Reaching for the Skye

Larra Skye took a big risk when she left Ryerson's Journalism program to pursue a career in music. Fortunately, the Toronto jazz singer has had a run of good luck since releasing her successful debut album The World Disappears in 2005. With no intentions of turning back now, she's started work on the follow-up the disc, and hopes to release it next year.

Skye took some time to speak to me at a Bloor street cafe recently.

Q: Tell blogTO's readers a bit about yourself.

LS: I was born in Toronto and I don't know why or when I started loving music.

Sometimes I think why did I get into music and I don't really know why. I just know that I've always loved it. It was something I've felt compelled that I have to do!

I have an album out. I went to journalism school. I left to pursue music. Here I am today, I'm working on my second album, I'm very much versed in the entertainment scene and I love it!

Q: It's been a couple of years since you put out our last album, what have you been up to since then?

LS: I released the album in December 2005, as you know, and when I first released it, I had some success with radio play but things really started to happen when I got into HMV in 2006.
After that, I was able to travel, performing my own original music -- which was an amazing thing... going from The Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver to the St. John's Jazz Festival, twice actually!

So, I've been back and forth (across Canada) in a year and a bit and in the meantime I've also been working on new music.

I mean I had a band in high school but the furthest we played was Ottawa. I didn't really start playing in Toronto clubs -- the jazz clubs -- until December 2005. So, since that time I've worked with a lot of musicians. That was my goal, Toronto has a lot to offer with musicianship. There's so many musicians in this city.

For example, I played every Thursday at the Trane Studio in 2006 and I played with a different band every night!

I was really able to work on the fly with musicians.... we didn't practice, we just played. I gave them my music and we just played. Everyone had their own interpretation and I loved that. That's where I live. I love improvising and I love that people can take my charts and add their own something to that.

Q: You mentioned the deal with HMV. How did that come about?

LS: Chance. I guess... the old adage, 'Hard work and good work equals success.' I worked hard and somebody high up in the company heard about my music. Then, just like that, they contacted me! It was a really amazing thing that they believed in the music so much that they decided to take it across the country.

People were able to buy my album in places where I've never been and I have no family! (Laughs) Which, for a musician, counts. It's like, 'What?! You don't have family there and you sold your album?'

Q: How's work on the new album coming along?

LS: It's good. We're in the pre-production stage. So, we haven't done any final recordings yet but we actually have more than enough songs so we have to figure out what's going to fit together nicely.

Q: What sets the songs on this album apart from the songs on the last one?

LS: The first album was done live off the floor. There were some vocal overdubs but they were done as complete takes so we kept it very organic. For this second album what we're -- I work with songwriter, Gerry Finn -- planning to do is spend a lot of time in the studio getting the arrangements.

This time I'm working on horn parts. I'm really coming up with nice arrangements for the tunes and that may switch up the sound. I love all types of music so I think this one is going to be a bit more soulful, R&B-sounding... but I don't like to label.

Q: Was leaving school intimidating?

LS: Yeah, it was a bit scary. It was a move that I really made on my own. I certainly think my parents would be happy if I was in school right now. (Laughs) I think they'd be pleased, although they are some of my biggest fans. It's always scary to leave something that appears as a norm and safe.

I don't think anything in this life is safe though, so had I finished my journalism degree, I'd be looking out for a job... I'd be out hustling... I'd be doing what I'm doing with the music.

I guess I felt like the time was right. I don't believe in fate or destiny. I believe you can make your own life if you work hard and do what you love. But it did feel like something was telling me, 'OK, now is the time to work on it.'

Q: Have you had any label interest or are you planning on staying independent?

LS: I really like being an independent person but I'm ambitious and want to be able to travel the world.

Q: Have you played outside of Canada at all?

LS: I know some musicians in New York and I was thinking of going to Seattle because it's near Vancouver, but I've just been waiting to have the new album because I think the songs will be more commercial.

Not commercial in a dirty sense, like Britney Spears, just more produced, more arranged, kind of R&B undercurrent and... I really don't know how to label it right now.

That's always been a problem (when people ask me), 'What do you sound like?' In the beginning when I was 21 I wanted to know who I sounded like. Now I'm happy that people can't give me names.

I'm proud of the fact that I try to do something unique. I'm not an imitator. I love other people's songs but I find it important, as a songwriter, to put original music out there... something new, something fresh, something different for jazz vocalists.

Q: What do you have planned for the show at The Rex on the 16th?

LS: Well, I am going to have a larger band so I'm adding a trumpet player and I'm playing with some musicians that I've never played with before. Marc Rogers, who's the bassist for Holly Cole, and Robi Botos. He's from Hungary. He won second place in an international solo piano competition and he's won national jazz awards.

I don't know what's going to happen when we're all together.

Q: What does the future hold?

LS: Well, I've very ambitious. I want to release an album and I want to follow up on the success of my first album but take this one outside of the boundaries of the country.

And my music has been played worldwide by radio stations. And one person at a time, I'm going to find a way to spread the music around.

Larra Skye
December 16th
The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar
194 Queen St. W,
Cover is TBD

Photo by Matthew Masskant

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