Written by Maya-Rose Torrão
“I make music for you to listen to when you’re walking home in the dark.”
Jake Lee is the UK mastermind behind the dark wave project that fuses horror culture with electronic music production. Drawing on elements from the witch house genre as well as darkwave sounds and trap music, Sidewalks and Skeletons has garnered an impressive following with his unique tracks and has released a slew of loud, dark and experimental albums since 2013.
This talented artist has also, at the end of last year, produced part of the soundtrack for a Devolver Digital video game called RUINER and is continuing to share and produce unique electronic music that has a classic horror edge to it.
Listen to one of Sidewalks and Skeletons’ tracks from his 2017 album ‘The Void’, titled ‘Feel Nothing’, below.
We caught up with Jake Lee of Sidewalks and Skeletons and chatted about music as an obsession, connecting with fans and fantastically grotesque horror film ideas.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
I have always been obsessed with music, since as young as I can remember I would be drawn to it and transfixed. I started playing guitar as a kid and started playing in bands with friends, until around my early teens when I started creating music on my own. I was always into the heavier, darker side of music and movies, so this naturally progressed into everything I created.
I’m super interested in the name Sidewalks and Skeletons – tell us a bit more about this and how it came about. Have you always made music under this moniker?
‘Sidewalks and Skeletons‘ is a name I created as a metaphor for the things that remain after death – the earth you walked, and your bones. They are all that are left behind. I felt this fit the bleak atmosphere of the music I was creating. I’ve been making music since I was a kid, it used to sound more like a warped horror soundtrack than the more structured tracks I make now but it has, in a way, always been Sidewalks and Skeletons.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
I get melodies that just come to me out of nowhere, and I have to make them before they fade away, sometimes even in dreams, so when I wake up i’ll instantly start trying to capture them. It makes everything much more personal when it comes from that unconscious area of your mind. I’ve always wished I could record dreams and watch them back, but this is the next best thing.
What’s on your current playlist?
Slowdive, Beach House, Death Grips, Brothel, Martyr Defiled, Cursed, Chelsea Wolfe, Oathbreaker, TRUST, Salem, Ic3peak, and a lot of old-school Manson (1996 – 2000 era), just to name a few.
You’ve done some really exciting shows this year – Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
It’s been amazing, I never expected anyone to even check my music out, it was just something I did because I love it, but now I’m getting these opportunities to fly across the world and play to all these people and it just blows me away. Eternally grateful. When I’m on stage I have to focus pretty heavily on what I’m doing but I always hang out after and get drunk with fans because they’re amazing. They’re some of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
Strangest/weirdest/most memorable fan experience?
There are quite a few weird experiences but one that comes to mind from the last tour was in Arizona. These 2 girls came over to talk to me but were insanely high, like ‘forget what you’re saying mid-sentence’ high. One of them had made me this multicoloured hood and put it on me to take a photo, but then kept forgetting she’d taken the photo and re-doing it like a hundred times. Then one of them just collapsed! An ambulance was called for her and she was taken away. Hope she was okay!
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
I have quite a specific sound which involves a lot of warping and downpitching to make everything sound grim, I love taking samples from horror movies and reversing them, experimenting with walls of sound on synths using tonnes of reverb and delay, and creating chords on ethereal pads to contrast with it all. But above all it’s just pure experimentation.
Take us through a day in the studio with Sidewalks and Skeletons.
In all honesty it usually involves starting like 20 different tracks and not finishing any of them, and forgetting deadlines for remixes because I’m so unorganised haha, but it does always come together in the end. I try not to force anything, so when ideas come to me I just make sure I’m ready to sit down and focus on bringing them to life.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
I think I’ve always known this is what I want to spend my life doing. Music is literally an obsession, like at any given moment I most likely have a song in my head, or an idea, so it was only natural that this was the way my life was gonna go.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
I have a mannequin head on set with me, which I’ve never actually played without, sometimes it’s wrapped in fairy lights. And a couple of beers so I can grab a sip during any point where I have a second or 2.
Any emerging/unknown/upcoming artists on your radar?
There’s literally hundreds, checking my ‘liked tracks’ list on soundcloud is probably more efficient than listing them but a few to name would be – error, sadwrist, essex, resonata, enjayeff, mxms, youryoungbody, and drevm.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or not, who would it be and why?
I would collaborate with Slowdive, because they’re one of my all time favourite bands. Their sound is so pure you could drown in it. I saw them live in Leeds (city right by where I live in the UK), and it was a life-defining moment. If you’ve never heard them check out the song ‘When the sun hits’.
What gets your creative juices flowing? What gets you in the mood to create music? Whether it be the work of other musicians, art, film, nature etc…
Movies usually trigger my creativity pretty well. I watch a lot of psychological horrors and David Lynch movies, they always seem to ignite something which starts the flow, and I end up having to pause the movie to go make whatever comes to me. Sometimes also being far away from my equipment is when the melodies come to me, it’s like my mind playing a prank on me by waiting til I have no ability to make the music I feel before it unleashes its full creative flow on me.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
Most likely something to do with movies, like a writer or director. But they’d be the weirdest movies ever because my mind is beyond weird. Like imagine a tree in the forest splits in half and it’s full of human fingers, and they all just melt and evaporate up into the sky forming one giant red cloud. People on the streets all start looking up and pointing at it, but whenever they point at it their bodies turn inside out, and a church bell rings every time the cloud claims another victim. – That sort of thing.
Any side projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?
I have quite a few side projects but the one I will mention is called Unreality, I mention that one because it’s quite similar to S&S anyway. If you would like to hear it – I have a track called ‘Fading Strangers’ which is on youtube I think.
You’ve been releasing music for some time now – How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
I think it’s just evolved naturally over time. Like anything – the more you do it, the better you get at it, and in terms of production I definitely feel it has come a long way. It makes the process a lot longer when you concentrate more on the tiny details but I feel it’s worth it in the end.
Break down the news for us: what can we expect from Sidewalks and Skeletons this year?
More shows in the UK and hopefully a few in the USA, and I’m working on a new album, as well as releasing new tracks on Spotify as frequently as possible. I’m collaborating with a number of artists currently as well so you will see those being released shortly.
Watch the music video for Sidewalks and Skeletons’ ‘SLOW MOTION’ below.
21 September: The Underworld, Camden (UK)
Follow Sidewalks and Skeletons: