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"The week before my wedding I was still finishing vocals for the album, which was pretty insane," says Amsterdam-by-way-of-San Diego singer-songwriter Gayle Skidmore, discussing her latest
full-length. The Golden West, her twentieth independent release, is her third to feature an adult coloring book with the album, each picture depicting a different song.
A difficult record for Skidmore to make, The Golden West took its toll on her, though it eventually became a very cathartic experience. It allowed her to purge some of her past ghosts and let go of a lot of stuff she was still holding on to. Throughout the ten-track collection, The Golden West details Skidmore's personal journey to leave the past where it belongs, a journey that took much longer than planned.
What was originally to be an E.P. quickly turned into a full-length in 2015, following Skidmore's extensive touring across the U.S. Then a difference of opinions with the producer almost put the
record in jeopardy.
"During 2015, I toured extensively, ending my last tour of the year in Eugene, Oregon," says Skidmore. "There I began an intense time of recording, fundraising, and gigging on the weekends. James Book of Ninkasi Brewing invited me up to record in Ninkasi Studios. We had initially planned to do an E.P. but we got a little ambitious and ended up recording ten songs.
"James and I had a great time tracking the record and therefore ended up starting a bigger project than we could finish in the original time allotted. We ran out of time to finish the album in Oregon and made plans to track some more of the record out at [Dave Catching from Eagles of Death Metal's studio] Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree, California. Our Desert Sessions sparked a lot of creativity. Dave was a gracious host and even jumped in on the last song."
"James Book and I had a great synergy in the studio and a great start to the record in Eugene and Joshua Tree. However, when I got home with the tracks, I realized there was still a lot more I wanted to do," she admits. "I brought the album to another producer in San Diego but we had some artistic differences and parted ways," which put the future of the record into question.
Fortunately, with the help of her friends Jason Begin and Brandon O'Connell, Skidmore was able to get right back on track and set out finishing the album.
"I turned to my friends Jason and Brandon, with whom I normally work on commercial music, to help me finish the album. My friends at Ninkasi Brewing and my fans supported the rest of the process through crowd-funding, and I was able to win a grant for the album and coloring book," recalls Skidmore. "I kept working for another year until I finally finished tracking. 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."
"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, California. I knew immediately that this would be my single and title track for my upcoming album," Gayle explains. The chorus' lyrics, "Let's bury all we put to rest in the golden west," captured the spirit of the record. "Since I was contemplating a move to Amsterdam at the time, it seemed only fitting that this album about letting go would be titled after the song that talked directly about leaving California."
Opening with the airy melody of "Pale Ghosts," a mixture of delicate strings and reserved piano alongside Skidmore's angelic, midnight voice, she sings, "If I didn't need to miss you, I could dig a deeper grave. I could press the earth down, hard enough to keep the ghosts away," quickly alerting the listener to the meditative and reflective nature of her words.
"I wrote that line about being haunted by the past," she says. "My whole album is about trying to leave the past behind. With 'Pale Ghosts,' I realized that a huge hindrance in that process can be the refusal to let the dead stay buried. This song is about realizing I needed to leave someone I had loved very much behind, and the heartache of having to take the steps to do so. I struggled deeply with grief and ended up burning all my mementos from the relationship, a theme which appears again in a more literal form in 'How to Let You Go.'"
One of Skidmore's favorite tracks on the album, "Hourglass," a slow-building, spare-to-lush piano-pop heartbreaker inspired by the time Skidmore spent with her grandparents as a child, reels you in with an urgent sense of nostalgia.
"The inspiration for this song came from the time I spent as a child visiting my grandparents in Puget Sound and the feeling that we never get enough time with the people and places we love. I tried to pour the nostalgic ache I feel for that time into the lyrics. My grandpa passed over the summer, two weeks before my wedding, so I never got to play this song for him. His death made the chorus more painfully real to me, 'We're running out of time.' Capturing my mixed feelings of the glory and tragedy of life will be a lifelong pursuit, but I feel like I took a step forward as an artist with this track."
"Hourglass" isn't the only track Skidmore took a step forward with; The Golden West itself is a major leap for Skidmore. Originally planned as a raw, lo-fi collection, the album grew in the studio, with the help of Skidmore's friends, and became more than she had initially envisioned, and more than she could have hoped for.
Beaming about everyone that helped her on this record, Skidmore proudly states, "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."
Though, she admits, "As the songs were fleshed out, I wasn't really certain if they would fit together and sound like a cohesive record. I have the tendency to experiment with different styles within an album. In the beginning, the direction of each song seemed a bit haphazard, but I feel like it really came together."
Skidmore included a hymn on the record, of which she has written plenty, but never released.
"I'm happy to share 'The Hallows' on this record. This is the first time I've recorded one of my hymns, so it is thrilling for me."
She also added the bouncy "Honey Bee," a straightforward pop song that Skidmore says "is a really happy song, which is different for me, so it's exiting to have that new element on this album."
But the song that was most surprising - and rewarding - for Skidmore is the album's closer, "Only Ever You."
"I wanted this song to be epic, and to incite people to feel longing and heartache, despair and hope - all the things I wrestled through in the last five years - so that for one glimmering moment we could understand each other. I was so intensely lonely for such a long time, and I think that anyone who has ever been there needs to know that they really aren't alone. This experience can be shared, even after the fact, and I think that fact really helped me moving forward. "Only Ever You" kind of breaks my heart again when I listen to it, but in the way you want your heart to break when you listen to a good sad song. I hope it does the same for others."
Skidmore also points out that Dave Catching played guitar on "Only Ever You," a huge highlight for her. "I'm such a fan of [Eagles of Death Metal], and I'm really grateful to Dave for bringing us out to his studio. It was a dream come true and I'm grateful to Ninkasi Brewing for making it happen."
With the record done and set for release, Skidmore reflects on her music career leading up to this record. While she has let go of past relationships and ghosts that have haunted her, she's also let go of expectations and pressure she puts on herself, helping to make The Golden West the album she wanted to make; pure, honest, and one-hundred percent her. She didn't make a record to impress others or to make her a "star," she made a record to truly help her soul, and hopefully others.
"To be honest, I tried really hard to be successful through the industry channels for a few years," she reflects. "I tried to smash myself into a more polished box, to follow trends, and to chase after a deal. That didn't really work out for me, and I don't think I would have been happy if it did. I find I worry less these days; The Golden West is more about finding my voice and creating the music that is in my soul."
However, that doesn't mean she doesn't want people to connect with her music, and have The Golden West take her to her next level. She is quite proud of the album, and wants to work as hard as she can, as she has in the past, to find this album an audience.
"This being my twentieth independent release, I hope it will be the one to take me to the next level in my career, though finishing the album and pressing it to vinyl already feels like a huge accomplishment."
When asked to describe the record, Skidmore pauses for a bit and then says with a smile, "It's whimsical, melancholic music for the romantic intellectual."
Reminiscing on the past, while moving forward, Skidmore is quite proud of what she's accomplished musically and she looks forward to many more years of creating music.
"I have spent the last several years touring the country in my tiny car, cramming in up to five instruments just for me, making coloring books, baking cookies, and knitting hats for fans. I've driven to New York and back several times by myself and have had countless adventures. I was once an opener for a Juggalo show in Buffalo. I played a house show in a basement in Boise and on the same tour played the EMP museum in Seattle for Ninkasi Brewing's Ground Control Launch. 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 Ôalternative,' 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 twenty 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."
Also very excited about the accompanying coloring book with The Golden West, Skidmore is quick to remind you, "I still like to think I started the adult coloring book trend," saying it with her trademark smile.
Now living in Amsterdam with her husband, The Golden West will see plenty of touring in Europe, but Skidmore also plans to hit the U.S. and tour as frequently as she can in support of the cathartic collection that saved her perseverance.