When Johnny Hill first picked up a guitar, he probably never figured that being murdered would end up being a boon to his career, much less that he would enjoy the experience.
"It was fun," declares the Skyfox frontman. "We got covered in blood, meat and poo."
Cleary, Hill isn't speaking from the afterlife. He and his bandmates were recently "victims" of Maris the Great and are still very much alive. While the mock-death experience may seem inexplicable to some onlookers — even after all the years that Maris has been at it — to the members of Skyfox, it's just another facet of the business, a business they hope will take them higher than the conversion jet their group is named after.
Skyfox, with Roe, the Leftovers, Regret Night and Golden Ticket, 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 19, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood, $10, 1-877-598-6659.
Funny thing is, Hill also never planned on being a musician. Early on, he dreamed of being a pro-snowboarder, but that was not to be. "I had too many injuries," he explains. "I pretty much picked up a guitar because I could barely walk."
Once the then-seventeen-year-old Hill put his dreams of dominating the Winter X games behind him, he focused on starting a band. "I went on musicmates.com and tried to find some people to play with," he recounts. "I would also randomly walk around and ask people if they played drums or bass. I probably asked 500 people."
After finding a dead end in music classifieds and random encounters on the street, Hill eventually ran into a bit of luck when he met bassist Matt Lase at a Metro State music placement test. "I asked Matt if he played bass," Hill jokes, "because he was tall and had long fingers."
As it turns out, Lase did play bass and seemed not to care that Hill failed the placement test, which he had passed. A trio was rounded out by original drummer Jeff Leadford, and the band adopted the clunky moniker Squawk77, then quickly decided it wasn't the right fit. Lase and Hill decided that Leadford wasn't a good fit, either, and they subsequently parted ways.
While a vacant timekeeping spot can sometimes be difficult to fill, for the remaining members of the newly named Skyfox, it only took a trip to Denny's — where drummer Jonathan Glunt was working as a waiter — to find their new skinsman. "Jonathan was the god at Denny's!" Hill enthuses. "He knows more people from drunken three-in-the-morning Denny's than he knows from anywhere else."
As Hill and Lase got to know Glunt a little better, they found out that he, too, had a love for music and even played an instrument. Unfortunately, neither one was exactly what they were looking for.
"He told me he had played piano for thirteen years and he loved 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys," Hill remembers. "I told him, 'You know how to harmonize and have rhythm' — so I tried to convince him to play drums for us."
Luckily for Skyfox, not only was Glunt easily persuaded, but he was also a fast learner. "We were at another band's practice one day," Hill recalls. "They took a break, and he sat down on their kit; all of sudden, he plays drums. The next day I went over to his house, and he had pots and pans and a phone book that he was stomping on. That was his first drum kit."
Eventually, Glunt upgraded to a proper kit, and the trio began playing shows around town. Before they knew it, the guys found themselves playing stadiums — well, a stadium, at least.
Skyfox entered its song "Runaway" into a contest on KTCL in which the winner got to open for the Dropkick Murphys, Paramore and the Offspring at the station's annual Big Gig at Fiddler's Green. Incredibly, they won. "Fiddler's Green holds about 18,000 people," notes Hill. "By the time we played, there were already 10,000 people there. That was our biggest show by a factor of about twenty."
The experience, though surreal, opened up the members' eyes to the type of musical experience they had only witnessed before from the stands. It made them realize what they wanted in the future.
"Big Gig was one of the most exciting experiences we've had to this point," Hill says. "This is what we want to do as a career: We want to end up eventually headlining those stadium shows; we want to be very commercial. For us, it was a little taste of where we want to go."
A young band, Skyfox has a ways to go before stadium shows become de rigueur. All the same, a recent fortuitous encounter at the Gothic will certainly help them along. Hill had just started a company — shooting video from remote-controlled helicopters (Skyfox recently used the technology in a recent video shoot for "Runaway") — with a friend of his who happened to lived across the street from the Gothic. One afternoon, he noticed the members of Bowling for Soup loading gear into the venue. Upon spotting the band, he quickly called the rest of his mates, demanding that they meet him at the Gothic so they could introduce themselves. He also told them to bring a demo.
"I had two unmarked CDs," Lase points out. "One of them was a song we recorded in the studio called 'Brown Town,' and the other one was this really crappy demo that we didn't want anyone to hear."
Lase didn't know which one was which.
"As we're turning around," Lase recalls of his interaction with Soup frontman Jaret Reddick, "I just started writing down info on both of the CDs and handed Jaret one."
Fortunately, he guessed right. Later that night, Hill got a text from Reddick telling him he loved the song and asking the band if they wanted to hang out. An immediate bond was formed, and the guys ended up hanging out whenever Bowling for Soup came to town. The friendship came with other benefits, too.
When Reddick started up his own label, Crappy Records, he called his old friends and offered them a deal. The imprint is now set to issue Twilight, the act's debut. A five-song EP, Twilight aims to be as accessible as possible. From the lovesick promises of the disc's title track to the chivalrously themed "Punk Rock Gentleman," it's steeped with layered vocals, metronome-timed drums and enough hooks to entice any stadium full of people to sing along. This is not an accident.
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"We really do want to be able to play stadiums," Hill offers. "We want to write the songs that enough people will like, to allow us to play those types of places."
"We want to hit a big audience base," Glunt elaborates. "What we want to do is broaden it up a little bit and make it more Top 40."
To that end, Skyfox — which recently added second guitarist Mauricio Jarun — is looking to align itself with industry veterans "who have the budget and are willing to make a push and spend the money that needs to be spent," says Hill. "It needs to be marketed the way it needs to be marketed. If you're going to do something, do it right; a lot of people don't."
Indeed. The music business is a killer these days.