Alternative rock and metal prodigies Skindred are known for their furious, energetic live shows. So, really, sitting down and interviewing them for about 15 minutes seems like something completely out of the ordinary – considering they are normally always riffing hard onstage or getting fans to take their garments off and get their trademarked Newport Helicopter in full swing (no pun intended).
Yet Wacken Open Air 2015 was one of those aforementioned occasions, but it was after their set that right before Sabaton and Judas Priest we were able to grab an interview with three of the spirited crew; drummer Arya Goggin, guitarist Mike Fry and DJ/programmer Dan “Sanchez” Sturgess, who according to frontman Benji Webbe, doesn’t like Slipknot, Pantera or Bullet For My Valentine. At least that’s what he admitted onstage!
Skindred talked about their upcoming album Volume, tour life, inspirations and their recent activities. Read on and enjoy!
Read my full review of Wacken (here).
It’s nice to finally meet you guys. How are things going with Skindred at the moment?
Arya: Very well, just finished the new album, been all over the place this summer, playing festivals every weekend. Booked a big UK and European tour which kicks off in November. Just shot a couple videos at the end of last week, you’ve caught us right at the beginning of everything kicking into place for the new record.
Yeah, I mean that’s what we’re going to be discussing a little bit today. So, this show at Wacken is one of a straight run of about 3 or 4 festivals across Europe. Am I right in saying this is the second?
Mike: This is the…third I believe.
Arya: We were supposed to be supporting Rob Zombie but it got cancelled, because of his gear. We played in Germany last night, tonight we’re here, and tomorrow we’re in Belgium.
Ah okay. And the run’s going well, is it?
Dan: I mean Europe’s like our second home. We’ve focused a lot on mainland Europe over the last 4 or 5 years and coming back is fantastic.
Mike: We headlined a festival last night, and came in first thing this morning.
Will you be sticking around to watch some other bands today at Wacken?
Arya: Yeah I NEED to see Judas Priest! I told the van driver we’re staying – we’re going at midnight when they finish!
So, of course you announced the new album Volume not too long ago, did you say you’ve finished recording it now?
Arya: It’s mixed, mastered and it’s ready to be pressed. It’s as ready as it could be. Everything is sorted.
Mike: We’re slightly ahead of schedule, which is really strange for us. Normally we do things really last minute screaming our heads off. We’ve been really organised this time around.
Excellent. How has the recording process been?
Arya: Very productive. We wrote for about 6-8 weeks, did two chunks. And then we recorded the album from start to finish in less than a month. I think we were there, in February, yeah we were in the studio then.
Mike: Yeah, we were in there for not even all of February.
Arya: It was the first album we wrote with Dan.
Arya: So, yeah, he played a massive part in it, did the old DJ Sturgess Badboy Machine! I think that was the main difference – writing with a new member after we’ve been together about 12 years. Our fortunes really turned around, and it’s been good from there.
Dan: I haven’t played with the band live for the last 5 years, and it’s been a natural progression really. I mean it’s cool and I think it comes across in the sound on the album. It sounds strange writing with a new member in, but I feel it’s gone back to the sound of the days of “Nobody”, you know. Volume’s a really riff-heavy album. I think it’s the heaviest album of our last two or three.
Arya: Yeah I think so too. When you try and have a formula to do what you’re trying to do, it never works. Never. I think with Kill The Power we had this proper idea with what we wanted to do, how we wanted to be. And with Volume, we were like “Do you know what? Fuck it.” We just tried to write some really badass songs. “I’m gonna jump around and go mental while I play this” and when Benji [vocalist] can get on the mic and just spit what he feels passionate about. You know.
Mike: That kind of energy hasn’t been seen for a long time. You know we have these preconceived ideas about what we want the record to sound like. So we threw all those out the window, because we wanted to make this fun again.
Arya: And Dan was a big part of that because we have never had that kind of energy before, and he came along at the perfect time. Having him made it more fun.
Mike: I think with Kill The Power and elements of the other albums, there wasn’t a case of production being added for the sake of it. In the past there’s been a bit of dubstep added, that can sometimes, at face value, feel a bit bolted on. I mean it’s good because we love all different types of music. There was a different atmosphere for sure. So it isn’t so much what the latest trend is – and recording it. It’s a very real sound. I don’t think anyone listening is going to go “Oh, here’s the dubstep part.” It just all flows naturally, and that’s I think what we were trying to do.
Yeah I mean you released Kill The Power only last year didn’t you?
Mike: We wrote and recorded it in the early part of 2013, and then with the idea of releasing it in September 2013. For one reason or another that was put back. Even by the time it came out, we were just kind of sitting on it for a long time. But with this one it was very much written, recorded, and it’s coming out in the same period of time.
I was going to say that this is probably one of the shortest gaps between albums. Normally there’s a gap of about 2 or 3 years or so. Was there a particular reason for that?
Arya: Oh massively because the first album came out in 2002, the second in 2007, then 2009, then it was 2011 and we were like “We need to keep these gaps shorter!” Because I don’t want to be playing those songs repeatedly.
Mike: We want to make the set fun and keep things interesting. We want to keep peoples’ attentions, to spike their interests.
Arya: One of the things we’ve done with this record, is we’ve filmed a documentary over the last 12 years. Dan has been involved with this and piecing it together. The film is called Rudeboys For Life (sic) and the documentary is exclusive with the pre-order for the record. That was like a thank you to the fans, for sticking with us. We know we take a long time in between the records, and this time we want to give you something back. But you’ll only be able to get that with the pre-order.
Mike: Yeah if you go into the shops on the first day, you won’t get it! If you’re a fan you’re probably going to know about it. Everyone’s familiar with the live show, everyone’s familiar with the personality of Benji onstage – larger than life. And you can watch this now. You can see footage from behind the curtain, you can see this band in a different light. You don’t ever see that with this band and you don’t get to see the turmoil of making the albums.
Dan: I mean on the documentary, it has got making of all the 6 studio albums, so the footage goes back about 15 years really. Going back to the days of travelling around America in a van, leads everything up to Jacoby recording his parts. It’s all there. It’s an entire history of Skindred. It’s a big subject and it is definitely one project that is wholly for the fans. People who have stuck with us for so long, we felt they deserved to see the insight to how it has gone and how it’s happened.
Arya: People can be quite stark, compared to the interviews you’d read with the band, I mean doing press yourself you’d probably know, it’s clear that we are a really positive band. But there is shit that goes down. And we don’t like to talk about the bad stuff. I don’t want to say it’s like Some Kind Of Monster, but I mean there is some stuff on there that you wouldn’t normally see. Which is cool.
Going back to Kill The Power, you stated it was an album for everyone sick of being an underdog, and destroying everything and everyone holding them down. Maybe this is more Benji’s bag I’m not sure.
Arya: Definitely lyrically that is what he was going for. Because it’s a recurrent theme with most of his lyrics, but Kill The Power was particularly dense. The theme was taking life back. That was the message. I think musically we tried to do that, but because of one reason or another, we couldn’t do everything we wanted.
Mike: We tried to do A LOT on that album to be fair. With Volume, the result is a lot more concise, and everything’s sort of a lot more succinct. We’re all kind of in the same pocket. It boils down to the old proverb; if you can it doesn’t mean you should. That’s like the Skindred motto with writing the songs. Because we can do anything we want musically and so this one doesn’t necessarily have to include dubstep, drum and bass verse. We can just keep it down. And that’s not a bad thing.
Does the theme of oppression play a big part in your lyrics?
Arya: Well I mean Benji lives where he grew up. He’s always writing things about where he’s from. Newport in Wales. I guess when he was growing up, he was a teenage black man into rock, metal, punk and ska and there was all that stuff going on. He calls it as he sees it. That’s also the thing about his writing, where a reoccurring theme is talking about where we are as a band. And I like that.
Mike: He has a lot of strings to his bow. I think that even though he’s talking from his own personal experiences it translates well and it’s written cryptically enough so that people can read into what he’s saying and feel something.
Arya: One of the things with Skindred, there have been these songs where Benji has tackled really serious issues. “Fear” is about bullying and how he saw it. He has another song about his son being stabbed. On the new record he does talk about how his friend passed away, and he never got to say goodbye. So there are all these situations that he writes about and I guess as a listener, you don’t know these things until you’re told. You don’t necessarily make assumptions, but you interpret them the way you want. And that’s the most beautiful thing about it.
So you’ve also announced a headline tour alongside Crossfaith, Yashin and (HED) P.E. Have you ever toured with those guys before?
Dan: Yes. All but (HED) P.E. I mean we’ve done shows with them, we’ve toured with Crossfaith in Europe, done shows with Yashin and with (HED) P.E. Like throughout the times. So we’re all familiar with one another.
Mike: I think it’s good, you never really know what people are gonna be like when you share a venue with them. We’re covering bases with like the Skindred family, in terms of support bands. I mean (HED) P.E are a band that Benji, myself and the rest of the guys have been fans of for years.
Arya: Back in the day we would have supported them. And been like “THIS IS AMAZING!” so to have them on tour with us is a privilege. Crossfaith, they’ve supported us through Europe – they’re wicked dudes. Same with Yashin. I think it’s going to be really fun. I’m looking forward to (HED) P.E just because I went to see them recently.
You also, on Monday, did a video shoot in London that featured 100 fans. What were their roles exactly?
Mike: About 100 odd fans, we put it out there on the Internet that we wanted people to come along and be part of a video shoot.
Arya: Loads of people came down, into this sort of warehouse, a couple of cameras and a load of coloured flour. Then a Skindred party happened.
Dan: We wanted to reflect that on the album in some way. We really wanted to get that crowd vibe going for the album, which we haven’t done in videos for as long as I can remember. It’s like a Skindred live show-party video where the crowd goes insane.
Arya: The director of the video, he had never heard the track before. We played the track and they went fucking mental. It was really good fun. That’s what we wanted to capture on film. It’s hard but you don’t know who’s going to show up, so the cameras are rolling. It will probably be really funny for the viewer.
How important is it for fans to get involved in band activities?
Mike: Yeah because I think you finally have that opportunity now. The Internet is a wonderful place where stuff like that can actually happen. It is evil at the same time because people can download for free but the positive is, you can have that access to your favourite bands.
Arya: When I was a kid, if I had the Internet when Guns ‘n Roses or Queen were around I’d be stoked. I’d have been like “Oh my god what kind of cymbals is Roger Taylor using now?” I could ask him. He may reply. And now you can do that and it’s great.
Dan: I think when we were all younger, having that VHS, you’d have tapes and snippets of Freddie Mercury being interviewed. I’d watch that to death. With us as a band, with the documentary coming out, that’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like that. We haven’t put out five previous world tour videos. This is the first time we have ever tried to do something of that calibre. And the subject matter is so huge. You know everyone’s seen Benji do his thing on stage and it’s incredible. People haven’t seen him shout at a mic in the back of a van.
Dan: They also haven’t seen Mike [guitarist] knock him the fuck out! *laughs*
Mike: Yeah because that happened! *laughs*
Skindred will be touring the UK and Europe this November. For more info, head here.