Hailing from Ashland, Va., but a resident of North Carolina’s Research Triangle since her days at the University of North Carolina, Skylar Gudasz brings her considerable talents to the DittyTV stage for a Concert Series premiere Sunday, May 5 at 8 p.m. CDT. She’s known as a top-notch musician, lyricist, and singer and you can get to know her a bit better in our 5 Questions segment.
1) You began playing music early: flute, then guitar and piano. What kinds of music were you playing in your youth?
I was being taught Suzuki on the flute, so a lot of classical ear training. Bach was my favorite. Then Alicia Keys and Joni Mitchell on the piano. The first song I remember learning on the guitar was when my brother taught me “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” And then somehow I got tipped off that you could just go online and look up tabs to any song you wanted to learn, and the chord shapes would be right there in front of you. It was like magic. I think I remember the first song I printed off the computer being “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. The F chord took me a long time on that one. I’m sure I faked my way through half of the shapes, just to have something to sing along to.
2) You were raised in Ashland, Va., but then attended the University of North Carolina. What role did the move to Chapel Hill and attending UNC have on your music career?
Well, I went to school to be an actress, and then Creative Writing became my favorite set of classes. Somehow everyone I knew in creative writing, it seemed, also played in a band, so I ended up playing in a band. The Chapel Hill music scene—due in part, of course, to being the home of Superchunk and Merge Records, and the many different sized venues and recording studios available—made it seem very viable to be in bands. Very supportive community. And then, the Big Star’s Third shows having a cradle in North Carolina with Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter really set things in motion in a wider sense of touring when I joined going on the road with them.
3) You’ve said you were influenced by Big Star and your producer, Chris Stamey, actually played with Alex Chilton for a while. With DittyTV based in Memphis, obviously Big Star is still a major influence in the city. What attracted you to Big Star and how does that band influence your music even today?
I actually first heard Big Star through an Okkervil River cover of the song “O, Dana,” and then a buddy of mine, Charles Cleaver, who ended up playing keys and touring with me on those shows, burned me a copy of Third. It was so haunting. I always think about the jangly guitars, the harmonies, really the contemplative epic drama of a lot of it—very melodic, and there’s this sweetness in it that’s surprising to me because it’s so heavy hitting. Getting to tour with Jody Stephens, who is just the most legendary and nicest guy, and everyone in Big Star’s Third really makes Memphis feel like a home away from home.
4) What can you tell us about any musical projects you’re working on currently?
I’m releasing a new album this fall called Cinema. It was recorded between April Base in Eau Claire, Wis. and at several different studios in North Carolina. A lot of the songs on our Ditty session are from this new record. I can’t wait for you to hear it!
5) What was the first album you ever bought with your own money and what do you remember about that moment?
I believe it was Reba McEntire, when I was in elementary school, and it was a cassette, and I don’t remember which one—but I thought she was so cool with her red hair. The next thing I remember buying is later on, the soundtrack to the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, which had Nico and Elliott Smith and John Lennon and the Ramones on it. That’s the CD that made me want to be a musician, I think, though I didn’t know it at the time. I couldn’t believe that people made music that sounded like that.