At Baby’s All Right in August, the Skins played Beyoncé better than Beyoncé. The five-piece band, made up of three siblings and two friends all raised in Brooklyn, were on the bill that night for an anti-rape-culture fundraiser for Grlcvlt NYC, and head-bopping along in the crowd was Entourage actor Adrian Grenier, their somewhat unlikely manager. The group, whose clear influences range from Black Sabbath to Led Zeppelin to old English punk and ska, raged through a set of guitar-heavy bangers, while a frenetic light show exploded all around them.
Watching Bayli McKeithan, the band’s enigmatic lead singer, vogue and thrash through “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” it was clear that the crowd barely knew what hit them. Was it possible that the best rock-and-roll band in recent history has been playing in New York for the past five years, and none of us had noticed until now?
The Skins’ energy could come from any number of places. Their age might be part of it — the oldest member of the band is Russ Chell, on guitar, who is 24 and the youngest is Reef McKeithan, on drums, who is 17 — but it’s also a cockiness, the seeds of which were planted early on. The group became friends at the New York School of Rock, and when they started playing in the New York scene, they were already better than many of the headliners they were opening for.
“Our first show was June 27, 2011,” Reef rattles off as if it were yesterday. “At Spike Hill. It’s a fucking Equinox or some shit now.” The early shows were a little different than five years later, Bayli explains, because the band members were so assured of themselves they didn’t bother to wonder if they sucked. “When we first started playing our own songs and playing out, nothing was forced,” she says. “It wasn’t even something we thought about.”
But that didn’t mean their presence wasn’t felt. Daisy Spencer, one of the band’s two guitarists, was always in charge of getting the early shows together. “When booking the shows, I’d never tell anyone our age ever. But then we’d show up and they’d be like, ‘Who are these guys?’”
“They’d look at us like we were some Disney kiddie band,” Kaya McKeithan, the band’s bassist, explains, “like we don’t even know how to sound-check our own music. And then we’d start playing and we’d be better than all the headliners. Daisy stopped calling them because they’d be calling us, like, ‘Okay, come play on Thursday.’”
In between then and now, there came a tour with Jake Bugg, a solid, shreddy EP, and oh yeah, their serendipitous meeting with Grenier. “We had opened for his best friend’s band, the Giraffes,” Kaya tells me. “He made it for the last song in our set and that was it. Our friend Jo, who teaches at the School of Rock, told him that he had to see us.”
At the Baby’s All Right show in early August, Grenier sang along dutifully to the Skins’ music, just as mesmerized as everyone else by the band’s eager intensity. Their set ended with great fanfare, and when the Skins walked off stage, it was like a plug had been pulled from its socket.
The future looks bright for Brooklyn’s finest rock band. They’re set to release the first single from their debut studio album sometime this fall. “Late September? Early October?” Reef says, looking like he doesn’t want to irk his label with his so-called “rough guestimates.” And then hopefully a worldwide tour. Kaya, who also raps in the group, tells me she’d like “hip-hop artists to find something cool about having a different kind of band on tour with them, like Wiz Khalifa vibes, Kid Cudi vibes.” They also throw out DNCE, the 1975, as potential touring dream gets.
But until then, the Skins will keep doing what they do: “I can’t play music with other people,” Daisy says. “This is a relationship that we built over five years. We found our bread and butter. I don’t like people, so these are the only people I see.”
Photography by Shaniqwa Jarvis. Styling by Diana Tsui. Hair by Naivasha Johnson for Exclusive Artists Management using Oribe and Babyliss Pro Tools. Makeup by Samantha Lau. Hair assistant: Austin Medaris. Men’s market & styling: Indya Brown.