“We’ve been on the run. Driving in the sun. Looking out for number one…” That is what pop culture has taught us about The OC. And no doubt that’s what I hummed the whole time I was thinking about Orange County’s Still The Sky’s Limit, but then something happened. I quickly turned from Seth Cohen’s anthem to STSL’s emotion driven rock and had new tunes to hum, from the tales of a Latin (wannabe) lover in “Lo Hice a Proposito” to the tune that sparked an emo explanation, “Square One.” What was once a lone man wanting more is now a full-fledged band ready to take on more and more with their work in progress, full length in a few months, but in the mean time they have a new video for “Wake” and this interview to hold little guys and gals over…for now, so enjoy!
Kendra: Johnny what did you learn from your time with The Make Believe that you wanted to do different when it came to Still The Sky’s Limit?
Johnny Barthelmac: The greatest lesson I learned from my time with The Make Believe is that I want to be able to have more control over my own fate. That’s why I chose to start singing. I get very restless and want to work on music constantly, but in not being the lead singer I was unable to do all that I wanted to, so I started Still The Sky’s Limit as a side, solo project. And with that, I decided to sing. I had actually started TMB myself before, but I wasn’t just going to kick out the other members and do it on my own, that’s why STSL was born. My original plan was to do both: TMB and STSL on the side.
Kendra: And when you went into doing the side project did you have members in mind or did you have a mental audition process to find the perfect dudes for the job and just go straight to them and ask them to be in a band with you?
Johnny: The side project that ultimately became Still The Sky’s Limit was just that, a side, solo project. That was the sole intention when it began. I wanted to write songs just for myself, as I found that I had a lot of free time and was very eager to play music much more than TMB was allowing at the time. There was no real audition process whether mentally or physically. I actually started off by playing the songs for my friend and roommate at the time Sean Garcia and he kept telling me that I definitely had something there. Beyond that I just wanted to hear the music played live, and I had a very close friend at the time named Jon Moussalli who wanted to jam on guitar, so he and I just hung out as we always did and I showed him my songs. We clicked immediately and felt that we had something really solid going, so I asked another friend, Noel Vestri (who was playing bass in TMB at the time) if he’d like to jam with us. Again, the “click” was immediate (maybe because it was such a natural progression as we were all friends that hung out and played sports all the time anyway). At that point we knew we were onto something, and I knew that Aaron Kramer (who at the time was an acquaintance I had crossed paths with on numerous occasions via various musical endeavors) had recently left his band and was out there by his lonesome, so I called him up and just said “hey, want to play drums for my new side project?” It was oddly amazing how quickly and swiftly everything fell into place.
Kendra: So you have the band, the name…This is something that I’ve always thought about since I am a visual person, merch. Once you have a band name, do you instantly envision what your shirts and whatnot will look like?
Johnny: I am oooobsessed with everything surrounding music, so yes; I immediately envision what things will appear as in any merch designs. I’m also very, very, very hands on. I am a novice at photoshop but love using it to create designs (such as our first two logos). I also consider things such as music videos and story lines that can go along with them, including the locations and how it might look when completed.
Kendra: Are the merch designs group decisions?
Johnny: I guess I really can’t answer that yet. The first merch designs were sort of by default ideas I had come up with previous to adding the final pieces of the band. We just sort of went with them. As the future comes along then yes, the designs will definitely be group decisions. Aaron immediately took on an ownership role with the band, which I’m ecstatic about as previously it had been me alone in all things band for the most part. Further than that, I trust the opinions of our newest member Paul and of course Noel. So, down the line, as merch designs come out the decisions will be four fold for sure.
Kendra: Aaron, were you given ultimate freedom when you came in and had to learn the songs and write the drum parts, or was there some give and take?
Aaron Kramer: For the most part, yes. There were a couple basic ideas for a few songs that Johnny wanted to keep when I came into the band, but he and I had been friends for a few years before joining together and he knew my drumming style, so I pretty much had all the freedom I wanted to write my own drum parts. Which is exactly how I like it, because I love challenging myself in the various parts I can write and with what I can do with a song
Johnny: Sorry to answer where not questioned, but Aaron is a ridiculously talented drummer. I had written some basic drum ideas to the songs but Aaron just took those and “pwned” them. After he had destroyed the ideas I had, I knew I could just trust him to come up with all further ideas. So I don’t even begin to write anything percussion oriented anymore.
Kendra: Speaking of freedom, really quick, Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street are in the news because people want them to get married. What are your thoughts on the matter? Should these two roomies finally take that walk down the aisle or are people just blowing this out of proportion?
Aaron: I personally think it shouldn’t matter either way.
Johnny: I hadn’t heard that, but if this is a question regarding gay marriage in general I don’t see what the big deal is. It is not my place to say who can or cannot be married. I feel it is a ridiculous fear and lack of understanding that drives the hatred. Who are they hurting by loving one another? And to those who do hate, please, enlighten me….what are you afraid of? And to put my opinion into perspective I have honestly been Catholic my entire life. I believe in God, I pray every night. And from my vantage point God does not “hate.” (Look, my first political opinion in an interview, haha)
Kendra: Now time for some music, listening to “Square One” I got this Dashboard vibe which made my mind go to a term that has been kind of absent for a while; “emo.” Not to say your song was that, but it did have that Chris Carrabba, heartfelt, passion behind the delivery. So what I’m getting at is, were you at all influenced by that emo wave that hit music back in the early part of this millennium?
Johnny: Sure. I used to be a huge Dashboard Confessional fan, and before that I was a fan of Further Seems Forever. I know there is the negative connotation surrounding the term “emo” nowadays, but if music isn’t emotion driven, then I don’t see the point of it. I take it as a compliment that anyone would compare “Square One” to anything Dashboard Confessional. Chris Carrabba is an extremely talented songwriter and performer. And yes, you are right that there is passion behind the song, as holds true for every song I write. Each song to this point is a true story of events that have taken place in my life and the lives of others. Each is based on a relationship of one form or another; whether that relationship be between two people (not necessarily myself) or between people and situations I have seen them in. To answer your influence question: yep, I was definitely influenced by the emo wave.My formative music years were back then at the early part of this decade (that may give away my age somewhat haha). I was a huge fan of The Early November, The Starting Line, A New Found Glory (when they still had “A” in their name, haha), Dashboard Confessional, and to an extent Blink 182. I’ve since moved on from those bands to more of the post-hardcore sound…which is just a bit heavier than what “emo” was, but I wouldn’t have made that leap without those aforementioned bands.
Kendra: Other than the typical love, family, friends and Español. What are some random, off the wall things that influence your writing on Last Chance Past?
Johnny: The one glaring, random thing that influenced Last Chance Past was a situation in which I was randomly hanging out with someone and they wanted to go to a club to hit on girls and wanted my moral support. When we got there he didn’t do a darn thing and I thought it was just hilarious. That inspired the song “Still (The Sky’s Limit)” which literally to me meant “man, you are just standing still” and then sarcastically “The Skyyyy’s the Limit there”. That song was written before the name Still The Sky’s Limit came along. In that I was contemplating one day and felt a completely different meaning come across when the parenthesis were taken away…think of the name as “Still The Sky’s Limit…is infinite”…meaning anything is possible; creativity is endless and limitless.
Another random event that took place inspired “Almost By Accident” (which I’ve since completely rewritten for the full length, and its 100% better). A now-former-friend of mine decided to explode at me on a trip to Las Vegas. He and I used to play tons of random sports together, and finally on this trip he had come to his wits end regarding me winning the majority of the time. He went off, I stayed calm, and on that very same trip I wrote the guitar riff that opens the song. It seemed only fitting that the lyrics and music would go together from that experience.
The rest of the songs are about one weekend that changed my life; ironically also while in Vegas; and while at the time I felt very deceived, in the long run it was by far the best thing that ever happened to me. “Square One,” “Wake,” and “Last Night” are all about two days in Vegas. Out of that weekend I came to really respect a friend of mine that I’d like to send a shout out to: he goes by the name of DJ HLM. Amazing DJ, awesome friend….and, of course…on Facebook.
Lastly, the intro, “But What If I Did?” is about me and not giving up on a dream that has become a goal. One dreams of becoming a successful musician, but when you put in the effort and can truly turn that into a goal then you have something. I am not one to give up. They all will say “you can’t do this because it’s too difficult, one in a million…blah blah blah”….but what if I did?
Kendra: Last Chance Past welcomed in 2011, what’s to come for the rest of the year musically from you guys?
Aaron: We are working on a full length record to come out either later this year or early next year. We just put out a music video for the song “Wake,” so we might do another video or two. Aside from that, just some more California shows, and prepping for a hopeful tour in 2012.
Johnny: What Aaron said. We actually have the songs for the full length all ready, and are in the process right now of recording them. It will most likely be 11 or 12 songs. And just remove that “hopeful” word from Aaron’s response.
Kendra: I actually found out about you guys through a flyer I got from one of you outside of a show (most likely at Chain). Some people converse with bands who take the time and effort to pass out fliers/CDs/postcards and some add to pollution with them. What are some Still The Sky’s Limits secrets to getting a show goer to take the flyer home?
Aaron: Personally I try to be as welcoming as possible, and go for the “Free Download/Free Music” line. People like free, and there are so many people out after shows handing out flyers you have to find ways to stick out among the crowd and not annoy people. We also like to try and talk to the people we give flyers to, not just hand out and move on to the next person. You don’t always get as many flyers handed out, but you make more personal connections, which is more likely to draw in more fans.
Johnny: PEOPLE WILL NOT TAKE FLYERS FROM ME! I have no idea what it is, I’m just as welcoming as Aaron and the others, but it’s the oddest thing….it’s happened so many times now it’s become a joke too. I went to Warped Tour a few years ago (was lucky enough to play a date in Ventura), and I was trying to pass out free CDs….FREE CDS! And people would not take them from me….they looked at me like I was nuts, haha, it was crazy…So, we experimented and had Sean Garcia pass them out in the exact same fashion that I had tried, and the people took them all from him within 10 minutes. The trend has continued. I do really enjoy talking to people about music and just life in general, I have strong opinions about it and know a ton about bands and solo artists and sports and movies and noteworthy news, so I go with the guys to pass out fliers and typically we’ll get a few out and then just talk to people about whatever. It’s fun meeting new people and just finding out about them. (I have a psychology degree, it’s in my nature! haha)
Kendra: Lastly, we’re edging in towards that time of year most people fear and dread, back to school time. So in the spirit of on sale jeans and Wal-Mart deals, I want you all to make me a “Back to School” mixtape; five songs that will take away the blues of heading back to school.
Aaron: I’ll say 8…the entire Last Chance Past EP! Realistically though, I am really excited to hear the new Blink-182 album, I love “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars, “All Signs Point to Lauderdale” by A Day To Remember, and then I can listen to “Point/Counterpoint” by Streetlight Manifesto any day or time.
Johnny: Ha, Aaron. Do check out our EP, it’s a great start for us, but just wait till you hear the full length, its one giant leap for STSL. Also, one thing that people will learn about STSL….none of us have the same musical taste; at least as far as favorite bands. And for reasons left unsaid I’m definitely not a big fan of 30STM, haha, although I think Jared Leto is one hell of a talented guy. I’m kidding, i have no problem with 30STM, they put out very catchy music and even cooler music videos.
For going back to school I feel you’d still need a summer mix to keep yourself satisfied. I can’t say five songs, but i will say three records, one EP, and a song…because these records have too many good songs to just choose one from each…I’d say anything from Pierce the Veil’s new record, the new Craig Owens band D.R.U.G.S., the newest Our Last Night record, a new band called Secrets’s 3 song demo EP; they were recently signed to Velocity I believe, and as a not-so-guilty pleasure, Paramore’s song “Careful.”
I realize I write a lot, so for everyone that took the time to read through this I really appreciate it. We as a band have put our entire lives into creating and perfecting these songs, and we truly hope to see you out at a show. Our live show is what I feel is the best part about us at this point…we have some ridiculous energy and just have more fun on stage than you would believe. The people closest to me even think I’m going to fall off the stage because I run around so much and climb on anything I can find. And with the recent addition of Paul, who has joined me in these efforts, and Noel’s dancing and Aaron’s frenetic drumming….well, you can imagine. And always feel free to talk to us and ask questions. As you can tell I love answering…and just remember you can do anything you want to do, its just a matter of doing it.
Originally published on August 23, 2011