Hell Yeah, Hopscotch: The Musical Mission of PJ Sykes

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You would be hard pressed to find a harder working music lover than Richmond-based photographer PJ Sykes. The man is a non-stop machine snapping killer shots of stage action for the likes of SPIN and Time, playing in his band Hoax Hunters, organizing shows and feverishly doing anything and everything in the name of all that is righteous music. This year, he’s bringing his mission to Hopscotch. We caught up with him a few days before he headed down to Raleigh to get the lowdown on it all and sanity check him for good measure.

Donkey Jaw: Next to Grayson Currin, you might be the busiest man at Hopscotch (or one of them anyway). Shooting for SPIN, playing at day party with Hoax Hunters (which your label Cherub Records is co-hosting), and taking part in the Sound in Mind art show. Seriously PJ, how are you going to balance all of this?

PJ Sykes: I’m very grateful to be doing so much this year. Most of the work for Sound In Mind and Let Feedback Ring (day party)was done in advance, so that is helpful. Other than a few hours on Saturday afternoon I’ll be free to roam the fest and photograph for SPIN. Plus, I can’t sit still. I like to be busy!

My understanding is you approached Legend about hosting a day party. They’ve never done this before. How’d you convince them to partake?

The other co-hosts (Chris Defusco, Corbie Hill, Jordan Reyes, and Jon Whitney) all live in NC and met with the venue. Legends is excited to be apart of the fest and has been super great to work with. We couldn’t be happier with the how it has worked out so far.

For the art show, you chose Vic Chesnutt. You mentioned in a recent email update, you knew immediately you would choose him. Why?

Vic Chesnutt had a deep and lasting impact on me after seeing him live twice in 2009. He passed away less than two months after I photographed him and the news of his death really hit home. I didn’t know what to do to ease the pain, so I wrote the people who allowed me to photograph the shows. I offered my work as a donation to his memory and to my surprise it really seemed to help. People close to him used my photos several times to help pay tribute. I’m still in awe of the power of that process. Vic inspired me – I took some photos – the photos helped others by paying tribute. It has taken close to four years to really talk publicly about these events. When I was approached by Hopscotch for the Sound In Mind show it just seemed like a perfect way to talk about it and hopefully spread the inspiration farther. I collaborated with encaustic artist Susan Skrzycki who has interpreted Vic through my story. I can’t wait to see what she has come up with!

Hoax Hunters are going to be recording and hopefully releasing a full length in 2014. What can you tell us about it?

There will be some announcements about the Hoax Hunters album shortly after Hopscotch. Right now the plan is to have a digital single out this fall and a full length out early 2014. Other than that all I can tell you is we are working with the amazing Allen Bergendahl again.

Who are you most looking forward to shooting this year at Hopscotch and why?

That is a tough one… As far as my standard sweaty rockin live b/w stuff goes, Pissed Jeans. I have been looking forward to seeing them play live for a few years. I’m also looking forward to shooting lots of Instax portraits for a series I’m working on. I’m hoping more unexpected opportunities pop up again this year. Last year I was meeting up with Cities Aviv and he happened to be getting his hair cut. It’s one of my favorites.

Fill in the blanks. My best advice to Hopscotch newbies is to ______________ and not do too much ______________. Oh, and don’t miss this band, _________________!

My best advice to Hopscotch newbies is don’t stick to a ridged schedule, allow yourself time to explore different types of music and don’t drink so much that you pass out. Oh, and don’t miss this band, Mount Moriah!

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