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After finding footing, Skaters are on a roll

Skaters have been busy with the release of their debut album, “Manhattan,” and a hectic touring schedule.
Skaters have been busy with the release of their debut album, “Manhattan,” and a hectic touring schedule.Shane McCauley

No problem. It’s the de facto mantra for New York City-based quartet, Skaters; it’s even emblazoned on their merchandise, including baseball hats, one of which actress Kristen Stewart recently sported in tabloid photos.

The phrase exemplifies Skaters’ approach to music and life: how they banged out a high-energy set for a full house at the Satellite in Los Angeles on a Wednesday in March, although they had reason to be tired following SXSW (where they’d just played eight shows in three days) and the two TV segments they’d shot before soundcheck. And how, following a taut show featuring anthemic, dub-tinged punk from their Warner Bros. debut, “Manhattan” (which dropped in February), plus a couple of inspired covers of Nirvana and the Smiths, and shots from a top-shelf bottle of tequila, they pushed through their exhaustion to the after party.


Once there, they were pleased to see Skrillex, who came to meet the band, and representatives from their geographically diverse history. There were friends from Newton, where founding members, singer-guitarist Michael Cummings and drummer Noah Rubin, formed Furvis in high school. Friends from Boston, where Furvis flourished with the rock scene’s mentorship and befriended Skaters bassist Dan Burke, of art rock favorites, the Lot Six. Friends from Los Angeles, where Furvis moved after a stint in Portland, Ore., having become the Dead Trees.

While in Los Angeles, Cummings and Rubin met founding Skaters member and current guitarist, Josh Hubbard, a British expat from the Paddingtons, who had befriended Cummings’s sister and knew onetime Bostonian Anthony Rossomando from when Hubbard was a touring guitarist in his band the Dirty Pretty Things.

The place names could be mere footnotes to the band’s story, which is truly about the passion and dedication with which the members create music. But from out of these locale changes emerges the tale of how Skaters achieved their unique sound and vibe. From the start, there was no doubt Rubin and Cummings were talented, especially for their age, but they had to mature as songwriters, and left Boston to do so. “There was more out there, and we knew from the little touring we did that there were other places that felt more exciting to us,” Cummings said in the van pre-show.


At the same time, Cummings credits Boston for the core of his music today. He admits to being sensitive to his surroundings when it comes to songwriting and can easily quantify the varied sounds of albums penned in different cities. “Boston’s a little bit of everything, isn’t it?” he said. “Very songwriter-based kind of music coming out of Boston, so that was where we learned how to write songs.”

Cummings and his cohorts applied themselves to their craft, and it paid off musically with some indie-folk gems, but by the time the Dead Trees wound down in 2011, they’d been touted as up-and-coming for years without broader success. They were frustrated and bored. So they stopped trying so hard.

When they formed Skaters, they put aside what they should do and did what felt good and was fun, booking three shows before they’d practiced once. They allowed in a broader range of influences — including reggae and punk — and stopped worrying about how they were being received. Within a year of playing out and penning songs about late-night New York adventures, they’d been scouted by several labels and signed with Warner Bros. When they went into the studio to record their debut, producer John Hill (Santigold, M.I.A.), helped mix up their sound further, adding the kind of low-end favored on rap records. “It feels more interesting to me than just a regular indie record,” Cummings said.


For Mark Hamilton, former WBCN and WFNX DJ who gave Furvis their first show at the Middle East Downstairs in 2002, and is now a DJ at KROQ in Los Angeles, the transformation has paid off. “With Skaters, there’s a persona,” he said by phone. “They actually have an image. I don’t think Furvis ever had an image. They were doing everything proper, playing by the rule book of success, but I think a lot of things came together . . . also, I think their sound is extremely current, if not ahead of the curve, as opposed to with Furvis and Dead Trees.”

It’s true Skaters aim to have an impact, and they don’t apologize for their desire to perform. While Cummings contributes guitar in the studio, he lets touring guitarist Myles Matheny fill in live, and now embraces the role of frontman.

“One thing that was disgusting to us, that we really did not like about modern rock, or indie music, was how it’s like, ‘I’m just one of the guys that you see at the coffee shop,’ the whole Death Cab for Cutie idea — a humble, sensitive, normal guy — there’s no mystery here,” Cummings said. “We believe in what we’re doing. We don’t want to downplay it because we’re trying to seem nonchalant, and with that, we’ll take more criticism, and we don’t care because we still believe in what we’re doing.”


Sarah Tomlinson can be reached at sarah@sarahtomlinson.com.