Ghostly violins and a weary acoustic guitar open the haunting track, “Man Misunderstood,” by Skyscraper Stan. On my first listen, I felt like a spectator observing a wandering character. And like the best of the folk tradition, “Man Misunderstood” feels more like a journey instead of a destination. Mystery shrouds the song with its Bob Dylan-like structure and storytelling.
Shadowy characters pop in and out, providing great imagery with each interaction the protagonist has throughout the verses.
Yet, there is still a sense of progression in this winding track. The instrumentation is sparse like a long winding road in the desert. Little bursts of sound pop in suddenly to add interest, but it is the acoustic guitar that remains steady throughout the track, holding the rhythm like a steady train. The violins give the track a haunting and memorable feeling.
They weave in and out to add emphasis to different parts of song, and they really come alive due to the purposeful emptiness of the track’s soundscape. The mix is simple and clean. The vocals are the main presence, with the aforementioned acoustic guitar providing the chord progression. The melodies are simple as well, yet they perfectly support the lyrics.
Think of artists like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, and you’ll get a feel for the songwriting taking place on this track.
Full of intrigue and excellent lyrics, “Man Misunderstood” is a worthy folk-rock song that rewards multiple listens. With so many interesting elements to dig through in the track, the following interview was an exciting opportunity to learn more about Skyscraper Stan’s songwriting process.
How has your music style evolved?
When I started writing music I was obsessed with pre-war blues and my Dad’s proggy record collection so the first batch of songs were something between Robert Johnson and Frank Zappa. Really terrible stuff. I’ve been writing and performing for a decade and a half now so things have improved, I’m finding it easier and easier to write in something that feels like my own voice.
Who are some of your musical influences?
My influences change week to week but some have remained for a long time – mostly music that my Dad introduced me to. Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, those kinda writers. These days I listed to a lot of music from Australia and New Zealand, for a lyrical journey I’d recommend the album “Strange Tourist” by Gareth Liddiard.
How did you write “Man Misunderstood?
Quite quickly actually. It’s based on a real experience, but I’ve used liberal amounts of poetic license to improve the yarn. I love a good story and can’t go past a tasty twist, so it was easy throwing all these little scenes into a narrative once I knew where I was going with it.
What is your favorite line from “Man Misunderstood?”
Probably the last one. I won’t say what that is here in case the reader hasn’t listened yet. No spoilers here.
What is your creative process usually like?
Often its quite slow. I’ll be working on multiple songs at the same time, scribbling things down in my notebook and picking the guitar up when I find the time between shows and travel. I’m a big believer in authorial intent so I want to know what I’m saying before I say it. Surrealist stream of consciousness isn’t my vibe, so I take a lot of time to consider what I’m saying. Then eventually a handful of songs will kind of congeal at the same time and voila, I have new material.
How did you first get into songwriting?
My Dad had an old Ibanez guitar, it was a copy of a Gibson Hummingbird and he would play these fingerpicking tunes on it. I thought it was the coolest thing anyone could do but for some reason I never tried it out myself until I was sixteen. Before then I would write poems and short stories but once the guitar was in my hands everything fell into place and the floodgates opened. I was churning out (terrible) songs and over time I’ve lost the ability and/or inclination to do anything else.
What advice would you give to other aspiring songwriters?
Go easy on yourself. Find the way you like to write and relax into it. Look at everything with a poetic eye, don’t fear being overly emotional or dramatic – you’re an artist, embrace it. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re having a hard time writing – that is narcissism, you’re not that important. Don’t let that get you down either, you don’t want to be important, there is great power in anonymity. You are a mirror, reflecting the world back at itself, be honest about it.
What do you think defines art that stands the test of time?
An audience. It seems almost arbitrary what people will gravitate towards so I’m not sure if there are any characteristics that all timeless artworks share. I’ll have to think about that one…
What is one of your favorite albums, and why?
Blue by Joni Mitchell. That album is a masterclass in songwriting. Her melodies are brilliant, her playing has the most wonderful restraint and her lyrics are so vivid. She’s written a lot of great songs but as an album Blue really stands out as a cohesive work.
What can we expect from Skyscraper Stan in the future?
I’m finishing up a tour at the moment after launching my latest album “Golden Boy Vol. I and Vol II” (Man Misunderstood is the closing track). I’ll be taking a break for Sept and then back on the road ‘til the end of the year and through most of 2020. Album number three is in the works but like I said earlier – I write slowly, it’ll be another 24 months before I start getting new tunes out there.