Skunk Anansie – Young, Gifted and Paranoid
We take you back to 1995… Which ever way you choose to look at it, It’s been on hell of a year for Skunk Anansie. Tony Masheder and Steve Janes ganged up with vocalist Skin and guitarist Ace look back over recent events and preview their debut album, ‘Paranoid And Sunburnt’.
Chased by more than one label, dangling dinah in front of their doo-daha, they finally chose to sign with the modern and open-minded One Little Indian – Home of Compulsion, Credit to the Nation, and the strange but increasingly successful Bjork.
Their first dip in to the musical arena came via a single, ‘Little Baby Swastikkka’, available only through Radio One’s Evening Session, and it took only days for public demand to clear the limited stocks. Impressive stuff.
Since then, there have been busy tours backing Senser, Therapy? Killing Joke, a slot on the NME Bratbus outing, and finally their headlining shows, with rising UK hopefuls Honeycrack. Oh, and don’t forget there was the Top of the Pops show where they helped out Bjork and a slot at Glastonbury, unfortunately limited to only four songs after an organisational blunder. Still, they’ve the chance to play a slightly longer set at this year’s mighty impressive Reading Festival.
Not content with all this, they’re also filming at the moment with ‘Point Break’ director Kathryn Bigelow, and have just scooped the Kerrang! award for Best British Band, which holds more worth than most mantlepiece memorabilia in that it was voted for by the readers of that mag, succeeding the crown from Terrorvision.
The public have indeed taken them to them in a big way, and it’s not hard to see why.
Scintillating live performances, full of energy, passion and fun (yes, fun!) have captured their audience by the balls, with raucous no-holds barred fire-starters such as ‘Selling Jesus’, ‘I can Dream’ and ‘Intellectualise My Blackness’, whilst songs such as the powerful and dramatic ‘Clarity’ (their new single) will tear at the ticker before launching out once again for the limits of your psyche.
Still after witnessing such enraged stage personas first hand, I was surprised to find that Skunk Anansie are the nicest bunch of people you could ever hope to meet, and, just as importantly, enjoying every minute of their hectic schedule, which has brought them to prominence in such a comparatively short time.
Ace: "We’re really completely new – we’ve hardly been going a year."
A couple of interviews? Are you kidding?! In one week the band were on the White Room, The Chart Show, doing photo shoots for all sorts of magazines, and featured by almost every musical rag, radio station and daily newspaper. Anyone who hasn’t heard of Skunk Anansie by now has either been on another planet or has been trying out their DIY suspended animation kit they got from their sister-in-law last Christmas.
It all began for us when we saw a lot of press about you from "the south" but you hadn’t until recently, played "up north" a great deal.
Skin: "Now you can’t get rid of us!"
So are you used doing the rounds and going where the tours are booked for you, or are you wanting to play live as much as possible right now?
Skin: " We’re a live rocking band, you know, that’s hat we’re together for – to play live."
And you’d better believe it. Skunk Anansie thrive on an audience, and turn any show into a night to remember. Was it important for the band who they began touring with, such as the NME Bratbus tour, Killing Joke, Therapy?, ?
Skin: I think the Killing Joke audience, for instance is a different audience – but that’s cool. I don’t know much about them, although Ace does. Their live show is great."
Ace: "They’ve been going so long – 16 years – they’ve got their fan base, but the NME tour was an audience for 4 brand new, for no-one in particular."
Well, not on paper anyway. If the Newcastle Riverside show was anything to to judge by, there was only one band people were talking about afterwards, and it didn’t take long for the rest of the country to arrive at the same conclusion.
Having hit the road with such a diverse mixture of acts, it should be interesting to see what sort of a fan base Skunk Anansie create for themselves.
Skin: The Senser crowd should be good, hopefully if they like Senser, they’ll like us, and when we do our own ‘Selling Jesus’ tour, that should be really interesting."
Their live act has proved compelling and a sure-fire ticket shifter, but recording can sometimes be a different affair altogether.
Quite a few labels were chasing after you, and you’ve signed with One Little Indian (home of Compulsion, Bjork amongst others). Are you preparing for a year of non-stop recording, and everything happening really fast?
Skin: "If you look at it from a record company perspective, yes, but to us, we’re just really having a laugh."
Ace: "We’re quite hard working anyway aren’t we?"
Skin: "This is the beginning, not the end. We want to tour, we want to record, we want to do interviews and all that stuff."
Ace: "We’re not rushing it, we thrive on it."
You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see on Skunk Anansie’s faces how much they are enjoying themselves. Everyone who wanders into our interview room is greeted with a smile, and leaves with a promise that the band will catch them up later.
A lot of bands, who have gone for a year, or even a hell of a lot longer, would appreciate the attention and opportunities Skunk Anansie have been given. Do the band think this clarifies the point that their music has something different that makes them stand out more?
Skin: "We’re trying to push it out a bit, and be original about our sound. We hate f**king retro shite. It’s great bands are harking back to 20 years ago, but we were into the Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath, and instead of spying what they’ve done, we’re taking it a step further, and creating our own style. The characters in the band are all very different, and that’s what makes it work together."
That’s what comes across in Skunk Anansie. Over the years, a lot of the great bands have been those where you can name all the members, not just the vocalist or guitarist, and for all they play well together as a band, as individuals they all hold a bit of space and have a certain amount of freedom to stretch things that little bit further within a fairly wide musical parameter the band operate in.
Ace: "That’s why there’s so much flavour in the music really. We’ve all got a like mind, so we agree most of the time on how we live, as well as how we play, but then we have completely different backgrounds, but it all comes together in the music."
Skin: "I think there’s something that has happened in Skunk Anansie that hasn’t happened before in a lot of bands, and people have picked up on that. The way we look, way we structure our songs, and people have picked up on that."
The band seem to avoid classification, a bit of rock, indie, punk…
Skin: "At some time there are pop songs in there."
Yeah, usually with hooks you could hang an elephant’s hat on.The band already have a useful and distinctive repertoire, which never takes long to persuade an audience to react and join in the sheer explosive nature that is their live experience.
The band are a tight unit live, and given that they’ve hardly been going long enough to remember each others’ birthdays, did it happen like that very fast?
Skin: "It was like that from the first rehearsal."
Ace: "I think we just naturally looked good!"
Despite his tongue-in-cheek comment, Ace isn’t actually wrong about the band’s visual appeal, but if asked directly about such matters, will play it down. It’s their music that counts.
Ace: "It works well because everyone’s too happy."
What, happy even with those rehearsals on a Monday morning when it’s pissing down with rain and you’d rather stay in your pit?
Skin: "We hate rehearsing really, we don’t rehearse that much. In a band like this it’s emotional, and if you work on it too much, you just kill the vibe."
So what about songwriting? They obviously don’t get the chance to write much in rehearsals!
Ace: "We can put together a song in a few hours, because everyone’s so fast on it."
Skin: "We get a song as cool as we want it to be, play it a couple of times so we’re happy with it, and then it gets better a gigs."
Some of the press coverage so far has tried (shock of shocks, hit me with a blunt sausage) to categorise Skunk Anansie into, amongst other things, Rap/Metallers, and highlighted their more obvious (and admitted) influences of bands like Sabbath and the Pistols. Are there any influences left to come through?
Ace: "There must be loads. You pick up influences all the time. I saw ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ recently, and saw the Small Faces on it, and I just know NOTHING about the Small Faces, and I just thought ‘that guy’s cool!’ and it was Steve Marriot jumping around with his guitar. I could go out this year and buy loads of Small Faces albums, and that might eventually influence me in other ways, so it’s always going to be new stuff."
Skin: "We’re not really influenced too much by what everybody else is doing, and what we do is really exclusive to us. We like other bands, and what other bands do, but it doesn’t mean anything to me at all, or anyone else in the band.
So what about life before the band that everyone is flocking to see, praise, talk to, photograph…?
Skin studied in Middlesbrough (industrial working class coastal nightmare of a town, stuck on the North East coast of England, and home to Chris Rea and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown – my case rests) before Skunk Anansie, on an interior design course.
The question just had to be asked: why Middlesbrough?
Skin: "Well, I was going out with this guy (in London, where Skin lived as a nipper) I couldn’t stand, and wanted to get away, and 300 miles seemed like a good distance! Also, Middlesbrough Polytechnic had at that time, one of the few places offering the interior design course linked with computers, and I didn’t want to study in London. Middlesbrough sounded so far away, I thought ‘ that sounds god’."
Did Middlesbrough leave any marks on Skin, and have any part in the design of Skunk Anansie?
Skin: "Yes, I started singing while I was studying, and playing in bands, and that’s where it all started."
Maybe Middlesbrough ain’t so bad after all. Still not sure about the Chris Rea thing though…
‘Little Baby Swastikkka’, the single which kicked off their whole adventure, was based on an incident in a rehearsal room. The provoking lyrics and powerful delivery of the song encapsulating the impact the event had on the band.
Skin: "We saw a little swastika half way up a wall, and it looked really shaky, like it had been done by a kid, who I thought would have been about four years old, and the question just came into my head, ‘who put the little baby swastika on the wall?’"Hence the key line from the song, which if you stopped to think about it, is probably a sad indictment of the way society is headed. Evan so, it’s an unexpectedly catchy line.
Skin: "It didn’t seem catchy at the time!"
Skin: "Everyone in the band has very strong feelings about a whole range of issues. Everyone’s moaning about political correctness at the moment, but the over-riding feeling is of anger and rage and aggression over what we’ve been through over the past 15 years and the state of this country, but they (the lyrics) hit you from the side, rather than us standing up there ranting like some cliché."
Ace: "They’re more like social politics than belonging to some political force or manifesto. We might sing a song about the Government, but then again we might sing a song about a heart felt situation, or racism, or anything."
So, although not being as outwardly radical on the political front as say, Compulsion, there are some politics involved in their outlook?
Skin: "I think you have to be political in today’s society, you can’t ignore it, things are so f**ked up. I read somewhere the other day that the Tories have been in office for 15 years and the best thing they’ve managed to do is remain looking smug on TV. We raised questions and had arguments – that’s how we gained our politics, people don’t really listen if you hit them over the head with a cliché or patronise them."
Ace: "It comes from THINKING about the subject matter, and also at the same time I get wound up about everything every day!"
Skin: " When I was going to gigs when I was younger, the bands I liked were the ones where you really felt that THEY felt what they were saying. The bands I got into, and I’m a very emotional person anyway, were the bands where the singers, maybe not with the greatest voices, were trying to feel it. People say you can’t feel it every time you play, and sometimes I walk on stage and don’t feel a thing, but by the third song it’s there, that’s the way the music makes you feel.",
Have you had any comments on your live aggression, to tone it down, or go over the top more – do you look for a particular reaction from an audience?
Ace: "You can’t fool people can you? If you went on, and you put it on, people would see through you. If you went on, and you were pissed off because there weren’t many people there, people would say ‘I’m not surprised no-one’s here, they’re f**king boring’. It doesn’t work either way – you just have to get into it yourself."
Skin: " The way we are on stage, is how we are in rehearsals…"
Ace: "When we actually do any!"
Maybe you should sell tickets for rehearsals…!
What about the slogan that Skin can regularly seen displaying on her T-shirt, and which has made it onto the merchandising stall and ever popular ‘band information’ postcards dropped like food aid parcels at every gig you do :- namely "It takes blood and guts to be this cool…but I’m still just a cliché"?
Skin: "The comment actually comes from a comment from someone, a racist person I should say, who said ‘Intellectualise my Blackness’ was a cliché. Now I don’t remember anyone saying that before, and my definition of a cliché is something that’s said over and over again until it becomes tacky. This is basically their way, and they were from a record company we didn’t want to sign with anyway, and didn’t want their f**king opinion, of rebuffing us. They called us racist and cliché, and that line comes from us taking the piss out of ourselves!"
Skunk Anansie’s sense of humour is both apparent and refreshing – and off stage you can catch Skin playing poop, skateboarding, and generally having fun. On stage? Different story. Diving into frenzied audiences has become a regular occurrence, and she has gained a reputation for scaring people with her intensity.
Are they worried about lengthening their own set now they’ve moved to their own headline status?
Skin: "Not really. At the moment we do 25 or 27 minutes and walk off, because I think it’s good to always leave people wanting more. When you’ve been out a while, and had two or three albums, then people will listen for an hour and a half."
And listen they will – especially if songs the quality of ‘Charity’ and ‘Can I Dream’ continue to be written. So talking of recording, what about the future Skunk Anansie? An album in ‘ 96?
Skin: "A lot of touring, singles, just to build. We’ve already recorded the album (released September 18th). We signed in August, and our manager sat down and said we should record the album and then tour."
Unlike some of the opinions seen in some press, Skunk Anansie are NOT simply a vehicle for Skin, but are a cohesive, happy bunch who are enjoying every minute of their success – richly deserved. – and who have one of the most eagerly awaited debut albums for a long time still to be released.
Also, it’s worthwhile to think that Skunk Anansie would probably make it on their own, with or without the enormous press hype now surrounding them, simply because of the sheer power, talent and personality of the band.
People have been asking what happened to British music over the last few years: Blur, Oasis, Wildhearts, Terrovision, Therapy?, Teenage Fanclub, Pulp, Elastica, and now Skunk Anansie.
Does that answer your f**king question??!!
Related Interviews and Features
Skink Anansie ‘Stoosh’ Interview – http://www.withguitars.com/skunk-anansie-any-last-requests
Skin and Ace Track By track Guide to ‘Paranoid & Sunburnt’ – http://www.withguitars.com/slunk-anansies-track-by-track-guide-to-paranoid-and-sunburnt/