March 2 2011 10:30 AM

Local chanteuse’s emotional volatility creates compelling art and nearly derails an interview

Gayle Skidmore
Photo by Ellie Photography

I’ve just made Gayle Skidmore cry.

“Stop the tape,” she requests, pointing to my voice recorder.

The next few moments are highly emotional, as has been Skidmore’s life recently. She dabs her fingertips to the corners of her eyes to avoid smearing her makeup. I do a quick inventory of the past 20 minutes to diagnose how things got to this point. Was I too acerbic in my approach? Did I ask too many personal questions? I’ve had musicians get mad, insult me and even refuse to answer further questions.

But crying? This is a new one.

I know that asking a woman’s age is almost a cardinal sin. More often than not, you just don’t do it. But when you’re asking in order to gauge how far along someone is in her career, you really don’t think that will be the question that runs the interview off the rails. It doesn’t help that we’re a few days from her birthday.

In hopes of salvaging what had otherwise been an enlightening interview, I attempt to explain to Skidmore that my probing is not meant to focus on a particular aspect of her past but, rather, help readers understand how she’s gotten from Point A to Point B. She’s an uncommonly devout Christian who holds herself to an exceptionally high moral standard. She was raised in a conservative military household in Spring Valley before leaving to first study music in L.A., then theology at Oxford University in England, before returning to San Diego to devote all her energy to music.

I look her in the eyes.

“These are important things to know,” I tell her. “They’re part of your life, and it humanizes you.”

This doesn’t seem to help.

I know enough about Skidmore’s past at this point to concede and move on. After all, it’s her music—a fantastic blend of pop, folk and country—that compelled me to write about her in the first place. If anything, her outburst of emotion is only proof of how deeply her river runs.

Really, though, all I had to do was listen. Really listen.

Her voice and lyrics are filled with a longing for love and approval. The subject matter across her eight-year discography (one live album, four EPs and her recently released fulllength, Make Believe) has been highly sentimental. Her songs speak to the restless spirit within the listener, bowling them over with an astonishing level of craftsmanship. She’s burdened by hindsight, but never regrets the past.

I should have known that this is a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve.

“I mostly write about what I’m going through,” she’d said earlier in the interview. “I went through a lot of death when I was in college and throughout my life. That’s always been a way I’ve dealt with that. When things became too painful in my life to deal with, I would write about them. I would write songs. And with relationships, too. It got me through that. To find some beauty in it.”

I apologize. We start talking about the future. She brightens up.

“I would like to one day own a really nice studio with a Neve console,” she says. “I’d like to continue and improve what I’m doing and put out all kinds of records. I want to tour the world. I’d like to go back to Oxford and get my master’s and eventually my doctorate so you have to address me as Dr. Gayle.”

She pauses, perhaps to reevaluate.

“I’d love to have a family and a front porch where I can drink tea and play my banjo.”

She smiles. She’s ready to move on.

Update: A sentence about a romantic relationship has been removed from this story because both parties say it never happened. However, the author stands by what he says Skidmore has told him.

Gayle Skidmore performs on Saturday, March 12, at San Diego IndieFest.