You say hello, I say Bye Bye
The Bye Bye Blackbirds’ Bradley Skaught on standing out from the crowd
By Chris O'Neal 08/11/2011
When The Bye Bye Blackbirds take the stage at Zoey’s Cafe this Friday, don’t expect the tables and chairs to remain in place. Rather than ask where they’ve gone, ask when they’ll return; the vibe will take listeners on a journey spanning five decades, reaching back to the melodic core of the Beatles and the Kinks to the underground college rock of REM and the Go-Betweens.
Bradley Skaught takes front and center as The Bye Bye Blackbirds’ vocalist and guitarist, his voice a unique drawl reminiscent of Tom Petty, accompanied by the harmonic contribution of Aaron Rubin (bass), Lenny Gill (drums) and Ian Robertson (guitar, vocals), all of whom transform the five-piece band out of Oakland into a highly influenced yet uniquely 21st century rock piece.
“I think a lot of artists really pick a time and a place they want to emulate, and work hard to recreate that,” said Skaught. “We wear our influences on our sleeves but we also try to follow the song writing.”
The band has signed with several independent labels during its career, including American Dust and Rainbow Quartz, for which its latest, Fixed Hearts, was released in July. With three albums under its belt, the band has found moderate success within the San Francisco indie scene, but finding an audience for its variation on power-pop amid a glut of indie bands has proven difficult, with labels unwilling to take much of a risk on new acts.
“They say, ‘You guys are great, but you’re so different from what we do.’ It has been a bit of a challenge to find the niche,” said Skaught. “One thing I will say: we can win people over in person.”
Between recording sessions, the band has toured the West Coast, stopping in Ventura along the way. It’s in live shows that Skaught feels The Bye Bye Blackbirds shine.
“Not only is the volume louder, there’s just a little more aggression in the guitars. We dig in a little more,” said Skaught. “On the record, we get a little prettier, a little cleaner. That has its charm, too, but live is a little grittier and rooted.”
Their touring schedule is rather low key, however. Skaught has a day job, and the band’s loyalty resides strongly in the Bay Area, where it focuses on short road trips rather than large, nationwide stops. To add to that, the network for its style of music is sparse.
“If you’re a punk band, or something that kind of has a long-standing network, you can plug into it and make your way around. In the kind of power pop world, it’s a little more isolated.”
Over the last two years, when The Bye Bye Blackbirds have toured, they have been accompanied by The Parties, a band with which Skaught feels a connection personally, thanks at least in part to some of the shared experiences the two have had on the road.
“We played this place called the Tower Bar in San Diego,” said Skaught. “It’s in this horrifying neighborhood. We were starving and luckily there was a taco stand nearby. A car pulls up and the next thing we hear is this woman in the back of the car yelling, “Where’s my gun?” With our food in hand, we run like a straight arrow into the van and pull off into the night.”
For Skaught, the tour will have been a success if those in attendance leave with a bit of an understanding of who the musicians are as a band.
“I’d like them to feel like they were experiencing something both really familiar and fresh at the same time,” Skaught said. “It’s a little corny maybe, but we really do try to focus on what we’re trying to communicate, what our interests are, what our passions are. That’s really satisfying.”
The Bye Bye Blackbirds will be performing alongside The Parties at Zoey’s Cafe, Friday Aug. 12. Find out more about the band at www.byebyeblackbirds.com.