Gayle Skidmore was 11 when she confiscated her father’s 12-string guitar and taught herself to play. By the time the San Diego homegirl moved to England to study at Oxford University, she was experimenting with alternate tunings and finger styles and expanding her vocal styling to include a wider, operatic range and improvisational jazz phrasing.
While in the U.K., Skidmore performed on a local TV channel and then traveled through Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, playing on street corners and in youth hostels, busking wherever she could to earn change and the occasional free drink.
“I began playing piano in concerts around the same time,” she says, “and I even learned a bit of banjo, though I still prefer the comfort and collaboration of playing with a full band. If you fall down with people around you, someone’s there to pick you up. If you fall down alone, you pretty much stay down.”
After studying in San Diego for a master’s degree in theology with a concentration in Hebrew, Skidmore formed her own label, Raincoat Records. Her first release, the five-song EP Gayle, was issued in 2002. After her song “China” won the True American Records songwriting contest in 2003, she released a live album in 2004, followed by EPs in 2005 (So Deep), 2007 (Paper Box), and 2008 (Cowley Road). She’s working on a full-length album, to be released later this year.
WHAT’S IN YOUR CD PLAYER?
1. Sleeping at Last, Keep No Score. “Lyrically, this is one of my favorite bands of all time. Their string arrangements and melodies are sweet and pure.”
2. Lhasa de Sela, La Llorona. “Her haunting voice and lovely songs are perfect for winter afternoons.”
3. Sigur Rós, Takk. “Anyone who’s heard this, knows.”
4. Radiohead, The Bends. “All the cool kids like their albums Kid A and OK Computer the best — and many say The Bends is too much of a pop album — but I can’t help myself.”
5. Brandi Carlile, The Story. “Although it’s on vinyl and not in my CD player, I’m pretty excited about her harmonies and clever lyrics.”
1. “Life Is Beautiful gives me a breath of hope and purpose in an often trite world.”
2. “The Royal Tenenbaums is a must. I grew my own sea monkeys one time, so I relate to Chaz and his spotted mice.”
3. “High Society has a cast of greats I adore…Grace Kelly, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby. I love the color and excitement of old musicals, especially the ridiculously dramatic dialogue and the randomness of the songs.”
4. “Amélie reminds me that I’m not the only neurotic person in the world. It also reminds me to appreciate little quirky and delightful things in my friends and family.”
5. “The Life Aquatic is terrific. Every time I see that glorious leopard shark, it’s just like the first time.”
ANOTHER LOCAL DESTINED FOR FAME?
“Dawn Mitschele has a gorgeous voice and catchy songs.”
LAST BOOK YOU READ?
“The last one I finished was Eldest. I really enjoy fantasy stories, which probably makes me a super nerd. I’m okay with that. Right now I’m in the middle of a book of Tennyson’s poetry.”
LENNON OR McCARTNEY?
“Paul McCartney wrote ‘Jenny Wren,’ so he takes the top pick. Sorry, John!”
1. “On freerice.com you can improve and test your vocabulary, as well as donate rice to hungry families.”
2. “I’ve been having a blast finding weird videos on YouTube, like MXC clips and the very funny band Flight of the Conchords.”
3. “I keep going to iTunes to check and see if I’m still on there.”
INSTRUMENT YOU WISH YOU PLAYED?
“I wish I played the drums so I could rock out like Animal from The Muppet Show.”
“Data entry. I fell asleep a lot.”
BIGGEST POLITICAL CONCERN?
“The humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Visit savedarfur.org to learn more.”
BEST LOCAL HANGOUTS?
“The Proprietor’s Reserve off Adams Avenue is my new favorite for wine. I usually go to Live Wire on Thursdays for good music. I don’t know if these two are the best or coolest hangouts, but I go and usually enjoy myself. I’m a creature of habit, so I don’t really try out new places often.”
SOMETHING ABOUT YOU FEW WOULD KNOW OR GUESS?
“Hmm... Usually, the things people don’t know are the things I don’t want them to know. People are always surprised that I enjoy backpacking and surfing. I guess I don’t seem like the type. Everyone has the notion that musicians are afraid of sunlight and always stay up late at night.”