Soulskin draw from hometown roots to shape upcoming album
“Detroit is a blue collar town. Having roots there helps define how we approach life. We work hard and like to enjoy life.”
Hard rock band Soulskin has come back together for an exciting release of their new album Beneath a Dimmer Crown.
The band consists of Jason Hamilton, Bobby Burdick, Matthew Marth and Chris Stone. Hamilton and Stone both originate from Detroit, while the rest of the band hails from Nashville, TN.
In anticipation of the upcoming album, the band has released the debut single “Circle of Stone” which embodies the alt-metal sound that the group has strived for.
Beneath a Dimmer Crown is available for preorder and is set to release on August 3.
The band spoke with Editor in Chief Kailey Howell regarding the reformation of the band as well as the role that Detroit plays in their music career.
Kailey Howell: You guys were originally together in the late 90’s, tell me a little bit about how you all met each other and starting making music.
Jason Hamilton: Chris and I were in a band in Detroit in the late 80’s. Chris headed to Nashville to attend Belmont University and I quickly followed. Matthew auditioned for Soulskin and joined in ‘92 and Bobby then auditioned a year later, after the first drummer, Rick Godley left the band.
Chris Stone: Rick and Bobby were attending Belmont with Jason and I, and that’s how we met and began jamming together. There was a great comradery at Belmont with a lot of the Music Business and School of Music students there, so a lot of musicians were turning others onto other projects and bands. Bobby was a perfect fit for us, as we needed someone who could take our sound into a much heavier realm. Matthew answered an ad we placed on a bulletin board in the back of a guitar store, shortly after he arrived in Nashville from Minneapolis. We were blown away by just how original his voice was, and how much diversity and range he had.
In the early days, our sound was probably more ‘funky,’ but our songwriting and overall sound went into a much heavier, darker and more angry direction as the four of us started getting more comfortable with each other. One of the great parts of being a band on campus is that there was a great studio right there for us to use whenever we were able to. Many of the audio engineering students wanted to use Soulskin the band for their projects, so we were able to get used to recording. Our first album was recorded entirely at the Belmont campus with James Thompson, another Belmont graduate – who still remains a vital part of our production team.
Bobby Burdick: I joined the band sometime in 1992. My friend Rick Godley was playing drums with the original, un-named, line-up of the band. Rick and I were from Roanoke, VA. We made the move to Nashville at the same time to attend Belmont University. Rick was newly married, attending classes, working a part-time job, and making time for band rehearsals. I believe a mutual decision was made that Rick would leave the band. The guys (Soulskin) called me and asked if I would be interested in the gig. I checked with Rick to make sure he was cool with it, then I accepted the gig. I think they wanted to hire me because I owned a 14’ box truck that was big enough for all the band gear, PA, and lights.
The first rehearsals I think they had 3 or 4 songs for me to learn; Interesting stuff, funky, lots of musical changes, odd time meters. It was fun to play, but I did not consider this to be a permanent thing, just something to pass time while going to school. As time went on, the writing slowly and progressively got better; and heavier! I’m not sure if my influence was part of the band starting to take on a heavier sound, or just something that evolved. We all had different stylistic influences that we brought to the table.
KH: How would you define your sound?
JH: We believe in strong melodies and an ‘in your face’ approach musically. We have varied influences so the sound is very unique but still approachable.
CS: We’ve been told that we remind people at times of certain bands, but generally like to pride ourselves in using our influences while remaining unique. A lot of artists nowadays are not categorizing their music at all – which I realize makes it much more difficult to be noticed or found when you are first starting out. I like to just say we are a Rock or Hard Rock band, and let people throw all the other adjectives and coined genres around it. If we have to throw words in there to help with Search Engines and things like that, we’ll throw words like Alternative, Metal and others in there. When we were first together years ago, someone called us “Neo-Gothic Sludge” – and since that really meant everything and nothing at the same time – we just went with it.
BB: Rock and Roll. I’m not very good at labeling things; but, we have guitar, bass, drums, and a bad-ass singer, so I call it a rock and roll band. If I had to be more specific, I would call it, Heavy-Alternative.
KH: Detroit and Nashville are both music powerhouses. How do you draw inspiration from your hometowns?
JH: Detroit is a blue collar town. Having roots there helps define how we approach life. We work hard and like to enjoy life. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Nashville is counter opposite to Detroit. It was predominantly a country music town up until the last 10-15 yrs. The music that came out of Nashville was well produced and very polished sounding. It was ‘professional’ and everyone that lives in that town seemed to own a guitar. We rebelled against the “high gloss” approach and worked hard to not sound like Nashville. However, we certainly leaned the business end of this industry, which is helpful.
CS: When we were growing up (literally and musically) in the Detroit area, it was difficult to get gigs at clubs like The Ritz & Blondie’s and others. This, coupled with the work ethic of the city made us roll up our sleeves and grind even harder to get better at not only our craft, but the business aspect of music. We left for Nashville to pursue the music education while applying that hard working mentality to that and making better songs. Nashville inspired us on all fronts – it was, and still is a fiercely competitive town in terms of both musicians and the business of music. We’ve had to hustle on both fronts in order to continue to play.
BB: When I hear the phrase, “Detroit sound” I think of Motown. When I hear the phrase, “Nashville sound” I think of country music (and the minor league baseball team). I don’t think these two styles are a part of our sound. Personally, I was influenced by the hard rock bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Deep Purple, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC.
KH: How does Beneath a Dimmer Crown differ from your original work?
JH: We’re very proud of this record. 20+ years ago, we spent a lot of time experimenting with the music. Different time signatures and key changes were common in our songs. This album is much more focused from a songwriting perspective.
CS: We had to learn to write songs differently than we had years ago. When we were together in Nashville in the mid-90’s – we all lived together in the same house and learning to write songs together, tossing ideas into this big “pot of musicial soup.” While this helped strengthen our brotherhood and push us from a musicianship standpoint, the songs sometimes ended up being a bunch of ideas stitched together as opposed to being congruent song structures. Because we all were living in 4 different states at the start of this project, the songs on Beneath A Dimmer Crown had to be written individually by a principal songwriter with a framework before we could toss them over the fence to the other guys to put their parts on. We then met in Nashville to rehearse the songs before we went in and recorded them. This was far different than the old process of us jamming together, hammering out parts in the basement rehearsal room in Nashville.
BB: The songwriting has matured. In our earlier work, the songs were longer, had many different parts, and sometimes tempo changes and time signature changes. The early sound and style still shines through on Dimmer Crown, though.
KH: What do you want listeners to understand from the album?
JH: Life is hard. The choices we make are even harder. Don’t let them own you. This album is about that process in our lives and hopefully it will resonate with others in the struggle.
CS: Music is a powerful gift. It instills many emotions in the listeners, as well as those of us who are able to create and share it. The technology we have available to us now allows us to share it with the world in so many ways. We set out on this new project a number of years ago with one mission in mind: to create an uncompromising album in which we were 100% proud of, period. This band has taken no shortcuts and given their all to deliver this album, and in many ways we feel we’ve already finished our goal – but we would love to continue this as far as it will take us.
BB: Middle-aged dudes with families and jobs can still rock. I just hope they enjoy the songs as much as I do.
KH: Was there any difficulties in writing the album?
JH: Just distance, since this whole album (but one song) were written in different cities by different members of the band, trying to get a cohesive sound was tricky. Narrowing down the songs from over 25 to the 17 that made the album was a process.
CS: Not many difficulties, to be honest. Once we got the process down – the songs just came together. Being a band of guys who have families can create a strain, but since each one of us are in the same boat – we understood when someone needed to be somewhere and couldn’t deliver for the band because of a need to be there as a Father or husband. Family is a major factor for each one of us.
BB: Obviously, yes! When we first started working on this project, we lived in four different states. Matthew was in Minnesota, I was in Nashville, Jason lived near Tampa, and Chris lives in Atlanta. Since 2013, we’ve only been in the same town at the same time on five occasions. Three writing/arranging/rehearsal sessions, Tracking drums in April 2017, and the photo shoot this past May.
KH: Tell me a little more about the meaning behind the debut track on the album “Circle of Stone”.
JH: Circle of Stone is a song about the reunion process. Three of us had met in Atlanta to work on some of the vocals (and catch a Faith No More show) and we realized that we were knee deep in the project and it was going to happen. The themes we were dealing with were deep issues, about life and meaning and value, and the lyrics are about the depth of our relationship as we wrestled with these topics together after 20+ years. We had reignited our friendship and there is something deeply moving about sharing these struggles…again. This song was a reflection on that process.
CS: Jason wrote the lyrics, arrangement and most of the music on that song – so I can’t really speak to that, but I will say that Circle was a song that took on a life of its own since its inception. Jason originally showed me the song in Jacksonville a few years ago and we worked on the melody at his home studio and honestly I thought it may not make the cut. But once the other guys put their special sauce in there, it gave the song new life and now it’s one of my favorites. We chose that song as the first track to put out there, because it represented the overall process for us and also included many of the multiple textural elements included across the whole album, sonically.
KH: What’s in store for the band for the rest of 2018?
JH: We are launching the album this summer (8/3) and working on some dates…stay tuned!
CS: We have lots of irons in the fire, and playing dates together is definitely something we’re working towards. We hope to have Detroit on the itinerary! Jason and I come home to Michigan to visit family a few times a year, it would be great to have that be more often.
*Photo Credit: James Erdman