Time always seemed to stand still whenever one of The Vinyl Skyway’s songs would crackle to life on the radio inside my parents’ car on a cold-as-chrome winter’s afternoon.
I remember being 14 and hunched toward the gleaming dashboard dial as if receiving a secret transmission. There was always something inviting, if somehow slightly baleful, that pulled me closer to singer-guitarist Michael Hayes’s soft flame of a voice flickering amid the Skyway’s steady burn. Even now, that music always manages to summon those memories, faded like Polaroid pictures with the sepia creeping in.
OK, so I wasn’t that kid in the car, and the songs Hayes and guitar maestro/multi-instrumentalist Andy Santospago have written for well over a decade now with their criminally under-heard band weren’t really on that radio. But they should have been. In another age, they almost certainly would have been. Nevertheless, those tunes are a reminder of everything that first enthralled me about music when I was that teenager, trying to find my way in the world and being unsure how to get there — wherever “there” was.
Ultimately, there’s a greater emotional truth at work here than the rote facts of when much of this music was actually released, and where I first heard it. But those mundane details don’t capture what continues to make the Vinyl Skyway so trenchant and transporting. And after all, where the music takes you is really what counts.
The truth is, the first time I heard those songs, I felt a flush of instantaneous recognition: this was music at once bewitching and bittersweet; earthbound and ethereal. Most importantly, though, was the bracing feeling of connection to songs and songwriters who sounded simpactico — like confidantes on the highways, byways, and back roads of my life.
Speaking of highways and byways, the mind’s-eye effect of listening to the band’s brand new “Long Cool Journey” is something like holding a kaleidoscope to the light, gazing through the glass, and glimpsing a fantastical panaloply of color and shapes in fluid motion — all of it refracted back as bejeweled sunshine clouded with shadows.
I personally prefer the shadows, calmly measured as they are, spilling across the sidewalks we walk, and darkening the doorways we’re either coming home to, or escaping from. “Old Route 9,” the wistful second track on “Long Cool Journey,” is an immediate favorite of mine because of Hayes’s typically sublime, understated snapshot imagery of connection, faith, and the loss of both. Which is all a fancy way of saying it’s a stunner of desperate, resigned beauty.
But when it comes to the Vinyl Skyway’s music, I tend not to talk in a blow-by-blow, dissective fashion about individual “tracks” — what’s upbeat, what’s a ballad, what might, in a better world, be a “hit.” Because, as with most of the artists and albums I really cherish, the Skyway sound is really about setting a mood, a perspective, and an atmosphere that sweeps into your circumstances, seizes a private corner of your mind and your life, and lingers there.
And like that kaleidoscope I mentioned, the ratio and interplay of color depends wholly upon the angle with which you look through the lens. Indeed, those songs sparkle and glint like the diamonds they are and will always be. And unlike one of Michael’s lyrics having to do with “diamonds down the drain,” they, thankfully, have not slipped from our grasp. Rather, like a handful of gems sitting in the palm of our hand, we can hold them here with us, anytime. For me, they’ll always be a precious reminder of the interior radio that’s tuned, timelessly, to our dreams and imaginations.
TELEGRAPHING THE SKYWAYS OF SUMMER: A new beginning, a new album, and a summery pop sound. Things are finally looking sunny for the Vinyl Skyway.
By Jonathan Perry (The Boston Globe Music/Arts Cover Feature, 2007)
CAMBRIDGE — When he was a child, his family called him a “walking mood,” and it was true then as it is now. In fact, the dark clouds have always hung heavy around Vinyl Skyway singer-songwriter Michael Hayes’s shoulders, starting when he lost his mother to cancer at age 6. When he was 17, he lost a best friend in a car accident. Then, a decade later, just as his country-tinged pop band, Lemonpeeler, had released a promising album that marked a bright new start, Hayes’s father died. Lemonpeeler broke up soon thereafter.
No wonder, then, that back when Hayes’s brother made him a mix tape called “Strum and Bum,” filled with melancholic songs about grief and failure from the likes of the Smiths and Paul Westerberg, he identified, and powerfully.
“I still have that tape,” Hayes recalls over a beer at a Harvard Square watering hole. “I looked death in the face at an early age, so there was always that sad side — I think I went through a lot as a kid. I didn’t get started writing songs until I was 26, 27, but as I went along, I got better, and it was an outlet.”
Great artists create beauty from catastrophe, and writing pop songs — ravishingly lovely ones that seem to effortlessly glide, soar, and transcend whatever tragedies inspired them — is something that Michael Hayes does supremely well. You can decide for yourself when Hayes and his band, Vinyl Skyway, play the Lizard Lounge tonight to celebrate the release of their second album, “From Telegraph Hill, ” the title of which refers to the band’s bicoastal locales. Hayes, lead guitarist Andy Santospago, and keyboardist Dave Lieb all live around Boston, while drummer Booth Hardy and bassist Rob Pevitts both live in San Francisco.
Like Vinyl Skyway’s 2004 self-titled debut, “From Telegraph Hill” is not the tedious, navel-gazing product of a self-obsessed “tortured” artist, or the doom-and-gloom pontificating of a barfly left too long in the lounge. It’s lush, summery music in the vein of the Thrills, the Pernice Brothers, or Lindsey Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac, with ambrosial harmonies, gleaming guitar hooks, and melodies so creamy and opulent that you barely realize you’re humming along to one colossal bummer after another.
The lilting opening track, “Hangin’ On,” for instance, is about Hayes’s cousin, who was attacked and beaten within an inch of his life. (He has since recovered .) “He walked out of a bar and somebody hit him over the head with a lead pipe. His brains were basically on the sidewalk,” Hayes says.
The song has some of the most sweetly stacked Beach Boys-esque harmonies you’re likely to hear. Ditto for Hayes’s favorite track, “Deadly,” a slice of sumptuous pop he says he wrote to cope with the alienation and anger he felt the day President George W. Bush was reelected to a second term.
“I think there’s a classic element to their music,” says Camp Street Studios engineer Adam Taylor, who helped mix the album. “[Hayes] is a very intelligent writer, and he understands harmonies and melodies, and that’s a lost art. Those sound like simple things, but that’s not always the case.”
Hayes credits his Vinyl Skyway comrades with bringing those sounds to fruition. “It’s really a reincarnation of Lemonpeeler,” says Hayes, who patched things up with his old friends when Lemonpeeler reunited for a show last year. “Andy [Santospago] and I did the first Vinyl Skyway album, and we’re proud of it. But it was mostly friends and hired guns trying to have a good time hanging out, playing in our kitchen on Sundays, and if we got a gig, great. But I missed Lemonpeeler. When I play with those guys, there’s a chemistry there that doesn’t exist with a lot of other people I’ve played with.”
Lemonpeeler had originally collapsed under a crushing weight of personal turmoil and emotional upheaval. (In addition to Hayes’s dad passing away, Pevitts went through a divorce, while Hardy’s parents split up, and guitarist Jim Eddy — now back as an ancillary member of Vinyl Skyway and also living in Boston — became a parent.) Eventually, tempers flared, agendas changed, and accusations flew. “Now those wounds have healed,” says a tranquil Hayes, all too familiar with the cycles of grief and recovery. “I think it’s made us all stronger as a band. We’re moving forward.”
TAKE A LISTEN TO THE BRAND NEW ALBUM HERE: https://vinylskyway.bandcamp.com/album/long-cool-journey
And here’s a sumptuous sample of some choice Skyway cuts from previous albums: