It’s hard to ignore a band passing out fliers saying “It’s rock music. Don’t be a pussy. Have fun. Rock out.” That is exactly the attention grabbers Skywind used when they started their musical journey. It is a statement that still rings true today.
Started in 1997, Skywind started with singer/guitar player Wally Niemiec, bassist Steven McClurg, and drummer Richard Zasada. The three had been playing together since 9th grade. After playing their first handful of gigs with no real name to speak of, and their first major show coming up, they decided it would be necessary. Jake McKeague, Skywind’s guitar player at the time, made a comment about the horrible weather. Sky Wind (which would ultimately become Skywind) was born. After working with multiple female lead singers, there was a chemistry that never really felt right. Niemiec, though he wanted to play guitar and write, took over as the band’s solo lead singer.
Capitalizing on playing periodic shows to not over-saturate the market and build their fan base, Skywind continued their upward momentum. Skywind was able to secure their first mainline at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis . Through connections they had made with other notable Minnesota bands at the time (most notably Medium), brought a huge crowd which included now-former governor Jesse Ventura and a few of his Hollywood friends. The manager of the Fine Line at the time was blown away, even asking Niemiec “who the fuck are you guys?”
Due to their upward climb, the band decided to go out on the road. Knowing it would not be about the money, they started in Seattle and worked the West Coast. At one point money became so tight that Niemiec went out to Venice Beach early in the morning and would play his guitar with the case open to make money to get them home.
By the time they got home to Minneapolis, the music scene had changed. Bands like Limp Bizkit and KoRn were on their way out and bands like American Head Charge (another Minneapolis native) and Taproot were becoming popular. During this time, Skywind was able to book a show at The Quest Nightclub in Minneapolis. After paying the $5,000 in room rental and promotion, they were able to draw in an amazing 1200 people.
During this time, Skywind’s street team was born. Seventy-five of Skywind’s most dedicated fans took to helping them bring up the band. At one point they would pack 100+ people in a room just to watch them practice. Like 30 Seconds To Mar’s Echelon, their street team “created unity…something special,” Niemiec fondly remembers.
Selling records was never the number one goal. “Showing integrity is very important,” Niemiec says. While the music and lyrics are serious, having fun is the goal. “We’re just five guys who went to high school together. there are no stars…we just have fun.”
However, by this time, the record labels had started calling. Atlantic flew the band to Los Angeles and slid Niemiec a check across the table. However, Rick Rubin sensing internal issues within the band, decided to pass.
After returning from their Los Angeles showcase, Skywind played the 93XFest in 2002 with Incubus as the headliner. Over 15,000 people were there to see their performance. Skywind went on to play 93XFest again the following year with Seether as the headliner.
Music chains were behind Skywind as well. Stores like Best Buy, Sam Goody, and other big chains of the day started carrying Skywind’s albums. More than 20,000 copies were sold, pushed by Skywind themselves with no label backing them.
However, the inner turmoil Rubin sensed, eventually forced Zasada out of the band. Skywind ceased to exist shortly after, and Crash Anthem was born from the ashes in 2004.
Fast forward to 2011. A benefit concert set up for Niemiec’s daughter, who was going through very serious medical issues at the time, saw the reunion of Skywind. At the time it was believed to be a one-time performance but the door was left open.
March of this year, that door opened again. Skywind dropped major hints of something major happening. April 23rd Niemiec announced on their Facebook page “New music coming soon! Yes, I said it!” Over the course of the next five months Skywind has teased their fans with new music and snippets of what would be on the upcoming album along with classic tracks.
September 27th will be the highly anticipated record release of “Sleeping Giants” at the Doghouse (formerly The Rock) in Maplewood. Supported by fellow rockers Arrows At Dawn and Fifth Hour, it promises to be an amazing show.
Skywind today is all about having fun. They are “five completely different people with a special bond,” Niemiec comments. He continues, collectively they are “unique…special” due to their different musical influences coming together.
“It’s rock music. We’re fucking awesome. Come out.”
For more information about Skywind please visit their websites: