New York Sounds: Q&A with Skylar Spence

Growing up listening to the likes of Duran Duran and Chic, 22-year-old Ryan DeRobertis, AKA Skylar Spence, had plenty of inspiration when he started Saint Pepsi as an Ableton exercise. And though he began writing music at age 13, he hadn’t tried writing his own song in the style of his favorite music until “Fall Harder,” which appears on his full-length debut, Prom King. After strengthening his skills as a producer with the Hit Vibes album, he began incorporating his own instruments and production flourishes into his work, first with the Gin City EP. Prom King distills DeRobertis’ sampling style into an idiosyncratic melody machine, introduces his own vocals to the mix, and adopts tighter disco and new wave song structures. It’s “pop music for freaks,” as DeRobertis has it—outlandish aesthetics filtered through his deft intuition.

We caught up with the artist to learn a little more about his process before he hits the stage at 50 Bowery‘s rooftop bar, The Crown, on June 14th as the first stop on our Good Measure Tour II with Noise Pop and Harken Wines. Want to hear him for yourself? The show is free – just RSVP here.

Your style has been described as everything from disco pop to future funk – what do you classify it as?

Hard to choose the right words but I always attempt to make “pop music” in the sense that I’m most drawn to the aspects of music that unify people — definitely in terms of melody and structure, anyway. My ear’s a little wonky as far as production is concerned because I like to draw from different time periods. I like to make people dance more than anything, but there’s so many forms of dance!

What’s the story behind your performing name, Skylar Spence?

There’s a movie called “Everyone Says I Love You” that Woody Allen made in the 90s, where the main source of romantic tension is the relationship between Ed Norton and Drew Barrymore. In the movie, he’s Holden Spence and she’s Skylar Dandridge. It’s a long and winding story regarding what the movie meant to me before and after college, but I used the name for a song on an album I did as SAINT PEPSI and when it came time to jump that ship, it was the only name I could see myself performing under.

Gin City is a great name for an EP. How do you usually come up with your song or album titles?

Thanks! I had that name and ‘Hit Vibes’ before I had music for either record. They were just sorta floating in my thoughts so I wrote them down and when I had music that I felt deserved a good name I reached back for them. I guess it usually happens this way for me?

You recently just toured with The Knocks: what was your favorite venue?

There’s no good answer to this (as in, every place was wonderful) but it was my first time playing the Neptune Theatre in Seattle and I absolutely loved it there. I have a thing for playing in theatres because they’re such wild venues to throw dance parties. It almost feels punk.

What time period and genre of music have influenced you? 

I was raised on Duran Duran first and foremost, and Daft Punk was among the first music I heard on radio that I have a distinct memory of. Besides Daft Punk, I listened to mostly new wave music up to the point when bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand started coming out–and since then I listen to most everything.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

Anxiety, followed by memory loss!

What’s the one thing you absolutely cannot do before a show?

I can’t drink before a show without tripping over a lyric or a microphone cable or both.

What’s a perfect day in Brooklyn?

As an admitted homebody I don’t spend a lot of nights “out” per se, but I feel very lucky to live within walking distance of so many parks and I take advantage of that often. A perfect day in BK requires hitting at least three of them on a walk, for  me, because I’m very boring..