It is both suitable and exciting that on International Women’s Day and on the eve of an extensive tour I post my interview with one of the best British front women on the scene.
Talking with Skin from Skunk Anansie was everything I hoped it would be. Being familiar with their music, I expected anger and emotion in equal measure – as they explore in their music all facets of human energy and experience that exist in our daily lives – and I was NOT disappointed. Skin is as high-octane in conversation as the band is on stage. She is as inspirational as her aggressively beautiful persona and always open and brutally honest. Whether talking about her personal life or the financial crisis, she had plenty of opinions to hit me with, and I never tired of listening. Ultimately my fifteen minute ‘chat’ with Skin left me ready to take on the world as Skunk Anansie’s musical legacy continues to inspire people to do.
Here I ask her about their current album ‘Black Traffic’ and their forthcoming tour:
You released Black Traffic just last September and have received a lot of praise from your fans about it. Are you pleased with the response you’ve received?
Yeah, everyone’s been really lovely, apart from one review in the NME! [Pete Cashmore of NME rated the album 1/10 with the summary “The people who made this album have an average age of 46. They need to retire. NOW.” A bollocks and completely uninsightful review] It’s been really good because we really tried something quite different in the way we recorded it. Every other album we’ve done has been like, you walk into a studio press play and 1.2.3. Go! It’s always been about trying to capture that sparkling take.
We dissected everything, tore it to pieces, and basically, launched ourselves right off the cliff and hoped we weren’t going to land on our arses and break our spines
But at this level in our game, we do that every night live. We felt we’re not little kids anymore, we don’t have to have a sporadic thing that sometimes we can capture in the studio and sometimes we can’t. So basically did some rough takes, then we dissected everything, tore it to pieces, and basically, launched ourselves right off the cliff and hoped we weren’t going to land on our arses and break our spines and ultimately it all came through. It gave us a real opportunity to dissect the music, analyse it and experiment and just have fun recording.
We love recording but it’s always a hard thing to do. I like being in the studio but it’s always been a pain in the arse and this time it was really different and we all really enjoyed it. In the end we ended up with a big fat rock album, which is what everyone loves and what we love and what we do well. But it has a modern context. We’re not just a bunch of old school rockers doing the same old same old. We try to bring new elements into it.
So overall that gamble paid off?
Yeah yeah, I mean it was a real gamble; we’ve not done it like this before and studio time is expensive. But ultimately sometimes, to quote Young Guns, “What’s the point in glory without the pain”.
To quote Young Guns, “What’s the point in glory without the pain”.
I can imagine people expecting a band who are successful for something to keep on making the same thing again and again, so to take that plunge and do something different that pays off must be satisfying?
Yes exactly, I mean we really felt at this stage in our careers, there’s no point trying to do things for press and radio. I mean the radio in England is not going to play us. There’s no point in focusing on radio and press friendly concepts. You know English radio just doesn’t play rock. Muse will just about get on there and they’re softer and more electronic and even they felt they had to go in a different direction to get the plays.
The trouble is when you start to follow what you think people want you to be you can really trip up because you stop being the essence of yourself. That’s the thing we did with this album. We just though fuck everybody, fuck it all, we’re going to do what we like, and our friends are going to follow it because they’re the same as us. That’s the way we’ve always done it and it really works. The fans love the album they come to see us live and we have rave, rave, rave reviews apart from that NME review!
The point of that review was that we’re too old to be in a rock band!!! You know, they’ve hated Skunk Anansie from like the minute we sold 100,000 records. And because this is a good album, they don’t want to admit it’s a good album so they literally had to scratch around and try to find a way to slag us off instead of being honest and saying, “You know I’ve never liked this band but this is a really good album”. A good journalist would have done that. But they landed on our age as the only thing they could slag off about us.
The fans love the album they come to see us live and we have rave, rave, rave reviews apart from that NME review!
You know Life doesn’t end at 40. If you love to do something, say you want to be a writer for the rest of your life, what’s to stop you doing that as long as you’re good and as long as you put out stuff that people want to read. It should be the same in any profession. You know if you’re a dancer, keep dancing until your body says no. If you’re a good dancer, then dance.
Ultimately it was very ageist. If you were to apply that level of ageism to racism or homophobia everybody would have gone crazy. If you don’t like the band and you don’t like the album and all you can say is that we’re old then just don’t fucking review us. I mean everybody gets old, but this is a fucking good album!
If you don’t like the band and you don’t like the album and all you can say is that we’re old then just don’t fucking review us. I mean everybody gets old, but this is a fucking good album!
In Black Traffic, you are just as comfortable talking about your distrust in the government and the financial crisis as you about your personal life; your aspirations and disappointments. Is it important for you to cover such a broad range of themes?
The thing is we really do write a massive range of different types of songs, you know? We always write more than we use. For this album we wrote about 55 songs over the space of about a year, a year and a half and in lots of different places; some in America, some in Europe. So we really were a part of it. On tour we really saw the difference with regards to economics and racism and homophobia and the mortgage scandal and occupy movements. All these things are going on around us and are right in our faces. In Portugal, for example, which used to be one of our biggest markets, you only have to sell 200 records to get a number one now. They’ve just got no money so nobody buys music.
I think that’s why the topics are so broad because you see lots of different things. For a while we might write political songs because we’re so angry about what’s going on. Then something will happen to us and we’ll write a more personal song. So, you know, you take the best pick of those songs over the space of a year and you’re going to get a broad range.
On tour we really saw the difference with regards to economics and racism and homophobia and the mortgage scandal and occupy movements. All these things are going on around us and are right in our faces.
For us it’s like we always go for the best songs. On ‘Wanderlust’ the best songs were more emotional and more personal. There were a couple of political songs but they weren’t that obvious. So in that sense the songs kind of come from so many different parts of ourselves. The challenge is to pick the songs for the right reasons and in the right way.
Really, separating external and internal subjects is unrealistic. Nine times out of ten you can spend your day wound up because of the things going on and that can have a knock on effectReally these things are all part of daily life for everybody anyway aren’t they?
Yeah, I think we have a personal perspective on stuff that’s happening right in front of our faces and to our friends. This is not a game, for instance a friend of mine was knocked of her bicycle in America where insurance is really, really expensive. She couldn’t pay her mortgage for two months and was in hospital recovering. All the time the mortgage company were doing everything they could to get that house of her. It was like they have a thing that says: Anyone gets behind by a month and we want that house”. It was really sick. They were doing all these tricks – sending her the wrong forms, making her miss certain dates – just to make things difficult.
She nearly lost the house. She had to get a lawyer to help her, to sift through things because they had made it so difficult. In the end she came up with a plan to keep the house and we all helped her with it and it’s all good, but you know these guys! They sit there at their computer with a big fat line of cocaine, drunk as anything, playing on the stock market, it’s all greed, greed, greed, like it’s a PlayStation game. But this is people’s lives! For normal people their house is like their honey pot. You know, that’s the type of thing a song will come out of.
They sit there at their computer with a big fat line of cocaine, drunk as anything, playing on the stock market, it’s all greed, greed, greed, like it’s a PlayStation game. But this is people’s lives!!!
The album is called Black Traffic; can you explain what that is?
Black traffic sums up what a lot of the songs tended to be about. You know this dark underbelly trafficking that seems to really be running things. There are so many examples of it; again the mortgage scandal, the HSBC scandal. I mean oh my god HSBC have just been fined hundreds of millions of pounds – the highest fine in history – for drugs trafficking with our money. I mean I’m a HSBC customer! But nobody goes to jail; they just lose a bit of money that doesn’t affect them because it doesn’t come out of their pockets. Nobody goes to jail and nobody is held responsible for it. I mean that is dark isn’t it.
I mean oh my god HSBC have just been fined hundreds of millions of pounds – the highest fine in history – for drugs trafficking with our money… Nobody goes to jail and nobody is held responsible for it. I mean that is dark isn’t it.
And so much of that stuff goes on. You know someone in that bank had to have confirmed those transactions. It had to be the managing director. Why wasn’t he sacked and put into jail. He’s responsible for letting drug traffickers launder billions and billions of pounds worth of money. But the bank just gets a fine. It’s such a fucking con. And that’s what I mean by ‘Black Traffic’.
You know you’re living your life, you’re paying your mortgage, like I was paying my mortgage that was twice as expensive as it should have been because people are hiking up the mortgage rates. All this stuff is happening underneath your feet. It’s absolutely insane. Like people who live in London can’t afford to live in London anymore. Greedy landlords hike up the rent because they know people are desperate to live there. Rents have gone up so all the Londoners are getting squeezed out of London. I’m born and bread in London I can’t fucking live in London. It’s just really expensive.
When it comes to your tour, you’re just as well known and loved for your high-octane tracks as you are for your slow emotive ballads. How do you find it performing songs with such completely different energies and tempos?
I think that’s one of the things we’ve always been able to do. We’ve always been able to switch our energies. We’ve never been a band that’s done an album that’s full force song after song; twelve songs the same. We’ve always been a band that’s experimented and tried to have different energies and different things going on.
I think when it comes to a concert it’s really important to have light and shade. It’s important to have down time and down moments and not just full-on craziness. That’s something that we’ve always managed to be able to do. It’s part of the sound of the band.
What have you got planned for the tour? What can fans expect?
We’re at the best we’ve ever been. We’ve always been a brilliant live band and since the new Skunk Anansie, since 2008, we’re really on top of our game. We’ve got the biggest production we’ve ever had and it’s just a really amazing show and I’ve a couple of tricks! There are a couple of things I do that I bet I’m the only person in the country who would dare do coz everyone’s such a chicken shit. We’ve got all our new stuff that people love, our new songs are going down really well and then some classics as well. So you know it’s a full on show!
We’ve got the biggest production we’ve ever had and it’s just a really amazing show and I’ve a couple of tricks! There are a couple of things I do that I bet I’m the only person in the country who would dare do coz everyone’s such a chicken shit.
Skunk Anansie are playing Manchester Academy 1 on 22nd March 2013. You can book tickets here. Keep up to date with the band via their website, Facebook and Twitter. You can follow Skin on Twitter here.
This interview first appeared on Manchester’s Finest
Today I listened to: Skunk Anansie
Today I read: Independent, Guardian, Telegraph, Manchester Evening News
Today I watched: Jan Svankmajer’s Alice
Another completely unrelated image. I took this recently in Blackpool, it’s part of a set that I intend to make into a film along with a poem i’ve written. I love Blackpool and it’s grainy beautiful grittiness, rain or shin, I love taking images there.