The sibling alt-folk duo discusses coming from a family of creatives, working with Princess Nokia, and finding God in the White Stripes.
The brotherhood of Sid and Stanley Simons does not lack for substance. As a duo, the Simons are incipient renaissance men. Sid, 23, a singer-songwriter and occasional model, leads the Brooklyn based alt-folk collective Girl Skin, of which Stan 19, an actor, model and musician is also a member. With prophetic lyrics and Americana moorings, Girl Skin’s music has the potential to heal, to walk you back to the bone-marrow of life. The six-piece band might also inspire you to levitate—to a flowery ether, propelled by anthemic strings and marching, swelling refrains.
Much like the multiplicities of Sid and Stan, Girl Skin does not restrict itself to any one rock tradition; even the genre strand of “alt-folk” feels too tight. The contrasts of Girl Skin matter. Chamberly and spare vocal arrangements as well as wiry and angular instrumentals match the the brothers’ corporeal litheness. Belying this, however, are Girl Skin’s stick-to-your-ribs melodies and lyrical density; Sid’s songwriting holds weight. Slide under the first layer of flesh, the prejudgements and genre labels, and you’ll find Girl Skin’s music, in both energy and composition, is simply intelligent.
Sid and Stan are also men for our historical moment. Two brothers who refuse to lock their emotions in a safe keep. Quite the opposite, they believe vulnerability is a strength. They are not motivated by monolithic (masculine) roles—to be a block, an affectless machine, attractively stolid—nor by want of attention, or fame. Sid and Stan’s creative life (which includes endeavors in style, film, and fashion) is centered in ongoing and unencumbered translations of self, the self as it comes of age, finds relationship, and wades in the stew of other human stories. When carefully coded, the translations bare evidence of young men whose natural constitution is based in honesty. Honey flavored, or perhaps more apropos, lemon-flavored honesty.
The Simons brothers create from an honesty that is sometimes sweet and homegrown, that sometimes zings and bites. As exampled by Sid and Stan’s many creative pursuits and stylishness, the brothers are honest with— indeed, they honor—their need for nostalgia, myth, and play, as much as their need to honor heritage, pain, and moments of awakening.
I caught up with Sid and Stan before Girl Skin opened for Alison Sudol at Rough Trade NYC on September 13. Our conversation also touched on dynamics of brotherhood, their childhood obsession with the White Stripes, and writing folk music in 2019.
Jordan Guy-Mozenter—Girl Skin has some albums in the works; can you give us an idea of what we can expect?
Sid Simons—We just finished an album, yes! This album, we kind of wanted to do a modern folk record. Kind of like a modern twist on the folk.
Stan Simons—It’s a very stripped down album.
Sid—That’s another thing. There’s so much stuff right now that’s so over-produced and so polished. I couldn’t give a shit about production. That’s why we recorded in my bedroom. I want to bring the songs back, you know?
Stan—We want you to hear the music in its raw form. I don’t think we necessarily started out trying to write a folk album. I don’t think that was our intention at all. I think it was kind of a self-discovery in itself, and it kind of turned into what it was [folk music] based on what our lives were like, what we were feeling.
Sid—I think people hear their own lives in our songs.
Jordan—I appreciate that about your music. I mean, do you have any ambitions for Girl Skin’s sound?
Stan—I think that our sound is definitely evolving over time. This album has taken a very long time to come together, and hopefully, hopefully, the next album will be less like that.
Sid— We already have songs ready for the next album. This album—the modern kind of folk record that we just recorded—a lot of it is me singing away in my bedroom, alone. Whereas, I don’t want to do that for the next record at all; I want the full band to go into the studio so all of our influences are on the table, all of our personalities.
Stan—Exactly. I think every member in the band has a lot to offer. They’re amazing musicians.
Sid—I think the next thing we do is going to be a lot darker, and I think a little more, heavy? It’s going to be a bigger record. But we’ll still have that vulnerable, delicate kind of song, because that’s who we are.
Jordan—You’ve self-described your sound as ‘Lemon-Pop’; do you still feel beholden to that?
Sid—Yeah, well at that point a lot of people were trying to put us in a category and were trying to say, like, ‘Oh, you guys are folk music. Oh, you guys are rock and roll.’ I just wanted to come up with a term that kind of just said, ‘No.’ It’s like, ‘What are you?’ and we’re like, ‘Well, lemon-pop.’ Also, our color scheme is black and yellow, and we make kind of poppy songs, so it kind of just came together.
Jordan—I can definitely detect some of those poppy elements, but also, I don’t feel your music ever risks sounding insincere. I’m curious what kind of personal questions and experiences have been shaping your music?
Sid—Well, I would say for this first record, coming back from the road-trip. When I got to like 12th grade in high school, I was playing in bands and recording a lot, and I saw high school as a complete waste of time. So, I jumped in my van, started traveling, and I ended up traveling around America. I was just looking for songs, you know, ideas. So that’s why this first record is just storytelling. That’s why we’re associating with folk. Folk music is storytelling. That’s the general thesis of the first record.
You learn a lot about who you are on the roads. It [the road-trip] was like a musical journey. That’s really what I wanted to go on. I was also really into soul music. I went to Nashville, Muscle Shoals Studio, Stax Records, all that.
Jordan—Specifically, who were your most formative musical influences?
Sid— I want to say The Beatles. That’s probably the main one that ties everything together, but also Karen Dalton, Sparklehorse is another one…
Stan—Probably The White Stripes, I think for both Sid and I.
Sid—Yeah, we grew up on The White Stripes. That was like our God, ever since we were like two years old.
Stan—I think there was just something about the time period when we were growing up, listening to him [Jack White], watching him, and being so enthralled by his presence.
Sid—He [our dad] definitely put us on to the good stuff. He made us little iPods. He put all the music on our iPods when we were like four years old, and he would go back and see what we were listening to, and it would all be The Beatles. That’s all we cared about when we were young.
Jordan—Earlier you referenced vulnerability. I would like to hear both of your perspectives on being men, men who are vulnerable.
Stan—Yeah, definitely. As men, a lot of the times you can’t really be emotional. You can’t really talk about your feelings around other men. I think music and art is such a great way to express those emotions. Both Sid and I grew up in a very artistic, and emotional family.
Sid—I also think you have to be a confident man to be vulnerable. Which usually feels like the opposite. Because the stigma is: if you’re vulnerable, you’re weak— but that’s not true at all. You have to be a confident person to be vulnerable.
Jordan—You said that you came from a family of creatives.
Sid—Well first of all, our whole family is in film.
Stan—We have an older brother, he’s a film editor. Our mother was a film producer for a really long time, she produced a lot of Australian films. Hugh Jackman’s first ever feature film.
Sid—Our dad is a creative director. Stan’s an actor.
Jordan—Stan, you actually have a movie coming out soon, Angelfish.
Stan—Yeah, it stars Princess Nokia, and Jimi Stanton, and it’s by first-time director Peter Andrew Lee. It’s a beautiful, honest love story set in the Bronx in the ՚90s. It follows the lives of two different families and two lovers who come together. I play the brother of the male lead.
Jordan—What was that like working with Princess Nokia?
Stan—She is awesome. You can tell with certain people—she’s just so amazingly creative, and nice, and just talented. She’s a great actress. All my friends, including me, love her music.
Jordan—Do you imagine that you’ll continue acting?
Stan—I do. You know, because of the family being in film, I’ve kind of been involved in it since I was young. It hasn’t been until recently that I became more serious, like, almost like it could become a career. And now it’s like fully-fledged. My time is going between acting, Girl Skin, modeling, and other stuff like that.
People say acting, music as well, if you’re a person who does it, it’s almost like you have to do it. I feel like with me, and Sid as well, it’s almost like we have to do it. We have to do it. It’s almost like a life-blood.
Sid—It’s who we are.
Stan—Yeah. It’s who we are.
Jordan—Sid, along with touring in Europe with your other band Beechwood, it sounded like you had a very full summer. You met Hedi Slimane…
Sid—Yea, he flew me out to Paris to meet him, and we shot together. I mean I’ve been and we’ve been so influenced by him. His work is so amazing. It was great to meet him, it was amazing!
Jordan—You were also featured in last month’s issue of Vogue alongside your girlfriend. What was that shoot like?
Sid—So [photographers] Inez and Vinoodh—another major influence—are such an amazing team. We walked in there and it was like a big family, you know what I mean? The wardrobe that we changed into was, like, three times the size of my apartment. It was massive!
Jordan—I was very drawn to some of Girl Skin’s visuals. Like for the music video ‘Darling.’ Did you guys assist in the direction of that video?
Sid—Yeah, basically me and my girlfriend we both filmed each other’s music videos. She had a video called ‘Skin’ and it’s the same film; we just used it for both.
Stan—Yea, the whole ‘Darling’ that was all filmed on Super-8.
Sid—It was a very candid video.
Stan—It was just them hanging out really.
Sid—The song is endearing, so we wanted the video to fit it.
Jordan—You know, I wanted to ask about your relationship as brothers. Are there things you guys are discovering about each other as you’ve been making music?
Stan—Definitely. There’s one song on this new album that we co-wrote together, and that was like a really interesting experience, because we never really sat down to write a serious—I mean we’ve always written songs together our whole lives, but it was never like ‘We’re going to make something really serious that we’re going to put on this album right now.’ At one point, we didn’t even know if it was going to be on the album, but then Sid went back in and re-mastered it, and now it’s turned into this really beautiful song.
Sid—It’s also nice having your sibling in the band where you don’t have to be sensitive. I can just tell him, ‘Oh that bass-line is shit man. That bass-line is terrible. Do that again.’ You know, or you can say, ‘That lyric is terrible.’ In the end, we’re always going to be there with each other, you know, we’re always going to love each other.
Stan—It’s total transparency. And you know, I can tell him anything I want.
Jordan—Do you see yourselves continuing to make together, like, I don’t even know, like a film someday, co-directing?
Stan—You know it’s really funny. I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood recently, and I watched it, and I told Sid, ‘You gotta come see this with me.’ I wanted to watch it [again] with him. We watched it, and when we were riding home Sid said, ‘Dude. That makes me want to make a film. We gotta make a film.’
Sid—You know, like Stan is Lee [Leonardo] and I’m Brad Pitt.
Stan—Shut up. Calm down dude.
Models Sid Simons and Stanley Simons at Next Management. Hair and grooming Rebekah Calo.