During the fall semester, it seemed like almost every second or third weekend there was a show that included Sky Bars, the ensemble embodying a mix of funk, soul, and jazz. Last weekend, half of the group, including all four of its senior members, sat down with The Argus to talk about the band’s work, both during and in the lead up to last semester, as well as the sheer dynamics of working with a group this large.
When asked about the current lineup, they emphasized that adaptation was a necessity.
“The band adapted and changed, and had people go abroad, and people leave and come back, but it’s been pretty much a solid group since sophomore year,” said Tory Mathieson ’14, one of the group’s three vocalists.
The current lineup, as it stands, consists of Mathieson, Jeff Berman ’14, Jessica Best ’14, Nate Campagne ’15, Will Fraker ’14, Derek Frank ’15, Gabe Beaudoin ’15, Eriq Robinson ’15, and Julia Chanin ’15, who is currently studying abroad.
Even thought the group officially banded together when most of its members were in their sophomore year, a lot of the musicians played together even before arriving at Wesleyan.
“Gabe, Tory, Nate and I, and Julia, all were in a band together in high school,” Fraker said. “And so coming here, when we were sophomores, it was like, ‘we’ve got to keep playing together, we had so much fun in high school!’ And then I’d been playing music with Jeff in freshman year a bunch, and it just made sense. Once we met Derek it was like, ‘alright, we’ve got to do this,’ because a killing keys player is a hundred percent necessary in a band like this.”
In its first semester together, the band had its first show at Eclectic’s Awesomefest, and then again at a house party during Senior Week, for which it brought in a Middletown rapper by the name of Max Breezy. However, things got a little complicated as multiple members went abroad as juniors, including Berman, who had been playing guitar with some of the members since high school.
“It changed our song selection; I feel like we ended up playing a lot more chilled songs,” Fraker said. “We didn’t have the guitar, we had [fewer] singers.”
But last semester, the full original lineup had returned, propelling the band forward. At the same time, it also helped that the band steadily evolved with its choice to move away from covers.
“I think another thing that got us a little excited to play more was that we started writing more of our own music,” Mathieson said. “Every week there’d be a new song and a new reason to play, so I think a lot of the reason we were so excited about playing more gigs was because we had more original music to play.”
Beaudoin, the group’s bassist, added that the rewarding work of writing original music outweighs the time put into forming a cover.
“Recently when we play covers, we try to make it our own covers and we rarely just play it as it is on the recording,” Beaudoin said. “It can often be more work to make a song sound like us than to just do a song by us.”
When asked about all of the shows they played last semester, the one that really stood out for the members was their show at Alpha Delta Phi (Alpha Delt) on Nov. 9, when they, along with Don Froot and Spirits, opened for the alumni band The Rooks. This held a sort of symbolic significance, considering the history that some members of Sky Bars had with the returning band.
“A lot of people in the band were people whose senior recitals we’d been in, or we used to come up and sing a song for their band, like, two years ago, so it was really fun to get back together with some old friends and alums,” Mathieson said.
Working with a group as large as Sky Bars can seem like an intimidating task. However, in spite of the challenges, the size of the band also brings about its own rewards.
“Scheduling can be hard sometimes, but if anything it just offers more variability of more that can happen: the guitar and piano can have a dialogue, then the sax can come in for a solo, and then we have a three-part harmony, and the bass will take it away,” Beaudoin said. “It’s just more texture.”
With the new semester well underway, the band doesn’t hold many major plans other than playing at Alpha Delt some time in the near future. Right now, its upcoming untitled EP occupies its focus. When asked about the upcoming album, Mathieson almost gave away its name, then paused and said it was a work in progress, possibly due for release sometime this month. She was, however, undeniably excited about its upcoming release.
“We basically have one more day of mixing, but then it will be done,” Mathieson said. “But over fall break we basically all came over to my house with a sound engineer and recorded a four-song EP in three days, and they’re all originals and we’re excited to finally get it out soon.”
Best added that the album will highlight the live experience that Sky Bars delivers so well.
“We like that kind of raw sound; we told him we wanted it to sound like we were playing live,” she said.
Yet there is another reason that this semester is going to be important. Almost half the members of the band are in their senior year, meaning by and large that the band’s days are numbered. However, it seemed like the members, rather than getting sentimental, were just excited for what the future would bring, especially with what the current juniors would do after the seniors moved on.
“Those guys will come up with something just as cool, and we look forward to coming back and seeing what that is,” Best said, and, with a chuckle, joked, “Let’s say we’re all in New York…. Maybe Sky Bars will live on, right, guys?”