by Bronwyn Bishop of Rock Edition
New York City’s SKATERS have only been together since 2012, but they’ve already obtained a huge amount of buzz. According to NME, they’re the band that can “finally bring guitars back into fashion.” LA Music Blog called them “devilishly enticing.” They’ve been compared to classic seventies punk bands like the Ramones and the New York Dolls. So who are the guys behind all this hype? The band is made up of lead singer Michael Ian Cummings, drummer Noah Rubin, guitarist Joshua Hubbard, and bassist Dan Burke. Even though none of them are New York natives, it was in the Big Apple that the guys began making music together. New York influenced them so much that their debut album Manhattan is in some ways an anti-love letter to the city. With found sounds such as the rush of a subway car and a cabdriver’s voice woven in with the music, Manhattan is a journey that takes the listener through some of New York’s darker aspects while remaining an honest portrayal of what life is like there.
We spoke with Cummings about the inspiration behind the album and some of the experiences they had recording it. Scroll down to find out what it was like recording at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, how they got the idea for the album’s striking cover art, and how Usher keeps his teeth so pearly white.
Rock Edition: I loved your video for “Miss Teen Massachusetts,” and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the process of making it and what inspired the concept.
Michael Ian Cummings: The guy that does all the SKATERS videos, Danilo Parra, came up with the concept for the video. Basically, Danilo does all the work and assembles a team and we just show up. We just run with his ideas, ’cause he’s just kind of a special dude. We wanted it to feel like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” you know — old, and we shot it on film and stuff. It was cool!
RE: Yeah, I really liked it. I liked the whole thing with the names of the different mental diseases; that was really interesting. So I guess what you’re saying is that it was basically his idea and you guys just went with it?
MIC: Yeah, exactly. And he made up our disorders after the fact, which was really funny because he just watched the way we were behaving and he knows us personally. He was just fucking with us.
RE: You have an upcoming album — that must be super exciting! Can you tell me a little bit about the recording process?
MIC: We recorded it at Electric Lady, which is Hendrix’s studio in New York. We recorded it with this guy John Hill, and he’s kind of a pop producer — he does a lot of hip hop, and pop, and rock. He’s kind of all over the place. So we ended up going with him because he wanted it to be very eclectic-sounding, and we want the sounds to feel very eclectic and modern but have some kind of classic rock energy to it. We recorded it all in a month, pretty much, in this tiny little studio at the top of Electric Lady called the API Room, which is this small, old storage space where the interns used to smoke weed and disappear there to go organize stuff, quote unquote, and then just get high in this room, and they turned it into a studio. It had all the right energy for us. [laughs]
RE: That must have been so cool to play at Electric Lady Studios — that’s a pretty legendary place. How did you get involved recording there?
MIC: The guy that owns it, one of the owners, is this dude Lee [Foster]. He used to come into the bar that I used to work at, so I knew Lee, and I knew a lot of bands that have recorded there. I’ve been to the studio a bunch of times, to help people load gear and stuff like that. Really, it was up to like four different places that we were gonna go, and then we decided to go to that one because the room just had the best energy. It had a lot of light, and we were recording in winter so we just didn’t want it to be too dark and depressing. We wanted to keep it upbeat and have a lot of light, so that’s pretty much the main reason we chose Electric Lady. And also, the vibe there is just kind of crazy. You’ll be walking down the hall, and then Yoko Ono walks by you, and Arcade Fire’s in the next room. Usher was outside our door for a week. He was in a studio in the same hallway, so he would do his vocal warmups right outside our door. Literally, he had a big security guard sitting right next to our door, so every time we went to the bathroom we’d walk past Usher and be like, “Sorry.” He was always flossing his teeth. He was flossing his teeth all the time. I think someone had to take a shit, and he was in the bathroom flossing his teeth, and we were like, “Fuckin’ Usher. Fuckin’ perfect teeth.”
RE: That’s so funny. So, I can tell that you’re clearly inspired by your hometown of New York City. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
MIC: I think it’s hard not to be inspired, because you live in this mecca of art and creativity, and everyone around you is an artist or a writer or a painter or a photographer. You’re just around creative people all the time, and they all have to live in the same confinement that the city gives them and to you and everyone else. So it has a very specific energy that I think translated into the synthesis of this band, because we all met in New York. It’s a place that you either fall in love with or you just can’t stand it.
RE: When I saw the cover art for your upcoming album Manhattan, I thought it was so striking. I’m wondering if there’s a story behind that.
MIC: What happened was, we were gonna hire someone to do the cover art and the label didn’t want to go for that dude. They were like, “Why don’t you just get on a plane tomorrow and come to the Warner Bros. office in Burbank?” So Josh and I got on a plane with six hours’ notice, played a show, loaded the gear, jumped on a plane and sat in the art department for two days and did like seventeen album covers. The hands were just super striking, and I really liked the idea that they were a woman’s hands, super manicured fancy hands. The record is called Manhattan, and I think there’s this theme; this rich kid theme in the record. People live in this illusion of New York, when it’s really super parent-funded and pretty hard to get by on your own, but everyone pretends like they live in ’70s New York still. That was kind of our little tongue-in-cheek joke behind that.
RE: That’s really interesting, because reading up on you guys, I’ve noticed that you’ve been compared to prominent punk bands who were in the ’70s New York punk scene, like the Ramones. I’m wondering how you feel about those comparisons.
MIC: I love those bands, so that’s a really flattering comparison. It’s so nice to hear that it’s something we actually enjoy listening to. There’s nothing worse than being compared to Barenaked Ladies or something.
RE: You guys have been together for a relatively short time and you’ve gotten a lot of buzz. How does it feel to have gotten so much buzz in such a short time?
MIC: It’s super exciting. I’ve been in other bands my whole life and we’ve never had this kind of energy behind us, so it’s really cool. You get really jaded doing the band thing for a while. You’re always working and playing in a band and you never think it’s gonna go anywhere, and then this project took off really quickly, so it was inspiring. It makes you want to work harder.