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99 Pink Balloons
Ian Skeans and his floating band
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
If you saw Ian Skeans, you wouldn't assume much about the guy. He seems to be just a regular bloke, just doing his time and putting in his hours at a 9 to 5er like the rest of us. His 9 to 5 is 9pm to 5am, but that little detail is irrelevant.
What is relevant is that you'd be wrong to assume anything about Mr. Skeans. Hidden behind work clothes and a well-kept mustache is a great songwriter who goes by the name Pink Balloon Band. Despite the "band" in Pink Balloon Band, Ian Skeans is the sole member of this musical outfit. Why not just Pink Balloon? Or Purple Balloon? Or Pink Zeppelin for that matter? " Good question,” Skean says, laughing. “Honestly, the name has very little meaning and was a spur of the moment decision based on some banter between my brother and I. He encouraged me to start recording songs years ago during the Myspace days. Pink Balloon was the name I chose, but the website used to throw ‘band’ onto the tail end of everyone's name to separate the personal pages from the artists. I enjoy the irony of being a one man act with the word ‘band’ in the name so I kept it."
When a guy (or gal) goes it alone in a song making and song performing jag, I tend to wonder if it's because they just like working alone, or if it's more because there just isn't anyone around to jam with. Or maybe they're just antisocial. " Initially, these songs were just recorded for my own entertainment,” says Skeans. “I'd play them out at the occasional open mic, upload them online, and had a good time doing so. I never dreamed of having anyone remotely interested in adding additional instrumentation. For a few months I actually did get to perform these songs as a three piece electric act and had a great time doing it. Differences in scheduling, however, led to it ending shortly after it started. On one hand, I really enjoy taking everything on single-handed — booking gigs, writing and recording material. It all just goes a lot smoother when you don't have to worry about other people's time constraints/schedules. However, there is a great deal of interaction I miss out on when writing solo. Playing with other musicians is a great way to spur creativity and it really pushed me to try harder when it came to song writing and working dynamics into the songs that weren't there before. No promises, but there's a good chance I'll try and make this a full band project again in the near future."
So, Mr. Skeans did play with other musicians in the past. Were there other bands as well? "I've only had a few projects I was involved with before this. My first live musical opportunities were with my brother and some friends in an alt country band called Buffalo Union. The music at the time wasn't really a sound I gravitated towards but the opportunity to get to turn up and jam with some talented musicians made it a lot of fun. I did a short-lived Post-Rock project called Airplane Arms that never made it to a live setting but is still some my favorite music I've written to date. The "outro" track on the new split was heavily inspired by that project. The last full band I played with was Dino Riki. It was comprised of some of my childhood best friends and I doing a pop punk/rock kind of thing. It was a lot of fun and was still going on simultaneously with Pink Balloon Band for a short while."
Speaking of that new(released in September of 2013) split with fellow singer/songwriter Ryan Kerr, how did that come about? "I met Ryan through a show he put together a couple years ago in Warsaw (Indiana...otherwise known as the Lake City) at Take Action Tattoo. We'd had some communication online before that but I believe that was the first time we met in person. Ryan's an awesome guy and I hit it off with him right away. This is sounding like a dating story, isn't it? (Just a little, but it's sweet.) We continued to get booked on a lot of the same shows in the area and have become good friends over the years I've known him. We threw around the idea of a doing a split quite a few times, being fans of each others work and all. Finally we decided to just go for it and make it happen. We realized we could record the whole thing at my place and add some contributions to each others songs in the process. I'm very happy with the results. It was an honor to record what I consider two of Ryan's best songs to date and getting to share an album with him has been a great experience."
As far as Pink Balloon Band goes, their sound is one of earnest, raw, DIY kind of pop. Fueled by acoustic strums and Ian's vocal delivery that brings Ben Folds and Rivers Cuomo to mind, he writes tunes that are filled with both humor and a distant melancholy. "I don't tend to classify myself as folk too much", says Skeans when I ask that question all musicians love, 'Describe your sound?'. "I've got some songs that kind of lean that way musically but I don't identify myself with the genre. As a kid, there was always a lot of good 70s/80s rock being played in the house. Those songs with the huge choruses that get stuck in your head for days. Once I hit my preteens I started to notice the music my older brother was into. A lot of the alternative and grunge stuff that was making big strides at the time. Songs with a ton of emotion to them both musically and lyrically. I feel like I'm a byproduct of those listening experiences. I LOVE a good, catchy chorus. Something people can sing along to and hum the next day but I'm not big on upbeat lyricism. I don't feel like most people are being honest when they write a song about how great their day was or how much fun they're having. It's not always easy to be open about the things that bring us down but I find it more natural to write about that stuff."
Songwriters go at songwriting very differently. Some have a lyrical idea that lead into a chord progression or melody line; while others tend to come up with chords and a melody idea that lead to a lyric. What's Pink Balloon Band's modus operandi? "Music almost always comes first. I still don't think of myself as a vocalist but I've always had a great interest in guitar playing and songwriting. As a result, most of my songs start with a chord progression. After a while I'll start to distinguish whether that feels like a chorus, verse, bridge, etc and start finding appropriate parts to fill in the blanks. I don't spend a ton of time on lyrics, but that's not to say they don't mean a ton to me. Generally if the entire song can't come together lyrically in a matter of an hour or so, then I'm just not feeling it. I want the lyrics to capture whatever mood I was in at that particular time, not the collective sum of several weeks worth of feelings. It keeps things more genuine and less forced in my opinion."
Another thing you'll notice if you hit up pinkballoonband.bandcamp.com is a whole lot of single releases over the last couple of years, but just one collection of songs (2012s Tomorrow We Sleep). I wondered if Ian had plans to release a full-length LP. Some folks are more single, some folks are more long play. What is Ian? "I was just thinking the other day about how dumb it is that I have that many singles and only one semi-cohesive EP(laughs). It's not that I haven't considered doing a full length, I just tend to write and record very spontaneously. I'll have two songs come together in a matter of weeks and then nothing for a month or more. I'm definitely planning to do another 5 or 6 song EP for 2014. If songs come together quick enough I might push it into full length territory. I just don't want to write filler. I'd rather have 5 songs I'm proud of then 10 that I don't really care about." Speaking of albums, Ian had mentioned earlier that he'd recorded the split with Ryan Kerr at his place. I'd wondered if he did everything at his home studio. "I do 90% of my recording at home. I don't have anything remotely high end for recording gear but I make do with what I have and enjoy the challenges and creativity it forces me to have. I've had the honor of doing some work with a couple friends who are extremely talented at the recording/producing process. One of those projects was my Weezer cover on the tribute album The Midwest's Finest put out and the other were some electric tracks that aren't quite finished yet. Both were very good experiences and it was nice to be hands off and just focus on the performing aspect of it."
Being from Warsaw, I thought I'd ask Ian what the music scene was like there. "Warsaw's music scene is a bit of a mixed bag. There has and always will be a good number of talented cover bands who play the local bars but as far as originals I can only think of a handful of bands doing anything on a semi-regular basis. Fort Wayne and South Bend are the two neighboring cities that have a lot going on musically. If you don't want to be stuck playing cover songs for drunks or being told to quiet down at a coffee house you generally have to look out of town."
Before our conversation ends, I asked Ian if he saw Pink Balloon Band continuing in years to come. " I can't imagine ever NOT writing music so I imagine this will continue on for as long as people are willing to listen. For that matter, maybe even after they've quit listening. Pink Zeppelin 2014!!!"
So keep your ears to the ground and your eyes to the sky. That giant bubble gum bubble you see in the distance isn't gum. It's Captain Ian Skeans setting his course for your earholes. You should go to pinkballoonband.bandcamp.com and check out his tunes. You can also keep up on cool, not-so known bands at themidwestsfinest.wordpress.com.