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Labor of Love: Eric Skye
Steel-string guitarist and Santa Cruz Signature Artist Eric Skye stopped by our Lincoln Avenue showroom for his very first CME Session and told us about the importance of mindfulness, scale length, and pushing past “just good guitar playing” to an improvisational place where melody thrives.
How did making music become your life?
My earliest memories are of making up little melodies in my head. And then I started playing guitar at a young age as an outlet. As I got older, I think it was just a calling, like being a nun.
How did you get your start?
When I was about seven years old, my grandmother bought my sister and I each guitars for Christmas, and I quickly took over both. I had a chord book but was otherwise self-taught until middle school when my father had me take classical guitar lessons. Luckily, my teacher also knew something about jazz and Led Zeppelin.
It's an incredible challenge getting by making music. Everyone at CME has found a happy home here to support our passion for music. How do you make it work?
I think being mostly a solo act helps a lot. I also do a lot of teaching, and I've been lucky with some music licensing deals. I live simply.
Who are your major influences?
As a young person, I was very into Jimmy Page and Jimmy Hendrix. But then also bluesy jazz players like Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery. The California Fingerstyle guitar style of Alex De Grassi was also a big one for me for a while there too. And then later more traditional flatpicking guitarists like Norman Blake, David Grier, and Russ Barenberg. Though truthfully, when it comes to jazz, I'm way more into piano players like McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal…than jazz guitarists. And when it comes to flatpicking traditional music, I listen to more, and like to think I'm more influenced by, fiddle players rather than guitar players.
What guides your playing style?
When I'm playing with somebody else, it's about listening and reacting and being conversational with the other player. In my solo arrangements, I am trying to keep it interesting and progressing to new places, textures, degrees of business, and different registers, from start to finish. I'm trying to keep the ball moving down the field.
How would you describe that style?
I would describe my style as being pretty traditional. I'm not into a lot of contemporary techniques or sounds. I try to be dynamic and expressive. I think it's often bluesy, but not always. I'm just trying to stay in the moment. It's a mental game for sure. One of my main
What do you love about playing music?
Music is the secret sauce. Try turning it off during a movie to underscore how it affects our emotions. You can't see it or touch it, but it's this magic thing that can instantly take you back thirty years, or make you want to dance, or cry, or get it on. So I love being on the inside of that whole thing. I also love the people I get to have in my life because of music–other musicians, builders, fans of acoustic music–and they're just the greatest people you can know.
What do you love about the type of music you play?
All the types of music that I play have a strong element of improvisation. That suits me. I like being able to express myself in the moment. That also means I don't have to memorize hours of music. I would be a terrible classical musician. Also, in the folk and traditional music world, in particular, I love the strong sense of community and encouragement.
What's your rig?
My rig is very, very simple. I only use my 00-size signature model guitar from the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. I use something called a "Neck-Up," which is just a leather device to prop up the guitar on my lap. I have an Elliott capo, and I'm either using Alaska fingerpicks with Fred Kelly thumbpick, or an old tortoiseshell 2mm flatpick. Usually, I just use whatever PA system is available at the gig. I almost never use a pickup. I just use a microphone on a stand in front of my guitar. I will sometimes travel with an AKG 451 microphone, but most of the time I just use whatever mic is around, because the microphone always has the TSA tearing apart my carry-on bag.
My first guitar was an acoustic from Sears, Roebuck & Co.
I have two 00-Skye model guitars from the Santa Cruz Guitar Company.
Any gear you can't live without?
I've got it down to just the essentials. I can't live without anything listed in my rig above. I guess, at home, I'd add my music stand, a pencil sharpener, and coffee maker. My days are pretty centered around those things.
What are five albums you love?
Five I'm listening to right now:
Jenna Moynihan & Mairi Chaimbeul - One Two
Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil
Tycho - Awake
Amy Winehouse - Frank
Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill - Welcome Here Again
What do you have coming up? Albums? Tours?
I think, right now, I am pretty focused on a new project I have with another Pacific Northwest guitarist, Jamie Stillway. We're doing original and traditional flatpicked reels, jigs, and waltzes, with a lot of down-the-rabbit-hole improvisation. I'm pretty hot on that right now. I'm also always writing solo guitar things, but no new albums just yet.
What drew you to Santa Cruz?
There's so much I can say about Santa Cruz guitars. I've always had a love of traditional American guitars. I love how Santa Cruz guitars are incredible, classic guitars on the outside, but a fine-tuned Ferrari under the hood when it comes to things like consistency, intonation, playability, etc. There's a lot of very subtle innovation happening there. They always have that piano-like openness, complexity, and sustain that I prefer sound-wise. And the incredible response of their instruments, so when I dig in there's just always a little more, or if I pull back, it just gets sweeter, not anemic. I like knowing the guitars are made in a wonderful place, by wonderful people using responsibly obtained material. Santa Cruz guitars come with a lot of good vibes right out of the box.
What's your favorite Santa Cruz model? Why? Does your playing style affect your selection?
They've been making my signature model for almost nine years now, the 00-Skye. A 00 is the perfect size guitar. It's essentially a classical guitar with piano strings, and it's great for fingerstyle and using a pick. The notes just pop right out. And it's easy to hold, and fits in the overhead.
What moved you to select our specific Santa Cruz models for your session?
I think, for my session, I played both the RS model and the 1929 00. In both cases, they are twelve-fret guitars. I'm always drawn to guitars that have the neck meeting the body at the 12th fret because it puts the bridge in the right spot for a big, responsive, projecting sound.
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