“We don't want to be a legacy band..." hmv.com talks to Skunk Anansie
Back in the 1990s, Skunk Anansie headed a wave of exciting new British rock acts that provided the antidote to the retro stylings of Oasis and the knees-up-Mother-Brown sing-alongs of Blur, but after three albums and a string of hit singles the band split in 2001 and went their separate ways.
It would be several years before their reformation, but since their comeback album Wonderluste arrived in 2009 the band have have released another full-length offering, 2012's Black Traffic, become famous all over again in Europe and recorded an album featuring acoustic versions of their biggest hits. Their new album, Anarchytecture, arrives today and sees them working with producer Tom Dalgety, the man partially responsible for the huge sound of Royal Blood's eponymous debut.
We caught up with the band's lead vocalist, Skin, to talk about being huge in Poland, being an X-Factor judge in Italy, why they don't want to be a 'legacy band' and why that mooted collaboration with Lemmy never materialised...
It's been four years since Black Traffic, what have you all been up to in the meantime?
“Well, we did an acoustic album, which was really fun, it was a live concert which we recorded. That was really successful so we did a little tour, it was fun to just do something completely different as a live thing. Then we kind of took a break, we'd done like three or four albums in the last seven years or whatever and we'd been on tour non-stop, so I think we were just ready to take a break and do other things. I've done a lot of DJ-ing and various other things, so we were taking time out but at the same time we were writing for this new album, we'd still get together every couple of months and spend a few days writing, at various places in the world.”
So when did you start properly working on the new album?
“Straight after the acoustic tour, really. We had maybe four or five months off, but then we started writing again.”
What did you want to achieve with this album, creatively speaking?
“I think, for us, there's a brand new flavour going on, a new sentiment. We've got electronic songs going on, I mean the album starts off with a track called 'Love Someone Else', which is the first time we've really done a track like that. We've experimented with electronic stuff before, but this is maybe the first out-and-out electronic song. That was really fun. In terms of what we wanted to achieve, you know when you go and see a band that's been around for 20 years, and then when they play a new song everyone goes 'Oh, I'll go to the toilet', or 'I'm going to the bar', so I guess what we wanted to achieve was have nobody go to the bar when we play the new songs!”
“We don't want to be a legacy band, a band people only come and see because of the songs we did in the 90s, and people go crazy for the newer songs like 'Because of You' and 'My Ugly Boy', so I think that's our idea of success when we go out on tour.”
You've worked with Tom Dalgety this time around, he's been doing some amazing stuff recently with bands like Royal Blood and Band of Skulls, how did you guys end up working together?
“He's a fan! He was at our Glastonbury gig when we headlined in 1999 and used to be into us as a kid. We really liked the Royal Blood record and Band of Skulls are one of my favourite new bands, so we just gave him a call and he was like 'of course, I'd love to do it!' He came over to my house and we played him some crappy demos, I mean they were really shit, but he could hear the fact that there were good songs in there.”
What does he bring to the table?
“I think it's the first time in this new period that we've completely let go of the reins and let somebody else produce us, to glorious effect I think. We were at that point where we really needed a fresh attitude, a fresh approach and a different frame of mind, and that's what he gave us. We do a lot of different things, musically – there's the ballads, there's some electronic stuff, there's the really thrashy, metal stuff - so there are a lot of different influences and he really helped us to work all that in but still keep everything very Skunk Anansie.”
How does the writing process work for you these days? Has it changed over time?
“We get in a rehearsal room and we just thrash things out. We have a lot of individual ideas, but we walk into that room with no ego, which is really important when you're writing with a band because people can get really into the thing that they're writing and get blinded by it, can't see that it's shit, you know? That can get in the way of good songs.
“Sometimes we'd do little exercises, like everyone will come in with four of their favourite new songs, just to get everyone thinking. Tom can be a bit of a taskmaster!”
Were there any particular songs that set the direction for the rest of the record?
“Yeah, I think 'Death to the Lovers' and 'Victim', and of course 'Love Someone Else' is very different, so I think those three songs carried the vibe of what we wanted to achieve, all in very different ways. 'Death to the Lovers' and 'Love Someone Else' are like completely electronic songs with bits of live instrumentation in them, whereas 'Victim' starts off electronic and ends up completely metal, we'd never really done a song like that in that way.
“So that gave us the vibe that we wanted to follow. And then what do we do? We go and write 'Beauty is Your Curse', which is out-and-out thrash! But yeah, those ones and I think the last song on the album, 'I'll Let You Down', which again is a different vibe completely.”
Are you a band that prefers playing live to being in the studio?
“I think in the beginning we always felt we were a million times better live than we were on the record, even though we can listen back to those older records now and feel lucky that they still sound great. But now we love the recording process just as much as we love playing live. The recording is the creative thing, that's where the initial spark is and it's fun, you're just people in a band getting to arse about in a studio, especially with Tom because he's very irreverent and we love that. But then if you're just doing that and not playing live it's almost like you're just working in a vacuum.
“Playing live can be repetitive, but that's when you get to really feel the songs and entertain people, you know? Be glorious bloody rock stars!”
What are your touring plans for the new album?
"We start touring on February 4th in Manchester. We usually start with a little warm-up tour, just a couple of dates in the UK. Most of the tour dates are sold out already because we're doing quite small venues, two or three thousand people at each. And then festivals in the summer.”
Are there any places you're really looking forward to playing? They love you guys in Italy don't they?!
“Yeah, they're mad for us in Italy! And Poland, we're massive in Poland! Also Switzerland and Holland. In Germany we're really popular but in an underground, cool way. In Italy we're pop stars, haha!”
“We do really well in Europe generally, it's only back here in England that people go 'oh, weren't you really big in the 90s?' and it's like 'yeah, we just played to 20,000 people, but yeah, big in the 90s, whatever.' In the UK the market is very skewed to the under-25's, we find it harder to get press coverage, but then you do a tour and it sells out. I guess we have a slightly different way of doing things here, I think in the UK everyone gets a bit caught up with newer bands. Well, they say 'new music', and that's great, I love new music, but I'm like 'well, old bands make new music too'. I think that's particularly difficult for rock bands, because it can take two or three albums to get good.”
You've all done various solo projects / side projects over the years, will there be any more of that or is Skunk Anansie everyone's main artistic concern these days?
“Well, Skunk Anansie is the root of everything, the beginning of everyone's path. When we're together, that's where the biggest magic happens, but at the same time the individual things we do can really feed that inspiration. Like I'm a techno DJ, I'm playing Coachella and places like that as a DJ, in Italy I'm an X-Factor judge, so we do a lot of different things, but Skunk Anansie is like the reward.”
On that subject, obviously last month we sadly lost the legend that was Lemmy from Motorhead - there was talk at one stage about you doing a project with him, was there any truth in that?
“Absolutely, yeah. Skunk Anansie was Lemmy's favourite band, and he was one of those who would actually say that in interviews or whatever. I was in contact with him for the last three years and we'd meet up in various places. He wanted to make a mellow album. I mean, he loved the softer side of Skunk Anansie, he loved the ballads, and he wanted to do a track together. God, the last email I got from him was so touching actually, he just was a total sweetheart.
“So yeah, he wanted to do this album, I think the Foo Fighters did a track already but we never got around to doing ours, he got sick a few times, more than people realise actually. It's a real shame, but do you know what though? I was thinking about this a lot yesterday and I don't think we should be too sad. I spent a lot of time with him and, you know, he had a really great life and he lived it the way he wanted to, and then he was gone. He left us the music and I think that's exactly the way he wanted it.”
Skunk Anansie - 'Love Someone Else' (Official Video)
Anarchytecture is available in stores now, you can preview and purchase it at the top-right of this page