SILENT SKIES is the project of EVERGREY’s Tom S. Englund and acclaimed US-based pianist/composer Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Lux Terminus). Together on Dormant, they conjure a cinematic odyssey of gripping compositions. Expanding their sonic universe with a variety of new elements and approaches, the new album features stunning piano melodies, atmospheric keyboards, lush and expansive soundscapes, and Englund’s hauntingly beautiful, distinctive voice. Shankar tells us Silent Skies’ biggest influences and the band’s own essential songs to hear.
Olafur Arnalds: “Take My Leave of You (ft. Arnor Dan)”
When Tom first reached out to me to form Silent Skies way back in January 2017, he cited a list of artists that were in some way informing his vision of the kind of music he was wanting to make with me. Olafur’s music was atop the list, and he remains atop the pantheon for me personally as one of the finest creators of modern neoclassical music. Informed by electronic music as much as classical (he is one half of the experimental techno duo KIASOS, and played drums for hardcore punk and metal bands in the start of his career), Olafur makes genre-bending music whose emotional sensitivity and dynamic artistry is absolutely stunning. This track, featuring the exquisite vocal talents of Agent Fresco’s Arnor Dan, is simply a work of art.
Pink Floyd: “High Hopes”
In terms of rock music, Pink Floyd has been a crucial element to both my musical development as well as Tom’s. When I branched out of classical music for the first time, as an early teenager, Pink Floyd was one of my first musical loves. Their approach to textured sound design and thoughtful arrangements inspired me a lot. It was an example of an artist pushing the boundaries in other ways than simply technical playing. Importantly, however, this boundary pushing is always married to genuine expression, and nowhere is this more evident in their discography than “High Hopes,” their touching swan song, with some of the most beautifully eloquent words Mr. Gilmour ever sang, and the lap steel solo to end all lap steel solos. This marriage of experimentation in service of emotional goals has become a defining aspect of Silent Skies’ music as well.
Taylor Swift: “Snow on the Beach (ft. Lana Del Rey)”
Tom and I are not afraid to draw influence from pop music and apply some attributes from it to our own sense of creative experimentation and desire to express Scandinavian melancholy in the most potent and powerful way possible. “Snow on the Beach” has a number of sonic qualities one might recognize in Silent Skies’ music: delicate textured loops, intricate sound design (listen to the level of detail in the ambient stuff happening in the background, the evolving motions, the soundscapes), and memorable and direct vocal melodies that grab the listener’s attention and force them to listen to every word being delivered. These are all things that we love to bring into our songwriting and production, and artists like Swift, Ed Sheeran, and The Weeknd are just as likely to be referenced in our songwriting and production sessions as classical, progressive, rock, metal, and electronic artists.
“Horizons” was the very first single we released as an introduction to our band. As the longest track in our discography, it is unique in that it is more of a long-form, progressive piece than we typically write. I am extremely proud of this song as a musical composition. The piano themes at 0:35 and 1:27 are based on a very old piece of a Gregorian Chant, composed around a thousand years ago, that I was studying in music conservatory at the time. The crown jewel of this piece of music for me is the cello playing beginning at 6:33. This was the first time we worked with Raphael Weinroth-Browne (best known for his work with Leprous and Musk Ox), and we have worked with Raphael on every album since this first one. His touch and ability to express emotions through his playing is sublime, and this sequence of cello playing is one of the finest testaments to this in our catalog. Even merely typing this, I get chills imagining his playing in this piece.
“Taper” was the first single from our album Nectar, which was released in 2022. “Taper” is a track that encapsulates what I would define as the “essential core DNA” of the Silent Skies sound, especially from Nectar on to our new album Dormant. The primary piano sound here is the felted grand—a common sound in modern classical and cinematic music, in which an extra sheet of felt is placed in between the hammers and the strings to effectively mute the tone and dynamics, resulting in a beautifully warm and mellow character. This piano is the piano at my parents’ home in Cleveland, Ohio, and it is the very piano that I spent over a decade playing when I was first studying the instrument, so it has a special emotional resonance for me. I added the felt sheets during the Nectar recording process myself (a surprisingly laborious task!), and the result is a special piano sound, unique to us and our recordings. This piano is infinitely inspirational to me, and one single day of writing on the instrument can result in multiple full song compositions. “Taper” was one such song, and on “Taper,” the felt piano is paired to ethereal keyboard soundscapes, rich analog synth bass, delicately introspective vocals, and by the end of the song, soothing and mellow cellos. In the simplest sense, this is the core of the Silent Skies sound.
“Churches” is the second single from our album Dormant, which was released Sept. 1 2023 on Napalm Records. “Churches” is a prime illustration of how our music has grown since our inception. While the melancholy remains, it is infused with glimmers of hope, and the music, once driven by a stark palette of piano and strings, is now expanded in all sorts of directions—layers of analog synthesizers, chiming electric guitars, a full drum set to accompany hardware electronic drum machines, and anthemic vocal layers. Silent Skies’ music in 2023 is more dynamic, texturally varied, and potent than ever before. Simply put, we are restless, and the musical adventurers in us would like nothing more than to spread our wings and incorporate any flavor that we find ourselves compelled to do. The album Dormant has many more such adventurous moments and all kinds of novel musical approaches, including the Japanese wind instrument shakuhachi, soprano and alto recorders, and extensive use of Eurorack modular synths. But, as mentioned with Pink Floyd above, we aim to do all of this simply to articulate our emotional and narrative goals in the best way possible. This goal is what unifies everything we do, even as the sound palette gets more and more varied.