Singer-songwriter Schuyler Fisk (Col ’06) claims she found herself in the music industry accidentally, but the down-to-earth, independent music career she’s forged looks anything but accidental. “I love to sing, play and write, but I never thought of doing it as a career,” Fisk says. “After performing at open mic nights at Baja Bean and elsewhere on the Corner, people started asking me to make demos of my songs. One thing led to another and here I am.”
This, of course, leaves a few things out. Fisk—the daughter of Charlottesville’s own Hollywood transplants actress Sissy Spacek and production designer Jack Fisk—has just released her first full-length album, The Good Stuff. Last year, she left a major label with a big budget, Universal Music, to do things her own way. After slowly building a fan base, she released her album online before making it available as a CD. It climbed to No. 1 on the iTunes folk charts in February. Of this approach, Fisk says, “I knew this record was going to be hard work, and that’s exactly what it was.”
The record is smart and sassy, but also has a stripped-down sincerity missing from many debut albums.
Luckily, The Good Stuff delivers. It’s full of folk-rock songs in Fisk’s distinctive clear-as-a-bell, breathy voice accompanied by guitar and piano. The record is smart and sassy, but also has a stripped-down sincerity missing from many debut albums. Even songs like “You’re Happening to Me” and “Miss You,” while based on snappy guitar riffs, stand out because of the confessional quality of the coming-of-age lyrics.
“Write, write, write,” Fisk says when asked what advice she would give to aspiring singer-songwriters. She studied visual arts at the University but says writing classes helped her with her own songwriting. Writing, she maintains, is what can make or break a musician. “It’s what sets you apart from another girl with a guitar or a piano. What you write is what ultimately defines you as an artist and makes you unique.”
Fisk’s career is unconventional in other ways. She is currently touring relentlessly for the album (with Ben Taylor, James Taylor’s son), but she is taking a hands-on, grassroots approach to it. She designs her own merchandise and maintains her own Web site (http://www.schuylerfisk.com), updating it often with video blogs and journal entries. “It’s become a grassroots, homespun thing. There is no big machine behind me. It’s all me and my friends and family helping out in their free time.”
She recorded the album in her producer’s garage during a dry California summer. They had a small air conditioner they turned on only between takes because it was so loud. They used a single microphone to record every instrument and voice that appears on the album.
A nontraditional, headstrong approach to life seems to be Fisk’s trademark. She’s had a successful stint acting in films and television, but had no qualms leaving a lucrative career for an RV tour of small performance venues.
While she says that acting is on the back burner for now, she’s recorded music for many soundtracks, including The Last Kiss (Goldwyn, 2006) and Penelope (Palansky, 2006). “It’s a challenge for me when I’m writing a song specifically for a film, and I love that,” Fisk says.
The challenges don’t seem to have an end in sight. In addition to releasing a B-sides version of her album, she is also working on a Christmas album and shooting her first music video. She can only dream about the idea of a vacation. “Ahh, that’d be nice,” she says. “But to me, success is when I can make a living doing what I love. No, I haven’t made it yet, but I’m definitely not going to stop working on it.”
Schuyler Fisk’s “From Where I’m Standing” from her album The Good Stuff