By Manus Hopkins
We recently caught up with Skye Wallace between an opening slot for the legendary Alanis Morissette and the start of her own tour. It was clear that Wallace deserved a place in our pages as well, since she’s practically everywhere these days, in as physical a sense as metaphorical. The guitar-slinging road warrior is an east coaster at heart, but having lived on both ends of the country, now based in Toronto, she’s picked up influences from all over to craft her honed-in sound, most notably heard on her latest record, 2022’s Terribly Good, released through Six Shooter Records.
“That was a wild one,” Wallace says of her evening sharing the stage with Morissette in Toronto. “We played the RBC [Canadian] Open right before Atlantis Morissette played, which was wild. And since then, I've been in a time warp because I’ve been writing and recording a record. So, that's kind of been taking up on my time. And today is my one day at home in between recording and leaving on tour. I’m trying to get all the moving pieces to switch brains.”
Luckily, Wallace says through her years of doing this, she’s gotten good at compartmentalizing and working on one thing at a time. When writing and recording are consuming her time, she doesn’t worry about rehearsals, but does have time blocked off before each tour to get herself and her band performance-ready. Before that happens though, it’s the admin work that needs to get done.
“It feels a little chaotic, but in a good way right now,” she says. “I'd normally have an itinerary and every address laid out, but you know, it's all coming together.”
After doing this interview, Wallace set out on a two-week long tour of British Columbia and Alberta, consisting of a handful of festivals and a number of headline shows, before spending the rest of the summer playing more cross-country dates, everywhere from Prince Edward Island to Saskatchewan.
“I haven't actually been to Cavendish in PEI; I've been to Charlottetown,” she says. “The festival [I’m playing there] is called Somo Fest. I'm really excited because I haven't done a ton of kicking around PE I since I was little really. So, I'm excited for that. And then a big thing coming up is the fall, starting beginning of September until maybe mid-late October, I’m doing a tour in the US as well as Europe. And I haven't played shows in the US outside of conferences and festivals like South By [Southwest] or Folk Alliance before.”
For Wallace, playing a shorter set during the day to a festival crowd, verses a full show for her own crowd can be quite different. When choosing a setlist, there are things she has to consider in order to best represent herself and her music in any given show.
“I have my preferred set, especially if it's with a crowd that's not there specifically for you, because I think that's just a different energy, because I've had the reverse of that before where you play like an hour and a half long set for people who don't know your music as much and that can be a slog for sure, energy-wise,” she explains. “So, I feel like the perfect set for me as far as demonstrating what the music's like and showcasing to new folks, I think the half an hour to 40 minutes kind of thing, that's the sweet spot where you can just do a tight little arc and you can really have the energy flow in a really nice way and show off the best that you've got to offer. I like them both, but I'd say depends on the circumstance.”
With a good amount of range in her music, Wallace likes to keep festival sets mainly made up of her upbeat rockers. Songs like “Tooth and Nail” and “There is a Wall” are great for providing a burst of energy to festival crowds early on in the day, and for those whose attention she catches, there’s much more to be heard on a deeper dive into her catalogue.
“People who are out at a festival, they want to have a good time,” she says. “So, I'd say to rip is definitely the vibe over the summer.”
Getting audiences engaged is something that’s been on Wallace’s mind during her writing sessions as of late. With singalong choruses, she’s noticed crowds are able to get into the music more, inspiring her to pen more tunes that ask for audience participation.
“I've been doing a lot of writing for the past year and a half; it's been a big process,” Wallace says. “I've been zeroing in on what it is that I feel compelled to want to perform and talk about, even. And I do think that engagement is a factor because even if it's not like, ‘Oh, I want to write this chorus so that people do this,’ I think it's inherently just in the back of your mind. Because that is a means of connection. And that is a means of getting people invested in what the song is all about. That's how you continue a relationship with communities that you bring your live show to.”
Another thing that has strengthened Wallace’s songwriting abilities is dipping into the world of cowriting. During the pandemic, it was something she took up after shying away from it before because of worries and insecurities she felt. She’s now cowritten on her own songs and songs for other artists.
“I feel like I've grown so much as a songwriter,” she says now, and more confidently. “That process is very intuitive, and it's very leading with the gut. And it's just leaning on the skill set that you've accumulated over many years of doing this crazy, weird thing. And just leaning on what specifically you can do as an artist, I think is really interesting and cool. Because whatever that is, you're an individual and nobody can recreate that. So, you might as well lean into what is unique about you. And that's been a really fun process to explore.”
Wallace is happy to bring cowriting into her own music but doesn’t mind the idea of being a behind-the-scenes cowriter as well. Working as an eponymous artist, she feels she should stay in her own lane and not make any huge departures but is open to the idea of putting out music under a different project name if it feels right. As Wallace says, “life is long.”
“I'm also really into the idea of writing for sync lately too, because there is a huge market for placements and everything like that,” she says. “My publisher is so wonderful and supportive. It's High Priestess; Kim Temple and her team are freaking awesome. But yeah, I'm very interested in that because it has no confines. You can make any kind of music and if you do end up releasing it, putting it out under another name, but I think especially when you're able to produce things at home and create at your leisure, I think that is very exciting and enticing for me going forward.”
Overcoming her nervousness about writing with other artists and songwriters was a journey for Wallace, but she’s glad she’s at a place now where she feels comfortable lending her skills in that capacity and opening up a host of other projects and possibilities she can work on when off tour.
“I've started to acknowledge that as songwriters and as artists, there's this idea that there is a correct way to songwrite,” she says. “And that's just a myth. There is no correct way of doing anything. Everybody has their own process and their own way of getting there. Sure, there are some dos or don'ts. But there are a few things that are for sure. There’s a big breadth of leeway as to how you get there and how you hone your craft. I think that was where my insecurity was lying with collaboration on the songwriting front.”
While she likes to leave room to come up with hooks on the cusp, Wallace also likes to show up with some ideas to work on, just in case a spark doesn’t immediately happen, especially when writing with new collaborators.
“When it's a newer situation or I haven't had experiences cowriting with the people I'm going in with, I like to have a couple of ideas, just so I don't go in there and freeze, then I get in my own head and all that,” she says. “So, I like to go in with something, even if it's just a reference to a song that maybe we can look at the production or song structure. But recently, just because I have a few different collaborators that we've worked together quite a bit, it's been really cool going in with nothing and having that trust that we’ll just make something cool and flow. That's pretty special and pretty powerful. And that's been where some of my favorite songs have come from, so far.”
Wallace is also testing some new material onstage this year before she signs off on it, as a way of workshopping what will and won’t go over well with audiences and what makes the most sense for arrangements and structures.
“I'm really excited to see how those go,” she says. “It's like still in process, but those are exciting.”
As far as release plans go, Wallace’s lips are tight, but she does offer a 2024 release date for her next effort.
“It's definitely going to be next year,” she says. “My release plan is to get everything together by the end of this year, which is already pretty much in the works. A lot of the record is done. I'm not going to talk about it too much, but there's a lot of content that I'm going to be digging into as well. And I'm going to be looking towards 2024 as a big release year.”
Writing, recording, and releasing are definitely exciting parts for Wallace of what she does, but having cut her teeth in a live scene, the shows are what is most special to her, and releasing new music means a reason to get back out on tour.
“The next six months are pretty nonstop, which is awesome,” she says. “I feel like the live thing was how I came up as an artist and the road dogging and everything like that, and it's not done as much I think these days but I still really like it and I think even with just small town touring, I think there's a lot of merit to being able to connect with communities all over the place and I think that was a huge thing for me touring because I started independently.”
Though she’s released music through a big label and works with a publisher and a booking agent, Wallace still likes to be involved in all the comings and goings of her music career. She says working with an agent is good for building her contact base, filling in gaps on tours, and getting onto bigger ticketed shows and festivals, but she doesn’t want to lose touch with the independent road warrior aspect of her image.
No matter how busy she gets, Wallace isn’t looking at slowing down any time soon. As far as touring and performing go, she still has a few bucket-list items to cross off.
“I've always wanted to play Folk on the Rocks, so that's on my wish list for sure. That's up in Yellowknife,” she says. “I would really like to do more festival stuff in the States. I feel like there's so much and that's always been a little bit of a scary thing for me, and I feel like I really started from the bare minimum, as far as playing to five people and doing the grind to get people aware of me as an artist. And that takes a toll. It takes a spiritual toll. So, the idea of going and doing that in the States and having to do that all over again is not super appealing to me; I don't necessarily want to go and play to like five people in that kind of way. Even though I don't have as much of a presence. So, it’s how you pay your dues. But I think, ideally, I would like to explore the States in a way that maybe involves some festivals or just some clear ways to access an audience. That would be my dream, and I could see a lot of a lot of tangential things happening because of that, in that market. So, that would be very exciting.”
Manus Hopkins is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
He can be reached at email@example.com