Following the release of his debut single ‘Without You', we catch up with the polymathic force to be reckoned with.
Triple threat doesn’t begin to cover the innovative nature of Skylar Astin – it’s less Glee (although he does have a delightful cameo role) and more Gene (Kelly that is). Skylar has an old Hollywood level of showmanship, with a New York-born edge, and talent galore.
Starring in Spring Awakening whilst attending Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, Skylar Astin quickly fell in love with the world of performance, heading out West stepping off the stage and in front of the camera for Andrew Fleming’s Hamlet 2. Fast forward to 2011, Skylar got his cinematic big break as Jesse in Pitch Perfect, and then the breaks just kept on coming. Stepping into the shoes of season 4 Greg Serrano in Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s cult hit show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (if you haven’t watched it, watch it, it’s on Netflix RN), Skylar proved just how multifaceted his comedic chops could be, not to mention his myriad of musical and acting talents. Most recently taking on the role of Max in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist a conceptual show celebrating the intimate powers of music, Skylar’s penchant for boundary-smashing projects is undisputable.
Now ready to break boundaries in his own world, Skylar Astin has taken a new path in the music industry, spending lockdown and beyond working on his own solo creations. Taking the time to hone in a sound and style which fitted with his own tastes, Skylar’s work is a refreshing change from the usual singer-songwriter transformations many multi-hyphenates can fall into. Debut single ‘Without You’ proves the polymath really can do it all, it’s playfully positive with its boogie-inducing beat and sunny demeanour, but still pays tribute to Skylar’s poetic nature in its thoughtful lyricism – all in all, it is just what we all need right now.
We caught up with Skylar Astin to find out how he finally found his musical identity, where the journey to here took him, and where it’s taking him to next…
How has the past year been for you? I say a year, it’s more like 15 months, isn’t it now…
It’s been interesting. I feel like I’ve kind of cocooned like so many people have and thankfully was cocoon was a safe place for me surrounded by loved ones. I mean, virtually, and in-person surrounded by my piano, my music, my creativity. Then I was actually fortunate enough to film entire season of television. So that was really complicated to go through. We’ve gone through it without a hitch. It’s been good. This time of forced self-reflection has kind of made me get to know myself, burst out in it, and come out of this thing a little bit differently.
I guess obviously a big part of that has been creating your own music. What made you decide that this is the time to do this?
Well, I feel like people have always been asking me when I gonna ever release my own original music. I’ve done so many other people’s songs in TV shows, movies and even Broadway. I guess the reason why I was hesitant was because I didn’t really know what the sound would be. Any kind of music that I’ve written in the past has been singer-songwriter-y piano-based and kind of more of a personal diary that I’ve only shared for very close friends and family and that’s not necessarily the music that keeps me uplifted and feeling lighter during heavy times. I’ve found myself really listening to a lot of that kind of music early on in the pandemic, playing a lot of that kind of music on my Instagram. Just in this little series I had called ‘Home Keys’. I was really feeling that connection to my followers and fans. There seemed to be an appetite for it and I just really went ahead first into writing and recording my own music. I invested like X thousands amounts of dollars to convert my office into a home studio. It was weird. It was one of those things when it’s like if make a subtle announcement on my Instagram and I purchase all this stuff from this sound recording website, I kind of have to do it. Then I connected with a good buddy of mine, Eric [Lam], who was my producer throughout this whole thing. We’ve just been off to the races but even able to keep it going while I was in Canada.
“This time of forced self-reflection has kind of made me get to know myself, burst out in it, and come out of this thing a little bit differently."
I love ‘Without You’: it’s got heartfelt, emotive lyrics which I guess stem from a singer-songwriter style but it’s got this upbeat, really playful production. Tell me a bit about creating that.
Thank you! That was one of the third of fourth songs that Eric and I worked on so we kind of found the groove. It went really fast. I just felt that it was lustful. It was flirty. Playful but also slightly poetic. It’s like a love song through dance and I just like that kind of contrast or even complement for the song. It feels a bit 80s to me. There’s a couple lyrics that I always like in song lyrics when you can kind of complete a sentence in its own stanza. ‘I will find you just beyond the ways I left behind you’. I always feel like it’s a fun way to kind of lure listeners into your song and then given the satisfying hook and chorus of ‘Without You’.
It definitely had a poetic kind of nature to it. What can we expect next from the rest of the music then?
I already have a couple singles lined up, I have at least the next two that I’m going to release. They’re fun also. There’s another song, it’s got a little bit of like a Justin Timberlake/Bruno Mars feeling to it. Dare I say it’s like a 70s feel. It’s my dad’s favourite song so then you know it’s got a 70s feel to it. I like songs that can kind of pay homage to those decades but also feel current and new. I think Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake definitely do that well, among other artists. So, I’m really excited about that and then the next one I’ve got is more of a summer bop. Just like good vibe, sitting by the beach… It’s just a satisfying song. So, I’m really excited about those two. I’m also going to record an acoustic version of ‘Without You’. Just on the piano and it really sounds different when it’s completely stripped down. All of my songs whether they’re very deep in the background or more frontal like some of my other ones, I’ve played my own piano on all of them but in through the production of ‘Without You’ single, it’s really more layered and patted in the background but when I really get to access the different fingering that I can do, it’s completely just by myself. It sounds different so I’m excited to put that out. It’s got more of a live feel so you do get to feel a bit of that singer-songwritery foundation in my music in that version.
What was your upbringing like, did you have much of a creative upbringing? Was there like a little of music around you?
Well, I have a piano that I actually shipped from New York here to LA that I thank God for, especially during the pandemic. My parents were no one really in the industry but music was like a big part of me. I was playing piano since I was five years old. I was always very encouraged. My parents were lovely growing up and I won’t say strict but we were raised kind of “properly” yet I was allowed to play my piano at all hours of the night. They never were complaining when I got up even… I guess I had school, they were kind of cool about it. They just really respected this creative outlet that I had. That’s really rare I find and that’s definitely encouraged me throughout my childhood to play music, to sing and have that expression. I think that’s really important to encourage in the youth. I’m very grateful for that. That’s definitely been an inspiration for me.
How the world of music fit into the world of film and TV for you?
I started on Broadway and only ever really wanted to do that. That’s all I ever saw for myself was like musical theatre and straight theatre with no music and then I had an audition in New York for my first film ever Hamlet 2 which actually had a small musical amount but was more like a raunchy comedy. I found my way out in LA through that movie and the agents that I got through that movie. I’ve been really working forever out here. Just like pilots and comedies and dramas. Then when Pitch Perfect came along, it really put things together for me because I had that background in theatre and singing and then was able to do that on camera and, by the way, now I get multiple takes, I don’t have to do it live. I won’t say it was easier but I definitely think that my theatre background prepared me for these kinds of shows like Pitch Perfect, Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and even Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. It’s been really fun to be able to combine all of those genres over the years. People always ask me which I prefer – singing, theatre or just straight-up acting – but it’s all a part of me. I love them all equally that’s why I was so grateful to be able to devote the amount of time that I had to the music now because it is a big extension of me. It’s a big part of me. It’s not just like a side project. It’s just like another side.
I definitely feel like over the past decade there’s been a real increase in these music-oriented TV shows. Why do you think that is? What do you think it’s about that people love so much?
I think music’s really universal. Also, it’s a device for storytelling that’s different. I mean, you’ve also seen a rise in superhero movies and the reason why that genre is popular is because people really enjoy that method of storytelling. It’s different. There’s something literally magical about it and I think there’s also something very magical about telling stories through music. It’s a transition that I feel can’t be taken for granted and has been in poor musicals. You know musicals that haven’t been that great, that people would call corny. I think that the reason why is because people are taking for granted that transition from spoken word to song. It is something that’s actually very delicate. Something that I think that Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist does very well and we have a cool in to that world. I think that with a cool concept, a musical concept and what you’ve even seen in In The Heights movie right now. It’s what separates the storytelling from just ordinary cop dramas.
Definitely, like you said ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ has got such an interesting concept. Other than that, what drew you to the project?
The characters. I always really loved a character with secret and my character had a secret in the pilot so I was happy that I got to get that pay off. Honestly Jane [Levy] being attached was a very big deal to me. I always admired her work and to work so closely with her, to be able to call her a friend and a dear colleague, it’s been a very rewarding part of my career.
Going back to ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’, you joined the show stepping into the shoes of a character who already existed, what was that process like?
You know, I don’t even know if I did it correctly. I didn’t watch the show before ever being on it and I didn’t want to after I got the role. Now having thought about that, maybe I should’ve like checked it out. I personally know the actor that played him so I do know some of his mannerisms as Santino [Fontana] but I didn’t study his mannerisms as Greg. The reason why was because I was told that the character gone through a significant change: he’d gotten sober, been away for two years, they really wanted to bring him back with new energy so I decided to be me and just literally say the lines as written. Reading the character description and knowing that he’s dry and he’s sardonic and has this past, I just thought that would’ve form it enough. I did my best. I mean, I had a really good time on that show but now thinking back, I’m like maybe I should’ve tried more. I just didn’t want it to feel inauthentic or like I was playing someone else’s version of the character.
Yeah, I can imagine. If you had studied him too much it would’ve been…
Like an impression or something.
Definitely. What was your favourite song that you got to perform on the show?
I really loved the Bruce Springsteen number we did called ‘I Hate Everything But You’. I loved that one. That was really fun for me. I really loved singing the reprise of ‘What’ll It Be’ at the piano in my restaurant just because it was one of the late, great Adam Schlesinger’s favourite songs. So, I just felt really special to be able to do that on the show.
Over lockdown and the pandemic, how did you cheer yourself up and inspire yourself? What did reach to at that time?
Honestly, just keeping in good contact with my family was really helpful and playing my piano as corny as it sounds. Time would really fly by for me early in the pandemic. I never thought to take some of the songs that I was listening to and just look up the chords and just do it. I know that sounds pretty silly like ‘why wouldn’t you thought to do that’ and I was just finding myself like rather than singing along to the track just singing along to my own version of it and it really passed the time. I’ve got to be honest, music is very healing and this project helped me feel lighter and I hope that it really translates. This isn’t for sure like my opus: I won’t say I’ve bled into all of these songs. I mean, I’ve worked hard and given my heart to it for sure, but this is an exercise for me in lightening the mood a bit and having fun. So, I definitely felt that that helped the time really fly by in a creative way for me. I’m now that I’m finally fortunate enough to release these things one by one. I hope that people get that feeling from the music.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
To feel a little lighter. I mean, I don’t want to sell it short but also I don’t want to make it anything more than it is. It’s good listening, it’s a good vibe, it’s pop music. My friends and family that have heard this song, they texted me the next day like ‘I can’t get it out of my head, I wanna keep listening to it. I wanna listen to it on the drive. I wanna dance to it. I wanna listen to it on the beach.’ That makes me so happy to be able to reach people that way.
Definitely, that’s something that for sure runs through your work – giving people somewhere to escape to…
I agree and I feel so proud to be able to like provide that in any way I can, whether it’s into a narrative piece or now my own music. It’s cathartic for sure.
“People always ask me which I prefer – singing, theatre or just straight-up acting – but it's all a part of me. I love them all equally..."
Looking back at your career so far, what do you feel are the highlights for you?
I really loved doing ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’: it really meant the world to me, it was just a great time in my life to be doing something like that. Obviously, I’m very grateful for the ‘Pitch Perfect’ franchise and I will always be. My first love is theatre and you know ‘Spring Awakening’ was my start and taught me everything: it was like my college, it was my first like inkling of having any sort of notoriety or fame so that will always be the one, ‘Spring Awakening’. It’s a huge highlight. We’re coming up on the 15-year anniversary. I think we’re going to a little reunion in New York.
Do you think you will go back to theatre again at some point?
100%. It’s something I love to do. It always sharpens my tools and it’s not a question of if, it’s just which project and when. I want to be a big part of bringing Broadway back and whether that’s just by buying a ticket and enjoying it in the audience with my family or eventually when I get back up there and get to sing for my own supper.
What’s coming up for you next? What are the next few months looking like?
Well right now I’m open and available for work. I’ve had a couple independent film offers that weren’t quite right. I kind of want to hold out for the next thing. I see it you know anytime you don’t have anything directly lined up, it’s a little scary but also exciting because it’s an opportunity to decide what you want to do next. I’m really putting my heart into releasing this music and I’m even going to do a little bit more writing over the summer and see where that takes me.
Press play on Skylar Astin’s debut single ‘Without You’ below now.