Vaporwave artist Skylar Spence on moving past Saint Pepsi & embracing albums before Sunday’s show at Strange Matter

by | Nov 12, 2015 | MUSIC

Vaporwave (or future funk or future pop) is a relatively new musical genre gaining a lot of steam the last few years mostly thanks to its comfortable retro feeling and intricate musical arrangements.

Vaporwave (or future funk or future pop) is a relatively new musical genre gaining a lot of steam the last few years mostly thanks to its comfortable retro feeling and intricate musical arrangements.

At the forefront of the new movement is Long Island native Ryan DeRobertis who began recording in late 2012 under the name Saint Pepsi where he garnered his taste of success thanks to popular releases like 2014’s Gin City and amazing compositions like “Baby.” In 2015 though, DeRobertis has put the Saint Pepsi project aside for a new project with a much more ambitious sound. Skylar Spence is his new name and on this project’s debut record, Prom King (out now on Carpark Records), DeRobertis is looking to make a noticeable dent in the pop music landscape with plenty of tricks learned from his Saint Pepsi days.

Saint Pepsi started as just another project for DeRobertis, but quickly took on a life of his own as he became one of music’s most shared and talked about names. Too often in music though, bands that garner a huge following before being covered by the press tend to be ridiculed and dismissed as fans by the so-called authorities on music. But, in a true testament to his skill, he largely avoided any press backlash as publications from Pitchfork to SPIN praised his music giving him instant validation in the process. Unfortunately, just as DeRobertis was reaching his peak as Saint Pepsi, there was somebody that was just a bit uncomfortable with all of it.

“Pepsi reached out to me directly about the name,” DeRobertis told us. “I put out a song called “Fiona Coyn” in July of 2014 and then CMJ, the college radio festival, followed in New York after. The very first day of that whole festival, we got an e-mail from Pepsi asking us to jump on a ‘friendly’ call. It was actually a lot friendlier than it could have been, but the bottom line was that I had to get rid of the name. They did compromise with us and allowed us to use the name on shows I had booked through the end of 2014, but after that, they wanted no more Saint Pepsi moving forward. That was really nice of them since it would have been miserable to change the name so they were a lot better to deal with than they could have been.”

DeRobertis settled on Skylar Spence, a new name for a new project that would see the musician slightly veer off from the path that had made him famous. “With my Saint Pepsi music, it started as an exercise for sampling music that I grew up with. I extrapolated on that later doing different things with samples. Instead of just taking four bars and putting them out of context, I would really chop something up so it was indistinguishable. For Skylar Spence and the new record, I really wanted to start singing and writing songs because that’s what I did before the Saint Pepsi project ever started. It was just the first project anyone ever noticed me for and I definitely wanted to bring those elements into what I was already doing.”

Still, DeRobertis was cautious moving forward as he knew just how fickle some fans could be about changing the style of music as well as his name. “I didn’t want my fans to be thinking, ‘Oh man, he changed everything we liked about what he did. I tried really hard to keep the aesthetic of the project without going crazy on sampling.” He further explained that he feels the end result to be a mostly “hodgepodge” record, but one that he tirelessly slaved over and even patiently awaited the arrival off. “I started sketching the album out in July of 2014 and got to finish it around January and February of this year. By the time the record came out, I’d been sitting on the songs for at least six months and coming from someone who’s used to distributing music independently online, it was a real challenge for me to keep my mouth shut about it.”

Prom King is an example of DeRobertis’ life goal of seeing just how far he can go with the album format, something that may be dying off depending on who you ask. He admitted himself that the album format is definitely losing steam, but “it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.” This reverence towards the idea of an album almost makes DeRobertis an anomaly in the vaporwave genre as more and more artists tend to overlook that format in favor of just releasing song after song. “What I like about an album, in the best cases, is that it will take you from point A to point B. Almost like a ride at Disney. I think 45-50 minutes is a perfect amount of time for you to just get lost in the world that the artist is putting you in.”

It’s something people have always said about the album format in reference to the idea of the album format dying out whether it was in 2015 or 1995, so why now is the album format dying such a bigger possibility. “I feel like in the age of ADD, it’s hard for people to write good albums. When an album comes out and you like three or four songs from it, why listen to the rest so? Why should they write the rest then? For me, I don’t finish a record until I don’t find myself skipping any of the songs. Sure, the opposite way of releasing music is easy and is just instant, but it’s also lazy because it takes a lot less time and effort to write five great 3 minute songs as opposed to ten songs.”

This album format may seem like a digression from talking specifically about DeRobertis and his music, but his love and appreciation of the format really clarifies what really drives him to create music. As he told us, “I’m admittedly in the minority that still checks out every possible record from old bands, not just the ones I like,” and it’s this curious dedication that really helps fuel his understanding of music and ability to draw from so many sources. Putting it bluntly, DeRobertis is a music nerd. Luckily for us though, music nerds have always tended to make the best music with that obsession really coming through their infectious melodies. It makes talking to DeRobertis almost as enjoyable as listening to his music, even if he’s more excited to talk about what he’s currently listening to than his latest record.

“My latest catalogue search is A Sunny Day In Glasgow. I’ve always appreciated them and they’re definitely great, but I had only known them bits and pieces here and there. One of the people who works with my label actually manages them and we got to talking about their latest release. Well, it was so good that I just went out and got everything that they’ve ever put out and it’s really the only thing I’m listening to on tour right now. When I first heard their music, Ashes Grammar had just come out and I loved it in high school. They do a lot of synth work that isn’t necessarily pleasing to the ear. A lot of dysphoric stuff. Once I went to college and learned how to appreciate atonality, a lot of music clicked for me. I think a lot of it depends on nurture versus nature though for what I listen to. I grew up listening to Duran Duran and New Order, not the kind of stuff you’d expect a kid born in 1993 to be listening to religiously, but that’s what my parents were all about. When I graduated to selecting my own musical tastes, Daft Punk was one of the first bands that I liked and it was because they were taking a lot of cues from the music I liked growing up. From there, it just spiraled as I discovered new things to get excited about just like that New Order sound. It’s how often you’re around the things you’re not super familar and comfortable with that really changes and betters your musical tastes.”

DeRobertis went on and on from there talking about newer bands like Roman a Clef and Ice Choir who are doing the maximalist 80s pop sound justice in his opinion. He also raved to us about how they’re both clearly inspired by 80s band Prefab Sprout, a band he described as “my absolute favorite band of all time and one I could talk about for hours.” As mentioned before, DeRobertis was seemingly more comfortable and more excited about feverishly discussing the bands he grew up with and what he’s listening to now, as opposed to the music he’s creating himself.

It’s a good inclination as to why his music resonates so strongly with his legions of fans, even if it seems completely off topic from discussing his new record Prom King. It’s great though and you can clearly hear the reference of all these bands in his music as it comes together in hat aforementioned hodgepodge to make something truly memorable. So memorable in fact that one day, twenty years from now, they’ll probably be another new buzz musician more interested in talking Skylar Spence and Prom King than his own latest release.

Skylar Spence plays an early show Strange Matter this Sunday night with George Clanton and Ryder Bach opening the night. Doors are at 5pm with tickets being $12 in advance and $14 the day of the show. For more information on the show, click here.

Amy David

Amy David

Amy David was the Web Editor for RVAMag.com from May 2015 until September 2018. She covered craft beer, food, music, art and more. She's been a journalist since 2010 and attended Radford University. She enjoys dogs, beer, tacos, and Bob's Burgers references.




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