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Interview w/ Steve Sklar of Big Sky
By Sounni de Fontenay
(more articles from this author)
1999-06-30
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Big Sky[Sounni] Tell me about the band. It's members, how it was formed...?

[Steve] We started Big Sky in early 1994, mostly as a vehicle for developing and presenting Johnna's songs. We had at that point disbanded our previous band, Little Green Men, a sort of "avant-garde jazz-fusion" ensemble. THAT'S challenging stuff to market, though the time might be better now. We started out with ex-LGM keyboardist Michael Pelz-Sherman, and old pals Scott Anderson and Joe Miller from Head Octet on bass and drums. As is the way of things, we play musical chairs every now and then as people's lives change.

[Sounni] How would you define your music?

[Steve] Well, it's equal parts heaven-and-earth, fire-and-water; it's organic and electric at the same time.

[Sounni] You have described your music as Beautiful Pop/Rock/Ethno. Why Beautiful?

[Steve] Well, that's one of the things listeners always call it. Some artists like to express angst, or rage, or pain; we recognize those and may touch on them, but we prefer to focus on beauty, the spiritual relationship between ourselves and nature, and the rising to meet challenges rather than complaining about them. Life's not a bummer to us, nor a happy fantasy; rather its the great and wondrous mystery!

[Sounni] Your lyrics are an integral part of your music. What are the influences for them and is there a particular message that you are trying to present with them?

[Steve] Well, most of the lyrics are Johnna's, so I have to presume to speak for her. Besides what I said before, I think that it's important to understand that usually she's writing from the heart about her life and how she experiences it. Lots of real-world situations and relationships, rather than "I'm going to write X-sort of song today."

[Sounni] What is Siberian Tuvan Throat-singing?

[Steve] Throat-singing, properly called "khoomei" is a family of styles and techniques from Central Asia. Khoomei singers are able to produce very unusual vocal sounds and timbres, and can sing multiphonic parts. That is, 2-3 or even more notes at the same time by an individual singer.

It's been my great fortune to have as friends and teachers the members of the great Tuvan group, Huun-Huur-Tu. Some lessons and years of practice have helped me to learn to sing in several Tuvan (Tuva is a southern Siberian republic where Khoomemi is very common) styles. I visited Tuva in 1995, and I'm now one of two teachers in North America.

You can hear two styles of khoomei on "Siberia," track 4 on "Standing on This Earth."

[Sounni] Tell me about your debut release, "Standing on This Earth".

[Steve] "Standing on This Earth" is Big Sky's debut CD, though we'd recorded some earlier cassettes, too. It features 12 original tunes, 10 by Johnna, and 2 by our bassist at the time, Marc Roemer. It's been very well-received, gotten great reviews, and some even say that it's a worthy purchase for the artwork alone!

We recorded it at Kevin Hovey's Parlour of Redemption, a private studio in the Twin Cities. Kevin used to engineer CDs and tours for Prince and zillions of others, and as Co-producer/engineer he's been a great asset to Big Sky.

"Standing on This Earth" is available on the web from CD Baby at and from Amazon.com and others. People can preview it at mp3.com, amp3.com, rollingstone.com, and elsewhere.

[Sounni] How has being based in the midwest influenced your music?

[Steve] Hmmm...it's kinda hard to say...maybe if we could be from somewhere else too, for perspective ;-) There are some geographical references to mid-western places, but otherwise...not that much.

[Sounni] Would you consider Big Sky a local, regional or potentially national act?

[Steve] I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be well-received anywhere, at least in this arm of the Milky Way! I honestly think that our music has international appeal, and that's backed up by fan mail from around the globe.

[Sounni] What kind of fan base have you developed? What is your relationship to them?

[Steve] Well, it's been a great thing hearing from so many people around the world. It's a wonderful thing these days with the Internet; such exposure would've been possible a few years back. So, we enjoy our local fans, who support us at gigs, and all the listeners in Australia, Russia, France, you name it. As for the relationship, it varies from the folks that just email or write to let us know how much our music means to them, to khoo-maniacs that seek info or lessons.

When we play shows or put our music online, and hear back that it's helped someone through a difficult time, or changed their idea of what music is, or just put a big smile on their face, that makes our day, too!

[Sounni] I see that you have a presence in mp3.com. Has it helped?

[Steve] Yes, indeed! Same thing with amp3.com, and many other sites. It's now possible to build and reach an enormous audience worldwide, and to market directly via the web. The thousands and thousands of downloads we've received represent new fans, and indicate wide-scale appreciation of our music.

It's also been invaluable for building a "buzz;" so many in the industry are aware of us now, and interested.

[Sounni] How does Big Sky use the Internet to advance its goals?

[Steve] Several ways. Here are a few:

1. Direct marketing. It's now simple to present ourselves and our music to the public.

2. Networking: We've learned a lot from fellow musicians online, about opportunities, marketing approaches, musical ideas (I have a collaboration coming up with mp3 artist Tom Aragon), and business connections. We met our manager, Phil Frazier, on the IndiBiz mailing list.

3. "The Buzz" There's no longer time to be everywhere on the web, with so many new sites every day. But it is possible to work it hard and be nearly omnipresent, so that people notice us over and over again. They can see that we're ambitious, working hard, and read our reviews, quotes, and hear our music nearly instantly. The internet is still so new, and many folks are either not on it yet, or just getting going. But it's growing exponentially, and presents great opportunities for those interested in learning how to use it.

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Check out a review of Big Sky
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