ABOVE: NICK TURCO (LEFT) AND GRACE HALL (RIGHT). PHOTO COURTESY OF LOGAN WHITE.
Even with a grindhouse horror movie name, the sound that emerges from Skin Town is un-campy, sexy, and glamorous. Formed after singer Grace Hall met producer and song-writer Nick Turco at a party, the pair make fun and sultry R&B with a healthy ’90s kick. Here, Hall talks about their magnetic collaboration, her path from post-punk to R&B, and happy crying.
MAGGIE LANGE: Let’s start by talking about your name—Skin Town.
GRACE HALL: It’s actually a really funny story. Initially our name was Claire’s, like the mall store, and Nick was like, “I don’t like it,” and I had to change it. Our first thought was, “What’s your favorite song?” and the first thing that popped into my head was Crazy Town’s “Butterfly.” But I’m a woman, and skin is something sexy. When we started the project we wanted to do R&B and that can go a few different ways, but it’s usually sexy and it ended up being dark and sexy. We were going for that. So Skin Town.
LANGE: How did you come together?
HALL: We just met at a party last summer. Nick [Turco] plays in Zola Jesus. We met and I didn’t know Nick made music at the time. I googled his name and found out later he was a really awesome producer and it ended up working really well and he needed a singer, ultimately.
LANGE: Tell me a bit about your writing process—lyrics first or music?
HALL: He’ll write the music part and I’ll do vocals, but sometimes he’ll do the whole thing or I’ll do the whole thing. We work separately. A lot of the time we come up with a title first. That was one way that worked for us.
LANGE: I’ve read a few things that say your music is cold, but I thought it was totally warm. Do you have a temperature association with the stuff you write?
HALL: A lot of people hear “Ice Crystal Palace” and the synth has a sting and it has an icy, cold digital feel. I feel like “Ice Crystal Palace” is more pop than the others. I think the music is cold and digital even though we use all kinds of old analog sounds. But I think the vocals are warm, but the instrumentation is really cold. It’s dark R&B.
LANGE: I also heard someone say that “2Nite” would be a great James Bond theme.
HALL: Yeah, and I’ve also heard that it could be a wrestler theme song. We would love to be a James Bond song. I think it’s a great song. I think it’s really epic. I think the production is good—I think it’s perfect.
LANGE: Do you think of your music as cinematic?
HALL: I think that it is, due to Nick’s production, because it’s so tight and clean, nothing is fucked up about it. When you’re watching a movie, the thing about music there are so many images the come with it anyway. When you’re dealing with art, it’s not exclusive to images. It’s really intertwined. I didn’t really write songs like this until last year, and imagery is unexpected.
LANGE: How did things change when you got together?
HALL: Nick has been writing songs for a long time and he helped me hone my skills and he helped me so much with the lyrics. It was really scary, and it’s a beauty you can’t measure. It’s scariest thing I’ve ever done, because you’ll have it forever.
LANGE: What were you listening to when recording?
HALL: Of course, I mainly listen my own music. I don’t listen to other people’s shit. We really don’t listen to current R&B either, we get compared to one person, and we get compared to The Weeknd constantly. It definitely has the ’90s vibe, I’m not sure how old you are… But not new stuff, I don’t even see how that could be an influence.
LANGE: Who you were influenced by previously?
HALL: I was just thinking who I was influenced by vocally, I think Michael Jackson. Why I think we get compared to The Weeknd is because that’s what he sounds like. [Jackson], The-Dream, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Missy Elliot are definitely top five of all time—Ciara, but not new Ciara.
LANGE: What music did you grow up listening to?
HALL: It was a total mix. I had a real rebellious phase—I was listening to all underground stuff, underground tape culture, punk, post-punk. I really had a backlash against pop music: “I’m just going to listen to weird, noisy, abrasive music.” I was in a few bands—weird noisy bands. Nick and I both listened to a lot of R&B. It made sense to me because I had this voice and I’d didn’t know how to use it without sounding cheesy and Nick helping me out with it.
LANGE: What about before this rebellious phase?
HALL: My story is a really emotional one. I grew up singing. My family always said [I] had an emotional voice, and they pushed me to practice. My mom cultivated me as a singer. Then my dad passed away when I was 13 and I had an emotional break with that. From 15 to 25, I couldn’t sing because it was too emotional for me. I was grieving. I was in punk bands—I was yelling, I was getting shit out—but it wasn’t the melodic stuff where it comes through your chest.
So I just came back and Nick has been helpful with instrumentals and getting it back. I actually didn’t know if it was ever going to happen again. It’s hard to sing, and it’s hard to sing when you had an emotional bond. My parents are musicians; my dad taught me how to sing and how to play guitar.
LANGE: Is your mother really happy now?
HALL: Yeah, she’s really happy. She’s overjoyed. Because of the emotional part and having the pressure of people telling you that you’re a good singer your whole life, there is a rebellious part where you want to say, “No, that’s not me!” I really rebelled against it; I still have a hard sometimes. You can’t make someone do something they’re meant to do and now that I’m doing it, it just feels so right. I cry all the time because of meeting Nick. I didn’t know how it was going to do it.
LANGE: Happy crying?
HALL: Yeah. I had a real breakthrough when I started writing the songs and finding our songs. I’m not working anymore, I’m just doing music. I wasn’t really good at working. I used to wait tables, I wasn’t really good at it—it’s fine now because it’s not really a career. Nick and I, of course, we want to do this for as long as we can. He helps to keep everything tighter. Right now this is all we can focus on.
SKIN TOWN’S LP THE ROOM IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON SKIN TOWN, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.