Like many UK bands before them, Skindred are pioneers in sound. Led by charismatic vocalist Benji Webbe the band have fused together rock, reggae, punk and dub to create a musical experience like no other.
The band's latest release, Volume was recorded in just three and a half weeks, which is pretty quick for these guys and marks a different writing approach. As the band prepare to release album number six, Photogroupie caught up with guitarist Mikey Demus to get the low-down on this remarkable album.
PHOTOGROUPIE (PG): WHAT WERE YOU SETTING OUT TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS RELEASE?
MIKEY DEMUS (MD): With the previous album, Kill The Power we tried to do a bunch of different stuff and make a varied record; we wanted to turn that on its head this time. We didn't obsess with any of the songs, we were writing music for ourselves and trying to please each other and write music that the band could play live and really get behind. Volume is a really riffy focused record; I think that because we put so little time into recording it we didn't hang around with any of the tunes, we got them down and that's how they were. We're really happy with the result.
PG: WHAT PROMPTED THIS SHIFT, WAS IT SOMETHING YOU CONSCIOUSLY SET OUT TO DO?
MD: There was no agenda really, not in the world domination sense.(Laughs) I feel like in the past we introduced certain ideas where if you write something, this will happen, we've been let down by that before. I guess we were sick and tired of trying to cross over to any kind of wider mainstream sound in any of the songs we were writing. On Volume I guess we didn't want to fall into any of those traps where we were trying to write radio singles or fulfill some kind of criteria. We just wanted to write really strong, jumpy, riffy, bouncy songs that we could play live and not be thinking we want to get this song on the radio; we thought fuck that, we just want to write rocking stuff! Our hardcore fans will appreciate that.
PG: YOUR DOCUMENTARY FILM RUDE BOYS FOR LIFE, WAS 10 YEARS IN THE MAKING, DID YOU IMAGINE THAT IT WOULD BE THAT TIME SCALE WHEN YOU FIRST WANTED TO MAKE A FILM?
MD: A long time ago we though if we ever wanted to see anything like that we were going to have to start filming all the time! We went through various different phases of camcorders back in the day and watched all kinds of formats change. Most of the time it was me being responsible for looking after some kind of video camera. We amassed hours and hours of footage, It was really weird because you'd whip the camera out when you were in the middle of nowhere in America and go 'do something amazing this is for the film.' It wasn't until the last five or six years that we had more people following us around with the video cameras and making that stuff work and we could relax a little bit and let other people document what was going on with the recording and so forth. Watching the film back, you are really conscious of watching all of us change and go from boys into men.
PG: IT MUST HAVE BEEN A REALLY INTERESTING PROJECT TO BE PART OF.
MD: It was really enjoyable to watch all of it unfold. I guess we always wanted to amass footage with the idea of putting it on some kind of film. We all digged those Pantera home movies and things like that. When I was a kid I'd watch Korn's Who Then Now? video over and over again. You really felt that you were getting an understanding of who these people were, where they came from and what their life was like and what got them doing what they were doing. We really wanted to get that sort of thing across. We're not the wildest, partying band on the road, we're fairly tame by other people's standards. There's always been a bit of debauchery over the years, but it was really difficult to compile 15 years of being together into an hour.
PG: THAT'S GOT TO HAVE BEEN AN EDITING NIGHTMARE!
MD: I think that's why it took such a long time to see the light of day. We always wanted to release it to coincide with an album, and this was as good a time as any.
PG: BEING A MULTIRACIAL ROCK BAND ARE YOU PROOF THAT MUSIC IS AND SHOULD BE A UNITING FORCE?
MD: I don't know if we are the proof of it, but we practice what we preach. It's not really something I walk around thinking about to be honest. It's interesting when people bring it up, but we are who we are and we play to each other's strengths, it never comes into our way of thinking. But I'm so used to being in a band with really different people. We're all really different, we all grew up in different parts of the country and come from different backgrounds; none of us grew up together, but we all came together because of friend of a friend of a friend stuff. Benji brings a huge cultural and racial influence because he bleeds reggae music and at the same time he sweats rock 24 hours a day. There's nobody else like him, I'm lucky to be in a band with him.
PG: REGGAE AND ROCK ARE NOT TWO GENRES YOU WOULD NORMALLY ASSOCIATE TOGETHER, AND YET YOU DO IT SEAMLESSLY.
MD: It's hard to think of another band that do anything like we do. When we were in the US people drew similarities between Bad Brains and us who did punk rock and reggae, but they never did both at the same time. I guess we just wanted to be a really hard hitting, exciting live rock band that has all this influence and it's a Marmite thing, and I'm happy about that. We never wanted to be part of something that was vanillaed down. In our mind there's no difference between doing some 110 mph punk rock, thrashy Armageddon song and the next track being some Caribbean sounding skank tune on acoustic guitars, to us it's the same universe.
PG: ANY PLANS TO DO A 100% REGGAE ALBUM?
MD: You know we'd really love to do that. We did a bunch of acoustic versions on Babylon and that was really popular in the US. There are all kinds of things that we wanted to do like mini albums and EP's and I feel that we really could, but our time is so precious, when we're not on the road we're writing for the next release. But it's something that I want to do.
PG: SKINDRED HAVE TOURED EXTENSIVELY IN THE USA, AND MAINTAIN A LOYAL FOLLOWING THERE, EVEN THOUGH YOU GUYS ARE BRITISH. WAS THAT A DELIBERATE PLAN?
MD: It's just the way it's worked out. For a long time we were managed by a US managing company and their focus was predominantly the US market, so they had us working that area for a long period of time. But we parted ways and now we're with a UK based manager. It was really nice to return to our home country and concentrate on this part of the world a little bit more. Obviously we still have a massive fanbase in the US, we are hoping to redress the balance and do some more stuff over there soon.
PG: THE BAND ARE FESTIVAL FAVOURITES TOO, BUT WHICH DO YOU PREFER OUTDOOR OR INDOOR VENUES?
MD: It's nice to be able to do both, it's a nice problem to have! I like elements of both. Over the summer we'll do maybe 40 festivals. It's so good to play outdoors in front of a huge crowd and new fans and people that have never heard of you or had previously written you off. You get to do that at festivals, you're preaching to the non-converted. When you're on a tour bus playing 6,7,8 weeks at a time, by the second week in you are razor sharp and solid. The show becomes flawless and on autopilot that's a nice place to be. Touring and playing in clubs that's where you get to hone it a little bit more, but festivals are the highlight of the summer. We are lucky we get to do it all.
PG: HOW DID YOU GET INTO MUSIC?
MD: I think it was to get girls! My dad tried to sit me down with a guitar when I was about 8 years old because I think he figured that I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. He tried to encroach this idea of the guitar and I wasn't having any of it. When I was about eleven I started to think that this could be the way to not be this little geek in the corner so I embraced the idea of learning an instrument. I remember watching Woodstock and being blown away by Santana and Hendrix and that unlocked the box. I just wanted to absorb music 24 hours a day, it became like a religion. So I learnt to play I borrowed tapes from the library, stuff like that and just figured out how to play things. You couldn't separate me from a guitar when I was 12/13 years old. I'm still in love with the guitar, it's still an obsession.
PG: WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES?
MD: All the biggies, Hendrix, Jimmy Page. But I was always into the idea of songs, I didn't just want to pay lead guitar all day long. I like bands I wanted to be in a band and be part of something. I was way more excited by the idea of Steve Cropper than Steve Vai, somebody that makes the songs come alive.
PG: WHAT'S ON YOUR PLAYLIST AT THE MOMENT?
MD: To be honest I struggle with new music, I'm not really into a great deal of heavy music and that's where a lot of our peers are at. For example the last thing I was listening to on my iPod this morning was Ian Brown, from The Stone Roses and an album by Mike Vennart (The Demon Joke) who plays guitar on tour for Biffy Clyro. He was in a band called Oceansize for a long time and it's interesting time signatures and thought provoking, out there indie rock! It makes me look like an absolute heathen by comparison, but I find it inspiring!
PG: A NEW ALBUM MEANS A NEW TOUR. SKINDRED ARE KNOWN FOR ENERGETIC LIVE SHOWS, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT THIS TIME?
MD: You can expect more energetic live shows! I'm confident that if we were to pick 5 songs from Volume and splice them into the set, they wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb, they'd be right at home in a Skindred set. That's what we hope at least.
You can check it out for yourself when Skindred hit the road from October 31st.