‘Southampton totally gets it’: An interview with Daniel Pugsley of Skindred

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I chatted to Welsh rockers Skindred about their tour and next album release.

So what have you got in store for us on your upcoming tour?

Well we’ve got an album coming out in January and we’re probably going to be playing a lot of the new material on the tour, as well as all the stuff that people always want to hear. But I think at some point in the next year or so we’d like to do a live album, so what we’re talking about doing is just making the funnest set we’ve ever done. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen us live but a big part of our show is it being a show in itself; it’s almost like a kind of heavy metal, reggae sound system, and then we’ll drop some dancehall, some dubstep or something and then go into, like, a Slayer song! We want to make all that stuff really high energy, and to make it just – you know – a monster!

You’re playing at Southampton’s Mo’ Club on the 23rd of January. You’re from Southampton yourself, right? Are the hometown shows special to you?

Oh definitely. I’m from Shirley originally, and I lived there until I was seventeen and then I moved to Wales, then that was when the band started. All my best friends from school, all of those guys are Southampton guys. I grew up in Southampton going to see DJ Hammy; I remember seeing him DJ at the Joiners… I was always going to stuff I was actually too young to go to! A big part of growing up was seeing live music in Southampton; getting to go see shows at the Joiners was a big thing. When the Nexus was still there, I used to go to the Nexus, and we as Skindred played there a couple of times as well. So yeah, I love coming back and playing in Southampton.

The last time you were here was as headliner for Takedown 2012, how are your memories of that show?

That was very cool. Just a great crowd. Every time we came to Southampton early on, when we started the band, Benji [Webbe, singer] was always excited about it because he was like ‘Southampton totally gets it’; the whole urban side of us and the fun stuff, Southampton gets it. And then the heavy thing, lots of good stuff happening there at the moment with bands. Bury Tomorrow are from Southampton, right? A couple of those kind of bands, really good stuff happening.

Yeah I’ve seen those guys about at a load of the local shows I’ve been to, maybe they’ll come see you too!

Yeah, we’ve got mutual friends and that. One of our crew sometimes works for them so if they’re home, I’m pretty sure someone from that posse will be around!

As you said, your new album Kill The Power is coming out on January 27th, have you been playing much of the new stuff live yet?

During the festivals we were playing one song – the title track – to kind of get a bit of new life into the set. So something new, but we feel like it’s such an instant kind of song that if we’re going to do anything live, we should do that first. That’s been going down as well as songs people have been singing for the last ten years! So that was really positive, and we did a Halloween show the other day and played another song as well -‘Ninja’, the one we put the lyric video up for a couple of months ago, and that went crazy! So for now just those but come January, we might even play like five new songs!

So how do you go about picking a setlist for these things?

Now, this is our fifth album, so you want to make sure you’re playing songs that everybody wants to hear, but you want to play your new stuff and kind of stretch people. So what we do is say – alright, people love ‘Nobody’ from the first record’ – so that’s got to be there. People love ‘Rat Race’ from the second record so that’s going to be there, and we sort of work through this process of having that and then we put the new ones in, but then we go ‘okay, with the old ones, what can we do to make it more interesting for us and get people excited?’ And that’s where we use Dan Sturgiss, our live electronics guy; we can do mash-ups with other songs. We’ve worked out some really cool arrangements of some of the songs! We just want that sound system vibe where they’re just dropping songs and you’re like ‘I can’t believe they’re playing this!’ We want that element to the set with the old stuff so people are getting what they want but it’s just a new take on it, and it’s more exciting for us! You know, we’ve been playing those songs for a long time.

Going back to the new album, are there any kind of surprises to expect on there?

This is the kind of album I feel like our second album should have been, really; it’s got that same kind of variety on it, but we’ve been together a lot longer now, and we sort of know what we’re doing! I feel like there are three definitive parts to the new album… I don’t mean the track listing, they’re all kind of mixed up, but I feel like there’s a portion of the album which is kind of ‘Babylon’ classic Skindred. The first album, but kind of a progression of that, so very heavy, dancehall, high energy, fun. And then there’s this next element which is a bit more in keeping with the last album, where we introduced a lot more electronic ideas, production ideas, synth and different things like that. So there’s that where I feel like we’re really pushing boundaries. I actually played some tunes to a friend, and I never play music to people, and he just was like ‘wow!’ so that was a good reaction! It’s kind of crazy, but it’s still Skindred and we’re trying to push it a bit. Firstly we wrote some songs with a guy called Russ Ballard, who wrote songs for Kiss, Rainbow… He wrote ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’, all these great massive songs like that, and we ended up getting involved with him, which was something really different for him too. We’d written a lot of music and Benj had written a lot [of lyrics], but he kind of got involved and helped us re-write a few sections, so there’s this element of the album which is quite anthemic, I’d say, and I hate using the word, but mature in terms of music. I love ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magic’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers; when I was like twelve it just blew my head off. That record has got these quiet ‘Under the Bridge’ moments and loud, funky, ‘Suck My Kiss’ moments, then there’s a rag-time song at the end! It’s crazy, but it’s all the Chili’s! I feel – not commercially obviously, it’s not gonna be that successful – like we’ve written that sort of an album, it’s really definitive Skindred. Where the last record was really progressive, but I don’t think the songs were all totally there, but this one I feel is all really there.

Anyone who’s been to one of your shows will have seen the ‘Newport helicopter’; how did that first come about?

It was something that Benj did at Download 2011. He’s a very big one for crowd participation and he’s always trying to think of things. In the past he’s tried to do things and they never totally connected. They were almost these moments of brilliance but never quite. I don’t know what it was that day, but he was just like ‘yeah I’m gonna try and do this thing’ and we were like ‘cool’ because we try and have sections in songs that live we can totally break down, so people have a chance to catch their breath and then go absolutely crazy! So Benj started doing it, it’s kind of like watching old rap videos! This guy Petey Pablo, he had all people doing that with their shirts (in his video for ‘Raise Up’). I think Benj was thinking up all these different ideas and I think he was a bit inspired by this rap video! From there it just went mad! I mean, we’re not even saying it really now! We’ve turned up at shows in India, in Japan, in Europe, and people have printed T-shirts that say ‘designated Newport helicopter T-shirt’ or things like that, it’s crazy! So yeah it’s just sort of taken off!

Skindred’s next album, Kill the Power, is released next year. 

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