skycamp: love, loss and eternal recurrence in SF

text// ale morales
photos// cristiana ceppas

Every so often I find myself chewing away at my memories from times when being sad was cool. I experienced my first personal, close connection with musical phenomena while listening to the sounds of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, or Mazzy Star. A history of falling in love with love (and with the heartbreak that inevitably comes with it) was born. Hearts have mended in time but have left a taste that can still be felt on the back of the tongue.

Now fast forward some 17 years. I find myself in San Francisco still trying to fit in, having to reposition myself once more and trying to find some connection with the world through friends’ status updates. Suddenly, I come across a status update announcing a band that has recently released their second EP.

Skycamp is the name of a studio band formed by multi-talented vocalist/guitarist Joseph Seif, drummer Ron Kutulas, and guitarist/bassist Tobin Mori. Seif is one of those rare, sensitive souls that shines like a gem amidst the fog of the San Francisco Bay; a man with such passion who has found one form of artistic expression to be just too small to communicate all that his mind and heart conceive.

An accomplished cinematographer and professional photographer, Seif studied piano since he was 4 years old in his childhood city of Beirut, Lebanon. In his own words, “Skycamp became something to come home to after working all day on set, shooting or producing…” Kutulas and Mori were the only two people Seif auditioned. Seif met Kutulas through the website, craigslist (you can’t get any more San Francisco than this), and once they started jamming, it was clear that there was a great feeling and flow of energy. Then came Mori, a former member of Ee, who oddly enough answered the same craigslist posting.

The music of Skycamp has been categorized as “shoegaze” (an alternative rock subgenre that emerged from the United Kingdom and came on the scene in the late 1980s) with hues of post punk and folk; it’s an injustice to reduce and limit a musical creation to such categories. Skycamp is a band that evolves with each new release. If we dig deep enough, we find elements of diverse artists, such as Joy Division, Sonic Youth, and Slowdive (they even have a great cover of their song “Alison”). The sensitive listener can find traces of bands like Mazzy Star and dEUS or even Innocence Mission and Pink Floyd.

With Skycamp, it’s hard to determine what came first – the music or the emotions evoked in each song. Their first EP, “Transamerican”, is a tribute to tribulation. It’s pure wonderful pain diluted with hard guitar riffs that seem to be drowning a screaming soul that is still wondering what happened to its sunshine.

“Transamerican” is an ode to loneliness in a new city. In this case, the new city is San Francisco, but it could easily also be Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires, or Cairo. When you are heartbroken, everything tastes like sand paper. The guitars are complimented by the deep voice of Seif, who masters the art of hushing a scream. Never have I felt so violently happy but still quieted, which I can only attribute to his hypnotic voice that takes me by the hand through a dry landscape so I can find the beauty of redemption. This is not an album that cries dully about a lost love but actually pays homage to an inevitable part of our lives. It hurts beautifully.

One of the beauties of melancholy is that you never really grow old as long as you keep in touch with the sensations and emotions associated with growing up. The transition aches, especially when it comes to love stories. Growing up as a kid that constantly moved around the world made alienation routine. Seif became fascinated by “shoegaze” because of its texture. It is more than the connotation of the movement, almost like a visual mix of colors that defines states of mind. For him, there is no way to separate art forms. His photographic mind can perceive the sounds as textures and colors, and he mixes them in the studio to bring us a collage that will immediately start to vibrate in the back of your mind in the same frequency as our old flame, our first kiss, our best of old friends, or the first time you skinned your knees riding a bicycle.

“White Cloud” is Skycamp’s second EP. Released in November 2010, it clearly shows an evolution in Seif’s songwriting and producing. This is a beautifully crafted album even from a visual standpoint - photographer Susan Scott shot the album’s cover. The guitars have given way to a wider array of instruments and the visual textures are taken to a new level but still consistent with the work of their previous release. “White Cloud” is a wonderful set of pictures of a person that is now able to look back at his (or her) life, then out the window, and finally able to move on. It still hurts but it leaves a sensation of no more excess baggage to carry other than the one that holds the fond memories. It dwells on the irony of how sometimes we need a kick in the ass to move forward.

Skycamp affirms the individual’s origins by revisiting memories that, even sad as they may seem at first, in the end will make a person smile, because, after all, those moments brought us to where we are right now. And we have prevailed.

“Transamerican” Recommended tracks:
- Sky is on Fire
- Transamerican
- Edge of the World.

“White Cloud” Recommended tracks:
- White Cloud
- Sonoma Skies
- Escapade