“Yeah, that hippy stuff, that’s kinda what we do”: An interview with Dan from Skindred

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Ragga metal band Skindred are on top of their game this year. Having toured extensively in the first half of 2015 they are now gearing up to release their sixth studio album Volume and embark on a tour of the UK supported by Crossfaith, Hed PE and Yashin. I took some time out to chat with the band’s bassist Dan Pugsley about the above and how Skindred has changed as a creative force over it’s thirteen year history.

 

If I’m not mistaken you and the rest of the guys are currently at a press event in London, can you tell us a little about what you’ve been doing today?

Yeah, what we’re doing is promoting our new record. What they’ve done is get us all in one place because we live all over the country, so we can do a bunch of interviews. We’ve just done some photo shoots and some bits and pieces and we get to talk to people like your good self!

Excellent! You’re new album Volumes is coming out on 30th October and then you’re kicking off the Pump Up The Volume tour a few days later – is this what it’s all about for you then, getting your music out there and connecting with your fans?

Yeah, you know I think if you play music now you don’t really make as much money as you used to because people don’t really buy records, so it’s all about going out and playing live. That’s a big thing for us and it always has been, we just play and play and play. Recording an album means we can justify going back out on the road and touring, whereas it used to be the other way round where you’d tour to sell a record.

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As a band you seem to have such a great relationship with your fans, I’ve seen you answering their questions on Facebook and Twitter and getting excited with them about the new release and the tour. Obviously a dedicated fan base is a fantastic thing to have as a band, but do you think there’s something about Skindred specifically that attracts people in a unique way, like a bespoke Skindred magic?

Well I don’t really know about that! [laughs]. But we’ve never been part of a scene. People tried to lump us in with a lot of nu metal bands in the beginning, and then we were really, really uncool for a long time. We’ve never been part of a popular scene but over the years we’ve had a sort of slow climb and it feels like it’s gotten to the point now where a lot of people really like the band. But it’s never been from a huge media push or a smash hit song its just been from a slow climb, but I think a few things have happened from that. One of them is our relationship with our fans, because we essentially come from nothing and we were really grateful, are still really grateful, for anyone who supports the band. From the beginning when there were a lot less people it was really easy to communicate with them and now where social media is a bit more accessible for us as a band we get to do that on a larger scale. Also what that means as well is that people aren’t really going away, there are people who have liked the band since 2000. So I feel like we’re in a good spot but I think that’s largely because we’ve never been in an actual scene, like we’re not a cool pop-punk band or an emo band or a thrash metal band. We’re just us.

It was Benji who said in an interview with Hysteria Magazine a few years ago that bands and artists like yourselves, who are put on a pedestal and attract a lot of attention, almost have an obligation to spread positivity through their lyrics – do you think it’s possible then for a successful band to just make music for the fun of it or do you have to tackle serious issues too?

Yeah I think so, I mean we write fun songs and that’s sometimes where we’ve been criticised for just being a party band. But I think in the same breath, it was a thing in the early 2000’s and in the 1990’s where a lot of rock music was quite negative whereas we were drawing from a lot of the reggae stuff which has major key songs and is a lot more positive and I just think that that whole world is a part of our music, that positivity thing is part of what we do. I mean some of our songs are just about being at a show, jumping up and down and having a good time. But then other songs we do touch on other stuff, but it’s just natural like it’s not a conscious decision we make that we have to write a song like this or that. We just start doing stuff, Benji gets ideas and then we throw them around and things kinda happen.

Talking a little bit more about that creative process, do you have a certain method or approach to writing music? Or do you all kind of congregate in the same room and throw ideas onto a page until something amazing jumps out?

We do it a lot of different ways but usually the way that works the best is that Mikey or I come up with a riff and we just start jamming it, we go round and round and Benji gets involved, then we try and structure it and start bringing other elements and other parts into it. I guess it’s like that songwriting thing where the song is out there, and you’re trying to pull it down. It’s rare, I’m trying to think of a couple of songs where this has happened, but it’s rare in our history that Benji has said, “I’ve got an idea for a chorus or this or that, let’s do that.” It’s always been organic, we just start playing the music and he finds it in whatever we’re playing.

So it’s more about the song being out there, somewhere, and you start jamming and try to pull it down?

Yeah, that hippy stuff, that’s kinda what we do [laughs].

You’re being accompanied on this tour by a very eclectic mix of bands, have you toured with any of them before or seen any of them live?

Well Crossfaith came out with us in Europe before, so we know those guys, and we played with them in Japan and at a lot of festivals so they’re friends. Hed PE we’ve played a few shows with over the years when they’ve come over to the UK, I mean we’re all fans of those guys as well. But I used to get annoyed, this used to happen a lot, where people would see our band and see a black guy with dreads and think we were just like Hed PE, or just like Living Colour. It’s just lazy saying that kind of thing. But we are fans of Hed PE, what we do with reggae dance hall they do with hip-hop. Yashin we’ve played a bunch of shows with them over the years, so it should be really good.

People seem to be very excited that you’re being supported by Crossfaith, when did you first come across them and what made you think, “Yes, we need to tour with these guys”?

We played with them at a festival in Japan and we had mutual friends, so we just thought, “These guys are cool.” We started to get to know them a bit and it just came up, we were looking for supports a couple of years ago for a European tour and they really wanted to do it, it was just one of those things that came together and that tour was really great. It just seemed like one of those things we had to do, and Benji is on their new album as a featured artist so it all kinda worked out.

Do you know how much creative influence Benji had in recording those vocals or did Ken and the other guys from Crossfaith instruct him on what they wanted?

To my knowledge they sent it to him and just said be Benji. They sent him the music having already done the rest of the song and over Skype he showed them what he wanted to do and it was exactly what they wanted.

Skindred is well known for giving exceptional live performances – did you cultivate that ability to pull off live shows, did it come naturally or have you had to practice it over the years?

In the beginning of the band it was a slightly different line-up, it was me, Benji and two other guys in a band, a different guitarist and a different drummer. They were a bit older and very accomplished, and when Arya and Mike joined there was quite a lot of pressure for them to fill shoes, which they definitely did. We were playing as much as we could because it was like we’d started over, it was a new band and we just had to play and play. There was a time, I think it was about ten years ago now, where we ended up going to America and playing. We just toured and didn’t stop, it was show after show after show. And I think when we came back from that we were a different band. There are other elements as well like Benji is always quite silly and quite funny, and people latched onto that. But he also has the classic rock vocalist thing where an older crowd really dig what he’s doing and a younger crowd can get into it as well, that worked. When we started touring Union Black we were trying to use electronics in such a get-up way, trying to use some samples and different pieces and after that we decided to try and have someone with us doing it. That’s when we brought in Dan Sturgess and that really changed a lot of things about our live shows and allowed us to do all the stuff we’d always wanted to do. Like rewinding a song, Dan will drop something else and Benji will rap on top of it and then we go into another song and I really feel like that changed the dynamic of our live shows.

Finally, you’ve said in a number of interviews and on your social media that the new album Volume is going to be one for the fans who like heavier songs like ‘Warning’ and ‘Nobody’. Without giving too much away, have you recycled the same musical techniques in those tracks or have you completely reinvented the way Skindred does heavy music?

We certainly have a way of writing songs and we definitely embrace that. But a lot of the time I think we overthink our songs, we have a lot of time with them and do different things with them and they end up becoming something quite different. Whereas this album we wrote really fast and it was all jams. Like some songs on our last album we’d never played in a room together, we’d have different sections done but it was all concepts and ideas. But this album, every single song we’ve played in a room together. Often with our other records we would do a lot of the electronic stuff and at the same time I was playing bass so it was hard to juggle the two. Whereas having Dan doing the electronics, it meant we could all be in a room together playing our own parts and it all just came together really fast. I think it sounds really fresh, not too overblown but there are some big riffs and big, fun bouncy tunes that are more in keeping with our live set, it sounds exactly like when we play live.

Thanks very much for your time today, enjoy the rest of your day and good luck with the tour and the album release!

Thanks a lot, looking forward to it!

Skindred’s new album Volume will be released on 30th October. Their tour of the UK will start on 4th November at Southampton O2 Guildhall.

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MA English student at the University of Southampton and alternative music correspondent for The Edge.

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