2013 saw Skaters rise from the ashes of Hull indie band The Paddingtons, and Boston’s alt-rock quartet Dead Trees, as both bands reached their natural conclusion. The New York based band had their own blend of melodically rich garage rock revivalism that soundtracked that Summer’s late night barbecues and haphazard teen romances. From the endearingly disjointed fuzz of Deadbolt, to the bright chimes of Schemers, Skaters had an arsenal of brilliance completely carried along by their simplicity and their youthful energy.
Fast forward a year and we’re in 2014; the NYC quartet are releasing their debut album Manhattan, on a major label. Their debut long-player was a gem, showing an increase in maturity that far surpassed the year that separated it and the early singles. Manhattan was the sound of a band growing up, a mixture of chugging Strokes pastiches with big choruses, and more subtle numbers like To Be Young with its charming electronic drum sound.
It’s been three whole years since their debut album, and this March finally sees its follow up, Rock and Roll Bye Bye. It’s a record that sees them springing back to life, after their major label dropped them. “Within Warner Brothers, the heads changed”, guitarist Josh Hubbard tells me, in a broad Yorkshire accent: “and all of a sudden you’re not on the label and you’ve got a whole world of shit to deal with”.
For most bands that had just put out a debut, being dropped could be the end, or at least a serious spanner in the works. Skaters aren’t like other bands though, and instead they burrowed away and poured any frustrations into their new album, which they’re self-releasing and self producing. It’s a much more mature affair: “I think the biggest influence on this record is ourselves” says Hubbard: “when we first got together we tried to make a record that reflected the energy we had when we all started out, but I think this record’s probably a bit more us.” Despite this, though, the energy’s still there in doses. Although he admits “this record sounds to me just a bit little more evolved” he quickly follows it up with “there’s still the energy there, we still want people to dance at our shows.”
“We finished a few songs and went ‘shit, that’s the best thing we’ve collectively ever written'”
The inwards looking nature of the band after their last few years, which have been eventful despite the lack of new music. “It’s been a while hasn’t it?” Hubbard says when I mention the band’s absence from the public eye. “We’ve toured quite a bit, and we’ve also had a baby”, before adding ”not collectively, the drummer had a baby”.
A quick glance at the album’s aesthetics, a quick skim on Spotify and this could seem like a break up album. Not only is the album actually called Rock and Roll Bye Bye, but higher production values, with near elegant electronic percussion and caustic vocal delivery, pave way for a more thoughtful sound, whilst meeting several lyrics about moving on and self-reflection. “And I can’t control your mind/As I cling to the things left behind” sings Michael Ian Cummings On In Your Head, the frontman sounding like he’s glancing over his shoulder one last time as the band power into the cosmic abyss.
That’s not the case, though; Rock and Roll Bye Bye isn’t a rocking, rolling goodbye from the New Yorkers. The album does definitely take a moment for reflection, but is one of transitions rather than once of ending. “The art direction is all a bit of a joke on breaking up, but the future’s always unwritten”, Hubbard explains: “most probably though, we’ll (follow up this album by getting) in the studio after this and get working on another record. There’ll be a lot less time in between releases; at the moment we’re pretty self sufficient.”
Whilst Cummings urges the listener “grow up… grow up to be like your mother/it’s the only way” during the slow burning intro to the album’s first song Just Like Your Mother. It’s met, however, with a blast of fuzzed-out garage rock guitars which hits halfway through, ensuring that the forlorn and inward looking parts are juxtaposed with turbo-charged guitar noise you can dance to.
There’s a notable transition from album number one to album number two; despite the fact all the members have been playing in bands for more than a dozen years each, there’s a big development in refined melodies and the band’s songwriting. “We finished a few songs and went ‘shit, that’s the best thing we’ve collectively ever written’”, says Hubbard of the album. “That happened and we agreed on it three times; Head On To Nowhere, Mental Case, and In Your Head. We all agreed on them three songs.” Certainly wiser for the tirades of the past few years, on Rock and Roll Bye Bye they’ve released a very mature album that, despite the ideas it tackles, is still more fun and more danceable than its predecessor.