by Jayna Dias, PERSONALITY EDITOR
30 May 2019
The small, corner coffee shop is packed on a warm Wednesday evening, filled with the sounds of soft boot taps in time with rhythm, hot beverages being steamed, and singing voices bouncing off the brick and maroon walls that house analogous designed paintings. Open mic night at Tredwell Coffee causes a cultivation to the small stage set up in the back of the room, puppy guarded by teenagers nervously tuning their strings and other performers scrolling through their lyrics. The two microphones that perch on top of the wooden stand, accompanied by speakers on either side, delicate fairy lights that coat the ground and a hanging fixture all occupy many performers on the spring night. However, the duo that concludes the evening filled with serenity, joy, and one too many coffee cakes, proves that last is certainly not least.
Musical partnership Gracie Robinson and Skylar Korzen perform cover songs at local open mics and anywhere else that can share their talents. Gracie takes to the vocals, while Skylar accompanies her powerful voice with a melodic guitar. The two have been practicing with one another for a long time, but did not take to the stage until spring of this year.
Tuning the strings
The pair began experimenting with music after Skylar made a post on social media, asking for people to join her at an open mic showing, and Gracie replied with interest. The friendship was one the formed quickly, the two bonding over the event—which turned out to be a disappointment for the both of them as it was a dragged out poetry scene — ending with a sleepover in which they stayed up until six in the morning chatting and connecting.
After Skylar heard Gracie’s voice, which was actually Gracie’s first time singing in front of anyone, she knew that their musical talents could be joined to enhance their appeal. Skylar has background with instruments, playing both the guitar and drums, and having took lessons for both. She quickly gained experience being on stage from said lessons, having to perform with a makeshift band with the other kids in her classes. Skylar recalled the memory, throwing her head back and bringing her hands up in exasperation over how nerve-wrecking it was. However, it proved to add aid, as she no longer feels anything but pure adrenaline and excitement when she is performing in front of a crowd.
“Adrenaline. That’s it, that’s all I feel,” Skylar remarks, leaning foreword on her elbows as the dark mascara along her undereye creases in pride. “I haven’t been nervous to play in years.”
Gracie, on the other hand, was a bit more apprehensive. Skylar quickly taps the table, her rings clanking against the wood as she interjects about Gracie wanting to get a vocal coach before she would perform live. The glittery sparkles across Skylar’s face shine as her skin wrinkles with amusement.
However, once they got the first performance out of the way, Gracie and Skylar knew that the stage is where they belong.
Senior Skylar Korzen (left) and early graduate Gracie Robinson (right) perform at open mic night at Tredwell Coffee in downtown Aurora. “Everything came together when I found [Gracie] … before, I only felt adrenaline on stage, but now I know there’s a connection. We have something special,” Skylar said. “When I’m up there, I’m just thinking ‘I want to do it more,’” Gracie added. “I’m greedy.” Photos by Jayna Dias.
Runs and rehearsals
During their practices, which are trying to become more frequent, Gracie and Skylar take to either ones bedroom to practice their music. The time together consists of a lot of procrastination and side-tracked conversations, occasionally including running through old songs, experimenting with different pitches, and planning out arrangements for new songs to come.
The duo currently only perform covers, and are in the process of discovering the setup for “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine. However, Gracie does write lyrics of her own. As the pair continue to progress musically and as performers, they hope to debut her original works as well.
Gracie touches on her inspiration for her music writing—a style that Skylar defines as “Atlantis in Outer Space.” Artists like Kevin Abstract and Brockhampton opened her eyes in identifying how self-expression and creativity translate in the world of music. The freedom in their performances are contagious to audience members, so much so that both Gracie and Skylar were in attendance at the same Brockhampton concert before even knowing who the other was.
“I don’t feel like I want to be famous or anything and have Beyonce status, I just want to have an audience with people I can touch with my music … and be able to live off of that,” Gracie states, tucking a bright pink strand of hair behind her ear and looking up into the darkening sky.
Also underway is determining arrangements in which the two can be accompanied by more instruments. Skylar expresses the difficulty in properly conducting music with only one person on the strings, which is why she’s in the process of saving up for a loop station; a device that can record and playback music in real time. It would allow for more instruments like a bass and drums to appear in their performances without adding additional members.
Gracie and Skylar naturally turn heads wherever they go, as their sense of style is just as creative and artistic as their music. Gracie leans forward on one of the small tables on the back patio of the coffee shop. The silvery sparkles dusted across her cheeks and nose shimmering against the overhanging lights. Her face is illuminated as though the spotlight never left. Gracie’s dark hair is pulled back messily, stray hot pink highlights and hues of purple frame her face, all hardly contained with the bright orange bandana atop her head. Her oversized, dark denim jacket swallows her frame, just barely displaying the flaming skeleton T-shirt she’s wearing underneath, finished off with neon green pants and combat boots — the left new and shiny, and the right worn.
Skylar has her own unique fashion sense to match. Her dark hair is down and straight, blunt bangs that hang below her eyebrows dyed a similar shade of pink as Gracie’s, accompanied by dark purple streaks as well. The very same silvery glitter dances across her cheeks, gleaming as her head rests against her fist, or when she turn to tease Gracie or sneak a smile. A variety of low-hanging necklaces trail down to multi-colored tank top she’s wearing, which is paired with a large plaid overshirt. Skylar’s leg bounces underneath the table, drawing attention to the mismatched shoes she’s wearing—one boot blue, the other black.
While sitting at the table with one another, a girl sitting nearby comes up to them after continuously sneaking glances their way. She gushes over their style and how cool they look, explaining how they had caught her eye from afar. The duo grin at the compliment and thank her, sparking a brief conversation before she turns back around to enter the coffeeshop. Similar occurrences from both strangers and fans that had heard them at previous gigs, seem to happen often.
In fact one of their covers, “Creep” by Radiohead, has become a fan favorite for their viewers.
Gracie toys with one of her four nose piercings, silvery acrylic nails tapping the metal gently, as she recalls getting approached by a man after one of their open mics. He had complimented her voice and the uniqueness of her runs before laughing and admitting that he could never perform “Creep” again after hearing their’s.
The attention received from their performances only solidified Gracie’s passion for singing, realizing how she’s already completing her goal in music, which is touching her audience members.
“When [I’m on stage], I’m just thinking ‘Wow this is what I want to do,’” Gracie states, playing with her phone that lays flat on the coffee table. She grins a bit, her hand reaching up to fidget with one of the two chokers around her neck. She smirks before adding, “Just aside from the old white people as the crowd.”
The duo was the subject of a photoshoot by a local photographer who had seen them perform. They were later invited by the photographer to perform — for pay — at another event. “That [performance] was my favorite because so many people were there … usually my friends come, but that was the most,” Gracie said.
Both Gracie and Skylar plan to continue with their music careers, a feat made possible by their supportive families. Their parents make efforts to be present for the daughters’ performances and are patient enough to allow teenagers to practice with singing and playing in their homes during the day.
Gracie rubs her fingers along the cold, metal septum that hangs from her nostrils, recalling that her parents had always encouraged her to sing. She was affiliated with it at a young age, but eventually fell out of the routine after beginning high school. So, once her family found out she was diving back into her musical talents, they were ecstatic and nothing but supportive. Her mom even commented that she’s never seen Gracie so alive as she is onstage.
“It feels good because I don’t really want to go to college and do the norma sh***, like work at a desk forever and get a golden retriever with a husband named Brad and have kids … I refuse,” Gracie laments, her dark eyes rolling back, causing her thick lashes to flutter. “But [my parents] are totally with it. I feel like I see a lot of my friends’ parents around me and they’re super strict and want them to do certain things, but they want me to do what I want to do. And they’re there to see it.”
Although Skylar’s mom is less lenient, actually having just grounded her for not keeping up with college admissions, the amount of support is all the same. Her mom’s guidance is a bit more structured, being told that no matter what decision she chooses to make for her future, there must be a plan in order to achieve what she desires. All that she asks in regards to her performances is for Skylar to smile more while playing the guitar, which Skylar states with a grin, playing with the zipper of the yellow fanny pack slouching around her waist.
Gracie and Skylar finally take to the stage as the final performance of the evening at Tredwell Coffee’s open mic night. Gracie makes herself comfortable on the stool, positioning the microphone in front of her, as Skylar strums her orange-tanned guitar.
Once the duo begins, the clanking of spoons against teacups cease, so do whispered conversations along with crunches into fruit-filled pastries. The small coffee shop’s energy has fixated to the back corner of the room, to the colorful teenagers that look and sound like they have been together for years.
When Gracie takes the microphone from the stand, her fingers stacked with rings gripping it and bringing it closer to her lips, Skylar turns to look at her mate, a grin plastering across her face while still maintaining to skillfully strum the instrument. The cohesion with the pair showed well before their performance, playfully interrupting one another with banter and inside joke as they spoke, matching with the shimmery silver highlight across their faces, and looking to the other which often lead to laughter and teasing. Just as Gracie’s soft, yet powerful voice melds with Skylar’s melodies and notes — their cohesion is undeniable.
Jayna Dias is the Personality Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.