Interview + Track Premiere: Skylar Pocket — “Honeywater”
Posted: by The Editor
“People use the word albatross (a heavy seabird) as a metaphor for some kind of inescapable curse. But my mom referred to our house as one in a conversation about how she was ready to leave our house behind because of the ways it was falling apart,” recalled Sky Graham, frontperson of New Jersey folk pop group Skylar Pocket. “She didn’t mean it in the stroke of bad luck way, more so that there was always something that needed work, and it was always looming over her.”
Graham moved out of this house at eighteen, and then the town knocked it down. At an age most people assign with revelation, moving forward is never comfortable. This is not a new concept. A type of unexpected loss develops into something stronger, like a snake shedding its skin. But to improve upon the unexpected and often undesirable is never easy. It requires an unrealistic trust in an idea of hope.
I caught up with Graham and Zachary Shectman, bassist and producer of the band, on redefining convention, growing from being perceived, and the power of the home studio.
A picture Maya Greenberg drew of Graham’s old house
In their early teen years, Graham and Schectman recorded tracks in Shectman’s childhood bedroom. “It’s kind of the only thing we know how to do,” said Shectman. “It has an energy that’s a culmination of my whole life.” It began with a cheap microphone and whatever else was around, and then it grew. But it was always made at home. Three years prior, the duo sat down to write their upcoming record Honeywater. At the time, college weighed them down. They didn’t have cars, a whole lot of money, or time to discover certain imperfections that would make it on the album. However, this past year, unemployment and a break from school granted them time to evolve and reimagine the motif of homemade.
“Recording with Zach is totally religious to me,” Graham told me. “Sometimes I take criticism a little personally coming from someone close to me. I get especially insecure doing vocals. So, we deliver our critiques in an English accent because it softens the blow. He will say “that take was a little bit squirrely, love.” Outside of bedroom recordings, community participation is two-fold. One reason Skylar Pocket maintains a beloved draw is that they’re prudent with their interactions. They get to know someone on a first-name basis and participate in a zero-tier power dynamic, all while existing in a space where they’re eye level with the crowd. In all its glamour, DIY ethics can also be pretty myopic. What irks behind curtains is opaque; it’s still a world tacitly run by white cis folks, often men. Artists applaud themselves for the wrong reasons, complicating trust in a support system wired through community.
In Graham’s case, they experienced how both men and women were treated since starting their music career coded as a girl. “People shook hands with everyone in my band except for me. It’s not a good feeling,” they said. “Nowadays playing shows with the male privilege I acquired, it’s a totally different experience. People say, “excuse me” and don’t touch me weird anymore. Obviously because most times they think I’m a guy, which doesn’t feel so good either.”
A note the band displays on their merch table
“Being perceived sucks because usually it comes with being coded or gendered as some idea very outside my belief system. It engenders gender,” Graham continued.” In an increasing number of DIY circles, gender is co-opted and used as a way to get ahead. “Sometimes bands get caught up in a tokenization or attention game focusing on capitalizing their gender identity to gain leverage rather than on the art and needs of their communities,” said Shectman.
While putting work into a community isn’t supposed to be intimidating, the thought that people might not like what you make as a non-man, not entirely white band is. To combat this, the group explores new angles during performances with inflatable dinosaurs, confetti cannons, horn section choreography, train whistles, and silly transitions. They even rebranded Pocky snacks to say, ‘Skylar Pocky.’ It’s an approach that feels scalene—not in a sense that renders the band’s sound uneven, but rather, lauding unpredictable oddities that don’t try to fit in. The band carries agency and gives it back to the crowd—by temporarily assuaging a difficult conversation through performance and updating a canon of art made by trans folks, queer folks, and people of color. “The goal is to make the most uncomfortable and socially anxious kid at the gig smile a little if I can because I know I have been that person,” said Graham.
And while it’s difficult for any band to build a platform, this is especially true for non-men. Ripping classic rock licks and covering Weezer for faux prosaic excitement only works when you’re perceived by a crowd who thinks you’re capable. If the musical canon is growing into another renaissance, an ideology like so can seem a little orthodox. Shectmen said himself they don’t have all the technical abilities to do what’s already been done. But no one said omitting rock n’ roll guitar solos were compromising. It’s just different, and good music survives beyond how well you can play an instrument. It’s about filling the gaps of what you’re not able to do.
Graham sent me “Honeywater” about a week ago. It kicks off with communal count, leaves a small gap for a laugh at midpoint, then heads into an instrumental horns montage. Quietly, I listened to the track at the laundromat amidst the sound of moving; the spin and clang of a forgotten coin in the washer, a swift fold of wet jeans in the dryer—all calculated motions seeping slowly into my headphones. I don’t know what it is, and albeit minor, there’s this surge of crowd energy like a branch picking at a window during a windy night. Graham sings, “And my spit will turn to salt / and I’ll forget everything that’s hurt me” and I hope one day, it’ll secure its place properly with other DIY anthems.
Skylar Pocket’s first release since last May, “Honeywater” is the first single from their upcoming album, with two more tracks coming in April and May. Their new album is set to be released in late June.
Jane Lai | @soldtogod3000
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