One is the keyboardist in an electro-rock trio, and the other is a solo indie-folk songstress. One resides in Colorado Springs, and the other hails from Buffalo. Hydrogen Skyline‘s Norman Hittle and singer-songwriter Jess Chizuk may be on different ends of the genre spectrum, but as this latest edition of Bands Interviewing Bands shows, all it takes to strike up an enthralling conversation is a shared love and passion for the music. Norman and Jess discuss their starts in the industry, the recording process for their respective new albums and much more.
Hydrogen Skyline: Have you always been a solo singer/songwriter? And how did you get your start in music?
Jess Chizuk: For the most part, yep! I started writing lyrics when I was very young, maybe about age 11, and took guitar and singing lessons shortly after to turn them into real songs. I started performing as a solo artist quite literally only a few months after learning to play guitar. Since then, I’ve been in a few bands and other projects, but I always come back to playing solo whenever I can.
Jess Chizuk: How did Hydrogen Skyline get together? And did you know you wanted the Indie/Pop/Rock sound right away?
Hydrogen Skyline: We got together simply by happenstance. Asher [vocalist] and I are married, and I was having band practice pretty frequently in our downstairs studio, and one day she basically said she’d like to try out–which as you can imagine was awesome! Getting Mark [Young, guitarist] into the band was a bit more difficult. We had to be really cutthroat and sort of lure him into being interested, leaving his former band(s) to join up with us.
As far as intended genre, we didn’t really start out aiming for indie-pop/rock. In the early part of this millennium, I desired to play in a progressive rock/metal band. Something between Opeth, Type O Negative, and TOOL. What ended up happening is I got guys together that wanted to play more melodic styles of progressive music (i.e. the Mars Volta and Porcupine Tree). Anyway, each year we continued to be more “mainstream” in our style of music, and eventually we just accepted we wanted to make music we all liked and that ended up being more what we have going on today. Though, I secretly still want to have my progressive rock side band!
Hydrogen Skyline: Why did you pick Lehigh Valley Line as the title track over something like “Eyes on the Horizon” (which is my favorite track)? Is there some sort of special meaning or theme that song has that relates to the rest of the album?
Jess: There’s a number of reasons, really. Initially, both “Eyes on the Horizon” and “The Distance” were top album name contenders, but it turns out those names have been used over and over again by tons of other artists, which I didn’t like. It’s already hard enough to gain traction as a new artist without people confusing your album with someone else’s. Lehigh Valley Line is actually based on a true story; the Lehigh Valley Railroad used to run through Buffalo, NY (which is where I’m from) and had a pretty big impact on the area when trains were commonplace. A lot of the tracks have subtle references to the area in them, but this one is pretty much centered around this cool piece of history. I thought it would be neat to pay homage to the city that the album was created in, while simultaneously being able to give it an entirely unique name that had never been used before.
Jess: I think “Seize the Day” is my favorite track off Photovoltaic, but a lot of the tracks have really interesting themes and lyrics. How many band members are involved in the songwriting process, and what’s that process like?
Hydrogen Skyline: Our writing process involves all three of us. The long answer is: we typically start by sitting down with our instruments and working on some ideas or chords one or more of us have an interest in. Then we start formatting a rough structure for the progressions (usually v-ch-v-ch-b-ch). At this point, we try to make some unique adjustments in rhythm and really iron out the ranges of the instruments. When we have a solid idea for the music, I take it and work on some vocal melodies. Then Asher and I hash out those ideas and make adjustments. When the melodies are ideal, I go from there to writing some rough lyrics, usually about a concept Asher and I agreed on. After that, another round of modification, and when we feel the vocals and lyrics seem to work together to convey the emotion we want, we pull all the instruments out and rebuild the song around the vocals. And in pre-production, we do that whole process all over again!
Hydrogen Skyline: On your website’s biography, it states that you have won several awards in your area! Congratulations! What would you say is the award you were most honored to receive and why was it important to you?
Jess: Thank you! Every one of them has been a significant honor in one way or another. It’s really hard to put any of them above any other one, but I think the first one was probably the biggest deal for me. About two years ago, I sent in one of my tracks “China Plates” to a small, local songwriting competition. I honestly didn’t expect a response from it, but I ended up winning, and as a result got to record that song in one of the best studios in Buffalo with several Buffalo Music Hall of Fame musicians, which was an incredibly big deal for me at the time. I think getting that first really positive response spurred me on to work towards everything else I’ve achieved so far. I’m not sure I would be where I am today had I not won that first award!