New Music to Know: SKATERS Find Inspiration in New York City and Its Pizza
By Shannon Carlin
The members of SKATERS may hail from Boston, Los Angeles and London, but they have a lot of opinions about New York pizza. So many in fact that the guys (who all have matching pizza slice tattoos) recently decided to travel to four of the five boroughs to figure out which pizza joint is officially the city’s best. After the pizza crawl was all said and done and many, many slices had been eaten in the name of the cause, the guys agreed (some members more begrudgingly than others) that the winner was Di Fara’s in the Midwood section of Brooklyn for its fresh take on the classic slice.
“The guy who makes the pizza is 90 years old and the style is just unique,” singer Michael Ian Cummings told Radio.com over the phone a few days later. ”He grows his own basil, cuts it up and puts it on the pizza. He uses two different kinds of cheese. It’s very oily, and I’m not into oily, but it’s amazing. It’s top notch. It’s just so classic.”
The same can be said of SKATERS, who are putting their own twist on New York City’s rock and roll standard. Barring all the grease, of course.
They were so loyal to the post punk Bowery sound that after releasing their first song “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How)” in 2012, NME christened them the “version of the Strokes which we all wish the Strokes were.” And this is coming from a publication that named the Strokes’ 2001 debut, Is This It, No. 1 on their list of Best Albums of the Decade.
But six months ago, when SKATERS played Lollapalooza–a festival they played on the merits of that same one song–they jokingly dismissed the comparison. “I love the Strokes, but f*** the Strokes,” Cummings said. “I mean, they’re my best friends, but f*** ‘em.”
Of course, that expletive-filled comment could have been all the booze talking. During that sit-down in Chicago, the guys rather drunkenly claimed that they were developing a new game that would mix Candy Crush and chess and that their debut, Manhattan (out now) would draw comparisons to Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Hall & Oates. They actually predicted people would be calling their sound “Hall and Oates meets Alice in Chains.” Which people are definitely not.
But it would be unfair to cite SKATERS as a cheap knockoff of Julian Casablancas and co. even if there are similarities: the I-don’t-care attitude, drunken warbling, wearing sunglasses at night, to name just a few. Cummings claims most of these similarities though have more to do with living in New York City than having a particular sound. ”Whatever you do has an immediate consequence in New York,” Cummings said. “Everything that this band has done is super word of mouth and it kind of developed its own thing.”
SKATERS started on a whim when guitarist Joshua Hubbard moved to New York from London after hitting things off with Cummings and drummer Noah Rubin at a party in L.A. “We thought we’d jam a little and [Hubbard] was basically like, ‘I didn’t come here to jam, I came here to start a band,’” Cummings said.
The immediacy freaked Cummings out a little, but by the next day they had recruited Dan Burke to play bass and booked three shows without any songs. Their first gig was a friend’s birthday party at the Woolworth Building, better known as the Wooly, where they played seven songs, two covers and five originals including the song “Schemers” which made their debut. They’ve been SKATERS ever since.
“Honestly when you start playing shows when you’re 16 and you never finished college and you never developed any skill set, what else are you gonna do?” Cummings said. “I formed a band because we weren’t going to do anything else.”
That being said, Cummings and the guy weren’t exactly prepared for what would come after “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How)” became a viral hit. “It was really f***ing weird that people liked it,” Cummings said laughing. “I kind of had that song kicking around for a while. I hadn’t written most of it, just the chorus lyrics. I knew the words were good enough, wouldn’t need much so I thought, ‘I’m just going to put it to the Ramones chords and just see what happens.’”
What happened was it caught the ear of Warner Bros. and they immediately signed the band, leading them to play the song over and over and over again, whether they wanted to or not. ”I’m really tired of it, I can’t lie, I’m very tired of playing that song,” Cummings said. “But I think it’s a good song, you just get tired.”
Luckily, the band now has ten other songs to play. All of which were written in New York City about New York City. But it’s not a concept album. Instead it’s a portrait of the guys’ experiences, complete with sounds of the city that range from subway announcements, taxi cab confessions and bar chatter. The latter of which the band is used to hearing, being that they pay the rent tending bar.
“When you get into it lyrically, it’s a really tongue and cheek record,” Cummings said. “I think in a way I’m trying to poke fun at the idea that you know, what people think are quintessential New York things are very far from modern day New York and the reality of it.”
Cummings wrote the song “Deadbolt” about a shooting he saw outside the studio where they were recording. While “Miss Teen Massachusetts” was about a missed connection that may or may not have something to do with stalking. “No I’m not a stalker, I didn’t’ stalk anyone,” Cummings explains. “That song is about generality, it’s a metaphor for when you want something that you can’t have and it’s too late and you can’t get it anymore.”
But his favorite song on Manhattan is the reggae-tinged “BandBreaker,” which could have been created in New York City or some basement in Ohio. ”I was smoking a lot of pot at this time,” he explained. “And I just stayed home and got really stoned and I was just listening to reggae records. I just wanted to see if I could create that beat, a reggae beat. I was done in a few hours.”
It’s safe to assume that pizza was also a major part of the equation that night.