Such Great Heights

The Skyscrapers are a pre-teen band destined for big things

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

When you have talented young people making music, it's something. But when they're all still in primary school, well, it's worth hearing. And what's more, they rock out as well. 

The Skyscrapers formed two years ago and have already released a seven-song EP featuring six original songs – ‘Confusion’, ‘Just Kids’, ‘There’s a Light’, ‘Possibility’, ‘Megaphone’ and ‘Party all Night’ – and a cover of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Summertime’. Their song ‘Megaphone’ was used to promote M-Net’s Animania animation festival alongside a specially produced music video featuring the band, which flighted daily across eight M-Net channels. It’s this song that The Skyscrapers are playing in their band room when The Way of Us drops in.

We get chatting and discover that they’re a pretty precocious bunch, where Dan Buchalter started banging the drums as a toddler already, Mila Smith has been writing songs since she was seven and Leo Letschert has been studying classical and jazz piano for the majority of his young life.

Georgia Black, Leo’s mom and the founder of the Littlegig Festival where The Skyscrapers will be performing on the 28th of January, put the band together. Along with management and PR duties, she hosts the weekly band practices in a room that’s as considered as the rest of her home.  

“For this one we need to take the stand out. It’s more dramatic,” says Mila before belting out ‘Summertime’. 

Mila is a born star with a booming voice, and even when she speaks every word is perfectly enunciated. So we’re not really that surprised when she tells us about her love of theatre and how she’s playing the part of Kate in the Pieter Toerien production of Annie at the Artscape Theatre.

“We played to pensioners last night and it was the first time we didn’t get a standing ovation. Maybe they were too old to get up?”

So she’s funny, too. Mila writes the lyrics for The Skyscrapers and says that each song is a joint effort that usually starts with her coming up with an idea, getting a melody from Leo, then building on that with lyrics based on whatever she’s been thinking about. 

Leo jumps in to help explain the process. 

“I write songs on the piano where sometimes I’ll play a wrong chord, but like it, then build on that, and that’s how the piano part of ‘Megaphone’ started.” 

Once Mila and Leo have worked out a song together, they’ll take it to Dan, who adds his beats, after which their respective music coaches step in and help them to polish. 

Voice coach Sadé Ross works with Mila on harnessing her vocal talent and structuring her songwriting. Nathan Woodman plays with Jeremy Loops, does vocals with Good Luck and assists Leo with his keyboard compositions. And then besides his older siblings who play in bands, Dan also gets help from Michael Dickens with his drumming parts. 

There’s no denying that these kids are privileged to have the type of head start that most other bands could only ever dream of, but why not? Georgia has the capacity, the knowledge, the contacts, and realised that she had to do something after the kids met at school and decided to start a band, but weren’t given the necessary support there. 

“I also make sure they’re not spoilt. They just got paid by M-Net and I explained that what they need to understand is that there are costs involved. That pesky word ‘expenditure’. So what they earn must go towards that and they must learn to treat this like a business. All this equipment doesn’t fall off a tree somewhere. It’s come relatively easily to them and it’s important that they understand that they still need to work for it.” 

It’s quite a thing managing a band of overachieving pre-teens where Mila lives on the West Coast and has her drama obligations, Dan’s in the Southern Suburbs and is a star cricketer, and even though Leo lives upstairs from where they practice, his first love is football and having signed to Hellenic means there are huge commitments there, too. 

So while the weekly meet-ups and fortnightly Sunday afternoon sessions can sometimes feel like herding cats, the tutors stress how important it is that they don’t kill these kids' love of music, and that despite the big expectations it should always be about having fun. 

“We try and show them stuff that sounds cool, and then bring it back to where it came from,” says Nate. “‘Oh, did you like that? Well that is this, and I want you to learn this so that you can do that. You have to in a sense trick them into learning what you’re trying to teach them.” 

Sadé is helping Mila to mature her voice, teaching her correct technique, and exploring the versatility of her instrument by covering all genres. 

“People often discard the natural voice and adopt some pop star’s habits. They try emulating others. But I’ve made Mila aware that there’s no longevity in that.”

For bands to do this music thing properly it often comes down to having the necessary support, as it’s the people working behind the scenes who can make all the difference. The Skyscrapers are more than the three pre-teens wowing crowds, and the team in the background plays a huge role in these young musicians lives, helping them to better their craft while keeping that magic alive. The Skyscrapers have towering talent and multiple stories to tell, so you’d better look up, because they may be small now but are surely destined for big things.