13th Sky is an American band based out of Los Angeles, CA, (originally formed in the San Francisco Bay area in 1999 and relocated to Los Angeles in 2001.) There have been several lineup changes over the years, utilizing male and female lead vocals, under the name 13th Sky.
By blending energetic postpunk and dark alternative styles, they have created a sound that is both modern and all their own. 13th Sky’s new material deals with subjects such as isolation, urban decay, political corruption, and dystopia in general, the harsh reality of the collapse of the American Dream.
The band’s early work caught the attention of Bari Galvin (Mephisto Walz /former Christian Death member) and led him to work with the band and record 3 songs. The song “vicious breed” was later to be released with Strobelight records on New Dark Age vol. 3.
In 2006 13th Sky teamed up with guitarist/ producer Robert Guastini and released the single ” Pass the Gun.” 13th Sky’s debut CD “The Sin Sessions” (a collection of singles) was released in early 2008 getting both online and commercial airplay (such as Los Angeles’ Indie 103)
2012 brought the “Frontline” 3 song single and showed an alternate side of influences. The new incarnation mixes the ethereal soundscapes with a much heavier sound. The “Frontline” release with its upbeat material paved the way for the new direction and things to come.
In 2014 13th Sky released their 5 song EP “virtue” with producer Ryan Hudson and explored further with the sounds of the band, while never repeating previous material. The release led the band to perform across the west coast, Texas and Mexico in support of the new material.
Currently 13th Sky are preparing to perform live and celebrate their 20 year anniversary in 2018. A tour of Mexico and select dates across California.
Virtue – (EP) 2014
Frontline- (single) 2012
The Sin Sessions-(LP) 2008
These Descending Angels (EP)-1999/2009
In the Silence (CD single)-2000 out of print
Spooky Sounds from the Underground (compilation)-2013
Dark Age Vol. 3 (compilation) Strobelight Records-2006
darkness from light (compilation)- 2000
Let’s shake, rattle and roll…
How did you come up with the name 13th Sky?
Steven Jennings: Interesting enough over the last 20 years that question has rarely came up in an an interview.
The name 13th Sky has had a bit of a controversy. People have actually associated it with the occult, Middle Eastern friends have told me of a 13th Sky in their Muslim religion and an ex-band member was claiming it was the name of a bar in Blade Runner. Well, the jokes on them! The name was purely manufactured in 1998 by myself and original guitarist Dean Owens. At the time it expressed a dark vibe perfect for for our early songwriting. (13, being a lucky and unlucky number throughout history) and (Sky, simply meaning freedom from musical suppression)
When Richard and I regrouped in 2012 we decided not to change the band name and we went with using it with a fitting apocalyptic theme. Some of our songs like “night terrors” and “tearing through the ashes” are just that. It was 2012…
Which bands or artists have affected you the most so far?
(Steven) We are all huge music fanatics. The list could go on and on forever…
(Bino) Haha! Yeah, the list is huge, but I’ll try to give a summary that doesn’t get too out of control.
My first big love during the 80’s was U2, so it makes a weird sort of sense that I would eventually fall in with the gothic/post-punk crowd when you consider that Dik Evans from the Virgin Prunes is The Edge’s brother, and U2 has cited bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division as early influences. Another early landmark for me was Nirvana. Their Nevermind album dropped the same month I started high school and absolutely blew my mind at the time, so I spent most of my teenage years riding that wave of early 90’s alternative rock.
The post-apocalyptic Spaghetti Western sorcery of the Fields of the Nephilim makes them one of my all-time favorites for being one of the single most unique-sounding and -looking rock bands in history. Similarly, the gothic cabaret-punk of the Sex Gang Children has an absolutely wonderful sense of drama, and it would be impossible to mistake Andi’s vocals for anyone else. Some people might be tired of the Sisters of Mercy for arguably codifying the gloomy bombast of gothic rock, but I think that most of Andrew Eldritch’s imitators failed to replicate or indeed understand the dry wit that went into his songwriting. And, in case it wasn’t obvious that there’s a bit of a pattern here, Gary Numan’s lonely-android-boy synth-rock has that same combination of pioneering sound and unique theatricality that rates him high on my charts.
I could go on, but I shouldn’t.
(Richard) Too many to name! But a few are The Damned, Iggy Pop, Gary Numan, Ramones, and TSOL…
What are your songs about and do you hold back things you would like to scream out or you just go for it?
(Steven) Our songs have always been about whatever we want them to be about, no rules, no regulations.
If a finished song doesn’t quite fit with our live setlist we will simply shelve it for another time or recording session. There’s a ton of material. I’ve just started to remaster and post the first batch on our bandcamp site but there’s tons more coming at you!
(Richard) I write from personal experience and observation. Mostly consisting of subjects such as social and urban decay, inner demons, frustration, anger, etc.
Have you ever been in other bands/projects before?
(Steven) Throughout most of the 90’s I played in a band called The Winter Chapter. 13th Sky was actually a side project that became a functioning band when the Winter Chapter disbanded in 1998.
(Bino) I’ve been in a band called Razorblade Monalisa for the last 12 years, and it was just as we were hanging up the “closed” sign over the summer that Steven got in touch with me about joining 13th Sky.
(Richard) I played in several bands throughout my teenage years, but was never really on the same page musically. All the bands I played with grew up on Punk Rock. My band mates were into what came out in the 90’s and early 2000’s on labels like Epitaph and Nitro records, where I was influenced by the Pre Punk bands such as The Stooges and MC5 and the New York, Los Angeles, and English scenes of the late 1970’s and 80’s. The people I played with had no concept of Post Punk, Goth, Dark Wave, what have you. It wasn’t until Steven and I started playing together 12 years ago that I was playing with someone with the same taste as myself.
Would you like to start an other band or project alone or with others? In which genre?
(Steven) One active band is hard enough to maintain today. I would choose to do only do one and with mates. I also find there’s no point in confusing the audience
(Bino) I do have another band that’s been in the works, but for now it’s still just a recording project with myself and a friend. We have a handful of demos on Soundcloud under the band name Radio Arcana. The guitarist and I are both huge fans of the sort of “gothic western” bands like Fields of the Nephilim and the various incarnations of the Cult, as well as post-apocalyptic science fiction like the Mad Max movies and Fallout video games, so we’re drawing heavily off of those for influence and imagery.
Which kind of music do you like to listen? Any guilty pleasures you want to share with us?
(Steven) Yes! Besides the obvious post punk/dark alternative/ goth rock/ type stuff 13th Sky has always had roots that a lots of bands in the genre would never go near. 70’s glam rock such as the New York Dolls, Iggy, the Velvet Underground, T. Rex, Alice, etc and even some of Los Angeles’ early music like the Doors and Arthur Lee’s Love. That’s definitely part of our sound and influential for sure. I would personally take interest to a new band that sounded like Gary Glitter over another strategically planned “beard band” that sounded like another 4th generation Joy Division.
(Bino) Of course there’s the “usual suspects” of gothic/post-punk stuff and there’s still plenty of great new bands coming out in that vein.
I also like a lot of the old 60’s and 70’s garage, psychedelic, glam and proto-punk acts, but I’m going to have to disagree with Steven in that I see most of them as part of a direct progression toward the dark alternative stuff that came afterward. Lou Reed and Jim Morrison were kind of “proto-goth” in their own ways, and I think that the earliest wave of bands that would become associated with “goth” were often a marriage of 70’s glam and punk. Bauhaus essentially was a glam band, and Specimen was what you got when you crossed the Sex Pistols with the New York Dolls.
I guess I’ve become less self-conscious about admitting I like a lot of the blues-based classic rock I grew up listening to, as well as the modern incarnations thereof. I have a soft spot for a certain amount of funk and soul, specifically James Brown. The only thing that might qualify as a truly guilty pleasure is that I think I’m one of only two people in the world besides Billy Idol himself that un-ironically appreciates his Cyberpunk album—and I personally know the other guy.
Which instruments do you play and which instruments would you like to learn to play?
(Steven) I’m still wrestling with programming drums, bass and guitar…
(Richard) I play guitar, bass, and some keyboards. I always wanted to learn to play viola and sitar, and still plan on learning both.
(Bino) I’m mostly just a singer. In my old band, we had a couple of songs where I would play really simple bass lines or provide little accents as a second guitarist, but I’ve never become what you would call “practiced” at it. I would be happy if I could become truly proficient in either instrument just so I could add a little more versatility to a band and have more to contribute during the songwriting process. I would never want to be a dedicated singer/instrumentalist on stage, though. I like to dance and jump around at live shows in a way that would be impossible to manage if I were anchored to a mic stand and strapped to a guitar.
How is the atmosphere in the America for a band like yours to perform your show?
(Steven) Of course there isn’t the attendence like there was even 15 years ago but there is an underground scene in every city we have played. Things seem to be a bit rowdier as well. That’s fine. We can roll with that… emotionless, goth silhouettes with their arms folded in the background were never much fun anyway. Hahaha.
What can we expect with the 20th Anniversary from 13th Sky?
(Steven) We are still negotiating a few offers here in California but we definitely have our eyes on Mexico. We would love to return for a full tour. We have recently been working on bringing back older material into our live set. Hopefully we will have some of our past/ original members jump up at random shows with us as well. We shall see… It’s going to be wild! You will never know what to expect. We are also in the process of remastering a ton of new and older material that will be available at the shows and our bandcamp site.
How was the atmosphere when you just started, is there any difference with now and what motivated you to bring music out in this world?
(Steven) Well yes, 20 years ago music was still thriving in America. There were still actual “rock stars” too. Social media has obviously destroyed that world. Everything is still so new I’m personally not even sure where it’s headed but on a good note there is a ton of new bands out there that are quite good! Something will break. Maybe soon, maybe in a decade. With this band we just do what we do naturally and give it our all. If your into it great! If your not then kick rocks…
Are you more inspired during the day or during the night to write lyrics and make music?
(Steven) Night time for sure.
(Bino) It depends for me. Sometimes I’ll get snatches of ideas as I’m at work or walking around during the day and I might jot them down if I get a chance. But it usually isn’t until the evening when those ideas have had several hours to mature that I really try to organize and build off of them.
(Richard) Night time most definitely. I come up with my best ideas walking through dirty alleyways and back streets in the middle of the night.
Are you working on a new album we can expect soon?
(Steven) Nope. We are after touring for this anniversary. We do have newly written material that we perform and it’s being coming across live wonderfully. Someday we will record those songs but there’s no current plans…
If it was up to you would you like to release music on CD’s vinyl or cassette and why?
(Steven) All three of those are great. That’s where it should of ended though. I’m personally all about record stores opposed to online shopping.
(Richard) All three are great but especially vinyl and CD. I own a huge vinyl collection and have always preferred analog to digital recordings. MP3’s are for the birds.
(Bino) I grew up mostly with cassettes and my earliest albums were on vinyl. I’ve returned to collecting vinyl over the last several years, and I like how those two formats almost force you to listen to an album as a complete work with a dramatic break as you flip the tape or record over. I still retain my huge CD collection, even though I could transfer them to a hard drive and sell them off. Whatever the format, I still prefer having artwork and liner notes to accompany the music, and I like the sense of ownership that a tangible hardcopy gives me. As a consumer of music, these days I prefer the “vinyl copy with digital download” combination, but as a DIY band, it’s sometimes hard to front the money to produce a whole run of vinyl.
People that don’t know our subculture / underground scene kind of have a certain vision on it, how do you think they come to such a way of thinking?
(Bino) Haha…Is there anyone outside the subculture that’s even aware there is one anymore?
I think part of the confusion people have stems from the fact that any underground scene that captures mainstream attention (like “goth” or “gothic” did in the 90’s) ultimately becomes appropriated and distorted by forces that want to commodify it. Much like the punk scene before it, goth was sort of a victim of its own brief popular awareness. Certain bands that traded in dark imagery or shocking themes either tried to jump on the bandwagon or just got lumped in with the scene by outside listeners. Meanwhile, “edgy” clothing stores would then sell pre-made “gothic fashion” to the fans of said bands. TV and movie writers started using characters with black clothes, multiple piercings, and heavy eyeliner as shorthand for drug-addicts, antisocial drop-outs, suicidal (or homicidal) outcasts, and/or the dangerously sexy and promiscuous. In short, I think the greater popular culture decided for us what we were to the average person on the street.
Who you would like to direct and shoot the music videos if you could choose?
(Steven) We have always been a D.I.Y. band. I wish we had the equipment to produce new videos over a director.
Any artist you like to collaborate with for the cover of your music album?
(Steven) Same. We always done stuff in- house. We have a designer (Sebastian Bleak) that has done all of our album art. Sometimes we will come in with photos we shot or ideas but he does all the layouts and knows exactly what we are after, time after time.
How is it going on stage and what was the most memorable night and why?
(Steven) They are all memorable to me but let’s see what Richard has to say about this… Richard?
(Richard) Playing in Mexico City was the most memorable. I also have very fond memories of performing in San Francisco, Santa Cruz,
Oakland, and Tijuana.
With which bands would you like to go on tour?
(Steven) I’ve always dreamed of opening for bigger bands like the Cure or NIN or something haha but it definitely wouldn’t need to be like that… A good package deal with bands similar in style that we can get along with well would work just fine.
In which country would you like to play when you are on tour and do you rather like to play for a small audience or big audience and festivals or in a club?
(Steven) We love playing live period. There are so many places we would love to hit. A full Mexico, European or Japan tour would be amazing. Larger or smaller venues, I’m sure we would be interested if the offer was good.
(Richard) I always wanted to tour Eastern Europe or South America. I much prefer the intimacy and close quarters of playing packed smaller venues than dreaming of playing huge festivals like Cochella.
(Bino) Like Steven said, I just like to play live, period. Despite being around for so long, my old band never played outside of Northern California, so anywhere would be an adventure for me! I think I might enjoy the novelty of playing a big arena or outdoor festival just to have the experience, but not as a regular gig. I like seeing bands in more intimate settings, so I can’t imagine that I’d prefer anything different when it’s me on stage.
Are you excited to perform soon with a band from The Netherlands: Lifeless Past and are you guys gone hang out, have some beers after the show?
(Steven) Unfortunately, we had to cancel the show with Lifeless Past in Downey, CA after a sequence of unfortunate events.
We are definitely looking forward to seeing them perform and welcoming them to Los Angeles 13th Sky style! I’m sure you will hear the stories soon!
What are you personal thoughts on our subculture these day’s? What would you like to see differently or do you prefer that it stay like it is?
(Bino) One of the things about “goth” that has made it so unique and interesting is that it isn’t really a musical genre in it’s own right, but a scene that adopts and curates all kinds of dark, weirdo, outsider music of various genres. For example, when I first started attending DJ nights in the ’90s, you might have heard the Sisters of Mercy one moment, Dead Can Dance the next, and Skinny Puppy after that. As an artist, I believe that if you specifically set out to make “gothic music” your efforts will probably fall flat. Or, as we used to say in the ’90s, “if you have to call yourself gothic, you probably aren’t.”
However, I think the scene itself has kind of fractured over the last fifteen years or so. The sister-scene of industrial has drifted away to the point that, from my perspective, a lot of it is actually rave music just with morbid trappings. The “trad-goths” of my generation or older that still go out to clubs have seemed slow to adopt new bands or dig deeper into their classic catalogues, which has probably alienated a lot of younger people. Conversely, the live scene has exploded with deathrock and post-punk bands formed by punks that have rediscovered the roots of goth in their own scene, but they seem much less interested in making their presence known at DJ nights. Then there’s the “beard bands” Steven mentioned earlier that bring out the hipster-types that have discovered Joy Division and Bauhaus, but think all of the theatrical trappings of goth are too silly—so they’re missing most of the fun and driving a stake through the heart of the atmosphere as they take to the dance-floor in their sport-coats and do the “white guy shuffle” to “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. And for the longest time it seemed no-one wanted to acknowledge that any of the spooky/pretty/etherial/folky stuff from labels like 4AD and Projekt were ever a part of the scene, but I’ve finally noticed some great atmospheric and shoegazey bands starting to make the rounds. It’s kind of a mess!
It may sound like I’m pining for some lost golden age, but I don’t want to be too backwards-looking and fall victim to my own nostalgia. I just have to keep soldiering on with my own music and supporting the artists and DJs I love.
(Richard) I never really considered myself part of the ” The Scene” or placed what I write in a specific genre. That’s how you paint yourself into a corner as far as growing as a musician.
Tell us your most beautiful dream or the worst nightmare you had?
(Steven) Once I had an vivid dream I hooked up with Courtney Love. After I met her in real life I am so glad it was only a dream…
(Richard) One of my best dreams was recording with Gary Numan and Ron Emory of TSOL producing and collaborating. My worst dreams normally deal with darker instances of my past.
(Bino) My favorite dreams are usually big cinematic action-adventure affairs. Lots of car chases, laser battles, and weird inter-dimensional travel. My nightmares these days are usually mundane anxieties about my job or getting older, but sometimes it’s being hunted by xenomorphs.
If you could dress a famous person to your personal taste who would you pick and how would you dress that person?
(Richard) Denise Richards or Julianne Moore in a “Goth inspired” Victorian or Geisha style wardrobe.
(Bino) Huh. I feel kind of weird about playing “paper dolls” with celebrities, but if I understand the subtext of this question I’ll try to answer it in a different way. I’d say that the female celebrities whose public personae and sense of fashion I find the most alluring or intriguing are probably Joan Jett and Siouxsie Sioux, though I think I could add a dash of Debbie Harry and Karen O in there for good measure. Oh, and Grace Jones has a special place in my heart for being especially scary-sexy. For male role-models, David Bowie takes the cake for being such a general fashion icon and providing an alternative example of masculinity. Call Adam Ant and Billy Idol “fake” or “plastic” punks all you want, but those boys know how to dress up and put on a show. And by now, I don’t think it’s a secret that part of me wants to shrug into a leather duster and be Carl McCoy of the Nephilim when I grow up.
If you could design a game which kind of game would it be and which character would you choose to be?
(Bino) As the resident gaming nerd, I think this question falls to me. I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other table-top role-playing games since 1985, and I received my first Nintendo console about the same time, so I’ve been involved in various types of gaming for at least as long as I’ve been a music fan. There’s a similar problem of just having too much good stuff to choose from! I already mentioned Fallout as being one of my favorite video game franchises, and one of my favorite table-top RPG settings is Shadowrun, a mash-up of cyberpunk noir and high-fantasy. So, I’d probably have to create something similar to those games that is maybe slightly futuristic, but with an undercurrent of dark weirdness. Whatever the genre or medium, I like to play characters that prefer to overcome obstacles with diplomacy or guile, but are capable “action hero”-types when the need arises.
Do you see dancing shadows at night that whisper melodies in your ear?
(Steven) I work a nightshift job in West Hollywood. There is a certain time where yes, my brain is alive! I’m wide awake. The streets are empty and that’s my time. I have cranked out many songs, ideas and lyrics during this time. Haha! You weren’t far off with that question at all…
Interview by Sophi Katz