Listen to New York Artist/Producer Skylar Spence's #TBT Mixtape, 10 Years After Writing His First Song

Daniel Dorsa
Skylar Spence

Welcome to #TBT Mixtape, Billboard's series that showcases artists' very own throwback-themed playlists exclusive to Billboard's Spotify account. The curated set features the artists' favorite tracks from their youth and childhood.

This week's spin comes from Skylar Spence. The New York artist/producer (born Ryan DeRobertis) released his latest 7-inch single "Carousel / Cry Wolf" last month via Carpark Records -- the follow-up to his 2015 debut LP Prom King, as well as his 2017 supergroup collaboration Amelia Airhorn alongside The Knocks.

This year marks a significant milestone for the upstart: the 10-year anniversary of penning his first-ever song. In celebration of the decennial, Spence put together this week's #TBT Mixtape, inspired by his musical evolution and featuring acts like New Radicals, Oasis, Franz Ferdinand and more.

Below, Spence reflects on the eclectic set and what the anniversary means to him. Give it a spin and also check out some retro snaps of the artist.

It’s hard to talk or write about my relationship with music. This October will mark ten years since I wrote my first song, and that approaching milestone’s given me a lot to reflect on. For one, music was the center of my life before I’d ever picked up an instrument. My dad was a huge fan of Duran Duran, and that fandom was basically bestowed on me from birth. One of my earliest memories is of my mom putting on the video to “Wild Boys” when she was attempting to videotape me reading. I must have been being difficult. To a two year old, that video was the equivalent of a horror film. It left such a mark on me I can see it shot-for-shot in my head, but surprisingly didn’t taint my budding relationship with DD. I wanted to be in the band! I was eventually gifted a toy drum set and I would try to play the organ every time we visited my Grandma.

My parents raised me on their record collection, which almost entirely consists of 80s pop and new wave. So that’s where I got my tastes from — gated reverb and FM synths, virtual orchestras and theatrical lead singers were never unusual to me. For the first four years of my life I virtually listened only to 80s music and the Beatles. I got a little older and MTV was on from time to time around the house. I remember watching the news broadcast the announcement of the death of The Notorious B.I.G.: a man I disliked because I felt he stole the word “Notorious” from my favorite band. Then I heard “Mo Money Mo Problems” and something about that song was familiar but so new to my ears. Side note: praise be to Nile Rodgers, a man who has been involved in almost all of my favorite music in some way. I also caught wind of songs like “Lovefool” and “Wonderwall” during my MTV era, although my obsession of those artists and their work would come later.

I’d like to skip the Spice Girls phase not out embarrassment, but because I remember very little other than my obsession with Baby Spice. Fortunately I survived their breakup, and got a little older (this has been a recurring and annoying process in my life). The next life changer was Daft Punk’s “One More Time”. Their science fiction backstory appealed to me, and the song’s juxtaposition of the retro disco horns with the modern dance beat and vocal processing left me spellbound. It took the few things I liked about Eiffel 65’s “Blue”, removed the many things that disgusted me, and replaced them to my specific tastes. Daft Punk were the first “favorite band” I’d found on my own.

I guess I started becoming a real “music fan” by middle school, when I’d put on MTV for fun after school. I heard “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers and, still stuck in my 80s fetishism, was elated at the idea a modern rock band could have synthesizers and a weird frontman. I tried to find as many bands as the Killers as I could find and fell into Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, and also Coldplay and Keane. I opined that all good music came from Britain and I’d try to talk to anyone within earshot about my favorite bands. I was not well liked.

Around that time I got a Casio piano and started teaching myself how to play. I had some early experience on music software because my dad works with computers, so I actually learned a lot of piano on the QWERTY keyboard and can still shred a QWERTY solo if pressed. I tried making a “jazz” album on Fruity Loops with a midi saxophone and some breakbeats. My dad’s coworker got a new Volkswagen when they were running the free First Act guitar promotion, and gave it to him to give to me. This all happened in the span of a year.

The next year was my freshman year of high school, where I learned about a band called Vampire Weekend from the internet and carried around their music to play for anyone within earshot. I was not well liked. My neighbors were forming a metal band and asked me to play drums; they had an electric kit which was fascinating to me. We played two gigs before I was kicked out because I “always wanted to play techno.” Distraught, I went home and talked to my parents about what had happened. My dad asked me if I really wanted to play drums, or if I could see myself playing guitar or singing in a band. I didn’t know anything other than I couldn’t do anything other than play music. That was when I really started to teach myself to play, which I did by writing instead of learning other people’s songs. I guess that was a weird move but learning guitar, piano, and Garageband simultaneously ended up working in my favor. In October of 2008, I wrote and recorded four songs in my bedroom.

I don’t really know what else to say. Music has always pulled me toward it. I always want to be a better listener, a stronger writer, a more versatile player. There are so many songs that have completely changed my life, or songs that have intertwined themselves with an event in my life. Songs have made me cry, feel, in ways that other forms of art never have. I am hopelessly devoted to, and in awe of the power of song. I think music is the greatest thing on earth.


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