When you were 15, were you anticipating getting your license or rocking out on stage during a nationwide tour? For Brooklyn rock band the Skins, the latter was definitely a higher priority. With ages ranging from 15 to 21, don’t let their youth fool you into thinking the Skins are lacking in chops. These five young musicians merge rock, funk, hip-hop, jazz and soul into a tidal wave of sound that makes you want to both shake your hips to the groovy beats and head bang to the raw, forceful energy they present. Heading that wave is the group’s lead singer, Bayli Mckeithan, who spoke to The Daily Californian before their Jan. 23 show at the Fox Theater in Oakland with Albert Hammond Jr. and Jake Bugg.
Though the group’s rock and hip-hop influence stems from the records their parents used to play, Mckeithan discovered her love of jazz from her grandparents. “My favorite male singer ever is Nat King Cole,” Mckeithan said. “When I was in middle school, I discovered people like Nat, Ella Fitzgerald and the Rat Pack from my grandparents, and I really wanted to sing like that.”
With a voice that has been compared to the love child of Jimmy Page and Aretha Franklin, Mckeithan certainly has learned to hone and refine her instrument — as have the rest of her bandmates. Her siblings Reef and Kaya Mckeithan create dynamic, powerful rhythms on drums and bass, respectively, while guitarists Daisy Spencer and Russell Chell tango with six strings as they shred back and forth between funky progressions and grisly solos.
While these sounds aren’t contained on a full-length album yet, their upcoming debut, Show Me Some Skins, is set for release later this year, according to Mckeithan. The band has released the single, “Dead Hands,” swimming in swarthy bass lines, thick, heavy chords, and muted guitar riffs. The band has also released two EPs, with funky yet screeching guitars on “Killer” and spiraling progressions and drums on “Going Down.”
Though the band displays maturity in terms of their skill, they also are able to channel their youth through their music as well. “Our sound is mature,” Mckeithan said. “But the energy is very fun and carefree. Most of our songs have lyrics about our life experiences, self-expression, self-love, the city and stuff like that.”
The band’s high level of musicianship often tricks people into thinking they are older than they actually are, though age has never proven to be a barrier to the band.
“It’s usually never a thing,” Mckeithan said. “We tell them our age the first day and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, what the fuck?’ Then after that they just forget. It’s not something they seem to think about.” The band has toured with musicians of varying ages, from their current stint with 19-year-old Jake Bugg to their past tour with The Heavy, a band whose members are all in their 30s. Although Mckeithan said that their age hasn’t hindered them, she did mention that it poses problems in the United States, because they can’t all go to venues or bars together after the show like they could in Europe and Canada.
In addition to touring the world, the band also got the opportunity to work with legendary producer Rick Rubin, who has been working with them on their upcoming record. Mckeithan and the band got the chance to record in Shangri La Studio with Rubin, an experience that the Mckeithan never imagined would happen. “We thought it was going to be the scariest audition we’ve ever done,” Mckeithan recounted. “But after meeting him, you feel calm and centered, and you don’t feel the nerves that you anticipated, which was amazing. That day he invited Frank Ocean to come in and watch our session, so we turned around and all the sudden Frank Ocean was in the board room, and we freaked out (laughs).”
With young musicians such as Bugg, Lorde and Disclosure blowing up in popularity, there’s no question that the Skins are coming up at a time when youth are taking over music other than the pop charts. The band has been able to distinguish themselves from the ocean of young acts and will hopefully ride out their wave for as long as they can.
Ian Birnam covers music. Contact him at [email protected].