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Home Is Where the ProTools Is

Guitarist, singer-songwriter and family man Rob Skane makes music his own way—and in his own house

By J. Eric Smith

Photo by Andrea Fischman

When it comes to making beautiful music in inspirational settings, Rob Skane is here to tell you that there’s simply no place like home.

“I’m thrilled with the fact that I could record my new record at my own house,” says the Nisakayuna-based singer- songwriter and guitar teacher about his second solo disc, SelfNoise. “It ended up being a more comfortable thing for me, since I wasn’t worried about the money that I was spending, or about being on the clock in a studio. The bulk of the bass tracks were done middle of the night, for instance, and I was making no sound at all, just going direct input while my wife was sleeping. So I could experiment with things, and if I tracked a couple of songs, and I didn’t like a key, or I didn’t like a loop, well, I could just start it all over again, and I didn’t lose anything. In fact, I ended up gaining insight into the songs and how they should sound.”

Born and raised in Utica (where he formed his first two bands, the Blistertones and the Van Goghs), Skane relocated to the Capital Region in 1993, quickly making his mark on the music community as a member of the Dugans (until 1995) and the Lawn Sausages (a gig that continues to this day). Skane’s first solo album, 1996’s Nowheresville, was credited to “Rob Skane and His Guitar,” an apt moniker for that record’s stripped-down, one-voice-one- guitar sound. While the material for his new record was penned and first performed with such spartan arrangements, the versions of the songs that appear on SelfNoise may come as a bit of a surprise to those who have heard only the stripped-down models to date.

“I honestly think I’m better at creating songs now than I was a few years ago,” Skane explains. “I’m more comfortable singing and playing, and I think SelfNoise, sonically, sounds better than Nowheresville. The new record has more full-band type stuff, more ambient sounds, more ancillary noises. Those are the kinds of things that, to my ear, make a record interesting, as long as they don’t detract from the song. So I tried to keep noises to dull roar, to fill up space, but to keep an element of space and sound throughout the record.

“I learned so much when I was in the College of St. Rose music program a couple of years ago about varying sounds, and about how it doesn’t have to be the same on every track, so I used different guitars, amps, microphones, all sorts of different stuff,” Skane continues. “I’ve also been really inspired by the sounds that Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom get in their recordings, so I wanted to see if I could get a handle on what those guys were doing and do it my own way. They drew up the blueprint and I was trying to build a house with it.”

Skane’s already got a literal house, of course: the place where he makes his music, and he and his wife Maria make their home—and the place where the duo will become a trio later this year when they welcome their expected first child. “We heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time today, which was very cool,” Skane says. “It sounded just like a little drum loop! I figure that when the baby comes, I’ll probably end up learning a bunch of lullabies, but I don’t think that will change what I’m doing musically. I’m just intent on being a good father.”

Two years ago, Skane learned firsthand about one of the tough flip sides of parent-child relations when his own mother died suddenly. “I only started doing music full-time around August 2000, after my mom passed away,” he explains. “That was a big point in my life that made me think about things that I’d never thought about before. It was a step toward growing up for me to start really pursuing the things that I love to do, and I probably needed to take that step. I figure if I’m going to live my life, then I want to try to do it on my terms, as opposed to doing it on some suit’s terms. And it’s working out, I think.”

That event also inspired some of the stronger material on SelfNoise. “The first song I wrote after my mom died was ‘It’s a Great Day,’ says Skane. “Musically it was inspired by Mike Viola and the Candy Butchers. I love their stuff, and then lyrically I was just kind of trying to put sort of an ironic Paul Westerberg twist on things: ‘It’s a great day . . . for a breakdown.’ The song is about doing your own thing and not being afraid to do your own thing. I like the aspect of the song that advises that it’s OK to be oblivious when everybody is so serious. ‘Compromising Situation’ is also post-August 2000, and that’s the only song that’s really truly autobiographical throughout the whole record. I’m generally not big on records where you listen and you can tell the guy’s talking about himself all the time. I don’t want to make music like that. But this one, that’s all me.”

So is the big guy in the cheerleading costume and fright wig who serves as musical director and lead guitarist for over-the-top shock rockers the Lawn Sausages. “The Sausages are a great release for me, since it’s fun to just play loud sometimes,” Skane enthuses. “If anyone ever said to me, ‘If you want to be popular, then play with these guys from Troy and dress like a woman,’ well, who’da believed ’em? The Sausages sort of had rudimentary skills when we started playing, but we’ve gotten pretty good playing together over the years, and they play the hell out of the Sausages songs, and that’s very cool. Lately our shows have been getting noisier, which I enjoy quite a lot, since the Sonic Youth or Robert Quine or Metal Machine Music aspect of things interests me a great deal. I mean, how else can I deal with two crazy lead singers dressed like Bavarian whores?”

It’s a hypothetical question, but its answer is probably not as much of a stretch as you might expect, given that it’s coming from a man who was inspired to be a musician in the first place by a space alien. “Ace Frehley from Kiss is absolutely the reason why I wanted to play the guitar,” states Skane emphatically. “In my opinion, for the period of time from about ’75 to ’79, he’s the quintessential American rock guitar player. He’s got the blues scales and pentatonic minors and interesting stuff like that, but also flashy stuff. When he was on, he was spectacular. When I listen to Kiss Alive!, which I’ve heard at least 1,000 times since eighth grade, it still freaks me out, it’s almost majestic at times.”

So how does Skane ultimately reconcile his world of Ace adulation, cross-dressing lead singers, a loving family life, and his desire to be a full-time musician—bringing together such seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive, well-balanced whole? “All of the things I do are inspired by the fact that I am totally fascinated with people and the way they do what they do, whenever they decide to do what they do,” Skane concludes. “I observe as much as I can, file away whatever I need to, and then come up with fictionalized slices of someone’s life. And in those slices I try to convey emotions and feelings and thoughts that I have felt . . . and then I just hope that other people have felt them too.”

Rob Skane will celebrate the release of his latest disc, SelfNoise, at Troy’s Ale House on Saturday. The show is free and starts at 9 PM. Call the club, 272-9740, for more information.


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