Skyline Rodeo

The Long Drive To Post-Punk Stardom

From time to time, Chorus and Verse shines a light into the New Brunswick, NJ music scene. In the shadow of Rutgers University, 50,000 students spread across several campuses across the state, the scene has increasingly become more underground. With fewer live venues available for bands to strut their stuff and gain experience in front of live audiences, there is an increasing reliance on private shows and venues in other cities to support the numerous talented bands making great music that call the area home.

Skyline Rodeo is a great example of the vibrancy and potential of the music that's being made. Starting, as most New Brunswick bands so, from the ashes of previous groups, the quartet has established themselves as one of the most entertaining and original post-punks acts around. They've managed to achieve the difficult balancing act of being innovative and interesting, while still witty and engaging. While some bands who experiment with sound as much as Skyline Rodeo does become art-rock acts will little broad appeal, these guys might just redefine "pop" by making their music popular without sounding like the rest of the stuff that's out there.

The band, Steve Bumgarner, Morgan Chen, Christopher Rousseau and Joe Dingerdissen, have also been supporters of independent music through Chen's MightyMing record company. In addition to releasing the band's last CD, "Long Drive To Iceland," in March 2005, MightyMing released the "Mightyming Mix Tape #2" at a release show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ in February. "Mix Tape #2" features 20 tracks - including Skyline Rodeo's "George Bailey Complex" - from bands across the country. The free compilation is great sample of cutting-edge music and the independent ethic.

Chorus and Verse interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bumgarner about Long Drive To Iceland as well as the MightMing comp. We also asked about the state of the New Brunswick music scene and when we'll get a new album from this band to watch.

Last month, you played Maxwell's for the record release of the new Mightyming Mix Tape #2 compilation. How did the show go? Can you tell us a little bit about the comp and the bands that are included on it?

The Mightyming release show at Maxwell's went very well considering it occurred on the start of one of the biggest snowstorms in recent memory. It's gratifying playing on such a solid bill; Ifwhen and American Watercolor Movement are two of the most innovative Jersey bands around, and Pretendo plays extremely intelligent but also really fun indie-rock. The comp is an opportunity to try and give some exposure to bands we feel deserve it without charging the requisite $200-300 most comps ask you to pony up. We usually do a low-run with black and white covers to keep the costs down, but this allows us to give them out for free at shows to encourage as many people as possible to hear them. In addition to the two Jersey bands above, we also have Jersey acts The Roadside Graves, Sparks Fly From a Kiss, Kate Sikora, and Crayon Rosary as well as lots of bands from the Northeast and even the Midwest. We consider all types of music; if you're good there's an open invitation.

One unusual aspect of your albums that immediately stands out is that you include an instrumental track, such as "Peppermint Patty," which leads off the latest disc. Is there a logic behind starting off the album that way, and do you think it's more difficult to produce or perform live a song without vocals to an audience that's probably waiting the whole time for them to come in?

We deliberated over this one. It can definitely be musical death to open a set or an album with an instrumental, but at two minutes we felt it was a nice little set-up for the rest of the album. We liked the song but felt it might have broken up the momentum elsewhere in the album, so why not open with it? We actually haven't played this live in awhile, but we used to play it first in the set to feel out the room both acoustically and crowd-wise. Audiences might sometimes be disappointed with instrumentals, but we don't and couldn't write worrying about pleasing everyone.

"Long Drive to Iceland" was released about a year ago, so you've had a long time to perform those songs on stage and put the album out there. How do you think the band has changed musically over the past year, and are there any tracks on the album that you would have done differently now looking back?

I think all bands go over their own songs with a microscope every once in awhile, so occasionally things we wish we had done differently crop up. But, all in all, we still feel pretty good about how it turned out. Musically we have progressed into a tighter band, not only in live execution but in song structure; we tend to get to the point a little quicker these days. I think it's directly attributable to two things: Chris coming on board and gelling so well out of the gate, and playing a lot of shows. We understand each other's musical language so much better now that we can say just as much with fewer notes. Whether that's a permanent direction or just a phase is all up in the air. Two albums from now we could put out a two-song, 75-minute epic about photosynthesis.

There's a note on your website that you have new songs that you're looking to record soon. Do you have any idea of when you'll be hitting the studio again and do you think that fans will be able to get a new Skyline Rodeo album this year?

If we're not doing coke off a mixing board by July I'd be surprised. I'm just kidding about the July part. But seriously, we'd really like to record this summer and release a full-length by end of year. We have about eight songs ready to go today and we'd like to get four-five more completed. We're kind of in a writing groove right now, so let's hope it keeps up and we can put this album out.

When you go into the studio, are most of the songs fully-formed and ready to be recorded, or do you continue to experiment and make changes while you're there? Is there an element of spontaneity in the final recording process or do you have something specific in your head that you want to hear in that final mix?

We have progressively gotten more experimental in the studio, but as with all unsigned, unfunded bands, the clock is a factor so you have to have fairly concrete ideas going into the studio or you'll be broke. We actually had a flat rate to record last time, so we did get to play a little more than we ever did before. We're trying to do some decent quality demos in the basement right now in order to be able to experiment a little with them. This way we have an idea of anything outside of the core song we'd like to try. But the studio always has some neat toy that throws that out of wack and you spend five hours trying to get an amazing sound out of a vintage Farfisa and then you realize you forgot to record the guitar. Damn.

How does your songwriting process usually work? Do you tend to just get together and jam on ideas until something starts to develop, or do individual members work on ideas on their own and bring something to the group to either get ripped to shreds or given the full Skyline Rodeo treatment?

It's a 50-50 split between the two. Rarely does anyone bring in more than a riff or at most a developed part or two, and sometimes parts manifest themselves just by messing around at the beginning of practice. It's a very democratic process in a way. We try to toe the fine line of incorporating everyone's ideas without completely obliterating the original thought. Then again, sometimes the original idea does get obliterated and if it's for the better everyone is cool with it. Lately, we have had two songs that have almost been written on the fly, which is a liberating feeling for us as we sometimes deliberate over the same part over and over again to a fault. The great thing about this band is that all the songs can feel like "your" songs even though you may not have thought of the original part. Everyone's contribution really makes it what it is.

The band is going to be returning to the Court Tavern in New Brunswick after a long absence and you guys have deep roots in the scene from other bands that you've played in. How would you describe the New Brunswick scene these days, and how much opportunity is there for a live band to get gigs and develop a following?

Ahh, the New Brunswick scene. It's really hard to describe. On one hand you have a thriving house scene with new bands popping up all the time, but with only one indie-rock venue in town you have so many bands that fly under the radar unless you personally know their bass player or something. When I first starting going out to shows in NB in '99, you had a decent amount of venue choices and you could get to know people just by going out to different clubs each night. Now, you have to be in the know a lot more to really keep up with things. Not saying it's good or bad, but that's the way it is. Playing in NJ is tough these days. We really only play three venues in the state these days, the Court, the Brighton Bar, and Maxwell's. The Big Art show down in Asbury has a great thing going on, but it only happens once every couple of months. New Brunswick really needs another Melody, Plum St, or Budapest where local bands can build up a following playing low-key but fun shows. With the current climate in the town, I really don't see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately.

The disconnect between the college and the indie-rock scene is bigger each year it seems. WRSU is a great station; I wish the college supported more of its efforts. I'm rambling now.

Does the band expect to be hitting the road any time soon? Where are some of the places that you've performed in the past, and are there any places that you really enjoyed and would like to return to? Does the band generally like touring and being on the road?

We're always looking to hit the road. With full-time jobs it's tough to tour extensively, but we try to play a number of regional locations on the weekends and plan one or two extended tours throughout the year.

So far our favorite places to play have been Boston, Minneapolis, and Richmond, three places with talented, interesting bands and extremely enthusiastic fans who in general don't go for the whole style-over-substance scene. I love New York, a lot of great bands, but it's refreshing to occasionally vacate that scene.

We love touring, I wish we could do it a lot more. It lets you see the country in a very different way. It also adds some life to older songs knowing that you are performing them to a brand new audience who more than likely has never heard anything by you. And the groupies ... don't even get me started!

One of the latest reviews for "Long Drive To Iceland" says that "the band packs suppressed anger into every note and syllable." Ok, so how angry are you? Are you taking anything for that? Anger management? Do you need a hug?

Dude, we're pissed! Not really, but I think there is a theme of disenchantment with a variety of societal and personal issues scattered about the songs. We're not overtly political in our music but it bubbles to the surface now and then. Although amidst such a stable, rational political climate, it may start bubbling over, if you know what I'm saying. By the way, a hug would be really nice, thanks for the offer.

What can fans look forward to from Skyline Rodeo in 2006? What do you think is the next step in the band's career and where would you like to be if we were to talk again a year from now?

We try to maintain one modest goal of continually evolving our music to where we want it to be. Along with promotion, you ideally hope that in turn better shows, more fans, and album sales will follow. A year from now I'd love to be talking about having a few more tours under our belt, a new record to promote, and hopefully a reputation for being a great live act who tries to push the envelope. I'd like to see us experiment with different instrumentations and song structures in attempt to make people go "this isn't the same band I listened to on "Long Drive to Iceland," but I really like it". Now that I think about it, I guess that's a loftier goal than I originally started saying three sentences ago. Oh well, if it doesn't pan out hopefully we have fun failing.

[ Websites:, ]

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing.