Skylar Spence loves Super Smash Brothers Wii U. He also sucks at it, but is content to be interviewed while I destroy his ass over and over again. Since Ryan DeRobertis dropped “Fiona Coyne,” which garnered instant acclaim as a “Song of Summer 2014” contender, he’s been a busy dude, handling a flurry of tour dates, press pieces, festival bookings, vinyl pressings, album chatter, and legal hassle over his too-perfect-for-this-world former moniker, Saint Pepsi. Basically, he’s become a full-time musician, and is leading a very different life than he did a year ago, when he was making waves on the internet by crafting glitzy vaporwave in his parents’ basement. I think getting his butt kicked in video games while giving an interview constitutes downtime for him.
This, DeRobertis tells me, is his first interview where he can actually talk about his hotly anticipated album Prom King, out September 18 on Carpark Records. Under the Saint Pepsi moniker, DeRobertis chopped up old soul records, Japanese pop music, Nintendo samples, and Woody Allen ephemera, morphing it all into a nostalgic and danceable reflection of pop’s history. His most successful album, 2013’s Hit Vibes, is 33 minutes of energetic bliss with blurry lines of authorship. Critiques of vaporwave often center on how an artist will simply take a song, run it through some light edits, and call it his own. DeRobertis knows this well — when we spoke last year, we talked about how one of his more famous tracks, a breezy remix of “Call Me Maybe,” prompted criticism that it was “simply the original, slowed down.” (It is much more than that, but I digress.) As Skylar Spence, he will face none of that. Prom King finds DeRobertis diving deep into the pop world, instead of remixing it from the sidelines.
“It’s a lot different,” he says proudly, “but I honestly can’t picture it sounding like anything else.”
Prom King has eleven original tracks, half of which feature DeRobertis doing lead vocal duty. While this may sound like a massive stylistic shift, DeRobertis’s average-joe voice and indisputable sense of pop sublimity make it sound less like an experiment and more like an album that’s been trying to escape him for years. For one, it features a bit of autobiography. In “Can’t You See,” the glittering lead single, he talks about his time as Saint Pepsi with amiable self-deprecation, at one point playfully mocking his vaporwave work with the lyric “I was working, tried my hardest/Slowed some music down and called myself an artist.”
“I knew people would jump on that line,” he says with a laugh that suggests just how much time he spends reading tweets about himself, “but that line is about where I was going in life, and being up and down about what I was doing. I don’t think vaporwave or anyone who does it is stupid or anything. I’m just trying something new, trying to find my place as an artist.”
This sense of exploration and self-discovery comes through on Prom King. Undercurrents of self-doubt, narcissism, and vulnerability make the album feel delicate, a fleeting high about to slip away. As a lyricist, DeRobertis has a gift for capturing rose-tinted love affairs with dance floor clichés. On the record, he follows up the bittersweet tenor of “Fiona Coyne”’s main lyric (“Oh darling, won’t you believe me? I love you till the record stops”) with lines like “We set the fire, but we just couldn’t handle the flares” and “Someone’s calling to you sweeter than you’ve ever heard/I don’t know what it means, but I’m in love with the word.” Lyrics like these suggest the romantic nonsense of an awkward guy struggling with his words while trying to get the girl, which, not coincidentally, is the plot of the “Can’t You See” video. DeRobertis sums up the lyrical content of the record more aptly than he knows when he says, “It’s an album about…stuff.”
He laughs at that, and later elaborates on how tracks like “Affairs” and “Prom King” were conceived as scenarios playing out in his imagination, but the quote is a good illustration of why it’s difficult not to root for Ryan DeRobertis and Skylar Spence. He’s a lovable goober, and on Prom King, with his more visible role, he sounds it. He is not a vain lead singer, nor does he try to sing or write anything that isn’t genuine. He’s a complement to his music, and he makes Prom King a joy to listen to. The album will likely blow up when it finally comes out. When it does, the year of touring, press, and buckling down (or, as he calls it, “boot camp”) DeRobertis went through should pay off. With his personality and his music, he is due the success coming his way.
Skylar Spence plays Rough Trade NYC July 25. Tickets and info can be found here.
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