Skindred urge listeners to Kill The Power

February 10, 2014
Skindred, from left, Benji, Mikey, Dan, Arya.
Skindred, from left, Benji, Mikey, Dan, Arya.

Kill the Power
Released January 24, 2013
Touring Australia from Feb 22 to March 3

Welsh ragga-punk-electronica festival favourites Skindred have hit back at all oppressors on their latest album, Kill The Power - and they're bringing their hard-hitting message to Australia with the touring Soundwave festival from February 22. Big-bearded guitarist Mikey Demus spoke to Green Left Weekly's Mat Ward.

* * *

You're about to tour Australia with the Soundwave festival and you take pride in being a festival band because your many musical elements mean you can get virtually any crowd rocking, right?

It’s no secret we have a loyal and die-hard festival fan base - more and more people beeline for us at festivals around the world now. The word is spreading. It’s funny, even some festival crowds we’ve recently headlined but had never previously played - Polish Woodstock, Rock Al Parque in Colombia, NH7 Weekender in India etc - gave us an energy like we were the homecoming favourites. It’s like people embrace us as their own, and are turning up knowing what energy to expect, and reciprocating by going nuts. It’s an amazing thing. I hope that the Soundwave crowds are up for it. We had a great time last time we were in Australia - we can’t wait to get back to pick up where we left off and start melting some faces! Rock on.

You filmed the video for the album's title track, "Kill The Power" in Mumbai, India - how was that experience?

It was pretty surreal - in about a week we had ditched plans to shoot a video in the UK, and found a reputed Indian director and crew - including the location guy from Slumdog Millionaire - to make a video with. We’d never been to India before, it was a bit of a culture shock to be honest. We stuck out like a sore thumb, but somehow managed to evade arrest filming guerilla style on the streets. We "borrowed" a tiny taxi cab which we barely fit in - the guys filming were darting around the car on the backs of motorbikes whilst Dan Sturgess - our DJ/electronics guru - struggled to drive the knackered old thing through the barbaric traffic systems. We had lookouts to tip us off if the police came near, then we literally had to hide. It was like something out of a film. There was a bunch of footage shot on a rooftop that never got used - it was unsafe, to say the least. I’m so glad we got to do that, it was a real life-changing experience. It’s the best video we’ve made, I think.

Your frontman, Benji Webbe, has said: "Kill The Power is for all them that are sick of being the underdog, and wanna step up and destroy all those who oppress and hold them down! Use this album as a backdrop to overcome and take your life back!" Tell us more.

We’re living in a very tense climate currently, I think the stranglehold of the politic and social zeitgeist has had a massive effect on our writing, and our lives in general. I personally believe we are living in oppressive times, especially in the UK. But that’s just my opinion. We’re not an outwardly political band, so the ‘Power’ could be interpreted as your government, your boss, a bully. Anything that is standing in your way, we wanted to give you the soundtrack to overcome it. With Kill The Power we really wanted to unite our fans, and give them a well thought-out collection of the best stuff we can do. It’s true we, too, have been considered an underdog - I have no idea why. This is also our war cry of taking over - 2014 marks the start of Skindred stepping up and eclipsing everything we’ve done up till now.

"Ruling Force" could be taken many ways, but for me it sounds like a call for power through solidarity. Was this your intention?

Like all our songs, it’s open to interpretation, but yes I’d say that a "unity", "come together" spirit is a recurring theme in our music. We all believe that the human race should be united by our similarities, rather than divided by our differences. Solidarity is definitely the way forward. "Ruling Force" is also a call to arms to our fans, embracing the idea that together nothing can stop us - we are stronger in greater numbers.

Tell us about the "Worlds On Fire" lyric: "London’s hotter than California. There’s much reason for urgency."

I believe this is a reference to political or social heat rather than actual weather or the literal climate. Or maybe it’s about us saying London is "hotter", in a good way, like it’s more vibrant, more of a happening place to be. Again, it’s up to you to decide what it means.

Your drummer, Arya Goggin, has talked in the past about trying to reach perfection - or "hit the nail on the head" - with each album, and bassist Dan Pugsley believes this is the best album and live show you’ve ever done. Tell us why.

I agree. This album is the closest we’ve come to summing up the Skindred sound, our identity is more realised these days and we’re a stronger band for it. I think working with a UK producer helps us actualise the British elements of who we are musically - sometimes that stuff seemed lost in translation when we worked with producers from the US. The live show we’re doing currently I believe is our best so far, because we have more albums to pick from. We pick our favourite three or four tracks from each album and boom, it’s a killer set. It’s unrelenting - all killer, no filler. We currently have an amazing lighting rig out with us too - it makes a big impact. We get to do stuff like that on our big UK headline runs - it makes everything that little bit more intense.

You released an EP full of jungle remixes of the album's title track, "Kill The Power". Tell us about your love of jungle.

Jungle is just one of three dozen sounds in the Skindred mix. We love the aesthetic of jungle - lo-res samples, beats and high adrenaline breaks, all those reggae vibes. Hearing remixes of our songs is always exciting, especially when a good one pops up by an artist we respect.

You also got the brilliant - and underrated - Manchester junglist Jenna G singing on the album. Tell us about working with her.

Jenna is indeed brilliant! We had tons of ideas for "Open Eyed" - during pre-production we stripped back a few bits from the chorus to make way for what we thought the song needed - a female "dancey" vocal. We felt the song needed that kinda thing, so Jenna was the obvious person to call. We have a lot of mutual friends. She came up to the studio one afternoon, we had a big chunk of song that we had nothing for. Jenna had a notepad with a few ideas and just banged it out straight away. The song went from a question mark to a finished album track in a couple of hours. Sometimes you can be too close to something to know what it really needs - an exterior influence sometimes is the necessary jolt a track is begging for.

Tell us about the "Kill The Power" lyric: "Ain't no killing what cannot be killed. I'm not joking, nuff blood gets spilled."

I believe it’s a reference to blood getting spilled on the dance floor when we play, that sort of thing. Like bigging-up-your-crew, hip-hop lyrical sensibility sorta thing. The “Ain’t no killing…” line is actually a line from Predator 2 - Benji was trying to make Arya laugh. It’s one of the things the "rasta" underworld boss says in that film. We’ve been taking the piss out of it for years. That sort of stuff makes us laugh, we are big fans of questionable Jamaican accents. Ha ha.

Benji has said: "A lot of bands live off their merchandise - and they do need it." Want to tell us about that?

I’m not gonna whine about the status quo, because I love what I do and I choose to do it. Music is my life. I think too many young bands start up thinking it’s a shortcut to stardom and megabucks; well, it isn’t. I picked up a guitar because I thought it was badass, not to get rich quick. Twelve years into Skindred, I’m still doing it. But if you’re asking, yes it’s true, as musicians we are pretty much stripped of most means of income. Bands at our "level" don’t make any money from releasing music. It’s a means - and an expensive one to us, at that - to get people into the idea of our band, in the hope that they come to a show and then maybe buy some merch. Those two things keep us alive and making music. A gig we just played the other day has a policy of taking 25% of merch sales if the band sells out the venue in advance. Shit like that is killing bands' ability to tour. Bands these days have to be pretty inventive to make a living. We lead a kick-ass life, but it’s a common misconception that bands like us are loaded. We do this because we love it!

Skindred tour Australia from February 22 to March 3. Buy their music, tickets and merchandise here

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