ABOVE: SKATERS. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHANE MCCAULEY
Indie punk-rock quartet SKATERS has made it pretty clear that they’re emblematic of New York (even though one of the members hails from London). The band—Michael Ian Cummings, Noah Rubin, Joshua Hubbard and Dan Burke—has taken all aspects of the downtown NYC scene and brought them together. The irony is, the band doesn’t skate—at least not since its members were kids.
SKATERS released their debut record Manhattan back in February, which was only the beginning of things for the trio. At their first show, the band tried to bring back the spirit of downtown NYC with a free hot dog truck (though it didn’t quite work out). SKATERS is driven by a DIY aesthetic—from a zine they created called Yonks in conjunction with their debut record to designing their 20 record covers. Essentially, SKATERS has tried to create their own musical and artistic community within the big, bad world of record labels.
“This Charming Man” is a song widely known as one of The Smiths’ greatest tracks, and SKATERS decided to cover it in a more danceable, grungier fashion. We also spoke with lead vocalist Michael Ian Cummings about New York City’s best hot dogs, The Smiths, and forming a band within 24 hours.
ILANA KAPLAN: Why did you guys decide to cover The Smiths and that song in particular?
MICHAEL IAN CUMMINGS: I don’t know. It was kind of in the back of our heads. We wanted to cover a British band. We did it for [London radio station] XFM. Usually when we go over there, we try to make it a song the Brits will like. That song kind of came together—then we did it. There was no thought process behind it—it was like, “Let’s just do it.”
KAPLAN: It’s nobody’s favorite Smiths song in the band?
CUMMINGS: [laughs] I’m sure it’s a lot of people’s favorite Smiths song, just no one specific in the band.
KAPLAN: I couldn’t make it to your album release show at Bowery Ballroom, but I heard you guys were supposed to have free hot dogs. Did that happen?
CUMMINGS: We didn’t. Our hot dog guy bailed on us at the last minute. Who knew that hot dog guys weren’t reliable?
KAPLAN: [laughs] Well, if you guys were in the city I wanted to do this interview at your favorite hot dog spot. Since we couldn’t, what is your favorite hot dog spot in NYC?
CUMMINGS: It’s gotta be Ray’s: Ray’s Dogs. You know Ray, on Avenue A? I don’t know if it’s the best hot dog, but it’s the coolest hot dog guy. He’s a super amazing dude. A lot of people know him. He’s kind of a staple around the neighborhood. He’s amazing. He’s there every night until 4 AM.
KAPLAN: How did SKATERS come together, and how has it been a reflection on your zine?
CUMMINGS: They’re two separate things, but they’re linked. When you start bands, you ask friends to contribute artwork, and people end up helping you out in a lot of different ways that you don’t really give people credit for. We recognized that when we started the band, and we wanted a way to show our friends off. We wanted different people from different scenes to come together through the band and have a different sense of community. We put out the zine, threw a party, and a lot of people met each other. It was fun. The band happened in a sort of haphazard, sporadic fashion.
KAPLAN: How so?
CUMMINGS: Well, Josh moved to New York and gave me 12 hours’ notice. I met him at a party in Los Angeles three months earlier. In the meantime, he had been back in London and I was in New York. He was like, “Hey I’m going to come to New York tomorrow.” He showed up the next day, and he wanted to start a band. He was like, “No, I’m here to start a band.” We didn’t know that. He kind of forced us into starting a band, and the next night, we booked our first two shows.
KAPLAN: Do you guys all live in New York right now?
CUMMINGS: Well, two of us are homeless. One of us lives in Brooklyn and one is in the East Village. The other two—me and Josh—are kind of nomadic.
KAPLAN: Well, you get to travel a lot.
KAPLAN: What was the most interesting song for you on your debut record?
CUMMINGS: I think the most interesting song for me is “Band Breaker,” because of the way the recording process went down. It was a real challenge. That’s usually the most interesting thing: seeing which songs seem to be easy going into and then they become a real pain in the ass. We tracked it about six times, just trying to get the right drums. We were trying to get the right vibe, so we kept going back to it. One night we snuck into this studio in Los Angeles that The Vaccines were using. We just hopped on the drums, tracked the songs to see how it sounded and got some amazing drum sounds. The whole thing fell together after that. It’s weird that sometimes that’s what makes something your favorite song: just how it was put together and knowing how it came together.
KAPLAN: Definitely. I feel like all of the artwork for SKATERS is really unique. Can you tell me a little bit about it conceptually?
CUMMINGS: It’s probably unique because we just do it all ourselves and don’t know a lot about it. We just kind of know what we like. We create a lot of stuff. When we made the record cover, we wanted to get someone to do it, but we didn’t end up getting someone. So, we just ended up going up to the Warner Bros. offices and made 20 record covers in two days. That’s kind of how everything is made for the band. It’s very DIY: we’ll either rip it off or make aspects of it our own. It could be a soap ad: it doesn’t have to be musically related.
KAPLAN: I really dig the DIY aspect of your music and artwork. Are you guys all “skaters?” Or is there a different meaning behind the name?
CUMMINGS: No, we’re not. We all skated when we were kids. That’s where the name came from. We just wanted to start a band that felt youthful. We just wanted to have the same casual feeling that you have when you’re a little punk, you roll out after school and wanna get stoned and skate. That’s how we felt about this band. It wasn’t our first band. We just wanted to start a band that felt youthful again. We were all in punk bands when we were kids. We’re just trying to get back to that feeling.
SKATERS WILL PLAY THE GOVERNOR’S BALL IN NEW YORK CITY ON JUNE 8. YOU CAN DOWNLOAD SKATERS’ COVER OF THE SMITHS’ “THIS CHARMING MAN” HERE.