During October we were offered a chance to do a pre-show interview with ragga metallers Skindred, which we gladly arranged to take place over Skype. Dan Pugsley, the bassist of the band, took some time off to answer our questions about their curious band before they'll take over Denmark. Read on for a transcript of our conversation, which mainly revolves around their dancehall/metal mixture:
RF.net: Thanks for doing this interview, if you can start by introducing yourself and your role in Skindred
Sure thing. I'm Dan Pugsley, and I play bass in Skindred.
RF.net: And how's it going in Skindred right now?
Dan: Good, good. We've actually had a couple of weeks off. We're about to go this weekend - I don't know when this is going out - but this weekend coming we're going to Japan. We've got a couple of shows in Tokyo for a label kind of thing. We're doing that, and then we're going to India, and we're playing a festival there, and then we come back. Then we've got the European dates, and obviously then we'll be there in Denmark then.
In January, the new record is out, so it's all heading towards the new album release.
RF.net: You mentioned India there. What do you expect that to be like? What kind of fan base do you have there? Do you know it at all, or are you just going in blind basically?
Dan: I have no clue. We were meant to go there a few years ago, and it just didn't manifest. We're all really excited about it. We've got some friends who have been over there quite a lot, an Australian band called Karnivool. They love it there. They said it's an absolute blast, so I'm really excited about it. I've never been to India, never ever been, so hopefully I'm gonna have a couple of days just to check it out a bit as well. And I believe it's a part of a festival with lots of different styles of music, but there's quite a big rock fraternity there.
RF.net: So now you mentioned different styles of music, let's talk a little bit about your style, as you call it, 'ragga-metal'. How would you describe your sound, if you were to describe it to, say, a complete stranger?
It usually depends on who I'm talking to. If I was talking to one of my friend's parents or something, I'd say it's like reggae and rock, because really, that's what it is. But I mean the scope of that, the rock element, we take a lot of influence from quite a lot of 90s hard rock, post-hardcore, metal kind of stuff. And then older punk, kind of thrashier kind of stuff. And then on the flip side of that with the reggae thing, more accurately I would describe it as Jamaican dancehall. You know 'ragga', Jamaican dancehall? But then that whole world of kind of reggae, we sort of incorporate the drum'n'bass element from the jungle scene, which was heavily ragga influenced. On records, there are dubstep elements. A lot of stuff, but I mean to me, I sort of put it in the same kind of world. That kind of jungle, drum'n'bass, dubstep, ragga, dancehall, whatever you wanna call it. All of that stuff, that's the flip side of it.
RF.net: So how did you guys come up with this mixture? Was it mostly Benji coming up with the reggae/Jamaican influence type of stuff, and the rest of you guys coming from the more metallic scene, or did it just naturally come to you? How did you originally come up with the sound?
Dan: Well, Benji was in a band before Skindred called Dub War. They were awesome, and when I was younger - I mean I still love them now - but when I was like 13-14 I saw them play. And then they split up, and they were kind of doing almost like a prototype of what we do, really. It wasn't as heavy, but they kind of had the reggae influence, and the rock influence. And then when I was 18, a mutual friend introduced us. At the time I'd always liked a lot of rock music, I love classic stuff like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but I was really into Helmet, and Rollins Band, you know, like Jesus Lizard. Really noisy, heavy, kind of angular stuff? And we just kind of came together. It was quite deliberate in the sense that Benji had his vibe, the reggae kind of thing. I hadn't really played in a rock band, I was going to college and I wanted to be a jazz musician. But I just really liked the concept of it, and what the fusion could be. A lot of my friends are really into dance music, and so was I in school, so I sort of drew from that really, as well, the jungle scene. In the UK, circa '92-93, the jungle thing kind of exploded, at the same time as I was listening to Rage Against The Machine, and Nirvana and stuff. That was all an influence, definitely.
RF.net: When you guys originally came up with the sound, the debut album was released in 2002. Have you since then seen a rise in popularity to your scene? I'm thinking here in terms of because of the electronic music scene because of how much it has grown, so maybe in the last few years in particular, maybe you've seen the crowds get bigger, or have you noticed that at all?
Yeah, I think it has gotten better for us. The thing is, we've always done that. We've always had that electronic element. I'm not trying to go like 'ahh, no-one gives us credit for it'
, but we've kind of always had that element to our music. At least on the first record we'd kind of imply a lot of that stuff with what we were playing, because we would try to play like those records sounded. I think initially when we did it, a lot of it went over people's heads because they kind of just wrote it off as nu-metal kind of stuff. I like a lot of those bands that are described as nu-metal, but I don't think people saw the complete picture about what we were doing. I think now, when kids get into our music, they're like "oh my God, I can't believe it, because they're doing this and that". And it's kind of like: the younger crowd is more into...I mean kids now they like heavy metal. They can like Bring Me The Horizon, and they can like dubstep. And we've kind of got that element, but then at the same time, we've never changed what we've done, really. We've just kind of developed it. We've never changed the blueprint. I think that the older crowd that follow us really appreciate that. You know, we're not a faddy kind of band. We just developed, we just looked at our strong points, and tried to develop them.
RF.net: Do you think it's easier to sort of 'get away' with this type of sound now than it was back when you guys started?
Dan: Yeah, I think so. Like I was saying before, the thing about [chuckles] getting away... [chuckles] sorry, I'm just laughing about getting away with it.
RF.net: No but I mean you can see how the sound on paper sounds outrageous until you hear it for the first time, if you know what I mean?
Dan: Yeah, like your first question, how I would describe it to someone, like a lot of the time when people just ask me, because I don't wanna go into it with my dentist or something, who'll ask me what do I do, and I'll go it's like reggae and rock. And I don't want to go into the scope of it, and all that kind of stuff. So then they go: "oh, reggae and rock, kind of like The Police, or The Specials" or all that kind of stuff. Or The Clash, which I really, really like. But I just don't wanna go into it. I've said this so many times before, but I've really stuck with it, man. Every time we release an album, when people say, how are the crowds, do you think it's different now, and all this kind of stuff. We've always been doing this. There's this scene in Back To The Future, you know the whole scene where he's playing electric guitar, and a guy calls his cousin Chuck Barry, to say, hey check this out. When he collapses to the ground, he says something to the effect of: "you might not get this, but your kids are gonna love it". It's always been a bit like that for us, I think.
RF.net: Have you ever faced any criticism for the sound, because it is so different?
Dan: Initially people just thought we were a faddy nu-metal band, and it was silly. I do think our music has always been fun, and that's been very deliberate. There's been a side of us that has been fun, because I think a lot of the rock thing can get so heavy emotionally, and sometimes people just wanna have fun. And so initially, that's kind of what tied us to the nu-metal thing. And people would use that as a negative thing. And I'm pretty easy about that. When I read reviews, when I know that person doesn't like the band or doesn't get it, and they're kind of...I'm not gonna name any names, but I've read something recently about a live review, and it was for a festival. We genuinely had one of the best crowds of the day, and there were huge bands playing after us later in the evening. We were one of the first bands on. This review, all it focused on was Benji's outfit. It didn't say anything about the music. It didn't say anything about how many kids were watching us, and how many kids were watching the band before, the reception, or anything like that. So I think there's still a certain faction that still wants to write us off a bit, but I'm not really focusing on that. It's not keeping me awake at night, because I think there's enough people who genuinely love this band now, and understand that we've been doing this for a long time, and it's just what we do. It's not a joke thing.
RF.net: What is the songwriting process like? Do you first go for the electronics / dancehall parts, and then the guitars, or does it all come together at the same time? It's a complex sound, so I'm curious about the approach you take?
Dan: It's all different, every time. Sometimes a song will start like with a programmed beat, or a drum beat, or a bass line or something around a dancehall kind of idea. Or sometimes it will be a big heavy riff. I'm not gonna go into all the boring stuff, but I kind of like... I listen to music in terms of arrangement and tempo a lot. So I hear something - like a certain type of riff - and I'm like "well, you could divide it up like this, and this could go to this kind of dancehall feel, this kind of ragga feel". I just really love that music, so I kind of do it that way. But it depends. Sometimes Benji will have heard something on the radio, and he'll kind of play it, and then we'll attempt to play it, and then we'll mess it up. And then we'll play it how we wanna play it. You know what I'm saying? Kind of like let ideas mutate, if you like?
RF.net: So as you mentioned earlier, you have a new album coming out in January called "Kill The Power". Let's start with the title to this record: is it a reference to literally electricity, or is this power more as in the government and/or authority?
Dan: Do you know, I was just listening to Metallica on a podcast, and they hit the nail on the head for me, I find that band really inspiring. They were saying that if you attach - I almost feel like I don't wanna explain. It is both, certainly those two things were considered, when we came up with the idea. I like the idea that it's a really stark like boom, kill the power, here it is, check this out. But at the same time that idea of having almost like a Public Enemy reference, it's meant to represent a lot of things. I don't want to define it because obviously people are going to take their own meaning, but the song on the record is basically almost like a sound clash kind of thing. And the idea of these sound systems playing in Jamaica, and you'd be chatting about other sound systems and about bringing them down. Basically it's a song where we're puffing out our chests, if you like. That's kind of what it is, but as for the whole record, I like the idea that it's like, you know, when the power goes down, and then it comes back on again, it's huge.
RF.net: What can we expect from the new album? Maybe in terms of the old material.
Dan: This might sound a bit pretentious, but for us, it might not commercially do this, but this is our "Blood Sugar Sex Magik". You look at the Red Hot Chili Peppers and what they did before that record, and then that record, I feel like this is the most complete album. It has every element of what we are. It's really, really rounded as an album. If people listen without prejudice, if they didn't know who made the record or whatever, I think that people who have never been into Skindred would really, really dig it. There's a part of it where we've tried to really fortify the "Babylon"-era Skindred stuff, so going very much back to the dancehall kind of thing. Very heavy. On the previous record "Union Black" we started tuning even lower, so there's that kind of element. Then another part of the record on "Union Black" where we really kicked up the electronic element, we do have a lot of that, and we're really pushing boundaries as far as a rock band goes. Again, it sounds really pretentious, but I genuinely feel like we've done some things on this record that people would just be like "what? they're crazy". But I think it has turned out well. I think it really works in the songs. And then there's another part of the record, where we've kind of really - I hate using this word - but matured. There's a mature element to this. We worked on a lot of the songs, and then we got this guy called Russ Ballard involved, and he's a classic songwriter. He wrote "God Gave Rock'N'Roll To You" for KISS, and "Since You've Been Gone" for Rainbow, and stuff for Daughtry, and all this stuff. And he kind of collaborated on a couple of songs with us. We'd written the music and some melodies, and then he got involved. That stuff is like...huge. It just sounds huge, as far as a big song kind of thing. So we'll see how it goes - it still definitely sounds like Skindred. It's just a slightly different take on it, I guess.
RF.net: To hop on to a different topic. I've been reading this on the internet and a number of places that people seem to say there's a world of a difference between your albums and your live shows. How do you think the two compare?
Yeah, I think the live show, we early on decided we wanted it to be a reggae sound system kind of a vibe. And I still don't know if we've necessarily captured that element on the record. But I think this is closer to what we are live. I think that's what people latch onto, Benji's presence.
RF.net: Yeah, that was actually me next question: is it difficult to try to capture that sort of live energy you guys have into a record in the studio?
Dan: Yeah, it's that constant battle for any band. But I think about that whole... like Jimi Hendrix would say, live is one thing and the album is something else. And you follow it through in the album's state. Now, live, we play with another guy on stage with us who is triggering all the electronic stuff, and playing parts and doing backup vocals with us, and all that. But we've decided that rather than hiding him, we've put him on stage with us. He's doing it because he's an organic element. I think that really adds. With the live shows as well, we're really conscious of trying to make things exciting. Exciting for us as well, because some of these songs we've been playing for ten years. And we wanna make things interesting. So we're almost doing mash ups wi th other songs. Other people's songs, our songs. Drop in remix sections of songs, because we can do that, because we have someone else there.
RF.net: You'll be coming to perform in Denmark next month together with Crossfaith. The way I've seen people talk about the show, and I guess part of also how it is being advertised as, it's basically equivalent to a metal rave/party. Is that what the Danish fans should be expecting as well?
Dan: I think it's definitely a party, yeah. It's really fun playing in this band. I gotta concentrate and play the songs, but sometimes I just get lost in it. Because there's so much crowd participation, you know? They're so involved. If they're not into it, it's really hard...we always play it, try our best and just do it. It really goes up a level when people get into it. It seems like people come to have a good time.
RF.net: What does the future look like for Skindred?
Dan: I think it's good. It's really exciting, we're getting to do things. We're getting on the bike again, you know, we're going to have to tour and promote and all of that. There's some talk about us going to a lot of different countries on this next album cycle. I think everyone's really happy with the record, that's all you can ask for, really.
RF.net: That's all from me, thank you for the interview. Do you have anything to add?
Dan: I can't plug the album again [laughs] I can't do it yet. Just come to the show, if you get a chance. You won't regret it. Our album comes out in January, if you can't see us in November, we'll be back, we'll definitely be back. Come say hi!