Meet the Band – Brooklyn Funk-Rock Crew the Skins Open Up in Exclusive Interview
Many young artists who hit the big time opt for the easy way out with pop music. After all, it’s an almost sure sell on the charts and at radio. But the Brooklyn-based band the Skins are defying the concept that teen musicians have to move into pop music or settle for living under the shadows of their idols to carve out a career these days.
Ranging in ages from 15 to 21, musical siblings Bayli (singer), Kaya (bassist) and Reef (drummer) McKeithan, along with guitarist pals Daisy Spencer and Russell Chell, are all graduates of the School of Rock, coming together following a series of jam sessions in 2012.
The Skins’ funk-soul-meets-rock hybrid might sound a little like a hot mess in theory, but the band makes it work with Spencer and Chell’s dueling guitars flipping over Kayla’s fluid finger-picking and Reef’s time-keeping intensity. Bringing it all together is Bayli, who seems capable of channeling a whole bunch of different singers, depending on the mood of the song. ‘Killer’ brings out a Karen O and Janelle Monae thing, while ‘Surf’ recalls a sweaty, tearing-it-up Tina Turner.
The young group was busy in 2013, playing fests like CMJ and SXSW, and touring with the Heavy. Signed to Wreckroom Records (the label owned by actor Adrian Grenier), the Skins have released a self-titled EP in 2012 and a single, ‘Dead Hands,’ last year. They are currently working on new material and have just wrapped a tour with Albert Hammond Jr. and Jake Bugg. We recently chatted with Spencer about the band’s bright future.
You guys all graduated from the School of Rock. Can you talk about your experience there?
It was a great learning and growing experience for all of us musically and just as people in general. There are real genuine music lovers at the school — both teachers and students. So it is a great place to find like-minded people and was great for us as a band because we all met there.
And how did you guys come together as a band?
I saw a video of Bayli, Kaya and Reef covering Wolfmother and the Rolling Stones, and wanted someone to jam with. I was really close with Bayli, so I just called her up and asked if I could come over with my guitar and jam. After jamming a few times, we wanted to beef up the sound more; so I was also hanging out with Russell a lot and invited him over to hang and jam just as I had in the beginning, and everyone hit it off immediately. It was love.
Where did the band name come from?
Bayli had been writing down band names forever — literally. Just things she thought sounded cool, she’d jot it down. We went through her whole journal for names and got it down from hundreds of names to 20, then 10, then three, and then the Skins came out on top. More specifically though, the Mckeithans and I have a lot of European blood in them, and a Skin means an attractive or hot person. So we liked the sound of that and stuck with it.
The Skins’ EP has been praised by critics. How do you feel about the reaction to it?
It seems like the critics had a lot of good things to say about it, which was really awesome because that EP was put out solely on our own. We got a Kickstarter campaign together to get the funds we needed and found Ben Rice who is an amazing engineer and producer. He spent a weekend with us busting out the tunes. So it’s really awesome to know it was received well!
Any chance we’ll be seeing a full-length album soon?
We’re working on another EP at the moment. Rick Rubin has been helping us develop our writing skills so that we can make the best music we can for when we’re ready to do our full length. But a full length will be coming after the EP!
That’s huge. What was it like working with him?
We are working with Rick Rubin and the experience has been nothing but amazing. He, just as Wreckroom does, only wants to help us grow and succeed, so he’s part of the family now.
Speaking of Wreckroom Records, which is Adrian Grenier’s label, what was that first meeting with him like? Did he give you guys any advice?
It was awesome! We all got together, hit it off, recorded the video for ‘Surf,’ and then wanted to keep working together. Isn’t that what anyone wants? It was great! Adrian gives us a lot of advice about things to expect and how to connect with our fans on social media, which is very useful in this stage of our career. Our manager, Adrian and all the people at Wreckroom are big advocates of keeping our minds in the right place. We just want to make awesome music for everyone, including ourselves, to enjoy.
New York has a reputation for giving way to tons of big acts. How was the city influenced you guys?
New York City is a crazy but amazing city. So it’s definitely influenced our style and what we wear as well as our personalities onstage.
You guys range in age from 15 to 21. Some could point you out as one of those cute young bands. What do you say to them?
It’s funny because this happens a lot. We usually just wait until they see us live because despite our age, we have a mature sound.
What’s the best thing that happened to the Skins in 2013?
Oh, man, so many things! The best thing was probably getting to work with Rick Rubin continuously. But we’ve also had amazing shows too! We played in Rennes, France, at the Trans Musicales festival to a sold out room in front of 2,000-plus people, so that was amazing too. 2013 was a great year for us, but just wait for 2014.
So what are your plans for 2014?
Getting more music out, playing bigger and better shows, and growing more professionally as musicians.