Skindred are a British Rock band, best described by their guitarist Mikey Demus, as the ‘US Heavy Metal band Pantera, having a punch up with Jamaican recording artist Sean Paul, in a free falling elevator’.
To the more faint hearted, a more accurate description would be to say Skindred are an exciting, loud, rock band with a host of strong musical influences thrown in the mix including Metal, Dance Hall, Punk, Hip Hop Reggae, Rock n Roll and Electronic.
“People have been trying to pigeon hole us for 15 years,” says Mikey, “I suppose we are initially a metal band, but saying that, maybe more rock first and foremost, who knows there’s so much going on?”
We talk to Mikey having a quick break from consistently re packing bags and hopping on a plane to play-out a string of dates.
“It’s continuous right now,” explains Mikey, “I’m flying out with the band at least 40 times a year as well as gigs in the UK. The festival season in the UK was amazing for us again, especially the Download Festival. Our festival gigs are constant from April right through until September in mainland Europe, then we head out and do the same in countries like Japan and Australia, so it’s full on right now.
We’ve always been an exciting live act with audience participation, so festivals work well for us. Skindred are also a very visual band, we have breaks in the set where our lighting designer can really use the lights to the full effect, and this works really well during a heavy riff or when the electronics are featured. I’d like to think the crowd walk away after, thinking Wow, what have I just seen? I really would not like to be just in a guitar or an electronic band, I’d get bored pretty quick, in Skindred I get to do a bit of both.
We are on our sixth album so we have a lot of songs to offer live, there are of course the crowd-pleasers which we are expected to play, and the set is tailored to suit.
There’s also a lot more confidence in playing songs that you’ve been performing for 10 years, we may be on auto-pilot, but it gives our front man Benji Webbe more room to improvise and interact with the crowd.
A perfect example is in the middle of ‘Warning’, a track from the 2011 album ‘Union Black’ where the crowd remove an article of clothing, and on Benji’s count, wave it in the air, a reaction that has earned itself the name of The Newport Helicopter. If you go and see your favourite band, you expect them to play their flagship songs, it certainly wouldn’t be right if you went to a Skindred concert and we didn’t play ‘Warning’. It always goes down well, we played Polish Woodstock last year, where it would seem half of Eastern Europe just turns up, to see 750,000 t-shirts being waved in the air; it is quite incredible!”
The name of Skindred’s latest album is certainly apt for this band.
“The title ‘Volume’ for the new album was Benji’s idea, he’s come up with them all so far. Volume was recorded in Strongroom Studios in central London, which I felt was ideal, as we all had somewhere to go in between recording tracks. We’d spent two or three weeks before hand on pre production of the songs, so we knew exactly what to do. The cost of studios these days is such that gone are the days for many bands when you would sit around with free time to write songs.”
Even for the less keen-eyed guitar spotters out there, it’s plain to see that Mikey is a left handed player.
“I did read that only around 15% of the world’s population is left handed, I’m not sure how true that is, but it sucks for guitar players.
In the past it would cost so much more to buy a left hander, and with a limited choice, but I think it has got slightly better over the years. I’m based near Brighton where GAK have a wall dedicated to quality left handed models. There’s nothing better than walking into a guitar shop and seeing a really good selection from all the brands.
My parents are both left handed, but I’m actually right handed when it comes to a knife and fork and holding a pen. It all started when I decided to learn the guitar on my Dad’s left handed Japanese Antoria Les Paul copy, it just felt normal and not as though it was upside down or back to front. My ideal guitar has to have a rock and roll look about it, like it’s been gigged around the world a few times, and my stage guitars certainly have.
Bling ain’t my thing, shiny, pristine guitars are not for me, that’s fitting really, as I have trouble keeping anything looking new and I’m always knocking them over. My car looks ancient and tired, it’s bashed and scratched and yet it’s just a couple of years old, I guess I’m just heavy handed as well. Many a time I’ve got creative with a spray can on the bodies of several of my guitars and just let natural wear and tear take its toll. To say I like customising my guitars is an understatement really, I’m always changing the wiring and hardware to my spec. My old Telecaster dubbed the Ratacaster is a prime example. It was originally black, but I sprayed it silver which started to fall off after a while, I also rewired it, changed the neck and some of the hardware. This guitar was my number one stage guitar for years, which I played in drop- D tuning, fitted with a big string gauge and high output pickups into a wall of Orange amps. Apart from the guitars this formula doesn’t change that much, like I mentioned earlier Skindred are not a quiet band by any means.
I’m currently playing Manson guitars which are great and they are listening to what I want and will be replacements for the Ratacaster. I’m enjoying talking about guitars here as I am a gear mined individual, and guitars are part of my life, which doesn’t get asked about in Skindred interviews, people often want to know so much about my beard.”
Ok, we’ll avoid all questions about the beard Mikey (although it is cool), so tell us about your Fusion Double bag.
“I’ve only had it for a few months, but it’s proved itself more than once. One of the reasons my car is so dinged up is that in the past, I’d bash the wing or the door with a huge metal edged flight case that was so heavy. At the other end of the scale, some gig bags offer no more protection than a sock.
So having the middle ground where Fusion have looked into the designs within the protection and the rugged design is perfect, and it’s not an eye sore in the house like some of the flight cases are, and if I knock it over, or I should say, when I knock it over, I know the guitars are safe. When I got mine, I was hours looking at all the compartments and seeing what else I could fit in, it even has a rain cover, it’s really smart and well thought out.
Being mobile with two guitars in one gig bag comfortably strapped on my back, leaving me hands-free is liberating.
For more information: www.skindred.net
Interview by Lars Mullen