Crack The Sky   « Back To List

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John Palumbo – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Rick Witkowski – Guitars & Vocals
Joey D’Amico – Drums & Vocals
Bobby Hird – Guitars & Vocals
Glenn Workman – Keyboards & Vocals
Dave DeMarco – Bass & Vocals

You gotta know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. It’s a mantra the forward-thinking Weirton, West Virginia-bred rock outfit known as Crack The Sky have been following for years with considerable success. What has always set them apart from the pack is an inherent knack for knowing how to incorporate the best of that patented, melodically driven Crack crunch with ever-evolving sonic ideas and inventive sound palettes both hook-laden and inviting enough to bring their fervently loyal audience along for the ride.

“We’ve been going back in time to try and find ourselves, even while we’ve been looking ahead to the future,” observes guitarist/producer Rick Witkowski. “And we’re looking to bring in new fans who’ve never heard what we’ve done before.” Adds lead vocalist/chief songwriter John Palumbo, “Eventually, you find that everything comes full circle, so it’s fair to say we’ve been quite reinvigorated as artists these past few years.”

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To that end, Crack The Sky have split the uprights with a pair of smashingly satisfying concurrent releases, Living In Reverse and Crackology, both set to drop on August 24, 2018 from Loud & Proud Records. Living In Reverse showcases 12 new genre-defying Crack tracks, while the retrospective Crackology chronicles a dozen of the best re-recorded gems as culled from the band’s rich and storied 40-year catalog. Galvanizing Reverse cuts like the full-on groundswell of “Raining Rain,” the modernized new-wave sonic uniform that envelops “Jacket,” and the spoken-word seduction of “Home Tonight” all match up quite beautifully with the recast Crackology versions of Crack classics like the one-two punch ’n’ crunch of “Hold On” and “Surf City” alongside the overdriven depth of “Skin Deep” and the reactor-fueled crackle of “Nuclear Apathy,” the latter track as relevant today as when it was first written and performed in 1978. “They have more of an edge than the originals,” Palumbo affirms of the even-dozen cuts on Crackology. “Those tracks all have more life to them now, and we play every one of them live.”

The band had a clear sonic manifesto for the material that ended up on Living In Reverse. “Basically, we were on an audio exploratory mission,” explains Witkowski of the creative process that unfolded mainly in his homebase recording space, Studio L Recording in Weirton. “On our first few albums, we were labeled as a guitar-driven, classic-rock, prog-rock kind of band, but each song on this album has its own unique identity.”

What soon became apparent for Living In Reverse was the individual textural character of each of the demos songwriter Palumbo shared for each track. “What happens with all of the songs is I’ll deliver a complete track with everything on it, and then the guys go ahead and tear them apart in the studio,” details Palumbo. “Bobby [Hird, Crack’s second guitarist] and Rick will start putting the guitars together, and they’ll just start to color things. It’s a great way to work because everybody trusts everybody else — and that’s key. Usually, I write the music first, and then I put the lyrics in. I sit back after I’ve put them down and I go, ‘Whoa, that’s really some personal stuff.’ They come out that way because I’m a mechanic just letting it all flow right through me, and I don’t really reckon I want to hide anything.” Palumbo pauses a few seconds before adding in a hushed tone, “I just let it go.”

Witkowski has always admired his CTS partner’s creative process. “One thing I love most about John is he’s always into trying new things,” he reveals. “There were hardly any guitars on most of the demos he was sending us for this record. They were full-blown productions with mostly all keyboards on them, and Bobby and I would take them and flesh them out. John would tell me, ‘Make them into Crack The Sky songs,’ and that’s what we did — we just attacked them and added the signature Crack The Sky guitar stuff to them. I love the fact that he trusts me to do that. Ultimately, it has to fit what he wants as the writer, but he gives me full rein to take the songs where they need to go. When you can run the gamut that way both sonically and emotionally, it makes a record so much more entertaining.”

The gritty yearning of “Hit” and the resultant wish fulfillment of “I’m On The Radio, Mom” are two tracks that best embody the Palumbo/Witkowski creative axis. “That’s right,” Palumbo concurs, “and

the title ‘Hit’ is obviously a double-entendre. It’s written somewhat tongue in cheek about having a hit of pot, but then you recognize the guy’s really looking for a hit record. And,” he concludes with a hearty chuckle, “we do want a hit record!”

Adds Witkowski, “John brilliantly came up with drawing the analogy of ‘I want a hit’ with also needing that adrenaline rush. I had the middle section all in my head. The song he sent me was all linear — just one beat over and over without that break in the middle. I said, ‘We gotta put a little break in there to Crack-The-Sky-it up.’ He wasn’t sure about it, but I said, ‘Trust me.’ When it came to the part with the bridge, I made a hole in the track there and inserted that little section into what he had. At first John wasn’t crazy about it, but when he heard it when it was finally done, he went, ‘Aww, yeah — yeah!’ So it worked out very well.”

The future direction of Crack The Sky music is perhaps no more evident than on the aforementioned “Jacket,” which has a cool, modern new wave vibe to it. “That’s pretty accurate,” Palumbo agrees. “Yeah, I like that song. That’s really a departure for us, but I think it’s a good thing for us to do. That’s what I mean by stretching out. Hardly anyone who knows the band would think that was Crack The Sky. But in my opinion, there’s no point in putting out new music if you’re not growing. David Bowie was the best at doing that. He kept going and going, and I think that was wonderful. Me, I’d rather be moving forward. Sometimes you fall flat, but you have to not be afraid to fall on your face.” Witkowski notes, “We’re still Crack The Sky, but we’re also trying different things. This is where we are at this point in our career. There is a cohesiveness to the songs here, so I’m hoping our fans are going to accept it and like it.”

Ultimately, Crack The Sky are looking to reach a new legion of fans with the double whammy of Living In Reverse and Crackology. “There are so many people who never even heard our early records,” Witkowski acknowledges, “so we’re hoping we can bring in a whole new generation of fans who may have passed us by. The fans we already have are going to love Crackology because we capture the vibe of the old recordings, but the songs definitely have a little more edge to them. And Living In Reverse shows where we’re at now. Like I said earlier, we’re looking back to see where we’re going next.”

Embracing the past while planting both feet firmly into the future is how the best bands continue to evolve, grow their fanbase, and keep moving forward. And when it comes to this particular trailblazing band, you might even say the Sky’s the limit.