A conversation with Skyler Skjelset


    Eric Slick spoke with Skyler Skjelset about the meditative aspects of running, what element on the periodic table he identifies with, why he paradoxically finds quiet in New York City and what he would do with his life if he were to come back new.

    If I was an alien, I would like to run in Hong Kong. I’ve never been and have always wanted to go, so it’d be a good reason to get there.


    Eric Slick

    You have an obsession with all things Yellow Magic Orchestra. Tell me about when this obsession began, and how YMO currently fits into your musical and nonmusical life.

    Skyler Skjelset

    I got my first YMO record, Solid State Survivor, when I was still living in Seattle from a bartender at the local haunt The Redwood in Capitol Hill. It has definitely become an obsession for me, but I like to think an academic one. Dissecting the band, they’ve all done such amazing work in their other projects, even including satellite members, that delves into so many different genres while constantly being exploratory. Soul, funk, electronica, samba, folk… it’s really all there.

    If anyone reading this has never heard any of this stuff, it’s worth checking out. All of Hosono’s previous records – not only under his own name, but also under his bands F.O.E., Tin Pan, Happy End and Takahashi’s band the Sadistics — especially, the record Looks Like We’re Taking Off is definitely worth checking out, and Sakamoto’s earlier electronica stuff — Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia are both really cool records. But in addition to his more piano-focused works, his more ambient records with people like Fennesz or Alvo Noto are all great listens.


    Did you see that Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” was used in the Olympics? What was your reaction?

    I didn’t know that happened, but it’s cool to that they’d have the taste to use such a wonderful composition in such a widely viewed event. I’ll have to check it out later.


    If you were an element on the periodic table, which element would you be, and why?

    Sodium, but for no particular reason other than it seems relatively plain.


    Do you ever go running? There’s a Murakami book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and for some reason I think about it weekly. Describe a run you would like to take if you were an alien being dropped on Earth.

    I do run. I’ve always enjoyed running in cities if they’re not too congested — usually, it’s nice when it’s just snowed or too cold for most people. If I was an alien, though… Maybe Hong Kong? I’ve never been and have always wanted to go, so it’d be a good reason to get there.

    When we were way younger, we came across a very large meteoric crater. It was so massive and deep that there was ice forming in the bottom of it.


    What is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen on tour?

    Once, when we were way younger, we were driving through the Southeast and came across a very large meteoric crater that we, with use of our drum rug, hopped a barbed wire fence to get to the edge of. It was so massive and deep that there was ice forming in the bottom of it. Something about the illegality and togetherness of making the effort to see the thing added to the experience, and it’s definitely stayed with me all these years.

    Back when I was playing with Beach House, we had a few days in Banff, Alberta, and my friend Steve and I went on a long walkabout through the town, coming across a river in the middle of the night and that is another experience has always stayed with me. It’s hard to explain why without being long winded and dramatic, but I even returned back to the same spot a few years later on a trip with my family and was immediately taken back to the same moment.


    Make me a list of five things that you absolutely can’t live without and annotate with excruciating details. Make the list a work of art, or perhaps a piece of poetry.

    This is a very hard question and I know that I wouldn’t be able to defend these answers at other points in my life, because I assume they’re always changing, but my initial reactions…

    — Yukio Mishima’s writing.

    If I ever get super-detached from my internal voice due to current events, travel, TV or whatever, and I read his work, it always helps remind me what I’m searching for.

    — New York City.

    New York is an insane place with too many people and so much noise, but there are so few things I enjoy more than walking through this city on a cold day, even with no direction. I weirdly feel like I can find more internal quieting to focus on my thoughts in congestion than when solitary.

    — Merzbow’s Hybrid Noisebloom.

    It’s actually a secret hobby of mine to collect as many copies of that record as I can find, but it’s always been an important one to me as a listen.

    — Coffee.

    I don’t understand people who want to quit something like coffee. I used to smoke a lot of cigarettes, and so much of it was the ritual, but coffee does essentially the same thing in a much more enjoyable way.

    — Running.

    This is a soul soother.


    Where does the impulse to create come from for you? For me, it’s because I have ADHD and my hands need to move or else my anxiety shoots through the roof.

    It’s honestly usually out of some sort of deep desire to feel or connect to something internal. I have a tendency to “check out” a lot, even day-to-day, but periodically I need to go through something cathartic like recording to shed that numbness. That’s actually the one aspect of tour that I find incredibly frustrating. I love tour — getting to travel and play music every day is wonderful, but it’s so inhibiting to my own process of making something new because even in the small amounts of time you get to work on something, there’s so little time to let things gestate into what they want to naturally become. I know the process is different for everyone, but…


    Your Instagram photos are beautiful and stand on their own as textural art pieces. When did you start taking photos? Explain how they make you and others feel.

    Ha, thanks. Honestly, I just look at it as way to take a photo of something very plain and make it as difficult to look at as possible until it becomes interesting. Most of the photos are usually of the most boring things — my own skin, garbage or whatever — but if you get close enough and compress it hard enough, it seems to become something else. I used to take a lot of photos with my 35mm when Fleet Foxes took its hiatus, and I really found it incredibly fulfilling, but it’s hard to carry around on tour and I’m usually too busy to get out and explore these days. I hope that my photos make people feel confused, like they want to like it but something about them is simultaneously turning them off and on at the same time.


    Do you have a synaesthetic response to the things that you see and hear? If you don’t, what do you think of synaesthesia? I have it, but it chooses when it wants to appear in my mind’s eye.

    I can associate things with colors pretty easily, but it’s not so extreme that I taste squares when I eat a potato or something like that. I knew a girl in high school that used to translate every letter to a color, even including clear. Like she’d see blue in her Es, but all her Xs were clear. I think it’s a pretty amazing phenomenon and really adds to the romantic side of whatever creative thing you’re striving to produce as a musician if you can associate more than just notes and frequencies.


    What is the most honest sound that you’ve ever achieved with a guitar? Has a guitar ever made you cry?

    I love the guitar, but it also feels limited and arbitrary to me. So, as I’ve gotten older and more exploratory when I work, I try and use it in the most un-guitar way possible. I don’t know if a guitar has ever made me cry, honestly, but I’d say Jaco’s playing could maybe make it happen.

    I would probably still do music, but I definitely would try to believe in myself a bit more. I’ve struggled with years of self-doubt rather than just doing what feels right to me.


    Do you think that religion is necessary? Has religion ever interfered with something you were making?

    I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think if people need something higher to rely on in their lives, it doesn’t have to affect me negatively. That’s definitely something I’ve had to remind myself as I’ve gotten older and worked with more people out in the world outside of the safety of my West Coast upbringing.

    That being said, to answer the question — and it’s not really for me to say, ultimately — but in my personal experience, I’ve found it to be very stifling. My first girlfriend’s family was very religious and I remember it causing a lot of strife in the midst of our young love. And I’ve had a few gay relatives that have had to deal with religious conviction from family members, which is a major bummer. Obviously, a lot of our own society falls victim to the more oppressive aspects of it, and I do wish people wouldn’t be so black and white about their beliefs because, ultimately, who the fuck knows? I don’t really concern myself with or spend time thinking about other people’s religious beliefs, so it’s never interfered with something I’ve personally been making.


    What was the last thing that you ate? Do you have a photo of it, or could you draw a picture of it? If you don’t have that, take a picture of the next thing you eat and magnify it until becomes unrecognizable and then share that with me.

    I actually had some sort of food poisoning a couple days ago for the first time in my life, got severe dehydration from vomiting, and had to go to the ER in an ambulance to get an IV, so the last thing I ate was saltines with peanut butter. I think everyone knows what a saltine looks like.


    Tell me about your upbringing. Were your parents supportive of your music, or did you have a need to rebel?

    My upbringing was okay. I wouldn’t say it was idyllic, but I think everyone tried the best they could, considering the circumstances. In regards to music, both my parents were always very supportive. I was terrible in almost all of my classes in high school and hated it so much, which was a little frustrating for them, but they always supported the music side simultaneously. My dad loves music and I think he’s regretted not doing it himself and my mom was pretty goth for a lot of my formative years, so it wasn’t really necessary for me to rebel.


    There’s a book that’s common in music school libraries called Effortless Mastery. If you haven’t read it, don’t read it and tell me what you think it’s about.

    Probably about “taking it upstairs” or whatever. I don’t like to read books on creative processes. I feel like they confuse more than illuminate.


    If you were to completely start over, what would you do with your life?

    I would probably still do music, but I definitely would try to believe in myself a bit more. I’ve struggled with years of self-doubt rather than just doing what feels right to me. Also, start on the drums. If not, I’ve always wanted to try acting…

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 144
    Curated by: Eric Slick
    Conducted by: Email
    Edited by: Morgan Enos
    Published: March 6, 2018
    Total questions: 15
    Word count: 1891
    Reading time: Six minutes
    Hyperlinks: 5


    Ice: Formed
    Doubt: Null
    Go-to: China
    Saltine: Understood
    Time: Gestation
    Voice: Detached


    About the subject

    Skyler Skjelset is the guitarist, mandolinist and a founding member of the band Fleet Foxes.

    About the curator

    Eric Slick is a musician and composer from Philadelphia, PA. He currently resides in Richmond, VA. He is best known as the drummer for Dr. Dog and the singer of Lithuania. He released his debut solo album Palisades in April 2017.


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