Skela Transfixes the Crowd at Rough Trade NYC

BY ISABELLE BEAUCHAMP

Where can you find a red lace wedding gown, a crowd full of devoted faces, and a lot of hair flips? The answer is easy: a Skela concert.

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

Skela, Queens-born singer-songwriter, performed her debut visual album Project 10 live for the first time at Rough Trade NYC in Brooklyn on Saturday. Blended got a chance to watch Skela’s amazing performance and chat with her after.

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From the moment I walk into the venue, it’s clear that the energy is electric; audience members buzz from group to group as they discuss the supporting acts (two other lively NYC artists, Mia Gladstone, and Giselle) and, of course, their anticipation for Skela. Near the stage, a group of women are chatting eagerly about the Queens-born artist, telling a friend who hadn’t heard her work about how she was really going to appreciate  it. “You’re going to love her,” she promises. “Her sound is so different, but it’s so down-to-earth”. Her friend nods in agreement. “I have a feeling she’s going to be really good live.”

The friend is right.

At around 10:30, Skela’s band steps onto stage and starts warming up. The crowd begins cheering as the band hit the drums and pick their guitars. Five minutes later, the lights dim and Skela walks out from backstage, the crowd roaring. The room is on fire with excitement.

Skela struts out in a layered red lace gown, her face covered by a veil of the same flashy material. With the veil still covering her face, she tentatively approaches the microphone and lingers in her privacy for one final moment before the show begins.

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

As the opening chords of “Sailboat” are heard, Skela rips the veil off of her face and pours her heart out into the microphone. While a gown of such volume may upstage other performers, Skela doesn’t let it restrict her. Instead, she tosses it around using it almost as a tool to help glide impressively across the stage in swift motions. She’s a whirlwind of musical energy, and the first song isn’t even over.

As the last chords of the song ring, Skela centers back to the microphone stand. She wipes her brow and addresses the crowd, thanking them for coming out. “It’s great to be here,” she says eagerly. “I was born and raised in Queens, so performing here is a really cool experience.” The crowd lets out yells in support. She grins before leaning back into the microphone, “Anyone here from Queens?” Several audience members hoot in response. She laughs. “If you’re from Queens, you get it!”

Immediately, she dives back into her performance. Still adorning the lacy crimson gown, Skela is on fire; her vocals are equally raw yet deliberate in their execution, and her passion for each word she sings is evident. Skela manages to immerse the entire room in her sound, and even slower-paced songs still have the crowd dancing.

“Hella” ends and Skela takes off the gown, revealing a pair of black high-waisted pants and another red article of clothing, a red velvet crop top. She walks back up to the microphone, the cool blue lighting reflecting off of her face. “This next song is called ‘I’m Not Hungry Anymore’,” she says, taking a breath. “It’s, um – it’s pretty self-explanatory,” she hesitates as the chords begin, letting the music speak instead. “Maybe the problem, the problem is me,” she repeats almost meditatively, sinking to her knees and clenching her fists. Audience members dance, mirroring her movements. Some faces are filled with empathy for her words, others with joy for the music. It’s clear that Skela has captivated the audience with her powerful presence.

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

At one point, she picks up the fallen veil as Linda” starts to play. “Who wants to be my Linda?” she asks, placing the garment on a boy who blows a kiss in response. Later, in between songs, she looks out into the crowd and takes a breath. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the numbers online are real, but I guess they are, and I couldn't be more grateful,” her hands over her heart.

The concert is nearing its end, and after a heartfelt rendition of “Robbers” by The 1975 and a passionate performance of one of her most popular tracks, “Heartbreak and Liquor,” Skela announces that they have one more song. “Holybegins to play, and Skela gives everything she has: she’s on the floor, she’s twirling on stage, she’s roaring every note. Just as the song ends, she nods into the mic and gives the audience a quick snippet of a soon-to-be-released song called “Elvis.” As the final guitar chord rings out, she gives one last “thank you” to the audience and walks off stage.

After her show, Skela allows the tension to release from her shoulders as she sinks into her dressing room couch. There’s a difference from her stage and conversational self; the energy is still there, but she’s much calmer than she was 10 minutes prior when she was whipping her hair around on stage. We start talking about her performance. “Since I’m from Queens, it only seemed right to start the tour here,” she explains. “It was really great – there were tons of friends in the crowd.” While New York City may seem like the dream for most young artists, for Skela it’s just where she grew up. She explains to me about how “New York is such a magical place for everyone else, but for me, it’s just where I’m from – it’s where I’m most comfortable.”

Skela goes onto explain how Project 10 was a very personal project. “Art should be accessible to everyone, and I’ve never let anything like a budget stand in my way,” she asserts with confidence, waving her hands. “All that matters is that you find creative people that you vibe and create with.” While it can be difficult to find these people, Skela emphasizes the importance of passion when creating. “All the money in the world means nothing if you’re not trying to be the artist that you really want to be.”

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

PHOTO: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED

“I feel like music and art really is a sacrifice – and this sounds it’s cliche – but I feel like social media and Instagram are often about meaningless stuff. Like, who gives a f**k about you and your yacht?” She laughs, but her face is honest. “What does that have to do with connecting to people?”

Skela’s details her approach to the music industry and how it has caused her a lot of sacrifices, but for her, it’s the only way. “I’m by no means a perfect person, like anyone else, but I try my best to be real.” As an independent artist, navigating the music industry can be difficult and often tolling. “I’m not a perfectly packaged thing made by a company, and I’m still figuring out who I am and what my sound is, like all of us,” she confirms. “I’m in a really lucky place where if I like something, I can use it.”

The conversation finally shifts to her relationship with writing. Skela is not only a songwriter, but also a novelist (Building You Up is set to be released sometime this year) and screenwriter. “Writing has always been the only proper way I know how to express myself, and I also appreciate how it’s also something you can do alone…I really found a path to understanding myself as a person.” While she confirms she’s been writing “forever,” it’s now taking a new path because of her career. “That’s the beautiful thing about writing, right?” She smiles, and her eyes are bright. “You’re never going to be alone with your words.”

Be sure to listen to Project 10 and get tickets to see Skela on her Project 10 tour.

Lead Image Credit: Isabelle Beauchamp / BLENDED