Skyler's the limit: Catch him at The Loft on Jan. 21
By Jeanné McCartin
Both Adam and Michael Scharff, established, lead, professional musicians, tell similar stories about why they are playing backing positions in Skyler, a band led by a 20-year-old.
But perhaps Michael Scharff tells it best.
He sets the stage.
The two brothers had just come out of "semi-retirement" and were performing in their own trio. The usual drummer couldn't make a gig, so Adam asked Clark Hamel, aka Skyler, his 17-year-old student, to sit in.
"Everyone was loving the gig. It was an enjoyable experience," recalls Michael Scharff. "The third set I said, 'you know you love the drums Adam. ...; Let Skyler take the lead.' "
Michael Scharff's voice switches intensity; he's still moved by what came next.
"And what happened is the gig went from really good to — all of a sudden you could hear a pin drop with Skyler fronting. I remember looking over at him and thinking, 'oh, my God. This must be what it's like to be on stage with a star ...; Bruce Springsteen or dare I say Elvis, someone that had the audience mesmerized," says Michael Scharff. "I've been on the stage with people with hit records and never experienced that."
Adam Scharff, too, recalls the occasion but adds it was clear Skyler had something special from very early on in the relationship, which started as teacher/student when Skyler was 11.
He recalls a minor incident — and huge indicator. Skyler was 12 and the two were listening to a Beatles' CD, "one I'd listened to plenty of times!" says Adam Scharff. "Skyler was pointing out something about the production ...; something in the way the song was mixed. ...; It was something I'd never noticed and I went, 'huh?' It just kept being reinforced — the fact that there was something really special about him as a musician and artist."
Skyler is no one's puppet, says Michael. He's a self-contained, mature young man, who learns from other's mistakes and really works at his art. He'd make it with any team, he adds.
All three say the evolution to a working a relationship was natural, "organic."
"We were teacher and student, then it progressed," says Skyler. "It started at 11 — taking guitar from Adam. Within a year, we'd moved from guitar to ...; recording. Probably within another year it was not just guitar and producing, he was teaching me song writing. For the next few years in middle school and high he was more of a mentor — also helping me find my way through different parts of the music industry."
By the end of Skyler's junior year in high school, Adam Scharff and he were writing together. Soon after, Michael Scharff started working with them. The trio continued writing via Skype even when Skyler attended Berklee College of Music.
From that first time filling in as a drummer "we just clicked," he adds.
Today, the band consists of the creative team, Skyler on rhythm guitar and lead vocals; Michael Scharff, bass and back-up vocals; Adam Scharff on lead guitar and back-up vocals; along with John Mullette, violin, acoustic guitar and piano, with occasional vocals. The drummer is "a roving cast of characters," says Adam Scharff.
Just months back things started to pick up for the band. An indie A & R firm included a tune by Skyler in a "tip sheet" sent to music industry insider, says Adam Scharff. Eventually, she contacted Skyler (the person) to explain she was getting a lot of traffic to his tune. "She asked him is there anyone you want to send it to?" says Adam Scharff. They've been hopping ever since.
The band has signed with renowned industry lawyer Jim Zumwalt. They're spending quite a bit of time in Nashville meeting with numerous producers, labels and agents, with additional meetings in New York and Atlanta.
At one meeting a label president asked Skyler what he hoped for. "I told him World Domination," says Skyler, with a laugh. "He smiled and said not too many years ago another band gave him that answer, 'It was Godsmack, and they were sitting where you're sitting right now.'"
Skyler admits all the meetings, talks and decision-making can be "incredibly overwhelming," at times. "It's exciting at the same time. But I would be lying if I said it was a total breeze," says Skyler. "But I think if you can take the overwhelming aspects of it, smile, and keep your head down, you can do it."
Having the Scharffs on his team, and a supportive family has made a difference, helped him navigate slowly and thoughtfully, and keep even.
One of the Scharffs is always with him at meetings. They are a team, Skyler underscores. "It's rare I go an entire day without being in touch with one of them," he says. "We're constantly talking about this."
"I wish that I had a clever explanation for why Adam or I — neither of us — have envy (for Skyler). Adam's known him since he was a kid. ...; It was and continues to be this long relationship," says Michael Scharff. He adds, it's similar to the one the two brothers had while playing and touring together. Each appreciated the other's gifts and talents "the ones we didn't possess."
The trio often joke about their relations. "It's sort of the id, the ego and the super ego," says Adam Scharff. "But at the end of the day, it's Skyler. ...; I really enjoy my role and I've always believed in his talent."
In their best day, Scharff Brothers (group), or their later band, the Radio Junkies, never connected with the audience the way Skyler does, adds Michael. "That's the straightforward answer. To be envious of that would be egocentric to the extreme."
These days, they're jointly picking their way through the business, ever mindful of direction. Adam says what's important is being patient, "and making sure what (Skyler) does is authentic to Skyler." It may be a vigilance he and Adam lacked during their own, earlier career. Lesson learned.
"The goal is to hold on to as much as you can," says Skyler. "I have discovered and learned a lot over the last couple years. When you let people on the outside have too much trust ...; it's easy to get burned. It's not that they're trying to mess things up for you, they don't necessarily have the same vision. You have to be on top of things, advocating for yourself all the time."
The music business has slowed for the holiday giving the band a bit of a rest, time to focus on writing "(we're constantly coming up with new ideas," says Skyler), and to mount a benefit show for Seacoast Local's (H)EAT Program.
There are the daily talks and four or so days weekly to write.
"I'm really enjoying it," says Michael Scharff, summing up the three collaborators sentiments. "What's paramount is keeping it fun, creative and something an audience will want to share in."