How A Skylit Drive’s Michael Jagmin felt creative freedom with Signals
Even though Michael “Jag” Jagmin had creative input with his former band A Skylit Drive, he didn’t feel the musical direction the band took after the release of Wires…And The Concept Of Breathing was something he was confident in. With this in mind, Jagmin and guitarist Jonathan Kintz teamed up to form Signals, a new rock group where the duo are free to create music how they want.
Signals made their debut in 2018 with their first single “The New American Religion,” which was released on the anniversary of Wires… Since then, the band have dropped two more singles, including “The Vulture (All It Takes II)” and “Not If I Save You First.” The latter will be featured on their upcoming record, Death In Divide, which is due out later this year.
Due to distance, Jagmin and Kintz recorded the Signals album remotely. Despite that, the singer says it only made the whole process run smoother. Check out what Jagmin had to say about having more creative liberty and the duo’s upcoming album, Death In Divide, below.
What was your inspiration for starting Signals?
MICHAEL JAGMIN: I feel like at a point A Skylit Drive abandoned a certain sound that made us who we were and went to other things for whatever reason. When you have five to six different people trying to be creative, everybody’s going to have their own take and spin on things and how they think things should be moved. Signals are where I felt like that band should have headed musically.
I always looked at the next musical venture that I did, ideally, would have been like a predecessor to Wires…[And The Concept Of Breathing]. That’s what fueled me to want to do Signals. As for linking up with Jonathan, that only became that much more prevalent and reality when I heard some of the music that he was working on. It was completely unintentional by him, but he just had a writing style that really lent itself to the sound that I feel it really should have headed toward.
Speaking of your writing style, what’s that process like?
We both do our own thing, really. I live in the Austin, [Texas], area. Jonathan lives in Anaheim, California. He’ll have pieces of a song, and then we’ll break it down from there. We’ll write to the parts that stand out, rewrite parts together as we can. We flew him out here two or three times throughout the whole process. We had a good chunk of things to work on—just things we felt collectively that we felt couldn’t really reconcile over the phone [and] needed to be in front of each other to figure out. A lot of it was really seamless. A lot of it was, “I really like this part. This totally speaks to me. I totally hear something. I’m just gonna roll with what I feel.”
What has the creation of the album been like? Have you been writing for it over the past few years?
It’s actually been a couple of years in the making. We had a single that we put out last year, “The Vulture.” We were working with a producer. He was here in the states, [and] we had plans of doing the album with him. With creative and personal differences, it just wasn’t the right mesh after we did the one song with him. It wasn’t looking like it was going to be the most fruitful process for everybody involved. We decided to pull out of that setup after the one single.
There were a few months of a dead period where Jonathan and I kept writing. We didn’t have a producer to follow up with. With our particular situation of me being in Texas and him in California, it was hard to find someone who was willing to work with that distance. We weren’t going to be flying to the producer and tracking it with him. We were still going to be tracking it on our own. We’d have them mix and master it and go through all of that. Shan Dan [Horan, The Shadow Born Group] teamed us up with the producer Jimmy Alexander [Slaves, Awaken I Am], so that’s who we worked with on this one. He was just an absolute blessing to work with.
You, Kintz and your producer are all in different time zones. How was the recording process different remotely versus in a studio? Were there any advantages? What were the disadvantages?
I guess the biggest advantage is that, personally, I’m used to being in a band where I felt pushed around a lot with a lot of things, pushed to do things that I didn’t feel were the right direction for my voice. I feel like I was able to really thrive in my own space. Everything was tracked from home, completely by myself. I was able to get all of the takes that I felt were the best possible ones I could get. If Jimmy felt like anything was lacking, he would tell me, “Hey, I need some more takes of this because you can do this better,” or “Try this differently.” I was always welcoming to do that with any producer. I think that’s probably the biggest benefit, having the freedom and the comfort of doing it myself and just doing it at my own pace.
There’s really nothing like having that creative freedom.
With Jonathan, he’s been so easygoing to work with as well. He’s just insanely creative. He’s definitely like my other half where if I give him an idea to try, he’ll take that idea and make it better than what I heard in my head. It’s almost like a tattoo artist. You always have an idea in your head, and you think it’s the coolest thing ever. Then they draw something, and you’re like, “Well, that was way better.” And I’m like, “That’s why you’re doing this and I’m not.”
How did you and Jonathan come together and figure out Signals were something you wanted to pursue?
Honestly, it was a few years back that I just posted on my Facebook, just put a feeler out there, “Hey, I want to start writing music again. Anybody that has any stuff they want to send me, I want to start tracking on stuff.” I took a year or so off doing music when A Skylit Drive really hit that wall. I was just burnt out on it. I had no desire to do it. Then I just got that itch again. Jonathan was one of the people that reached out to me. We’d been friends, must’ve been ever since 2005, I think. It was right when I moved to California after I graduated from high school. He was one of the first people that I met. He and I just remained close friends. Jon always came out to the shows and hung out. His musical mind is just of a genius level.
You’re both former members of successful bands. To go and do a whole other project must be pretty daunting. What are some of your goals for the band, not just in regards to your fanbase, but musically and personally as well?
My thought going into both things was never, “Oh hey, I want to be a millionaire doing this.” Of course, if your passion can pay your bills, that’s always nice. I learned a long time ago that it’s naive to think that way. That’s why I also have a full-time job. That takes up a lot of my time during the week, but then again, it gives me more mental freedom because I don’t go through the stress of, “Crap, this has to make me money.” Now, I can just enjoy the process of making music, putting it out there doing what we can to push it, be creative with our content and not think, “When is this going to pay me back?” That’s not my top priority. My priority is to enjoy the experience and create it with a close friend of mine, someone I think that’s always deserved a good shot. We just put our genuine all into it and whatever we get back is great.
You have released a few singles since 2018, with your most recent being “Not If I Save You First.” How long have you been working on music for this project? Can you give us any details for future plans in regards to releases? With the coronavirus, you can’t really go on tour, but do you have any plans for livestreams?
We haven’t planned any livestreams, per se. That’s an entirely new hurdle, with not only everything going on and no touring, but also Jon and I being in completely different states. That’s definitely something that I want to go after. I guess we would lean more toward that as it gets closer to the album release date, which will be later this year.
As for the next plans, we have another single coming out Aug. 28. We’re doing all of the filming for that. Of course, with the pandemic, that’s also been done in a completely different fashion than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve got somebody here. We shell out the idea for the video, the footage I would need to have and then somebody separately is out by Jonathan, and then they can film any of his stuff. Essentially, [it’s] just like we did the record, how all of our parts got mashed together and then [were] sent to a producer who actually was all the way out in Australia. We send all of our footage to Shan Dan. He’s the one who directs the videos [and] puts everything together. We just send all the footage collectively off to him, and then he adds in some of his vision, too. In the end, we’ve got a complete thought.
[The new single] is really personal to me. It’s about how our business manager embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from us. Lots of frustration there. It’s the second single we’re going to be putting out off the record. There’s more that’s going to be coming. We’re just excited to keep the [album] process moving. We understand that this started over a year ago, [and] then it got halted by changing directions with our producer. Now, it’s exciting that it’s moving as originally planned.