This was a year without a song of the summer, but Skylar Spence’s “Can’t You See” would have been a strong contender. Ebullient and disco-inflected, it’s an anthem for feeling yourself no matter what, the unabashedly bold chorus declaring, “In the heat of the moment, I thought that I could kiss myself.” It’s a big step from the onetime vaporwave visionary, aka Ryan DeRobertis, who made headlines when he started singing on last year’s summer jam “Fiona Coyne.”
Those two sunlit pop bangers anchor his Carpark Records debut Prom King, released last week, but just a couple of years ago, his reputation was built on his simultaneously airy and gooey extension of Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe.” Under the moniker Saint Pepsi, the 22-year-old became a prolific producer and remixer on the Bandcamp circuit while studying at Boston College; he was reborn as Skylar Spence at the beginning of this year, due to legal reasons.
The new sound and name aren’t the only big changes DeRobertis has made. A few weeks ago, he moved from his native Long Island to South Williamsburg, after a little too much time commuting to Brooklyn.
“It’s weird for me, because I always think of myself as an Internet artist,” DeRobertis says. “The fact that I have a geographic location has never really made much difference to me because the way that I distribute and do this whole thing is over the internet.”
With a traditional record deal and labelmates including Toro Y Moi and Speedy Ortiz, there’s no longer any escaping the IRL world.
“I’m really glad I have a home base here now, because I just feel more productive and probably happier than I was on Long Island, kind of cut off from everything else,” he says, noting that long drives to his Williamsburg practice space felt like coming from another state.
Having a full band is another recent development; even at SXSW this spring, he was still DJing for himself and singing live. Now, his shows are performed as a quartet, including longtime friends from middle school and college.
“I’m not the kind of person who likes looking out into the crowd and making eye contact and throwing my middle fingers up in the air and shit, I definitely like to just play,” DeRobertis says. “When I do DJ sets, I’m kind of always looking at my computer for the next move, but when you’re working with a band and you have a structured setlist, you feel more comfortable because you know where you’re going and it’s not about reading the crowd. I feel like I just get to have a lot more fun onstage and I’m looser because of that.”
If you didn’t catch a full band show on Skylar Spence’s summer tour, which included stops at Lollapalooza and Osheaga Festival, you’ll get to see how much fun DeRobertis can have tomorrow, when he throws a prom-themed release party at Palisades in Bushwick. With the help of Ricky Eat Acid, Peter Berkman (Anamanaguchi), and Sharpless, the night is set to celebrate and skewer the time-honored teen rite of passage.
“For me, there was a lot of tension in my friend group all of my senior year building up to prom, so when prom finally got there, everybody realized we only have three months left of being on the island and then would probably never see each other again,” he says of his own senior year experience. “People tend to let loose and drop inhibitions, go wild. I think it’s just a way to grow up, because you look back and you’re like, ‘Prom fucking sucked, but what did I do to make it any better?’ The idea of throwing a second prom was cool, because I know all of my friends hated prom, and I hated prom, too, but I love the idea of prom. This is my experiment to see if prom just sucks, or if prom can be good.”
DeRobertis will also be campaigning for the prom king crown tomorrow night, complete with homemade posters and “Palisades Prom Punch.” He’s keeping the election process a surprise, but warns that you should wear comfortable shoes–because what’s the point of going to the ultimate high school dance if you’re not going to hit the floor?
“It’s also about tying up loose ends with people you won’t see again in a while,” he says. “That has always been one of the coolest parts to me, especially watching Degrassi when they do a prom episode and shit always goes bad, and you know it’s going to go bad because it’s prom. People are dealing with these unresolved emotions, and that, to me, is the biggest pull of high school drama.”
Without the rush of teen dreams going south, hosting a second prom creates its own set of problems.
“[My bassist] Scott is bringing a date and they’re doing Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, the denim at the VMAs, whatever year that was,” DeRobertis laughs. “I have no idea of what I’m going to do, I’m having the first wardrobe-related anxiety I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
Skylar Spence plays Palisades on September 25. Tickets are available here.
Stream Prom King on Spotify