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Feel the power of pop: Rob Skane.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Power and Influences

Veteran Capital Region rocker Rob Skane reconnects with his roots on a new CD

By Kirsten Ferguson

During an interview with songwriter Rob Skane at a local pub, it’s hard to keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand. We’re supposed to be discussing Skane’s brand-new album, Phantom Power Trip, and his CD-release party this weekend in Troy, but the conversation keeps turning to broader musical subjects—the kind that music fans could debate for hours. Like is Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys overrated? Are the Figgs better as a trio? What would modern music sound like if the Beatles had never existed?

The song “Tempted” by British new wavers Squeeze comes on over the bar sound system, and Skane riffs on the “laid-back, in-the-pocket” groove of the drums and the tune’s “out of this world” vocals—it’s a rare one sung by Squeeze keyboardist Paul Carrack instead of usual Squeeze vocalist Glenn Tilbrook. “It’s an awesome song,” Skane says admiringly. “Who can’t sing along to at least part of it?”

Skane’s a true music buff, the kind more likely to wax in depth about his favorite bands and musical influences—mostly power-pop, new wave and rock & roll bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s—than he is to plug his own stuff. Partly it’s the music teacher in him. (He teaches private guitar lessons locally to 30 or so students.) And partly it’s the diehard music fan in him. He’s a guy who gave his son the name of a Beatle, and talks about how he can’t wait to see Nick Lowe on his upcoming full-band tour of the states.

Now, for the first time, Skane can talk about his own solo recorded music in the same conversation that he talks about his influences—and there’s no disconnect. Buoyed by the catchiness and straight-ahead charge of tracks like “I Waited,” “Untouchable” and “Would You Be There,” Phantom Power Trip finally reconciles Skane’s own music with the tightly constructed, hook-filled power pop that he loves. Compared to his previous recorded efforts on homemade releases like the lo-fi, loop-filled SelfNoise, Power Trip is an uptempo affair.

“I remember when I first heard the Jags, Elvis Costello, Rockpile,” Skane says, mentioning several of his late-’70s power-pop influences. “When I was a kid, that kind of music filled me with joy. I still listen to that stuff. I remember hearing ‘Whole Wide World’ by Wreckless Eric and flipping out. For a long period of my life, I wasn’t true to my main influences and got into these dirgey folk songs. That wasn’t me. I’ve gotten back to rock & roll.”

“Nick Lowe is my biggest source of inspiration right now,” he continues. “Seeing him solo and Graham Parker solo in recent years, they moved me. Even when playing acoustic, their songs come across as rock. No matter what it is, if it’s a good song and the people playing are enjoying it, you can hear that.”

As he had done on past releases, Skane constructed much of Phantom Power Trip by himself at his home studio in Niskayuna, but this time he also turned to Edie Road Studios in Argyle and two studio musicians—drummer Peter Maine (Psychoneedles) and bassist Todd Haviland (Shu)—to round out his sound.

“I’ve never done anything this good before so I’m pulling out all the stops,” Skane says. “This album is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. With these songs, I wanted a couple of things to happen. I wanted the songs to be short. I wanted there to be no frills. I wanted everything to be tightly compact, like Look Sharp by Joe Jackson. And I wanted to not be afraid to revisit the music that has always inspired me.”

To play the songs from Phantom Power Trip live, Skane has assembled the Rob Skane 4, a band featuring his fellow bandmates from Kosmo Vinyl’s Army, an all-Clash cover band who jam Valentine’s wall-to-wall once a year or so. The Rob Skane 4 consists of Howard Glassman of Grainbelt on guitar and vocals, Eric Hardiman of Burnt Hills and Century Plants on bass and Brendan McGroggan of the Reveling on drums. (Glassman and Skane go back to the early ’90s, when Skane left his hometown of Utica for the Capital Region, where he joined Glassman’s scrappy, lo-fi punk-pop band the Dugans.)

In addition to showcasing songs from Power Trip, the four have some extra fun planned for Saturday’s Ale House CD-release show. In the spirit of pub rockers everywhere, they’ll be playing a special set of cover tunes from power-pop heroes—everyone from Nick Lowe to the Stones.

As the bar cranks up a piercing song from the band Collective Soul, trying to evict the two stragglers still conducting an interview while the bar is trying to close, Skane tries to sum up his perspective on playing music. After referencing his musical influences all night, it’s fitting that he turns to the words of another musician. “I just want to be a better musician, to always try to improve no matter what,” Skane says. “There’s a great Springsteen quote: ‘I always want to do what I’m doing. I just want to do it better than I did the night before.’”

The Rob Skane 4 will play a CD-release party for Phantom Power Trip on Saturday (Sept. 25) at the Ale House (680 River St., Troy). Admission for the 9 PM show is $5. For more information, call 272-9740, or visit robskane.net


ROUGH MIX
Let us know about local-music news and happenings for inclusion in Rough Mix: E-mail tips and information to tigerpop1@ yahoo.com or metroland@metroland.net.


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