Artist Of The Month: Pink Skies

Chicago Haze’s Artist of the Month for January is Pink Skies, and we were excited to have had the opportunity to interview Arieh Berl, the brains behind the project. Hailing from Oakland, CA, Pink Skies is the psychedelic, chill-wave project of Berl, who released his debut album SPECTRA in June of last year.

At only 33 minutes long, SPECTRA packs quite the punch, stacked with infectious songs like “I’ll Be Here A While” and wavy electro-pop on songs like “Mirrors.” Other songs like “Silver Surfer” are filled with dreamy, room-filling synths and 808s. Largely overlooked, SPECTRA deserves more attention than it has gotten—packed with undeniable energy, Pink Skies sounds nuanced, like he’s well-versed in all aspects of the music. 

Despite having impeccable talent, there’s surprisingly little information available on Pink Skies. Eager to learn more about the man behind the synths, I (Mitch) reached out to Berl back in November 2020.

It’s a Wednesday, later in the evening, when I give Pink Skies a ring. He’s finishing up a jam session in California, and the first few minutes of our call are dotted with pauses in conversation as Berl says farewell to his friends. Right away it’s evident that Berl is very passionate about music and comfortably laid back, like he’s forgotten about our interview and I’ve just brought him back to earth.

(Mitch) Tell me a little bit about yourself.

(Berl) I’m from the bay, Oakland, California. I started playing music at seven years old. I love music. Big fan of music —been playing it for a long time. Yeah, I don’t know what else. [Laughs]

What instruments did you first learn how to play?

Well, I took, like piano lessons when I was a little kid. But then I wanted to actually learn how to play music, so I played the drums for a while, and now I’ve switched to playing guitar, which is my main instrument. But me and my friends like to jam, so we just all switch up instruments, we all got pretty okay at all of them. And we make our own records all day, always.

Who are some of your musical inspirations past and present? Or are there any artists that you really admire?

The Clash, Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Muse. The Ramones, a lot of punk music honestly. And modern artists like Tame Impala, Blood Orange, Mac DeMarco, I’m a huge fan. Yeah, in the last week or two [those bands are] pretty much the only thing I’ve been listening to.

How would you describe your musical style as Pink Skies?

Always changing. I just like pop music, honestly. That, mixed with an interest in weird sounds. I always want to make sounds that haven’t been heard before, blending them together, pushing the boundary of sound. I just want to sound new and I want to sound extreme. I don’t really know if that is a description – I just want to create something that surprises people.

I think that is very evident, especially thinking of your song “I’ll Be Here A While.” It sounds so interesting, almost as if it could be played on radio stations across the country, yet it’s very unique.

I mean, I didn’t plan any of that. Like, I don’t plan my music really, I just make it and then I just follow my feelings. You know? I follow my ear. I follow a note that gets me to a song. Like in that song [“I’ll Be Here A While”], It’s literally just one note. I just remember playing it and thinking “this fucking sounds really cool.” It’s just one note over this really cool beat that I made on a drum, and played it over and over on a little loop. And then the song’s pretty much done. Later on, I ended up jumping back into the production a little bit, and it gets a little wild later on in the song, that was actually mostly finessed, but it all just started from, you know, following my ear.

Do you ever get to a point where you create something, and you don’t want to overcomplicate it, but you introduce an extra layer of complexity? Or do you just follow your gut and keep it simple?

I’m not really driven by complexity – if anything, I like to keep my songs simple. I like the idea of being able to sing the song, being able to play the song. I guess I’ve always kind of thought the true measurement of a good song is if you could play it on a piano or a guitar, and it still sounds good once you strip everything away. I never really try… to make things more complicated than they are, and if I do, it’s because of curiosity. Like, “Oh, what would happen if I reversed this part of the sound?” Or “If I took the sound of a space shuttle crashing, put it in 3D, what would it sound like?” Stuff like that. But I definitely am more on the side of “simplify everything.” Use as little as possible to make it and have it still sound good.

Congratulations on SPECTRA, by the way, because that was your first official album. What were some of the emotions you felt when you released it to the world?

I just felt relief that it was done. I had been working on it for a pretty long time, so it felt good to release them. Because it’s literally a release – no more tweaking, no more thinking about the song at all, it’s done. And honestly, since it’s come out, I have felt a lot more creative and a lot more inspired to make more music, new music. There’s a weird, like, purgatory [you’re in when you] have an album that is done, but it’s not out yet.

Makes sense.

Or if you’re mixing it, trying to get those details finalized – like artwork and mastering and videos – it makes you feel not that creative, at least to me. I’m not as inspired to make new music in that phase. So I guess one word to describe how it felt to release it: relief, and excited to move on to the next thing.

You’re independent, right? Or do you have a label that you’re signed to?

No, I’m independent right now.

Do you want to stay independent? Or are you entertaining prospects or anything like that?

I mean, definitely. I’ve talked to a bunch of labels and stuff. But I’m definitely not in a rush to sign anything. You know? I don’t really care about that stuff. I care about making the greatest music that I can. And I find there’s no real point of thinking about that stuff. Because it even if I do think about it, what’s that gonna do for me? You know?

That’s a good mindset.

And I feel like it clouds… I’ve seen it, and I’ve felt moments of this as well, when I have been thinking about more of that business side of [music]. It clouds judgment. And it informs your decision making in a weird way. Where you make decisions that you aren’t making, [you’re] just trying to think of what is good or cool or what you think will get you popular… and I think it’s a very toxic path. For artists, especially.

That’s a very thoughtful way of approaching it. Another question I have is what’s your creative process like?

It really depends. Sometimes I might be sitting around or forcing myself to be in the studio, and I’m tired, so I don’t feel creative at all. And then I pull [the guitar] down and start playing. I’m like, “Oh, fuck, this is sick.” And then next thing you know, I’ll check my phone. It’s three hours later. I also come with a lot of songs, generally, when I’m not thinking about anything else. Especially if I’m very present, that’s when I think I come up with music, when I’m not thinking about it too much. I’ve noticed it when I’m like walking, on a hike, or a place where it’s really easy to detach yourself from whatever else is going on. In the shower too, I found a couple of pretty good ideas in the shower. It happens when I’m not thinking about other weird mundane parts of life, you know?

I like how you used the word detached, that’s a good way of describing it. By the way, I’m a big fan of 6LACK myself [R&B artist that Pink Skies covered with his rendition of “Gettin’ Old”]. So I have to ask, what made you choose to cover that song? It feels very fresh.

I don’t know, we were listening to his album. And my buddy was like, “Man, I love that one. That was sick.” And then he said I should cover it. And I did it. That’s pretty much it. There’s no real story there. I guess my friend was his [6LACK’s] engineer, though, so we were just hanging out and listening to that song. So I covered it. It took like two days.

Two days? That’s crazy, because it’s a really good cover.

I know a lot of artists, where you hear these stories, where a guy took like, six months on one song. I don’t work like that. If I don’t capture the essence in a day, then it’s probably not that good. I’ll probably not work on it anymore. That’s just where I’m at.

What else do you like to do in your free time? What have you been doing to stay busy this year [2020]?

Geez, I wish I had a more interesting answer. I went to bed at like nine o’clock last night. It was awesome. Well, I’ve been surfing a lot. So that’s been a really fun thing that I’ve gotten into with quarantine. I’ve been going like two to three times a week. So it’s been really fun. And like, a great thing to do to get detached from the world. You’re literally off the world. I grew a huge weed forest, so that was a fun thing [Laughs]. Besides that, been watching a lot of movies. And yeah, that’s like pretty much it honestly. We cook up some really fun dishes and stuff. But I do spend so much of my time working on music that I don’t really do much else.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring, up-and-coming artists?

I’ll try and say something that people might not always say, but I would maybe say… music is pretty much my entire life. It’s been my main focus, and it really takes full commitment. I do stuff for money that isn’t music. And you know, I go to work, go to school, but then like, after that, it’s a full commitment. And you can’t get mad at me if I’m not texting you back, because that’s just the commitment. That’s what I think is required to be great. Drop in and give it everything you got.

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