Written By: Dania Curvy
It’s one thing to be a singer, another to write your own music, and almost unheard of to also release your own novel. The multifaceted artist Skela, however, takes DIY to the next level. Born and raised in New York City, the songstress-turned-novelist recently released Project 10–an ambitious visual album of 10 songs and music videos filmed throughout her hometown–as a countdown to the announcement of her first original novel, Building You Up, due out later this year.
Brooklyn Magazine caught up with Skela to talk about the local artist’s creative process and what fans can expect from her this year. Catch Skela performing new songs from Project 10 at Rough Trade in Williamsburg on Saturday, February 9th.
1. Who is Skela?
Skela used to be an alter ego that I used to give me the confidence to be an artist – the kind of artist that I always wanted want to be, which has been a learning experience over the years, because obviously, you learn new parts of yourself; but I do always feel like Skela has grown with to be pretty parallel. Any personal journeys I’ve had, I’ve used Skela to channel and then overcome them. I feel like Skela is not the better version of myself, because obviously, I am Skela, but a means to heal for me. And I didn’t always know it was going to be that, but that’s definitely where Skela is today. She’s kind of this being in herself.
2. Did New York shape Skela?
People view New York as this magical city where dreams come true. People from all corners of the world are just dying to get to New York. When you’re actually from New York, it’s very different. When you’re from the boroughs, it’s just, it’s all you know, and it’s not necessarily magical.
It’s a really tough city to have grown up in. I feel like the thickness of my skin is definitely a result of having lived in New York, and it’s not something I realized until you leave, and you realize that you have this armor on you being from New York. It’s very interesting because being an artist is about disarming yourself and being vulnerable and New York is kind of like “Nah–work harder.”
3. You’ve just recently released your visual album Project 10—a series of ten songs and corresponding music videos—over 20 weeks with no budget. Can you tell us more about Project 10 and the creative process?
The idea of releasing Project 10 like a countdown was in order for me to become the kind of artist that I’ve always wanted to be. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been possible, and I don’t think it would have been the project it turned out to be, without my friends who I did everything with. That’s how we did it with no budget. It’s funny because “no budget” or “low budget” or “big budget,” those are all buzzwords; as an artist, it’s more about using what you have to make your art last. And that’s what we did, we basically just put our heads together, funneled our creativity, and decided to make something cool together. Being Skela, I kind of have this channel to get music and visuals out, so it’s cool to be able to work with my friends to actually help it move and help it have a home.
I’m definitely very hands-on with the creative process—all the visuals, all the writing, the message, the mission. It definitely comes from me. I guess I don’t like talking about it too much because, for me, it just feels like a given. Who else would say the words that are coming out of my mouth, you know what I mean? Only me; but some people are shocked to find out that I’m the one behind a lot of it. Well, all of it.
4. For the last song release of the countdown for Project 10, you announced a secret would be revealed; the announcement of your first novel, Building You Up and you released its first chapter–which depicts a major transition for a high school girl from NYC to the suburbs. What can we expect or take away from her transitional journey?
My novel Building You Up is a coming-of-age story, about a young girl, who’s in very serious transition in her life, and she’s basically dealing with mental health at a young age. It’s not just about mental health, but about her handling that as she navigates this huge change. The message of Building You Up is not about a girl falling in love with a boy. It’s not about a group of friends. It’s about a girl and her brain and the way that she goes through the world with this feeling like something is a bit off in her brain.
It’s not as clear cut as like, oh, this is a book about mental health, that’s never said in the synopsis. I did that on purpose because mental health is something that everyone goes through. It looks like different things and doesn’t always have one name–it’s not always called “mental health.” It’s just about being conscious. So, that’s basically what you can expect from the book; a conversation about a young person’s brain, realizing that it affects you in deeper ways.
5. We spoke a little bit about “transition.” Could you talk about your transition from musician to novelist and what’s in store next for Skela in 2019?
I’m still a musician, but what I would really like to bring into my world of Skela is not just the fact that I’m a novelist, but I am also a writer. It’s not just books, it’s also poems and songs, it’s everything. That’s how I kind of create my world through the power of words. That’s always been my big thing. The point of the book is not to say, “Hello, I’m a novelist.” It’s to say, “Hello, step into this world that I created and carved out musically and with words.” I’m hoping that transition will be seamless; because for me, it’s always been about books, and how I use them to shape my own mind.
There is going to be new music in the spring after the Project 10 Tour, which I’m really stoked about. We’re going to be releasing the first few songs from the soundtrack, and we’re going to work on some visuals for it as well. I’m really, really excited about it because I’d really like for the music to encourage people to go read Building You Up. It’s not always going to be the case, so that’s why it’s very important that I feel that the music has to stand alone on itself and so does the book.