Hold on to your hats, here come The Skins. An electrifying Brooklyn band with a kick-ass rock sound that is a fierce mélange of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin with the prog-rock of Frank Zappa biting through the booming vocals of it’s lead singer, Bayli McKeithan. Performing at the Fox Theatre, Oakland last week, Bayli channeled Amy Winehouse sass while rocking like Tina Turner on “Surf” and “Summertime”, but toned it down sweet for the bossa nova-style “Maybe”.
The Skins are currently the opening act on Jake Bugg’s sold-out headlining North American tour, which also features Strokes’ guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr. They introduced themselves to the Bay Area when the tour rolled into The Fox Theatre last Thurs, Jan 23. Their half-an-hour set was short but packed a punch. And in an interview backstage with The Examiner after the set, the band were still buzzing and eager to talk about how they got their grown-up sound.
“Growing up I listened to a lot of classic rock, R&B and hip hop, ” said Reef, 15 and the youngest in the group but plays the drums like a Black Sabbath virtuoso. The Skins are made up of three McKeithan siblings besides Bayli and Reef - there’s Kaya on bass, plus their friend, Daisy Spencer and her boyfriend, Russell Chell. On stage the couple make for likely dueling guitarists adding deep flavor bursts with their accomplished fretwork. Daisy also does some mean back-up vocals.
“I grew up listening to the classics like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. And around the time I met Russell I started really getting into prog rock like King Crimson and Frank Zappa. Then when I started to become really close with them (the McKeithans) they introduced me to all this new hip hop, I already knew some of the stuff but they really opened my eyes. I used to be like only classic rock, now I really love hip hop and even pop – well, some pop,” added Daisy who also loves indie rock.
They all went to Paul Green’s School of Rock in their early teens and Reef earlier, when he was 9. Yes the School of Rock made famous in the Jack Black 2003 movie. And to any one who has sent their kids to one of these now franchised schools will know, their bible are the rock staples of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen and David Bowie.
“School of Rock expanded what our parents had introduced to us, like really deep cuts of Frank Zappa. Just weird stuff that we never would even think to look into.” added Russell.
But The Skins are no throwback wanna-be teen cover band. They are here today as their schooling is only one aspect of their genius. They are magpies of different and sometimes complex musical genres, open to each other’s eclectic musical roots and receptive to experimentation in their jam sessions. Their ability to write their own songs through the filter of this rich bedrock of music history without watering down any of its influences give them a hybrid neo-rock sound which is theirs to own.
“I think we’ve all become a lot more open-minded in the last year or so since we’ve been a band. And writing new songs. We’re always sharing music with each other too,” added Bayli.
With any luck they are going to introduce a whole new generation to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, a generation that may otherwise only be fed on a diet of tepid-pop or on the other spectrum the unwarranted lewdness of Miley Cyrus. Gosh, they almost even turned me on to Kanye West. After I had heard their firecracker of a cover for “Mercy” I looked up the West original. The no-frills basement gig of this young bunch with a median age of 17, put the grow man’s hyper-posturing original to shame.
An internet search for ‘interviews with The Skins’ right now will bring up pages upon pages of the Brit Teen drama of the same name. But that may soon change as the young quintet has the legendary Rick Rubin at the helm of their first record; street artist, Shepard Fairey designing their t-shirts; and their own "Entourage" support in actor, Adrian Grenier who has signed them to his fledgling Wreckroom Label.
Taking time off from shooting the “Entourage” movie, Grenier was on hand to provide support to his young charges. In an interview backstage he explained how Wreckroom Records came to be. “I have a studio in Brooklyn and I had some extra studio time that I didn’t want to waste. I knew that a lot of bands would love to use the space and record their music.”
“I had no intention of taking it further. I thought great. Have a good life. Good luck. You’ll probably never make it. But don’t burden me with it. Then these kids came in and frankly, I just fell in love with them. They felt so familial. I was so enamored of them that I wanted to have them around all the time.”
So Grenier who himself has a folkish-pop band, The Honey Brothers signed them to his new label which has evolved into an incubator for young artistes with live music events, where these bands can showcase their talents.
He added: “The Skins are our primary focus and they have momentum right now. They’re disciplined and talented. Their ages are irrelevant. They’re doing their part and so I do mine. I am here to take the burden of logistics and politics, and to co-ordinate things so they can concentrate on what they need to do.”
When I asked if Grenier was more an actor or musician at heart, he replied: “I am a creative person and someone who isn’t happy unless I have the opportunity to express what’s inside. And right now it’s doing my part to support The Skins. Back when we were making our own films, it was never about who was in front of the camera. I would hold the boom, do the lights, climb a building to drop a prop in shot. I would do whatever my role was.”
And this is Grenier’s role for the moment.
The band members may be young but are not totally blindsided by Grenier's fame. When asked about his mentoring them, Reef who like Grenier plays the drums but with an edge beyond his years said; "Mentoring is a strong word." Added Daisy: "We're not easy-going. We will fight for the respect that we need in this industry. But Adrian has seen the nasty side of the business."
Said Kaya: “Even if he can’t make it to a show or something that we are doing, he will always make sure that we are introduced to the right people. He never lets us miss out on anything. I mean his career, his fans, his movies - he introduced us to them. ”
Bayli summed it up best when she said: “Ag is super generous and he is mentoring in a personal way. He's super intelligent and just inspiring to be around.”
Don't miss The Skins if they are playing in your town. They play tonight, Jan 29 at the House of Blues in Houston. Tomorrow, Jan 30 at The Civic Theatre in New Orleans. Fri, Jan 31 at the Minglewood Hall, Memphis. And Sat, Feb 1 at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville. For more information, please click here.
Pump Up the Speed
Kiss Me hard