If 21st century revolution had a sound, it would be post-race, post-gender, post-sexual orientation, and post-genre. It would be The Skins.
The Brooklyn quintet is comprised of three siblings—Bay Li [lead vocals], Kaya Nico [vocals, bass], and Reef Cole [drums]—and two friends who became “family” Daisy Spencer [guitar] and Russ Chell [guitar, synth], ranging from the ages of 17 to 24. This diversity informs a dynamic and definitive style that’s undeniably pop, but encompasses rock, funk, punk, hip-hop, and soul.
“My siblings and I are black kids out of Bed-Stuy who have rock roots that inform the dynamic pop music we play and write,” exclaims Bay Li. “We don’t just hit ‘play’ on stage; we actually know our way around the instruments. There are no backups. We own the stage. We just naturally are who we are. Get out of your comfort zone and give us a try.”
The musicians initially met while in school. They started jamming together in 2012, immersing themselves in the music. Bay Li proudly recalls ditching her high school graduation to go on tour with The Heavy during those early days. A year later, they made their SXSW debut in 2013 and caught the attention of American/Republic Records. The group spent the next two years cutting their teeth on the road with the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. and Jake Bugg and further honing a singular style.
“We needed that time,” says Daisy. “It was a natural developmental stage. During that phase, we discovered so much music like ESG and Bow Wow Wow. It wasn’t for us to mimic what other artists were doing sound-wise, but to tap into that mindset. These people had done something for the communities they came from and became pivotal for their respective eras. We want to be bigger than pop music.”
2016’s The Skins EP properly introduces the band. Produced by Daytrip, it represents a fresh, focused, and fiery intersection of flavors.
“At any session, our basic goal is to simply make the best song possible,” adds Russ. “We try to do that with taste and musicianship. If we were to break it down, all of our influences are in there. At the same time, none of them step on each other.”
The first single “Bury Me” shuffles from simmering, soulful, and striking crooning into an unshakable refrain punctuated by between deft and delicate bars.
“Lyrically, it’s about when you’re in a relationship, and you’re so far gone that you’re letting your significant other torture you,” explains Bay Li. “You’re so deeply in love that you’re oblivious to being disrespected and treated in such a bad way.”
Elsewhere on the EP, “I” weaves in and out of a funk strut into a gospel-size chant. “It’s about me not being able to settle down,” she smiles. “I need to be as free as a bird, but I want this person’s attention for tonight. I’m not ready for a ring, but I love you’re so into me.”
The Skins thrive on a familial unity that courses through their performances and recordings. “The three siblings in this band are the weirdest siblings you’ll ever meet because they don’t argue,” laughs Daisy. “It’s way deeper than a normal sibling bond. It’s really cool because Russ and I have been welcomed into that, and we’re not even blood. Everybody is always one-hundred percent real. We can talk about anything. That encourages us to be even more creative.”
The Skins have the power to make serious waves, because they encourage something universally relatable.
“We’re comfortable in our skin, and everybody else should feel comfortable in their skin,” Daisy leaves off. “It’s okay we’re all different, but we’re much more the same than we know. We want to encourage people to hold on to that, express themselves, and be proud.”
“I hope we can evoke emotion,” concludes Bay Li. “That’s the most powerful thing to me. The Skins is an experience.”