by Jeff Niesel
When SKATERS drummer Noah Rubin first met guitarist Josh Hubbard, he didn’t care for the guy. But singer Michael Ian Cummings convinced him that once he got to know him, he would like him. And he was right. Rubin, Cummings and bassist Dan Burke all gelled quickly after they formed the band in 2012 with Hubbard, who's British.
“I was having a conversation with [Josh] and asked him if he wanted to jam,” recalls Rubin, who brings SKATERS to the Grog Shop tonight. “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.”
Last year, the group issued the EP Schemers and then followed it up this year with Manhattan, a 11-song collection of tunes that suggest the band might be the biggest thing to come out of New York since the Strokes. Recently, the guys played seven shows over the course of the weekend-long South by Southwest festival. Clearly influenced by the melodic punk of the ’80s (think Mission of Burma and the Pixies), these guys aren’t afraid to temper their snarling guitars with soft vocals and tight melodies. They evoke the New Wave of yesteryear and channel Blondie’s spirit on “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How).” If it sounds like the band’s influences are from both sides of the Atlantic, that’s because they are.
“Yeah, definitely,” Rubin says. “Punk music is from New York. The punk implies that it’s from America and the British part implies that we take from their take on punk.”
And then, there’s “Band Breaker,” a terrific dub reggae tune that pays tribute to the Clash.
“We’re really into the Specials and the Clash,” says Rubin. “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.”
While the album’s title might imply it’s some kind of concept record, Rubin says that’s not entirely the case.
“It’s a concept record naturally because there’s a story behind it,” he says. “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. Everyone was like, Let’s call is Manhattan.’ We didn’t have to make it a concept album because all the songs were about experiences in Manhattan.”
The guys are coming to town at the tail end of a tour that started earlier this year on the West Coast. If things go according to plan, the group will be in high demand as the concert season heats up this summer.
“Everything is going pretty well,” Rubin says. “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 and 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.”