s a collection of all my favorite comic books and science-fiction movies, TV shows, everything. It’s all my favorite stuff from growing up. It’s like a mixed tape.

What does success look like to you?
[Pauses] I have this idea in my head. I would love to learn how to sail, just get in a boat and sail around the world. I’d love to be able to get to the point where I can play in front of large crowds, and do shows with lights. I’m a huge fan of the Flaming Lips, which is another concept I tried to capture in my album. I love the theatricality of them, the lights, and the Teletubbies, the confetti cannons, the streamers and the UFO’s coming down. It’s so neat. I’d like to perform that, and share my story in that way.

I’d like to be in a house and have my bills paid off. I’d like to help my family with their bills. I’d love to be able to invest in other people’s projects that I believe in. That’s something that I’d really love to do. I’m so fortunate with what were doing with the Kickstarter thing, having people invest in my album. I’d love to do that for somebody else, even if it’s just buying CDs of the bands I love. I can’t always afford to go to the shows I want to go to. I’d love to be the guy that walks up to the merch table and buys all the band’s t-shirts and CDs.

I’ve already gone through my alcoholic phase, and just doing mad drugs. There’s a misconception that I’m a straight edge kid, and I’m not.  I’ve just done that already. I don’t want to blow money and spend my time going out and partying. I’m kinda a minimalist, so to me success has more to do with what I’m giving as opposed to what I spending.

Do you want to talk more about Kickstarter and how it’s helping you produce your album?
Sure.  Originally, we were using bandcamp.com. We, and when I say we I mean me and Swamburger, who is the producer of the album and owner of the label I’m on, we have self funded the recording aspect of the album. Now that we are in the mixing stage, we have flat ran out of money. We’re two self-employed people, he has his life and career, and we just don’t have the money. So what we’re doing is creating a situation that will fund the remainder of what we need to mix, master and duplicate the album, which is about $3000.

When we did Autobiographicology I created the idea, now I’m saying I “created” the idea, but I’m pretty sure no one in Orlando had ever done it before, but basically I had the idea to collect album money in advance so that we could complete it, and then supply the album a couple months later. With this album, we’re doing the same kind of thing with Kickstarter. Someone had put me onto the site, actually you did and Mumpsy. It really blew my mind to see what was going on there. People are trying to make films, publish books, create albums, do community projects and a bunch of other stuff. This really seemed to fit what I was trying to do. You really get an understanding of the power of people, and the power of money when you go there.

I probably pre-sold 212 albums when I did Autobiographicology, and that was with me out there annoying the piss out of everyone, saying things like, “Hey, what’s up? Wanna pre-buy my album? Do ya?” until the point where people were just like, “Here, go away.” I didn’t want to do that with this album. I don’t want to be a salesman. I just genuinely want to touch something inside of people so that they want to be a part of my project.  Bandcamp wasn’t working. I had failed to capture imaginations in my explanation on that site. I know I have a responsibility to bring people into my world, so [for kickstarter.com] I created a promotional video with the help of Sean Kantrowitz, who is on the record label with me. I really feel that the promo brings you in, and gets you to experience what we’ve been doing and all the hard work we’ve been putting into it. The video’s cool and dorky, fun.

And what’s the response been like so far?
Great. Never in my eight years have I ever seen anything like it. Today is the third day we’ve been on it, and we’re up to $500 already.  People are just giving. There’s a lady that I didn’t even know who pledged $100. I emailed her and was like, “I don’t even know how to start thanking you.” She replied, “Oh, don’t worry about it. You look like you’re up to something cool. Good job.” For me that’s so foreign. Usually I’m out on the streets haggling people. “How much is your CD?” “Ten dollars.” “Ten dollars? What? It should be five.”  So to see people react and want to be a part of it, it’s just been great.

How do you think programs like Kickstarter are going to change the music industry?
For one, they have standards. Not to dog anyone else, or any other organization out there, but anyone can have a Facebook or MySpace. When MySpace first came out, it was so cool because it allowed people who were serious about what they’re doing connect with other people. And then it blew up.  Everyone had a MySpace. Anyone could be a rapper or muscian. It just became over-saturated. Ya know?

Same thing happened with Facebook. Everyone’s an artist and everyone expects you to come to their shows. There’s no difference between the person who’s put fifteen years into something and the person who’s put fifteen days into something. Everyone is on the same field.

What I really like about Kickstarter was that I had to be approved for what I was doing. I was chomping on the bit. Ya know? Just wondering if I was going to be accepted. Then, when I got approved I was so excited. To answer your question, what I think Kickstarter is going to do for the industry is create a place where people can go and know that whatever they see will be good. It may not be what you like, or exactly what you want, but it’ll be quality. The people are showing their projects to you, almost like you’re a potential investor. They show what they’re doing and where they want to go and how they plan to get there. Where as all the other spots are like, “This is who I am.” They’re so definitive.  Do you really want to help people like that? I don’t know.

The best part of Kickstarter is that you get to be a part of someone’s story.  You get to be a part of a project before anyone else, and not just monetarily but through a true energy exchange. If someone donates $5 or $100, I feel that so much more than someone just buying a CD to shut me up.  It’s people saying, “Skip, I believe and support in you.” That’s so humbling.

*Interview Date: August 5, 2010

To support Skip, check out his page and promo video at Kickstarter.com.

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