INTERVIEW: Skaters on their debut album and NYC

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Skaters have had a hell of a year. The New York City-based foursome—comprised of singer/songwriter Michael Ian Cummings, drummer Noah Rubin, guitarist Josh Hubbard, and bassist Dan Burke—got together in early 2012 and immediately started booking shows, even before they had officially practiced together as a band. Wasting absolutely no time, they soon had enough songs to release their first EP, “Schemers.”

“That was all done by ourselves,” says Cummings. “Then we decided, fuck it, we’re just going to put it out for free. Because nobody knows who we are and we aren’t going to charge our friends for something we made at home. We had no reason to do anything besides get peoples’ attentions.” And that they certainly did. The “Schemers” EP reached well over 10,000 downloads before the band took it down and signed with Warner Bros. Records for their first full-length album. Since then, the Manhattanites have amassed a huge fan following, who are now patiently awaiting the release of the band’s debut record, titled, of course, Manhattan. The album is due out Feb. 24th (and currently available for pre-order), but we thought we’d catch up with Michael in the meantime to talk about New York City and Skaters’ plans for the future.

AF: So you guys used to do a lot of covers when you first started playing shows; what’s you favorite cover to play?

MIC: There’s this song by the Pixies called “Allison” and I really love that song. I think that’s a special song for me, especially since it’s only a minute and a half long. It just sounds like it has every part that you need in a song. I think it’s a pretty perfectly written pop song.

AF: And the Pixies just came out with some new stuff, how did you feel about that?

MIC: I’m not so sure about that stuff…The Pixies without Kim Deal is not the Pixies to me. I mean obviously Frank Black is amazing and all but…it’s a weird vibe, you know. I like watching Joey Santiago though, he’s a funny dude. But yeah it’s not the Pixies, really, is it?

AF: I saw on your Twitter that you guys did a pizza crawl last week which seemed pretty successful.

MIC: Yeah we hit five spots up, we were trying to get six but there was too much traffic so we only got five in. But it was enough pizza, I had six slices of pizza or something. A lot of fucking pizza.

AF: Well, being that your upcoming album is sort of an homage to NYC, what’s your favorite spot in the city?

MIC: I like going to touristy spots in New York by myself. It’s a funny departure from where I usually hang out, in East Village, but I just enjoy going to the Empire State or museums, like checking out stuff at the MOMA or PS1. Those are the kinds of things that make you feel like you’re taking advantage of the city. It’s kind of like a romantic New York feeling. Sometimes you just decide to not work for the day and just go look at art, and it’s just a fun thing.

AF: Yeah doing museums alone is definitely a great experience.

MIC: Yeah because you can really figure out what you connect with, too, which is super different than when you’re with people and you’re trying to hold a conversation, but you don’t even care. Like, who cares? Sometimes you don’t want to hear what something means to someone else, you just want to like what you like. My friend Fab told me the best thing you could do to get into art is to go into a museum for ten minutes. Go in there for ten minutes and find one thing that you really love, and then leave. You don’t have to over-intellectualize it. Your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.

AF: So do you feel like it’s sort of the same with music, for someone who’s trying to get into a new band or genre?

MIC: Totally, I think it’s the same thing with listening to records or reading a book. Like a great book, you’ll read cover to cover, or a great record you’ll listen to it all the way through, but if it’s not clicking, just fucking turn it off, find something else. That’s what it’s there for, so you can experience it however you want. I think that’s the cool thing about music these days, you can just experience so much of it whenever you want and often you get lost in, like, little Spotify playlist holes. Just clicking on related artists, you know what I mean? That shit’s fun for me, I like that.

AF: For your album, do you feel like you want people to sit down and listen to it the whole way through?

MIC: I think our record makes sense listening to it all the way through. It’s not very long. That’s kind of why we made it short, you know, it’s like 33 minutes long or something. For a debut record, I feel like that’s super important, if you can keep people on the hook and not clicking off. Hopefully they listen to it all the way through and that’s great. But if people just connect to one song, that’s just as good for me. It doesn’t bother me at all.

AF: One of my favorite songs off the record is “Fear of the Knife,” with its kind of reggae sound. What’s your favorite?

MIC: I’d agree that that vibe is one of my favorite vibes. I think “Bandbreaker” is my favorite song off the record. I think it just kind of makes you happy, in a really non-cheesy way. I like it, it’s got a good energy. Kind of like a gritty white boy ska without going into “Santeria” territory.

AF: Actually, speaking of “Fear of the Knife,” where did the inspiration for those lyrics come from?

MIC: Oh yeah, I had a weird stomach problem and I couldn’t eat anything. Everything I ate just hurt my stomach to the point where I was like curled over. So I went to see doctors and shit and I was kind of freaked out. And then they thought that they were going to have to operate and take something out and I’ve never had that happen. And I didn’t have health insurance and that freaked me out even more. So that song was just about my fear of the operating table.

AF: What ended up happening?? Are you okay now??

MIC: Yeah I’m okay now, it was a very weird thing.

AF: Okay so what’s the writing process for you guys, is it lyrics first or music first?

MIC: It’s kind of different every time. You don’t really want to do something the same way every time or else things always sound the same, or at least I feel that way. So sometimes you’ll have a lyric first that you know you want to write into a song because you think the lyric’s good enough. That’s what we did with “I Wanna Dance” with the lyrics “I wanna dance but I don’t know how.” I had that in my head, I was like, What a good sentiment, that you want to belong to something. It was a good metaphor for just wanting to be part of something that you couldn’t be a part of or didn’t know how to be a part of and just feeling left out. And then sometimes you write just a riff, like with “This Much I Care,” and that becomes the backbone of the whole song and everything falls into place after that. So you know, as long as you keep an open mind about having no rules, then you’re cool.

AF: So does it help having your bandmates to sort of bounce ideas off of?

MIC: Yeah, especially Noah. Noah knows me so well that he knows when I’m phoning it in…when there’s something subpar, he’ll call me out on that. And Josh and Dan are really good because they’re the most honest music listeners. When they hear something, they respond to it in a really immediate and passionate way. So you just get the best, most honest read.

AF: Where do you guys see yourselves going from here, musically?

MIC: I think the tracks that you were talking about like “Fear of the Knife” and “Bandbreaker,” I think those are indicative of what I want to do more of and what we want to kind of push the band towards. Keeping the same edge to the songs but not being afraid to make really sparse music and melody-driven songs. I think those are the ones that people respond to the most.

AF: So for this record, you guys went into Electric Lady Studios, but I know you recorded the “Schemers” EP at home…How was that transition?

MIC: Honestly, I was nervous before we [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][recorded the album] because I’d never spent that much money on a studio before and I’d never had a studio for a month on lockdown, like living out of a studio. I’d never done that before. I’ve always made stuff at home and sometimes you get the best results out of [doing it that way]. So I was kind of nervous about being there, about making a product that was going to sound sterile. And you kind of go into that place and you see all the records on the wall, bands that you’ve grown up listening to, and you feel this kind of self-imposed pressure to create something as good as that. You just have to put that aside and try to focus on what you’re doing and believe in it, and believe that you’re in the same situation that those bands were in when they walked in there. And ultimately we picked a really good producer. He’s very modern and has great taste, very similar influences as us. His name is John Hill. So we ended up coming out with something that we’re all really happy with, and now I’m not intimidated by big studios anymore.

AF: What is your favorite part of the album cycle—between writing, recording, touring, promoting…

MIC: I like the writing and recording, I think that’s the most fun because it’s the most creative. I think touring isn’t the most creative but it can be fun in a completely different way. Not in that fulfilling, healthy way, but just in a pure fun kind of way. Touring is obviously different than what you normally do. You meet a lot of people, see a lot of stuff, so that’s always fun, but you never come out of a tour feeling creatively fulfilled. There’s always a little bit of a void there.

AF: I saw that you guys mentioned that your goal was to sell out the Bowery Ballroom, which you’ve already done, so what’s the next goal for you?

MIC: Man, that was it. I never made another goal. Now I’m just along for the ride I guess. I’d like to sell it out again on February 24th, that would be very nice.

AF: What are you most excited about for this coming year?

MIC: We’re going on a UK tour with Drowners and I think that’ll be really fun because we’re all really close with those guys. Matt [Hitt] used to play guitar in our band and we’re just good friends with them, so it’s going to be a really exciting tour for us. And then obviously we have to come back and do SXSW and do our own headlining tour and that should be pretty interesting, too. We’ve never really played outside of New York besides Lollapalooza and a couple of shows in Boston, so I don’t know if there’s people out there that want to hear it on the West Coast but I hope so. We’ll see.

AF: You guys are also playing Governor’s Ball, are you excited about that?

MIC: Yeah Governor’s Ball is gonna be awesome. I saw the lineup and it’s pretty insane. I want to see Outkast, The Strokes…Drowners are playing. There’s a lot of bands.

AF: How would you describe the New York City scene for up and coming bands?

MIC: We kind of kept our heads down from the get go, just trying to take little steps. It definitely takes a lot of hard work in New York but if you’re motivated and you make your own world around your band, then you can do stuff. I don’t think there’s any golden ticket or anything, some bands think there’s going to be a golden ticket. We came from the school of thought where you create that golden ticket. You have to do the fucking work and make things special and make yourself stand out in some way, and that’s when people will notice.

AF: Would that be your advice for new bands trying to make it big in New York?

MIC: Yeah, just work harder than anyone else. I think that’s the advice for anyone. If you just don’t stop working on something, give it all your attention, you’re going to go somewhere with it.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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