A Skylit Drive was recently in town, headlining The Rise Up Tour at the Roxy Theatre on the world famous Sunset Strip. Touring in support of their just released album Rise on Tragic Hero Records, the Lodi, CA-based collective was only just beginning to spread the word about their latest sonic epic. Prior to their set, we caught up with vocalist Michael “Jag” Jagmin backstage at The Roxy to find out more about their amazing new album Rise, leaving Fearless for Tragic Hero, the departure of longtime member Joey Wilson, the secret of Jag’s unique vocal performances, and other topics of interest. Read on…
How does this new record Rise compare to the previous A Skylit Drive albums?
I think it’s definitely the most well thought-out album – we definitely spent the most time on it out of all the records. We were really careful about just writing good, solid rock songs – just songs that made sense to us – and songs that we feel are going to grasp a wider audience.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the title Rise?
A lot of the topics that I tend to write about, come the end of the story whether it’s about a relationship or some other hardship – there’s always some kind of “See things through to the bitter end” type vibe. Just like rising up, and being bigger than the problem that’s thrown in front of you. It took us a while to think of the album title, but then once we thought of it, we were like that’s actually the most straightforward and understandable meaning for the type of stories I write – just seeing things through and rising above all the issues.
Select any two songs and what inspired the lyrics for you this time around.
We can start with Save Me Tragedy – the opening track. That one is pretty much – it’s almost like if I was in the mindset that I was contemplating committing suicide, and someone is telling me “No, no stop.” But then it also jumps to where because somebody gave me that strength, I want to do that for someone else. It’s a lot of an anti-bullying type message. I was bullied a lot in high school, and all that stuff really bothers me when I see it. And I feel like a lot of kids really need to hear that I know that it gets hard, but this isn’t your time to go. You have to be strong and push through.
And then probably the most personal song to me was Just Stay. That one is about being away from my girlfriend and everything. I know lots of bands have written those songs. It’s not one that I tried to write. I didn’t have a list of different meaning to write about it. I just listened to the song and this is what it made me think about and this is what it makes me feel – so it looks like this is what I’m writing about. We never lean towards, “It’s cool to write about this! Let’s write about that!” I just wrote about what I wrote about – and with all of the changes that have happened in my life recently – there’s been a lot of new things going on and a lot for me to write about – a lot for me to get off my chest. And that was one of those things – like not having her around made things difficult. That song is my way to convey the difficulties of being away.
How has this tour been going and what have been some of the highlights?
This is only the third show, but California shows are always fun. We started in Sacramento – like a hometown show, and that was fun. Yesterday was Chain Reaction in Anaheim – always fun. And now we’re here in Hollywood. I guess we’ll see how it goes. It’s going good so far though.
What could one expect from A Skylit Drive show tonight?
A lot of energy! The longest set we’ve ever played is on this tour. The most material we’ve ever given at a show – that’s one thing that’s rough to get used to. We’re used to playing like 7-8 song sets, and all of a sudden you’re doubling it! After the first show, I just went and passed out! I was done! Like you think, “Alright, I’m young! I got this!” and then you think “Man, what did I get myself into?” But like yesterday was already different – yesterday I was already a little more seasoned into it. It usually takes a good week to really get into the motions, and then all of a sudden it’s time and your body’s used to it.
You recently lost long time member Joey Wilson. Do you still keep in touch with him, and how difficult was it to lose a key member in your band?
I’m not sure if anybody keeps in touch with him too much. Joey’s departure – it was a very mutual decision – we came to him to talk about it and he had already made up his mind that he was okay when that happened. It seemed that he just lost his will to be in a band. At the point in our career that we were in – and that we’re still in – is that we need everybody to be in the same mindset. We want everybody to want it just as bad as the next guy. We need everybody to want it that bad. And when there’s one member who doesn’t pull their weight – and who’s serving, for lack of a better word, no purpose – it just clogs things up. We were like six people – it’s already a lot in a band – it’s a lot of input where one of them doesn’t even give input. It just turned into the whole fact where Nick can everything plenty on his own. And on some of our new songs, Kyle plays guitar as well. We’ve got a couple little new things going on onstage.
Why back to Tragic Hero after what has seemed to be a good run with Fearless Records?
Our whole move back to Tragic – we had worked with them before on Wires and such. We just have such a great relationship with the owner Tommy. He’s almost like our big brother. He’s always been very, very hands on. Whereas Fearless is a great label – there’s a big team there. There’s more bands for them to pay attention to – so they’re not exactly able to give the same attention that Tragic can give. Once again, at this point in our careers and with this album – and with how important we know it is – we need to be sure that we’re number one to whoever is pushing us. We knew that we were going to put everything that we could into this album and that we were going to take a lot of time – the last thing we wanted was to not have a substantial push. Not to say that Fearless wouldn’t care enough – it’s just that they have so much on their plate. They have all these other bands, whereas Tommy’s like “You guys would be my thing. You guys would be IT pretty much.” I know he has other bands and everything, but he said that if “I got you guys back, then I would not make you regret it.” It’s either big fish, little pond or little fish, big pond.
When you look back on your work with Odd Project, what do you think of it now?
It was fun. It’s just funny to look back on how the stuff was written. It was done that same way Wires was. All of the music was written before I even joined on Odd Project with the album – the same with Wires – all the music was done. Before I even joined, they were able to send me all the music demos so I could listen to them. There had been no vocals written – it was just music. Same with Odd Project – they had the whole album done – just no vocals. Some things I look back on, I say “Ah, man that was silly.” We were just kind of having fun and everything. But that’s honestly what helped get my foot in the door to try out for these guys. Back when I was first writing, one of Nick’s friends was a fan of Odd Project. And Nick was like “Yeah, I think this one guy from this band wanted to try out” and he was just “Dude, you gotta let him try out” and he was like, “Yeah, well alright.” But it was definitely fun in that band, but I feel like at the point when I joined that band, they were already kind of over it. I didn’t realize how long they had been without a singer. It had been like the better half of a year – and when I came in, they were all already out of steam. They had already done that album months and months before. And then I come in and I’ve got to write to it. Everybody was changing and members were leaving. I think I came in as the band was already fizzled out.
You have a remarkable vocal range. Have you had any training for it?
Thank you. I mean, I used to try to take lessons from multiple people. I’ve taken certain things from different people, but for the most part it’s just a lot of trial and error. I would take lessons, but it was like “I can’t fully take what you’re doing; otherwise I’d be singing way different. So I’ll use this – I like what you do here.” But for the most part, I don’t really take lessons anymore. I guarantee an instructor would tell me stop singing the way I am – they’d be like “Cut it out!” But then again, a lot of kids are even like, “You teach me!” And I’m like “I wouldn’t want to. You’d probably thrash your voice if you do what I do.” I’m sure it’s not proper, but it works for me. And sure, my voice gets tired too. I’m not the perfect opera singer or anything – but I think I found the way that works the best for me.
If you could open up for any band either now or from the past, who would it be?
I’d love to open for KISS – that would be good! Or like Iron Maiden or Mötley Crüe – one of those bands.
What up next for A Skylit Drive after the Rise Tour is over?
After the Rise Tour – about two weeks after we go to Australia for the first time. We’re there for about 11-12 days and then we come back. There’s works of another thing happening later this year, but we haven’t gotten confirmation. It’s still kind of up in the air. As of right now, the only other confirmed thing is Australia. The other things will fall in place when they do.
And do you have any messages for you fans out here in the Los Angeles?
I hope they’re all here at the show tonight. Come and have a good time if you’re not doing something else – like watching Breaking Bad…
A Skylit Drive is:
Michael Jagmin: lead vocals
Nick Miller: guitar
Brian White: bass, unclean vocals
Cory La Quay: drums, death growls
Kyle Simmons: keyboards, synthesizer
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Edward Brandon)
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