You might recognise Gareth Skinner as the cello/banjo player for country rockers The Holy Sea. You might also have heard some of his work on the soundtracks to Aussie films Boytown and Crackerjack, or perhaps his session work with the likes of Bertie Blackman, Behind Crimson Eyes and Gotye.
The point is, the man is a workaholic. Since graduating from the Victoria College of the Arts in 1997, he’s racked up over one thousand performances with experimental bands and contributed music to numerous shorts and feature films.
As well as his collaborative work, Skinner found the time to release a solo album in 2006, the challenging Eternal Nowhere, and when Daniel Clarke caught up with the man he was just getting ready to release his second solo adventure, Looking For Vertical.
With a fourteen-month-old baby at home, Skinner admitted that he and his wife “have only got half a brain at the moment” before opening up about his many musical adventures.
Music Feeds: So what have you been up to lately?
Gareth Skinner: Just trying to promote this record really. I worked on a short horror film a guy called Bob Franklin did, which has gone to lots of horror festivals. But the main thing now is trying to promote my little weirdo record.
MF: So how did you get started in music? I read somewhere that you’d studied music at the Victoria College of the Arts?
GS: Well, I’ve never had a good relationship with academia. Music is something I’ve always liked doing. I started playing the piano when I was really young. Just always written songs, bits of music. The whole point of studying was to try and meet people from a film background. Even just doing that was hard. I’ve always played in bands and I’ve had the privilege of doing some biggish soundtracks.
MF: What was it that interested you in doing soundtracks?
GS: As a kid I always like shows like Get Smart, Looney Tunes and even The Goodies and I was fascinated by the music. It just seemed like something I could be reasonably good at and could be happy doing. It’s just a shame that there’s so little being made in Australia and so many people gunning for the gigs.
MF: I was listening to your earlier album, Eternal Nowhere just before. It’s a compelling record, but it seems to me like it would be a hard thing for people to get their head around.
GS: Yeah it is and that’s partially why this album, overall the tone of it is more simple. It’s more a straight, cello-filled thing. The earlier one was more disparate; it’s all over the place musically. I’ve always been bad at explaining what it is that I do but trying to explain that one was particularly hard, it’s such a mixed bag.
The new album is more straight up in terms of being more of a consistent thing. It’s ninety percent me making small sort of orchestral pop sounds. There’s less genre-hopping. But even then, what sort of genre it is, I think that’s something the listener will have to work to try and ascertain.
MF: Doing so much of the production and writing yourself must be time consuming.
GS: It is really time consuming. I don’t work from home at all. I’m not a technological person. I think I’m the only person on this planet who doesn’t own a computer. So basically I have all the arrangement ideas sorted in my head or on paper. This last one was done at a place called Hothouse in St Kilda who I’ve done a lot of stuff with. They’re really good with just letting me go crazy for ten or twelve hours straight. But I really enjoyed it. Recording is, by far, the most satisfactory part of being a musician I think.
MF: You’ve worked with lots of people over the years, but are you happier being at the helm?
GS: Definitely. I’m still in bands though. I’m currently in an old country band called the Holy Sea. I play cello and banjo in that. Being in a band is great; it’s like being in a gang. Especially in a harmonious band. But when you’re making your own records purely for your own enjoyment, and you have one hundred percent control, there’s nothing better really. Even the label are great, they just let me go and do what I do.
MF: Have you found you’ve had a lot of support from the industry?
GS: No, very, very little actually. The sales of the last record were modest, I would say. At the same time, I’m not a self-marketer, someone who puts themselves out there. In terms of putting myself out there etc, it’s kind of antithetical to me, which is probably a shame. People who I’ve worked with in films are always keen to know what I’m up to and put my name forward for projects, but that’s it really.
MF: Are you a full-time musician?
GS: I’m actually working in a warehouse at the moment. I always have those jobs I can just leave at a moment’s notice if something comes up. Around the time of doing the films Crackerjack and Boytown, those are the only times I’ve been able to live purely on music. All the money from bands goes into a pool so we can tour or make records and stuff. Like most musicians I have a part-time job and in my case it’s in a DVD warehouse.
MF: So do you get out and play live much with your solo stuff?
GS: To date there’s been no solo shows except for the one to launch the record; that was only because people were pestering me to do it, I got a band for the night. Being the centre of attention is really not my bag, that’s why I like being in bands, it’s part of a group. Also at this time of my life it’s hard to devote time and energy to that. It makes it hard with the record, because people sort of assume that you’ll tour. In my case it’ll be limited to some press and that’s about it.
MF: Have you always lived in Melbourne?
GS: Lived here for pretty much the entire of my adult life. It’s definitely a good place to be a musician. To this day the live band scene is really good. We have two main community stations which are both fantastic when it comes to supporting people like myself. Lots of places to play, lots of smaller radio stations as well. As much as I like other towns in the country, as far as a creative music scene there’s nothing like it. Even things like the venues being open later so you can get four or five bands on a bill; more availability, more places to play, more street press, more exposure.
Gareth Skinner’s new album, Looking for Vertical, is out soon through Rubber Records. Keep an eye on their site for details.