Sky's the Limit
Sky Eats Airplane hopes it's not out of sight, out of mind. It's been so long since the Fort Worth quintet played a local show, the band's starting to fear that its area fans may have forgotten them.
Sure, it's been a busy year—between recording their recently released self-titled second album and touring the country and all—but they're sorry they haven't called. They should have. They know this.
And yet, fresh off the Warped Tour, the band is back on the road already, again pushing product and cultivating the grassroots. Funny, since it wasn't too long ago that guitarist Lee Duck and the rest of the Sky Eats Airplane crew were on the other side of the pit.
"When I was a little kid, I would go to Warped Tour to see my favorite bands and get them to sign my shoes," Duck says over the phone as his band heads for the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, between stops on its current national tour. "Now I'm signing other kids' shoes."
It's only been about two-and-a-half years since Duck formed Sky Eats Airplane with Brack Cantrell while attending Arlington Heights High School. Unlike the history of bands that found their sound jamming in the garage, Duck envisioned the band in a head-on collision.
"It was crazy how everything came together," Duck recalls. ""I came up with some random idea: 'Let's play metal or hardcore and dancebeat, techno-electronica stuff. And Brack was just like, 'Uh, OK,' and we started messing with it after school."
In the process, they fine-tuned the band's sound: Today, Sky Eats Airplane vacillates between sweeping cinematic synths—often drifting like chill-out music—and throbbing metalcore brutality striped with prog arpeggios. The dynamism of their sound can be neck stepping; when singer Jerry Roush goes from bellowing growl to melodic croon, the tension of aggression versus melody often builds and ebbs like the tide.
After playing a couple shows, the band, buoyed by the response, went ahead and recorded an album, Everything Perfect on the Wrong Day, over the course of three months. Once published online, the reaction to the band's music only became stronger: On MySpace, the band started scoring thousands of hits a day. It took them by surprise, to say the least.
Cantrell, who wasn't exactly looking forward to making hard rock his musical career, left Sky Eats Airplane before the band truly got rolling. But, Duck, who had enrolled at UT-Arlington, and was studying electrical engineering, had other plans. "I definitely wasn't feeling electrical engineering," he says.
Guitarist Zack Ordway, who once performed in the area band In Theory, hadn't played music for several months when Duck approached him, asking him and the few remaining members of In Theory (drummer Kenny Schick and bass player Johno Erickson) to join in Sky Eats Airplane's effort.
"We all had a feeling like it could've been something, but I guess there wasn't a lot of commitment," Ordway says. But he wasn't particularly keen about fusing the remaining members to Duck's project: "I didn't really like Lee Duck. He used to bully me around the local scene."
Ordway and his bandmates eventually relented, though, and the quartet found its fifth member when Roush was discovered through an open call for singers on MySpace. A model and sometimes actor—he says his scene in the disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow got cut in the editing process—Roush was living in New York at the time and, until trying out for the Sky Eats Airplane gig, had only performed as a drummer.
"I didn't think it would really go anywhere," Roush admits. But he got the gig. Unfortunately for him, though, just before his first performance with the band, he came down with laryngitis. "I sounded like I'd been smoking cigarettes for a million years."
"I was like, 'Is this how this dude talks?'" Duck now laughs.
The performance seemed to go off without a hitch and, soon enough, Sky Eats Airplane was swept up in the label feeding frenzy that's consumed the area the past couple years, similarly spawning deals for Oh Sleeper, The Secret Handshake, Forever the Sickest Kids and Duck's childhood friend, Daniel Hunter, aka PlayRadioPlay. Hunter played with Duck and Cantrell in a high school band, Our First Fall, and it was Duck who introduced Hunter to the popular Reason music programming software.
"He wasn't using electronica, he was using weird bass sounds and experimental sounds. I was like 'Dude, here's another program I found, check this out,'" Duck says. "He started playing with that, and three months later he signed to Island Def Jam. So that was kind of crazy. He was getting calls from labels, and we were getting calls, and we'd call each other up and be like, 'Have you talked to this label yet?'"
Considering the trouble Hunter had with Island—whom he separated from this summer—Duck counts himself lucky to be on the well-regarded Equal Vision Records label. Of course, signing to a label was the easy part. Producing the album proved more difficult: With all the lineup changes, Sky Eats Airplane essentially had to start over from scratch while trying to remain connected to Everything Perfect on the Wrong Day, the record that first got them attention.
It didn't help that Duck and Ordway had developed an involved file-swapping style of writing, or that Ordway in particular obsesses over his parts, trying to create something distinctive. Most of the riffs and structures start with him. Many of the chord progressions are based on jazz, which he frequently listens to during his spare time. "We kind of wanted to stray away from the now traditional kind of breakdowns," Ordway says. "I had been doing that for a while with In Theory. It just seemed kind of played out. I will spend days and days and days on a certain song until it feels right."
They recorded the new album in Baltimore with Brian McTernan (Circa Survive, Thrice), but arrived short a couple songs from a full album. With the studio clock ticking, the sessions got hectic—Ordway would lock himself in a booth with his amp and attempt to write for 18-hour stretches. He doesn't sound enthused about the process, but the songs he wrote then are among the most intriguing on the band's recent self-titled release: the pretty, undulating "In Retrospect," which Duck describes as the band's power ballad, and the pummeling, propulsive single about a womanizing lothario, "Numbers."
"I was talking to a few other bands on Warped Tour, and they said the stuff they wrote in the studio ended up being their best material. I thought that was strange, but I guess that might have been the scenario with us too," Ordway says.
Now with the record completed, Ordway and Duck say they long for their return trip home to the all-ages scene that birthed them, where "you might not even know the band, but you sure as hell know there's going to be a crapload of kids—just because they know it's, like, the fun thing to do," Duck says. "It's like kids feel comfortable going crazy for us because they've been with us for so long."
While happy to play The Door in Dallas, Ordway says he's especially looking forward to the next time the band books a Fort Worth show (there isn't a Fort Worth date on the band's current tour schedule).
"We haven't played back home in like a year, it seems," Ordway says before pausing and laughing. "I have a feeling someone's going to almost get killed when we get to Fort Worth."
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