Steve Isaacs of Skycycle & The Panic Channel
It’s been a helluva couple of weeks, listeners. I’ve been fiercely reminded that we’re nothing more than “a virus with shoes.” Frustrating, to be sure, but that’s a story for another place and another time. Let’s discuss happier things, shall we?
After a great interview with Matt Mahaffey of sElf, I had the pleasure of interviewing ANOTHER great artist and super nice guy - Steve Isaacs.
There are many ways to describe Steve, but the first that pops into my head is nice - the guy is one chill and happy dude.
The second word that pops up is talented.
The third is creatively ambidextrous - ok, so that’s two words.
A friend of mine likes to say that people with good luck always seem to drop their toast where it lands butter side up.
Steve Isaacs is one of those guys.
He also seems just a little ahead of the curve, making prescience a theme throughout his career.
After finishing up at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, Steve became co-owner of a coffee shop - Mad Hatter's Espresso Bar. In the late 80s and early 90s, coffee shops as they are today weren’t a thing, at least on the east coast. Coffee to me was the blue cup from the corner bodega.
I never could’ve predicted I’d end up paying five dollars for a cup of coffee so large that it has an undertow.
But it was at Mad Hatter's where Isaacs honed his hosting chops as the ringleader of a weekly open mic nite. After moving his hosting chops to another place, he was discovered by an MTV talent scout. A few auditions later, he traded the sun, surf, and sand of Los Angeles for the dirt, grime, and grind of New York City.
For perspective, New York City hadn't been Guilianni’d yet, and MTV had VJs and an enormous influence on popular culture.
Like the coffee thing, Steve’s toast landed butter side up here, too. He landed this gig just at the moment that grunge was beginning to break.
If you’re a Gen-X male, then you remember seeing Steve on MTV in the early 90s. Like it or not, Steve was our avatar on MTV. Cool, musically savvy, and just as excited as we were as this new genre of music began to take hold of the world.
If you’re a Gen-X female, you probably had a crush on him. Let’s be candid; this is television, and you can’t exactly put someone like John Merrick on MTV to interview Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.
I don’t wanna give away too much here, but when his time was up on MTV, he went on to play the lead in the Broadway traveling show Tommy - after being hand-picked by Pete Townsend.
It should be noted that Steve had NO experience in musical theater.
While on the road with Tommy, to kill time, he bought a laptop computer and taught himself how to use graphic software - again, a bit of foresight here…and what would turn out to be an exceptionally wise decision.
Five hundred days later, he found himself in LA poking around, trying to get a band going. Luckily, he had a good side hustle in the rapidly growing computer graphic and internet scene.
The band Steve eventually got going was Skycycle - named after the ill-fated rocket that Evel Knievel (the Wily E. Coyote of stunt performers) tried to use to jump Snake River. The band eventually inked a deal with MCA Records and released their one full-length album Ones and Zeros.
Ones and Zeros is an actual abandoned album.
MCA had pressed up the CDs but decided to shelf it at the eleventh hour and put all their marketing muscle behind Tommy Lee’s epically idiotic Methods of Mayhem.
I’ve heard Skycycle’s Ones and Zeros, and I’ve heard the musical abortion that is Methods of Mayhem - I’ll simply say MCA made a horrible decision by throwing their weight behind Lee’s project.
After that, Isaacs formed The Panic Channel with 3/4 of mid-era Jane’s Addiction (which is to say, everyone except Perry Farrell) and released ONe on Capitol Records.
Ya know what, fukkit, you just gotta listen.
After a couple of hits and misses, Steve and I squeezed out a little time to connect and talk about his fantastic career.
It’s a great conversation with a great guy.
Abandoned Albums is available wherever you get your favorite podcasts… and below.
“The only music podcast that matters.”