Chalkboard Confessional: A Skylit Drive

June 22 2009, 3:40 AM EDT By Chris French

Here’s the problem with Jackson Hole, Wyoming: nobody knows about it. Sure, it’s in the middle-of-nowhere, and that can be a tad boring. But what truly makes Jackson Hole a cultural black hole for anyone under 25 is its anonymity--at least within alternative-rock circles. That wasn’t the case, however, when MICHAEL “JAG” JAGMIN spent his high school years in the western Wyoming township. During his freshman year, Jagmin and two friends set out to bring the music they liked (read: hardcore) to Jackson Hole. Now, as frontman for screamo act A SKYLIT DRIVE, Jagmin has access to all the live music he can handle. But can you handle the music he likes? --Chris French

If you were to make your childhood mix tape, which bands would be featured on the cassette?
KISS and Def Leppard. KISS were the first band that I ever got into--they’re the whole reason I got into music. My brother bought Kiss Alive III and he only liked a couple songs on it. It wasn’t really his cup of tea, so he passed it on to me and it just became my life. Like, I lived and breathed KISS.

After KISS came Def Leppard. They were just such a fun band and the music was so catchy and so good, to the point where I was just like, “I wish that I could write music that was that catchy and that could catch that many people’s ears.”

Rock And Roll All Nite - Kiss

Did you ever see either band in concert?
I saw KISS when I was 10. It was their reunion tour--their first tour when they all got back in the makeup and finally got back together. So I saw them in Dallas, Texas, and that was just life-changing for me. I put on the Gene Simmons makeup and everything. That was definitely just the stamp on me wanting to do this with my life.

You lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, when you were in high school. How did you deal with the music scene, or lack thereof?
Every band, when they tour through the Midwest, has an off day driving through Wyoming-every single time. Nobody plays there; everybody goes straight from Denver to Salt Lake City, but they need an off-day or two to get there. So my friends and I just started writing the management and the agents [of bands we wanted to see] prior to the tour actually starting and offered them a show [in Jackson Hole].

We actually got bands like Thrice to come and like a bunch of other older, hardcore bands. Converge and the Hope Conspiracy were supposed to play the Thrice show, but they got snowed in. Let’s see, Skycamefalling--former members from that band are now in the Sleeping--they came and played for us. Man, there were just so many hardcore shows we put on back when I was in high school.

Who are you listening to now?
I pay so much attention to the vocalist of bands. That’s always my main draw to a band. Nowadays, I’m really into progressive metal, more of like “old-man” metal like Dream Theater and this other prog-metal band called Circus Maximus. Their vocalist [Michael Eriksen] is definitely No. 1 on my list. That guy is phenomenal.

Abyss - Circus Maximus

Did theatric bands like Dream Theater inspire A Skylit Drive’s latest, Adelphia? After all, it’s a 13-song concept album.
Yeah, one of my favorite albums is this Dream Theater album called Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, and it’s this full concept album, like, start to finish. It doesn’t jump around; it doesn’t deviate. It literally starts the story and ends the story. It reads like a book. From [vocalist James LaBrie’s] lyrics to the mood of the music, it follows what they’re saying. It isn’t one of those albums that you’re like, “Track six is my favorite.” You either like the entire album or you don’t.

Do you have any other musical guilty pleasures?
I absolutely love Rascal Flatts. That band is phenomenal. I play it when I drive in the van sometimes and all of the guys get kind of butt-hurt. But, you know, they’re slowing turning on to it. I’ll look back and they’ll be singing along or mouthing the words. It’s so infectious. You can’t not like it. alt

A Skylit Drive Wouldn’t Exist Without (according to Jagmin)

BLINK-182: “Numerous band members wouldn’t have even picked up their instruments--started playing drums, started playing bass--without that band.”

TAKING BACK SUNDAY: “If we put [a Taking Back Sunday album on] in the van, everybody knows the words; everybody sings along; everybody can think of some nostalgic story that has to do with listening to that band. I have so many stories from my teenage years that come from listening to Tell All Your Friends or Where You Want to Be.”

JIMMY EAT WORLD: “Nick [Miller, guitar] and I are especially influenced by Jimmy Eat World. The vocal melody lines, song structure, guitar work--we just love everything about that band. Every single song of theirs is written so well; everything about that band is pin-point perfect. I don’t think Jimmy Eat World are ever going to die. Every single album is just going to keep getting better and better in some way.”