28 year old Bradley James Skistimas is something of a rarity within today’s music scene. Over the last decade he has successfully peaked his way in and out of the limelight as an unsung (and unsigned) “Do It Yourself” indie hero. With his one-man pop/rock apseudonym, Five Times August, he has broken significant boundaries as an artist and garnered a plethora of unheard accomplishments for someone who’s never been signed to a label. Now a veteran in his own right Skistimas is bravely switching gears for a new side project in addition to FTA simply using his first and middle names, “Bradley James.”
The Five Times August project began in 2001 around the dawn of independent music’s online debut. Sites like MP3.com and CDBaby were still in their infancy and much of the industry began to shift as CD sales began to slide in lieu of illegal file sharing. With these changing tides technology was making it possible for an artist to make, sell, and promote their own music, and to boot, build their own fan base around the world. Skistimas, who was 18 at the time, began recording home demos and utilized the new websites to share his original music. The name “Five Times August” was used to promote his songs rather his actual name for fear “Skistimas” would be a confusing mouthful for some. The band title was derived from the songwriter’s birthday, August 5th.
By 2003, Five Times August was regularly playing shows around his home turf of Dallas, TX, but Skistimas was still a struggling artist looking for a break. During that time he took a job at CBS radio where he met Kelly Vandergriff. After attending a show, Kelly instantly found herself inspired to help the budding career and was soon enough acting as manager for FTA. This relationship would solidify as the nucleus inside ‘August’s’ success (additionally, the two would eventually marry in 2006).
The big break came at the end of 2004 when a music supervisor at MTV discovered the song “Better With You” via CDBaby.com and licensed it for use on the widely popular reality series Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. Almost overnight Five Times August became an Internet sensation to the high school and college demographic. After seeing the potential one song license could have, Skistimas and Vandergriff seized the chance to “run with it,” and secured more licenses for the second season of Laguna Beach and several other MTV programs. These original song placements eventually opened the door to increased opportunities making FTA one of the first acts to build a successful career from music licensing, something fairly common and ordinary in the industry now. To date, Skistimas’ songs have been featured in over 80 TV programs, commercials, and films.
Over the course of 2005 and 2006, Five Times August would grow from a buzzed about local in Dallas to a national touring headline act. During this period the dynamic artist/manager duo made the move to Austin, TX as a new home base. There they set up camp in an apartment together and experimented with a variety of online promotional efforts tailgating their successful licensing stent. Among these included a heavy Myspace.com campaign that kept FTA in the Top 10 Unsigned Artist Charts (Worldwide) for well over a year. This was at the height of Myspace’s industry relevance and would eventually lead to meeting with just about every major record label in 2007. Ultimately, the two decided to keep FTA an independent act while the corporate industry model was unstable. Simultaneously, just as they settled in Austin, Bradley and Kelly began their first self-booked national tour on the East Coast. This was to begin an almost non-stop six year tour schedule that lead to playing in every state of the U.S. except two, Alaska and Hawaii. Five Times August was voted one of the Top 5 college acts in America two years in a row (2007/08) by Campus Activities Magazine.
A huge accomplishment was achieved in 2007 with the release of “The Independent.” After an active two-year pursuit with the nation’s largest chain store, FTA was recognized as the first unsigned act in history to have an album nationally distributed through Walmart. This was followed by further distribution in Best Buy chains as well, a testament to the duo’s hard work and innovative “DIY” thinking.
2008 included a follow up album titled “Brighter Side” and tour dates supporting larger acts like Dashboard Confessional, Augustana, Matt Kearney, and Matt White. Press highlights included features in People Magazine, Billboard Magazine, Guitar Player Magazine, USA Today, and About.com’s “Artist in the Wings.” Additionally, FTA made it’s national TV debut on the CBS Early Show, and the FOX Business Network’s Nightly Scoreboard included Bradley on an industry discussion panel as “the expert” on how to make it in the industry without a record label. Others on the panel included KISS’ manager Doc Mcghee and Billboard Magazine editor Jonathan Cohen. Another notable TV appearance was an episode of the PBS series “Sun Studio Sessions” with a full half hour devotedly entirely to an in studio performance at Memphis’ legendary studio.
Bradley and Kelly relocated again in 2009. It was in Nashville, TN they held auditions to form a touring band to take on the road. Up to that point nearly all shows were done as a solo acoustic performance. It was also during their time in Nashville that Skistimas’ beat many other musicians to the punch by utilizing a then relatively unknown website called Kickstarter.com. Another first, Five Times August was the earliest project to successfully raise over $20,000. Though the site is almost a cliché in the indie artist world now, Skistimas was the first to take the chance on such a large amount and with fan help it was raised in just under a month. The funding helped release and promote the album “Life As A Song.”
In 2010 the husband and wife team made the most daring move of all. In an unbelievable statement to their dedication and dreams they sold most of their household belongings, put their home up for sale and made plans to spend the following two years exclusively on the road in a RV. The entire process was filmed for an episode of the HGTV cable series “My First Sale.” As fate would have it, the house was unable to sell within a bad economy and housing market, so it was rented as an alternative. This would benefit the couple a year later when they returned from the road to find out they had a baby on the way and a home ready and waiting for their new life as parents.
Comparatively, the last year has been a fairly quiet one for Five Times August as Skistimas readies his new work for the first Bradley James release. Inspired by classic artists of yesteryear, you’re likely to find his songwriting channeling hints of Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, or The Beatles. A Gretsch electric guitar will be the preferred choice over his former Guild and Taylor acoustic’s. 50’s & 60’s Jazz, Soul, Rhythm and Blues with modern pop hooks will take reign in his new sophisticated sound.
So why the change after all the devoted years and accomplishments of Five Times August? Skistimas answers, “I’ve learned so much over the years as a “DIY” artist, but I learned it in segments, one year to the next, one project to the next. I’m ready to apply all those different elements at one time, straight at the start with the music I’ve been writing lately.” Admitting further, “It’s been a rewarding thing, being in complete control of my career and it actually coming out a success. The problem is, when you literally “do it yourself” and do it ALL yourself, you don’t have time for anything else, not even the music.” Concluding, “The business has changed, my style and vision have changed, and I’m a dad now so it’s a whole new chapter in my life. I’m just ready to try out new things and it’s the perfect time.”
– Laurie Campbell