“Truth be told, I just want to make pretty music.”
It was this realisation which started Ski Lift. Trey George left behind other projects which simply weren’t him. “Self-conscious hyper-obscure” music had been replaced with “over-the-top honesty”.
The teenaged “grindy screamo bands” of 2004 were finished. So was Jesse James Wax Museum, the nine-piece group trying to emulate The-Decembrists-meets-Sufjan-Stevens, who would get really drunk for live shows, and had a crowd-pleasing stage presence… which when recorded sounded like “a praise band with trumpets that sang about bank robbers and murderers”. Gone too, was JJWM, the second, “more experimental, relevant, whatever” incarnation of that outfit, which resulted in “a schizophrenic turd of an EP”.
So Ski Lift was born from an appreciation of “how pretty the human voice could be” combined with “how powerful simple, honest lyrics could be.” Not wanting to argue with the rest of JJWM about “not being cool enough”, Trey got Abby Webster in on the act, and they started writing.
And then Trey took a marketing job eight hours away, and moved from Springfield, Missouri to Nashville, Tennessee.
They finished writing and Abby drove to Nashvillefor the weekend – “It’s about six and a half hours if you speed enough”, insisted Trey. “I don’t know what Trey’s talking about,” said Abby. “It takes eight hours… Not to mention you have to drive through a maze of like, ten different states. And a city that looks like the apocalypse.” – and they recorded their debut EP Romantic in Trey’s kitchen. “My neighbours have to hate me.”
“My apartment has a breakfast nook, but I don’t own a kitchen table. So I just put my computer and all my music gear there. It’s cramped, but I’m not cool enough to own a whole lot of racks or mixers, so I’m set. I just pound out drumbeat ideas on the midi controller and have Jeremy fill in the rest in his studio.”
Jeremy is Jeremy Larson, who produced the EP. InSpringfield. Via email. Back and forward, back and forward.
“Honestly, working with Jeremy via email wasn’t too bad,” said Trey. “It was kind of nice, because it kept me from micro-managing. He’s such a nice guy that he’d just do whatever I suggested, but I have plenty of bad ideas.”
Ski Lift’s fan base grew exponentially after their song “Give it Up” was featured in fashion brand Red Velvet’s Spring 2011 “Lookbook” video, and the designer and owner Elsie Larson’s (aka Mrs Jeremy) mentioned them on her blog, A Beautiful Mess.
“Elsie’s blog gave us quite the jumpstart,” said Trey. “So I’m forever grateful to her.”
Unlike other groups Trey and Abby have been in, Ski Lift essentially only lives on the Internet.
“We can’t really play shows because Trey’s too busy working in his cubicle, and I’m too busy philosophising at an unimportant university,” said Abby, who is finishing a degree in Philosophy at Missouri State.
“The hardest part about [being in a band with someone who lives so far away] is not knowing when we’re going to be able to write more, or where our project is going to end up,” she said.
“I definitely used to put more focus on live shows as a vehicle of promotion,” said Trey. “But the Internet is so much more efficient and really the only option considering.
“I learned my lesson on physically producing albums when you’re a DIY band. We still have 800 copies of JJWM sitting in my parents’ basement. They like to remind me of that.”
Romantic has exceeded Trey’s expectations since its release on August 30. “The reception has been really, really cool to see. I knew some friends would listen, and some family members would buy it.”
“A few people who really like my solo stuff complain about Ski Lift because it is very different,” said Abby, “but ‘solo piano songs are boring’ according to Trey, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think he’s kind of right. I think people like the Romantic EP for the most part. At least I hope they do.”
So what’s next? Despite the Internet, is a band with its members eight hours apart viable?
“Right now,” Trey said, “I’m just reaching out to literally any music blog that’ll listen – just trying to get it out there. Then we’ll have to do a full-length [album] within the next year or so. We just have to write it.
“If we toured, it’d have to fall under my vacation time,” (all of three weeks) “and I can’t burn that all on touring.
“I make a very sustainable living right now, and I work in an industry that doesn’t look too kindly to taking a few years off. And the way the music industry is right now, it’s not really feasible for a mid-level musician to make a living… The market is so oversaturated that musicians have been haggled down to giving their product away…It’s just how it is, so I try to be realistic.
“Monetarily speaking, there’s no middle class in the music industry anymore. It’s kind of like a third world country: you have very few super rich – rapping about yachts or singing about glitter – and then you have the thousands and thousands of super poor.
“I love making music a whole, whole lot, so I’m going to continue making it. But I’m not going to put myself in a position where I’m not sure I can afford my next grocery trip, you know?”
So why keep going?
“[Music has] been pretty much the only hobby I’ve ever felt confident in. I wasn’t good at sports or video games, or like, building model planes. So the result is as unhealthy music obsession. It’s my indulgent release. Some people eat a carton of Ben & Jerry’s when they’re stressed or down. I pick at the guitar and twist knobs on a pedal.”
Abby is the same. “Honestly, performing solo isn’t very much fun, and neither is writing solo stuff. It’s just something I can’t not do. I know that’s an annoying and pretentious thing to say, but if I didn’t write songs and play them, I would be even more insane than I already am.”
(I wrote this article for an assignment for my Journalism class. Trey and Abby are super friendly, so you should definately definatley take a listen)
(Did I mention you can download “Give it Up” and “Romantic” for free?)