I remember the first time I came across the haunting rhythms of SIDEWALKS AND SKELETONS: I was at a night club called W▲RLOK, one of LA’s best places to hear dark underground. There I was, dancing to the chilling resonance of witch house, when I heard the spectral sounds of what I would soon come to know as SIDEWALKS AND SKELETONS. Since then, I’ve been hexed!
A little album rundown and refresher: Starting with ▲ Volume 1 ▲, which essentially serves as the foundation of S&S – It has the propensity to open minds, allowing bodies to move to uncharted soundscapes. Other albums, like This Is Your Escape, redefined my idea of what witch house was or could be. Songs like “Exhume,” “Forever,” and “Valley of Wolves,” highlight the album with unique sound pulling and hitched beats, essentials for witch house music. On March 5th of 2015, S&S released their 5th full length album, White Light. This was a highly anticipated publication following Future Ghosts, which was released almost exactly one year earlier. White Light beautifully meshes the horrorcult of witch house with slower, more romantic melodies. The album’s versatility makes it one of S&S’s best releases as a whole and one of the best albums in its genre altogether.
JN: First off, I would like to give a huge shout out to Jake Lee of SIDEWALKS AND SKELETONS for taking the time to chat with me all the way from the UK. So, Jake, I’ve always wanted to ask: why did you choose the name SIDEWALKS AND SKELETONS? Does it mean anything to you, personally?
JAKE: Thank you, it will be my pleasure!
‘SIDEWALKS AND SKELETONS’ is a metaphor for the things that remain after death. I chose this name to reflect the atmosphere of the music, and also the content. Even the tracks without lyrics still hold a strong dark atmosphere which conveys a message to the listener.
JN: That’s pretty cool! What got you into electronic music and, more specifically, witch house? Any musical background?
JAKE: I’ve always been drawn to darker music, across all genres, it’s just something I connect with. There’s a lot more to explore in darker things in general. I’ve played instruments my whole life, mainly guitar, playing in metal bands growing up. And I was also making electronic music at home which was like warped horror soundtracks full of obscure samples and reversed vocals. Then I got heavily into witch house, and the inspiration from that helped the natural progression of my music to take place, like I wasn’t sure where it was going, then it became clear – it needed to happen. I’ve loved the genre since I found it, and it still excites and inspires me. No matter what anyone says about how it came about or whether it’s “dead” or not – I don’t care, I love it.
JN: Do you have a favorite piece of musical hardware you prefer when producing beats and/or synths?
JAKE: At the moment I use an AKAI keyboard, which I just mess around with for hours, warping sounds and seeing what comes from experimentation – then when I feel I’ve found what I want, I start building up layers and melodies, and if I get that good feeling during this process – I know it’s gonna be my next new track. But if I don’t get that spark – it goes on the ‘unreleased’ pile!
JN: That’s a basic way of doing things but it definitely has worked out for you. S&S has a very distinct sound, what do you feel separates your music from other witch house groups?
JAKE: Well I’ve always created music based on how I feel at that time, the music is a constant reflection of my state of mind so it can differ a lot in atmosphere. But generally I guess it’s quite dark. I’m obsessed with most things that are, as well. I love horror films, especially David Lynch. Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, films like that. Dark atmospheres can be very beautiful in a certain way.
JN: I love Lost Highway! What are some of your favorite samples you’ve used in your music? Anything outrageous or random samples?
JAKE: Ohhh I love this question. Whenever I use samples they’re always pretty strange. Like from films no one’s heard of. For example – most of the samples on my latest album White Light were taken from a 2003 low-budget horror called ‘Goth’. I watched it when I was around 14 years old and just instantly loved it, and I’ve felt the need to incorporate it into my music somehow for a long time, because it was the source of a lot of my inspiration. Not really the music in the film, but just the feelings it gave me. The fictional drug in the film which causes a near-death experience in users is called ‘White Light’, so that’s partially the reason for the album title.
In my track “Pure” I sampled a film called Martha Marcy May Marlene because I loved that quote about death. And in my latest collaboration with Blvck Ceiling, I have sampled Laura Palmer, in a scene from Twin Peaks.
JN: Cool stuff, samples always add extra vision to a song, so to speak. Now, you’ve obviously played a handful of live shows in the UK, such as your debut show at the Mother Bar in London back in 2013, so how do you feel your audience receives your music?
JAKE: So far the audiences have been quite small, maybe 50 people max, and most of them haven’t heard Sidewalks and Skeletons before the show (because I’ve only been a support act so far). So for the most part they just observe, but I’m hoping people will get more familiar and get into it a bit more. I love the experience, and meeting people there. You meet so many great people at shows.
JN: How has playing live shows changed you as a musician?
JAKE: It’s made me even more excited about the music I’m making. Because now when I make a new track I get that feeling of “I can’t wait to play this live”. And when I do for the first time I always get such a good vibe. It feels so right.
JN: Tell us the craziest thing that has happened to you as a performer?
JAKE: As it’s so early on (I’ve only done like 3 shows so far) – nothing too crazy has happened yet! But I’m very sure that will change. I have more shows coming up in November and December so let’s wait and see. I always have my mannequin head with me on stage. She just stares at everyone while I perform. She’s a little bit destroyed but that’s why she’s perfect.
JN: What else do you like to do besides write badass music? Any hobbies, interests, or dark little secrets?
JAKE: I do a lot of graphic design, that’s my full-time job at the moment. And when I’m not doing that I just love being out and doing whatever! Going to shows, skating, getting drunk with friends, etc!
JN: [Laughing] Cheers man! Who or what has inspired you?
JAKE: If I had to pick my top 3 biggest musical influences I would probably say… Marilyn Manson, Crystal Castles, and Slowdive. They’re 3 of my all-time favourites. Their music is timeless to me. And I’m a bit of an obsessive music lover so it has a big impact of me inspirationally.
JN: What bands are you listening to right now?
JAKE: EVERYTHING, there’s so many mind-blowingly amazing artists around right now. I can spend hours on Soundcloud most nights, just going through the streams, related tracks, artists I follow etc. Just a few of the ones I’m really enjoying at the moment are Fifty Grand, IC3PEAK, Sadwrist, and Lorn. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve nearly deafened myself with Sadwrist’s “I Can’t Feel My Face”. You just have to listen to that track at a ridiculous volume, with the bass on full, it’s perfect.
JN: Oh, man, I agree with you on that one, I also spend hours on Bandcamp and Soundcloud endlessly listening to new artists. You’re working on another full length album, right? Are you planning to take this one in a new direction?
JAKE: Yes! It’s in its VERY early stages so I can’t say too much for now, but I definitely feel like it’s going to be my darkest release yet. There’s a possibility you’ll hear a few familiar voices on there again, I’ll see what Emily Hall thinks about doing another face-melter of a track like ‘Unearth’. She’s amazing. We did ‘Unearth’ live in Leeds and she just totally went for it, no holding back, I love that.
JN: White Light really shows your evolution as an artist—it’s a truly well-rounded release—but how do you plan on expanding your vision?
JAKE: Thank you! White Light was possibly my most sincere expression so far. I guess I don’t usually say too much about my personal life but I have to admit that a lot of the inspiration for the album came from trying to overcome depression and anxiety. It can feel literally suffocating. And only after the worst of it had passed was I able to start letting it out through music again. I’m a deep-thinker, I always have been. But it can be very self-destructive at times.
JN: Is there any artist you would like to work with in the future? One of my favorite witch house bands is †ENEBRÆ from Chile, so I’d personally love to see you mix with them. [Laughing] Just throwing it out there!
JAKE: The list is pretty much endless really man, I’m finding new artists all the time who I want to work with. Some which I’ve loved for ages I’m now working with, and that’s the best feeling ever. Like Blvck Ceiling – I’ve been a massive fan of his music even since before S&S started, and now have a collab together. Hopefully there’ll be more from us too! And I’ll definite shoot †ENEBRÆ a message then! Just for you!
JN: Sweet, thank you! If you could be any superhero or villain, which would you be? Why? Video games count!
JAKE: I’d be like a weird version of Spiderman, but instead of being any use to society I’d just swing around with that redhead all day and shoot webs at anyone I found annoying. Then I’d kill the green goblin just to wear his suit on Halloween.
JN: Well, damn!… [Laughing] Thanks so much, Jake! I hope to see you out here in LA one day. Is there anything you’d like to say to readers? Maybe some promotional info or some inspiring words… or even just some rubbish, it’s all good either way!
JAKE: Thank YOU. I appreciate you feeling I was worth interviewing. I’ll be out there in L.A one day if I’m lucky enough! Much love to anyone reading this. All keep in touch and don’t miss what’s coming up, because it’s gonna be crazy. – Jake