For Paul Skomsvold, 2011 was a decisive year in defining the directives of his sound and visual art project Former Selves. Residing in East Bay, his DVD album, Fait Accompli, illuminated his melodic drones into a symphony of nostalgic dreams and forgotten memories replete with current perspective. His follow-up EP cassette, Hope, quickly followed.
In anticipation of several upcoming releases, Skomsvold is making his first musical trek to Southern California, and he was kind enough to answer a couple of questions on Former Selves’ origins, influences, and methods.
dA: Tell us a little bit about your musical history and background. What inspired you to start making music?
Paul Skomsvold: I started playing the drums in high school and I played in a band with my best friends through most of college. After college, I got a job and moved to Berkeley where I lived in a small studio apartment. This was a huge change for me as I had never lived away from home or worked a full time job before. I felt like I was losing touch with who I was. I couldn’t bring my drum set so I borrowed a guitar from a friend and tried to learn how to play it each night after work. I felt like I needed to continue playing music in some form in order to retain part of my self; My former self.
Before Former Selves, I hadn’t really tried to play the guitar, keyboard or sing. I wrote my first tape, It’s a Hauntin’, in that studio apartment and I recorded all of the vocals underneath my blankets because I was afraid other people in the building would hear me. That album wasn’t very focused and was really just about trying to figure out what I wanted to do with music. In the end, I never decided. Though I want the songs on each release to sound internally consistent, I never want to feel like I need consistency across releases. I want to pursue different types of music with this project and that’s why I decided to write music using a plural pseudonym.
dA: How would you describe your sound?
PS: On the surface, I don’t think I have a specific sound. I write pop songs, ambient songs, and some weirder stuff that my friend and I jokingly say sounds like “Neil Young in space.” But I think my music all comes together under a common theme: nostalgia. I’m a very introspective person and I’m always reflecting on the past, which makes it really hard for me to enjoy the present. Some songs convey a bittersweet view of the past, while others transmit the feeling of hopelessness when I realize that I’ll never of never be able to relive it. I feel trapped when I realize that I can’t undo what’s been done. I don’t know whether that comes through in my music, but it’s certainly something that I put into it.
dA: Are there any particular artists that have influenced your music or approach to creating it?
PS: Totally. My music is very impressionable. Because of my reflective nature, I am influenced by everything around me. Psychic Handbook was the first guy I saw live who was doing something remotely similar to me. I remember paying close attention to the equipment he was using and how he used his pedals to build songs in front of an audience. And seeing the audience’s reaction to his music was also something special. People groove super hard to his music and I was amazed he could do that with drone-esque music. Dude’s got killer vibes.
Kevin Greenspon has also been a huge influence on my music, be it methodically or stylistically. I totally consider him as my mentor. Methodically, he taught me how to value my music and to not just throw it online when it’s not even ready. He taught me the importance of patience. Without this understanding my songs would not have had time to evolve as they did. Even when I finish a song, I spend at least a month listening to it in different settings before I decide whether it’s done. I’m such a fickle person that I should never trust myself to be satisfied with a piece of music churned out in one night or only listened to a few times. Stylistically, Kevin got me stoked on chorus pedals! Kevin’s always killin’ it and I have mad respect for him.
Lastly, my song titles and album names are influenced pretty heavily by my best friend, Elliott. He’s always sending me sweet books or short stories that he’s written, from which I find inspiration. I’m not good with words.
dA: Tell us a little bit about your background in visual art. How long have you been creating video art?
PS: I’ve been working with video on-and-off ever since I was a kid. When I seven, I enjoyed playing with toys, and my sister and I filmed videos using our stuffed animals and action figures. When I was a teenager, I enjoyed skateboarding, and my best friend and I filmed and edited skate videos. And now I enjoy recording music in my bedroom, and it only makes sense that I incorporate video with interest.
dA: What came/comes first: the music or the imagery? How much does the music inspire the video component and vice-versa?
PS: In a sense, it happens simultaneously. I appropriate footage as I write music. However, I try to keep the two separate in their nascent stages. I think having a song in mind while gathering footage would narrow my focus and make me miss something I would have otherwise noticed. In contrast, having an image in mind while writing a song could also hinder growth and limit the scope. Once I’ve gathered the audio and visual components, I try to find a way for them to compliment each other.
dA: Last year marked your beginnings of playing live. How have you liked performing live so far? Any stand out experiences?
PS: I feel the same way about live performances as I do about most things I do in life. It’s absolutely nerve-wracking in the moment, but I’m satisfied/relieved when I finish and I want to do it again. It’s crazy performing solo and relying on so much equipment because there is so much that could go wrong. With my setup, there are about twelve points at which volume could be adjusted. I think volume is the biggest source of anxiety for me.
I’ve enjoyed every show played so far, but I think my recent show at the Pink House in SF was my favorite. It was a really cool spot to play, there were good vibes in the air, and the audience was very attentive and respectful. I think the audience is crucial. A good audience can make up for a crappy PA or technical difficulties or whatever.
dA: What up next for Former Selves? Any upcoming releases?
PS: I’ve recently been experimenting with video feedback and I hope to work on some new videos in the coming months. As far as releases go, I have a lot of new music coming out that I’m very excited about. I have a split with Kevin Greenspon on Goldtimers that should be out next month, as well as some stuff on Bridgetown, Hooker Vision, Sweat Lodge Guru, and Your Warmth.
Don’t miss Former Selves this Saturday at the dA:
The dA Concert Series Presents:
Saturday, January 28th
7:00 pm / All-Ages / $5