It’s been a long while since we here at Nine Circles have visited the off metal realms of Rainbows in the Dark. But we haven’t forgotten that great music resides everywhere and for today’s edition we sat down with guitarist extraordinaire and all around music aficionado Nick Skouras. Skouras is one of those examples of an extremely talented musician that should, by all accounts, be larger than life in terms of popularity. His music spans everything from rock, blues, jazz, pop, experimental, jam, and yes even a touch of metal. And, as you will read, his whole life has centered around music and talented musicians so he gets it as honest as a lifetime of hard work. If there ever was a musician/guitarist with no bounds or limits, Skouras is exactly that, in spades. There’s plenty of album/song streams contained within so you can get acquainted but the stories he tells are nothing short of amazing. So, read on after the jump and get ready to have yourself a new favorite artist.
Tell us a little about yourself, your music, and your journey so far.
Born and raised in Chicago, moved to New Jersey, New York, Wash. D.C., Falls Church VA, Phoenix, and all from ages 5-10 yrs. old before returning home to Chicago due to my father’s (Spiro Skouras) profession as a singer/entertainer. He was very well renowned and acclaimed. I grew up around his rehearsals with bands and performers as well as in the nightclubs watching them perform. Music and entertaining is in my blood for sure. It ‘s led me on adventures around the globe I’d like to write a book about.
You combine jazz, blues and rock in such a way that it’s tough to strictly define your music, which is refreshing in this day and age of everything needing to fit neatly into a particular genre. What are some of your influences and how did they shape who you are as an artist today?
I’m all over the place. I didn’t finish high school so I had a chip on my shoulder about educating myself. I was fortunate in many ways being able to spend years diving into many genres of music and culture as well as other arts and sciences. I would say, musically speaking, I think the greek instrument called the Bouzouki influenced me as a kid from having some of the greatest maestros at my house rehearsing. Then it was on to the mighty Zeppelin, Beatles, then the fathers of blues and jazz. I think the tenor sax had a great influence on me as well. Bird and Coltrane the most. I don’t really use their modes as much as the impetus and style and spaces of how, why and where they heard and communicated. I was in Las Vegas’ most infamous band with Jimmy Decker on the dog house bass. Man, we whipped that rhythm into something akin to a panzer division of sound. I learned alot of rhythm from that for sure. Psycho Billy, Blues Society, Honky Tonk, Bjork, Massive Attack. I have a deep love of orchestral music as well and composition. So I really am all over the place.
No matter what direction you take on any given song the guitar is unmistakably the driving force, scorching leads and awe inspiring chord work are but a couple of reasons. I have to assume the guitar was first for you and everything else just fell into place by default?
Thanks so much for the compliment. Well, for sure. The guitar was my first toy. I’d play for hours as a very small lad spending as much time with it as possible much like a security blanket. Getting the feel for it around my hands, arms and body like a third arm. I learned everything I heard on the radio. And also loved harmonizing my singing voice with anything I could. I started trying to sort out the massive chords being played in jazz or horn and string sections which opened it up for me a bit.
Your latest album Electric Wolf Manifesto is more intense and urgent than anything you’ve done previously. “Spring Manifesto” charges like a jazz/metal hybrid, “When Black Goats Drive” has the buzz of noise rock, and then there’s the reggae jam of “What Will Be”, was this approach just a different mindset going in or did you specifically want to increase the energy from Leather Bards of Dust?
Well those two albums span a period of about 5 years. I ended up breaking them up into those specific albums by genre more or less. It kind of depended on a couple things: whom I was working with and what was happening in my life at the time. Alot of the moodier production and tunes were done working with Chris Morford, whom I’ve known since kindergarten. We have a great working relationship. He’s formally trained as an engineer and has worked for top studios and the like as well as being an amazing composer musician in his own right. Some of the more raw material I wrote and recorded with a rhythm section I met in Greektown in Chicago — two guys whose names I’ll mention at the end. They are world class talents and have appeared on many platinum selling records in Greece and Europe. Monsters on their instruments and so deep in musicality. We just tore shit up. And in just a couple of weeks really. I’ve been lucky, really. We incorporated a traditonal and killer greek dance rhythm into the solo section of “What Will Be”.
Expand a little on the track “Mississippi”. It has such a classic groove to it but at the same time seems to have a huge story behind it when listening to the lyrics.
Wow yeah… stream of conciousness, which I often do with my tunes. For instance the song “Queen of Cups” I somehow remembered from a dream; lyrics, music, the whole deal. With “Mississippi” I just had a feel for the tune. Music has its own language and universe complimentary to ours so I heard the music coming and it just spoke some of the key words and suggested the rest. It happens pretty quick. I’ve had a supernatural bent to my art all along stemming from an experience I had around my 16th birthday which landed me in the hospital having spent a few days with an Angel who revealed so much information to me I struggled to keep up and write it all down. I’ve been on a magical mystery tour ever since really.
The “Superluminal F Storm” interludes make another appearance on Electric Wolf Manifesto. These are beautiful pieces of music, what is the impetus behind these pieces and in your mind what is their significance?
Well having done research into and having had experiences with other space time lines, I named these interludes thusly. They were originally written for a film called Lana’s Rain but as happens in the biz, a new producer came in and made changes. I loved the experience of writing for some of the emotional scenes.
Going back to Leather Bards of Dust, this album seems to be more of an emotional album for you. You’ve got the sorrowfully acoustic “Miles of Sand”, the sultry slow burn blues of “Amazing Grace”, and even the louder “You Killed Stanley Kubrick” has a darker feel to it. Was this a product of where you were in life at the moment or did you just feel like relaxing with it and see where it ended up?
As mentioned earlier, they came about at different times and are a reflection of dealing with relationships with human beings and with the eternal really. “Miles of Sand” was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. “Amazing Grace” by my bout with whiskey and the Neville Bros. and Kubrick by my once obsession with his films and by events around his death that I became intimate with.
Going back even further to the jazzy and experimental Enterprise Mission, which you did with Christopher Morford, how did that collaboration come about and what was the thought process behind the many facets of the album?
Well that was done at the behest of Richard C. Hoagland whom I met at the Kennedy Space Center and with whom I quickly became fast friends and colleagues with. He was putting some video presentations together about artifacts in the solar system and the physics they suggest and needed some accompanying music. This many years later he’s found use for some of it on his new radio show called The Other Side Of Midnight. Speaking of radio, I want to mention Benjamin Benoit over at Massmedia Radio. Benoit does a tremendous job for indie artists and just like he does for so many of us that may or may not ever receive any airplay, he has my stuff in regular rotation so it’s something that I and we as artists truly appreciate.
You also have a Soundcloud account (two, here and here) where you feature some of the songs from your albums but also demos and other tracks. The most recent of these is “In the Light of the Sun”, is this a track we may see fleshed out on an upcoming album?
That song I did when I was 16-17 years old, there’s a fuller version of it on another site I did around that time. Very 80’s production. And that was my song dedicated to the Angel I mentioned earlier. I was in love as you could imagine, a boy of that age having that type of experience. People were puzzled not knowing who the girl I wrote it for was. It took me a while to reveal the truth to anyone. And yes, I’ve been adding experimental stuff online as I wait to flesh out stuff with professionals. I have very modest recording gear at home and use it much like I did when I was 10, like a tape recorder getting ideas down and out for the pure joy of it regardless of how woefully lo-fi it may be. But you know I love some of that too, as much or more than the polished stuff.
Also of note is the track “Dead Red Head”, a subtle bluesy rock song that is a throwback to bands like Blues Traveler and early Widespread Panic. Listening to this song in conjunction with your body of work as it stands, you have a deep appreciation for all types of music that comes through very honestly instead of ever sounding forced. Is it important to you for your listeners to hear and feel that?
For sure. I have so much love and respect for creative people and their works. Writing, recording, and performing is in a way celebrating it all. Going to a certain area or time and speaking that langauge sincerely I guess. That particular song I think comes from digging some of Lenny Kravitz’s stuff. A buddy of mine flipping burgers at a bar I played left to become his bass player. I have so many freinds who have made their mark on the world of music at the highest level. Dave Grohl, for instance, would drive Neil Young’s classic Ford to record a Foo Fighters’ album and listen to one of my tracks called “The CRBU”.
If you could pick one artist, living or deceased, to work with and/or collaborate with who would it be and why?
Man…. late Beethoven, late Coltrane, Mozart at any point, The Beatles around and after Sgt.Peppers’. Thelonius Monk, Dali, Steve Jobs, Jimmy Page during the Zeppelin years. People who rode those highest waves and gave so much. Cuban musicians. Arabic. New Orleans. Woooo… too much.
If anyone wanted to catch you playing these songs live where would be the best place?
Well, currently living in New Mexico doesn’t afford one the greatest mecca of music. It is however gorgeous and kind of quiet. I play from time to time doing lots of cover material mostly. I may do shows in Chicago if what I’m designing has wings.
What does the future hold for you as an artist?
Man I tell ya, I love poetry and composition and production. I haven’t had my hands on a piano in too long. I’m dabbling with a couple jazzers, rhythm section and Tom Vaitsas on piano, who’s a constant inspiration and a long time brother of mine, as I say it I’m again blown away at the reality of being able to do this with their likes. Man, when we play together and time slows or speeds up, miraculous stuff happens. I just hope to get some of that recorded and performed. I’m playing totally differently these days, same goes for my writing. Had a whole life change last few years so, it’s starting to reveal itself and is very fucking exciting.
Anything you’d like to add?
Yes…I’d like to thank you a great deal for this interview. We can’t as artists just blather on about ourselves unless someone asks. So I really commend and respect the heck out of Nine Circles for the effort, work, and time you put in to foster appreciation of art and music. It lasts forever and I’m honored to be a part of it. Also. I’d like to thank here, musicians who I’ve worked with over the years. Chris Morford. Art Amelio. Angelo Laterza. Andrew Cardaras. Jordan Mummer. George Adrian. Tom Sorich. Ron Boyles. Elwood Grimes. Tom Moratta. Eric Cellini. Brett Andow. Jimmy Decker. Rob Edwards. Jason Edwards. Jason Gonzales. Tim Ramberg. Sonny Reece. Deborah Hamm. Peter Haldopoulos. Miga Chronopoulos. Tom Vaitsas. Spiro Dorizas. Andreas Kostopoulos. Ron Webb. Alex Perez. Gary Thomas Wright. And many others I’ll add to the list somewhere else. But these are the ones — soup to nuts — who I spent oceans of time with honing the lessons of life, music, performance, and being a man.
Many thanks to Nick for his time!