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Posted March 31, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Noah Rubin talks about the Skaters’ Manhattan project

Skaters, photo by ShaneMcCauley
Skaters, photo by ShaneMcCauley

You know a band is up-and-coming when it performs at South by Southwest, the annual record label showcase that takes place in Austin every spring. Skaters didn’t play just once. The guys played seven shows over the course of the weekend. Clearly influenced by the melodic punk of the ’80s (think Mission of Burma or the Pixies), these guys sound a bit like The Strokes. They aren’t afraid to temper their snarling guitars with soft vocals and tight melodies. On their new album, Manhattan, they even evoke the New Wave of yesteryear and channel Blondie’s spirit on “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How).” Drummer Noah Rubin spoke to us via phone from a Denver tour stop.

You played seven different shows at SXSW. What was that experience like?
We did seven shows and a couple of videotaped acoustic performances. It was really busy. It went by really fast.

You initially met Michael Ian Cummings in L.A. and played with him there. What was that experience like?
We have played music together since we were kids. Our first band was a punk band when we were 15 years old. That was our first time playing together. We went off and did a lot of different projects. When we were in L.A., we wanted to go to New York and start a punk band there. That was the idea, to go to New York and do a band like we had when we were 15 years old.

What drew you guys to each other in the first place?
We grew up in a suburb outside of Boston called Newton. It’s predominantly Jewish, doctors and lawyers type of place.  The town we grew up in was a very academic- and sports-heavy town. There were few outcasts and musician-type people. Me and Mike were both bad at school and bad at sports. I don’t think it was avoidable.

And then you met up with guitarist Josh Hubbard in New York to play a few shows. What were your first impressions of Josh?
Mike met Josh about six months before the band started in L.A.  We were friends with [singer-songwriter] Adam Green and we were playing in his backup band at the time. Josh had co-written songs with Adam. Mike and Josh met at a party and they both are really high energy and gregarious types. They hit it off immediately. Mike mentioned the kind of band he wanted to start. I didn’t know this, but Mike and Josh had sent demos back and forth. Me and Michael moved to New York and were bartending. We had written some songs but we were jaded by that point. We had been turned down so many times, we felt there was no hope for us. Josh showed up at my 25th birthday party. He called the day before and told Mike that he getting on a plane that night. I was having a conversation with him that night and asked him if he wanted to jam that. He said, “Maybe. I came here to start a fucking rock ’n’ roll band.” It turned me off because I didn’t know we were starting a band together. I didn’t like him. I thought he was too forward. Mike said, “Trust me. This guy’s cool.” The next day, we booked three shows for the following three weeks. We learned the five songs we knew. We covered five Pixies songs. We sold out all three shows so the band was off and running.

What do you guys like about the Pixies?
I think they’re the perfect combination of everything in one. Kind of in the same way as the Clash were. They have a great melodic sense. Sonically, they’re ambitious. Arrangement-wise, they were able to go from atonal, no structure, to perfectly structured songs. Every song is like a little lesson in adventurousness. You could say the exact same thing about the Clash too.

You put out an EP last year and then followed it up this year with Manhattan. Talk about the two processes.
They were exactly the same. We took the exact same steps except that when we made the record, we made it with a nicer board, I guess, which is interesting. I remember saying to the producer half way through the recording that it sounded over compressed. I thought it sounded like a pop record. But he said they hadn’t put any compression on it yet. For us — not to toot our own horn — you would have to limit us. We don’t go into a nice studio and then fuck with everything.

Do you think the album sounds like it was recorded in New York?
I don’t know what means. I hear bands from Ohio that sound like New York bands and band from New York sound like L.A. bands and then every L.A. band sounds like they’re from somewhere else. We tried to inject some city noise into it to remind you that there’s where it’s supposed to take place.

It’s meant to sound like New York, but being from a suburb of Boston and moving to so many places, it would be impossible for us to sound like the Ramones.  

It’s not really a concept album.
It’s a concept record naturally because there’s a story behind it. It’s not an intended concept record. When we came up with name Manhattan, it was for lack of a better title. We were way behind on coming up with a title. I think I said something like, “There’s that dude from Illinois who called his record Illinois.” Our story is Manhattan. We didn’t have to make it a concept album because all the songs were about experiences in Manhattan.

“Band Breaker” is my favorite song. What inspired it?
We’re really into The Specials and the Clash. We didn’t want any confusion as to who we were being inspired by. Bands try to be something so new that no one can place their sound, but we’re the opposite. Mike is writing about a girl getting in the way. It could have been my girlfriend at the time or another girlfriend of someone in another band. I don’t know who he was talking about. He was having trouble writing. Someone told him to smoke a fat joint and then write a song. That’s what he did. We’re huge reggae fans. It would be dishonest to try to hide that.

What kind of aspirations do you have for the album?
Everything is going pretty well. The band sounds really good live and that’s the most important thing. Every show has been a real success. The band is playing well together and I’m a little OCD about that stuff. We want to stretch our live show out and do more covers and more jams and then write when we’re in the van and have new material constantly coming out.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

3/18

3/19

3/20

3/21

3/22

3/25

3/26

3/27

3/28

3/29

3/31

4/01

4/02

4/03

4/04

Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room

Los Angeles, CA – Satellite

San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill

Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios

Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern

Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge

Kansas City, MO – Czar Bar

Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry

Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge

Columbus, OH – CD101 Show

Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop

Cincinnati, OH – Revival Room

Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar

Washington, DC – Rock and Roll

Philadelphia, PA – Boot & Saddle


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.