Skylights: ‘You can be the best band in the world but if you don’t have fans on your side then you’re not going to get anywhere’

A few weeks on from the release of his band’s debut album, Skylights guitarist Turnbull Smith is still beaming from ear to ear.

Skylights. Picture: Michael Tighe
Skylights. Picture: Michael Tighe

“I’m absolutely overjoyed,” he says at the warm reception for What You Are, the York indie quartet’s LP, which reached number 34 in the UK’s physical sales chart, adding that the band “didn’t know what to expect” when the record came out in May.

“I’ve had self-doubt for many years, but it’s had such a positive reaction, we’re all over the moon. The only people happier than us are the record label,” he smiles.

Smith is grateful to the band’s following, who have stuck with them for more than a decade. “We’ve got the best fans you could ever wish for, they really do support us and get behind us,” he says.

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    Also singled out for praise is sleeve designer Paul Evans, whose artwork, Smith feels, has contributed to their success. “He’s tremendous, everything he does for us has really helped,” he says. “They do say it’s 50 per cent image and 50 per cent music, whether that’s right nor not is debatable, but he’s really helped our image so much. It’s just amazing artwork.”

    Having accumulated “a lot of songs” since their formation in 2008, it was a case of Skylights whittling them down to 10 for the album. “We’ve just kept the ones we like and the ones that people have said they enjoyed,” Smith explains.

    At the core of the band is a friendship that has endured since childhood, and ensured that they bounced back from a hiatus to earn a deal with Manchester-based 42’s Records and perform at ever-larger venues.

    “Rob and Jonny (Scarsbrick), the singer and bass player, are brothers and I used to play football with them down the park all the way from eight years old. They still owe me a few balls because Scars used to kick them in the trees all the time, and those two still argue like they’re ten-year-olds sometimes,” Smith says.

    Skylights. Picture: Michael Tighe

    “I met the drummer Myles (Soley) when I was 16 and started playing in my first band with him, so we’ve known each other for years. We did have a nice big break in the middle of that time period, but it’s just worked out really well.”

    In the early years Smith was the sole songwriter, but in more recent times he has shared duties with Rob Scarsbrick. “When we first started I used to do all the songs and all the words, but I’m not a singer so I don’t know anything about how to sing it in the right key, I just played the chords and sang some words over it, and then I gave those to Scars to do,” Smith says. “Now he has 100 per cent matured because we’ve started doing a little bit more rocky songs like YRA, Enemies and What You Are and they’re all his lyrics and melody, and when he does them himself it really works. He’s improved tenfold as a songwriter.”

    All their years spent as a DIY concern stood them in good stead when it came to weathering the ups and downs in the music business, Smith believes. “We know what it’s like to have a difficult start and get bad reviews and enter competitions and not get anywhere, so we’re kind of battle-hardened to it,” he says. “Rather than come in with some crazy ego we’ve come in more appreciative.

    “We’ve always believed in our music but we understand that you can be the best band in the world and if you don’t have fans on your side then you’re not going to get anywhere.”

    Skylights’ approachability seems to have helped them grow an audience by word of mouth. “I’ve always been quite easy to get on with, I believe, and our singer Rob has got friends everywhere,” Smith says. “Jonny is a chatty lad and Myles sort of keeps himself to himself, but as a band we are people persons. I think we’ve just put it to a larger scale. When someone sends you a tweet or a message, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to reply. If someone’s telling you you’re good at something it’s really kind of them and we want to say thank you for it.”

    On Saturday the band continue their ascent with their first ever performance at the O2 Academy Leeds. Smith expects it will be a momentous occasion for them.

    “With the uni last year, with it being postponed that many times, I just didn’t know what to expect and even on the night, I was half expecting to walk out to an empty sort of place, but when we got out there it was packed to the rafters, and everyone was singing along,” he says. “Honestly, it was one of the best moments of my life.

    “I wrote some songs a few years ago and they didn’t really get anywhere, but now to see people singing along to them it’s absolute magic.”

    In September Skylights support one of their favourite bands, The Enemy, at Bridlington Spa. “There’s a group of 10 to 15 lads who’ve known each other from school and The Enemy are the only band that gets us all together,” Smith says. “Not even Oasis or Noel Gallagher or Kasabian can get us all together, but The Enemy always did. On their farewell tour all of us went to it and then when Tom Clarke started as a solo artist, we travelled all round to see him.

    “For the reunion tour we all got tickets to Leeds and Sheffield, and then I got a text from Bridlington Spa saying ‘are you free on September 27?’ I kind of glanced at it, but missed it, then four days later I got a phone call from our manager saying ‘do you want to support The Enemy at Bridlington Spa?’ So I quickly went back through my texts and rang Brid Spa up and said ‘we’ll do the gig’. The I went on the (band’s) group chat and said, ‘who wants to come and see them in Bridlington? Well, you’ll have to because we’re playing!”

    What You Are is out now. Skylights play at O2 Academy Leeds on Saturday July 9. www.skylightsyra.co.uk