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Non-Prog Interviews

Skunk Anansie

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Skin and Mark of Skunk Anansie From 1999
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

How does the new album differ from your previous albums?
Skin:I think it's a strong development. I think we learned a lot of lessons from the first two albums, and we used those lessons that we learned on the third one. It's much more developed in terms of songwriting, I think that's the main difference. Also, structurally, we just tried everything that we wanted to try to experiment a bit with how a song is supposed to be. There's some songs on there with traditional structure and there's some meandering songs that do just about anything. It really was kind of a musical journey, just free expression. We just did what we wanted to do.

Mark:What felt right.

Skin: Also, I think time was a major thing. We weren't restricted by "oh, you've got to do this album in five weeks, which is what happened on the second album. It was very much like, when it's finished it's finished.

Mark: We had nine days to write the second album, as well. So, it was kind of like we didn't really have time to sit back and go, "Is this good?" We just had to get on with it.
MSJ: How do you see the Skunk Anansie sound in comparison to the sounds of other bands?
Skin:We don't really compare ourselves to other bands at all, because, to be honest, we're completely unique. We're completely different from every other band. I mean, there's little smatterings of similarities of other bands. For instance, I saw a band called "Orange 9MM" where I thought, oh, there's Skunk Anansie in that. There's a bit of Skunk Anansie in Sevendust. A bit of Skunk Anansie in Rage Against The Machine, Radiohead, and Massive Attack. To be honest with you, the way that we put it together it's made up of four strong people, and we do everything completely different.

Mark:The biggest difference is that all those bands that Skin mentioned do one thing really really well. Whereas Skunk encompasses all the things that all those bands do. We're not frightened to have different types of songs. We're not frightened to have a really mellow song. It's all encompassing.

Skin:In many ways, especially in the American market, they'd pretty much prefer it if you did one song 12 times. It would be much easier to pigeonhole, to put into place, but that's not really how we are. We'd get bored if we did a gig and it was the same song done in a different way 12 times. We like it with our audience as well; we see them go up and down. We take them up and take them down, and they've got enough energy to kind of keep going for the whole gig. As opposed to getting knackered after five songs and seeing people leaving. Not because they don't like it, but because there's only so much they can take. We're not one-dimensional. We've got different flavors.

Mark:It just keeps everybody interested, you know.
MSJ: On the new album the sounds seem to run the gamut from metal to pop to space rock and even prog. What kinds of influences are present in the band?
Mark:Well, me personally, I grew up with Zeppelin and Iron Maiden, I was a massive metal freak throughout the `80`s and early `90`s. With Cass, he grew up with like Parliament Funkadelic and madly into hip-hop. Ace is like the punk. He's into the Vapors and Sex Pistols, and all that kind of side of it, that whole genre right there. Then Skinny is the pop element, you know.

Skin:I suppose I'm much more commercial than anybody else in the band. At the same time, I was kind of brought up on reggae, and that's my first love. Then I got into ska, and then punk, then rock, and then heavier rock.

Mark:The four corners of the band are completely different in terms of what music that we grew up listening to. That's what makes the band what it is. What makes it so interesting and diverse.

Skin:Because I'm the vocalist, I'm into more the pop cycle, the melody. I like a good strong melody. We learn from each other about other bands. There are bands I didn't know about, still don't know about, am discovering as time goes by.
MSJ: You guys opened for the Sex Pistols on their reunion tour, what was that like?
Mark:It was good, you know. I mean, they kept themselves to themselves. Cass knows the drummer and the bass player, Glen Matlock, and everybody got on with Steve Jones. Johnny Lydon was hanging around with his mates, and nobody really saw him. He didn't really talk to anybody. It was a great tour to do, exposure wise, in Australia. There was a certain element to their audience that wasn't too pleasant.

Skin:I personally hated it. I just hated the whole thing. I liked Steve Jones. I really got on with Steve Jones. He's a fantastic really interesting guy. It was kind of fun to see them play those old songs, so the gig was kind of fun, but that was about it. As Mark was about to say, they had a certain element to their audience, which is people who believe the Nazi stuff they had in those days. Which really, in many ways is just them being anarchists. I mean, I think with Johnny Lydon there was a bit of reality in that, but with the rest of the band I think that they were just being anarchists. They were being obnoxious, and one of the most ways you can be obnoxious is to be racist, or at least pretend to be racist, and have that element to your music. I don't think it was a serious thing. At the same time, I'm not so sure about Johnny Lydon. I won't say "yeah" or "nay" on that. As a consequence, they had this element to their gigs, which really ruined it for me, and for a lot of people. To have those Nazis, and the swastika people, white power Australia doing their Heil Hitlers. I just think that's not what music is about. It's really ignorant, and there's nothing intelligent about doing that kind of thing, and they did nothing to actually combat it. They did nothing to say, "we don't want you here".

Mark:Yeah, anyone doing this will get thrown out. There was none of that. Everyone was just accepting it.

Skin:They had black security and everything, and they just sort of condoned it. They let it happen, so they condoned it. I just thought it was very ignorant element to their audience, and that just ruined the whole tour for me. Having to deal with these Nazis every single night. It was really boring. It was like back to the Stone Age, boring.

Mark:It just didn't make it fun. It wasn't fun to get up there every night. Like I said, in terms of exposure it was very good for us to do the tour, but it just wasn't fun. It wasn't a fun tour to do.

Skin:Their whole point is to try to intimidate you off the stage, which is never going to happen in a million years. It was just boring to have to deal with that level of ignorance at rock concerts.
MSJ: This tour is one the better hard rock tours of the year. How have the audiences been treating you?
Skin:Really well. The audience is positive and open-minded. People just want to come and have fun, and sweat and mosh. We get that pit thing going on. As far as I'm concerned, the pit thing isn't people listening to music, they're just there to beat each other up, but it's quite small really, it's not intense. It's just big boys being silly. Most people there are getting into the music. This is a really good fun tour. We've had some unbelievable shows.

Mark:I can't see the point of paying really good money to see four bands, or whatever, and then just being in a situation all night in a physical confrontation, where it's dangerous. I can see it from a meathead perspective, "I've got to be the toughest and the biggest" and all that, but as far as enjoying the music is concerned. If you want to hurt yourself, you can stay at home and bang your head against a brick wall and put the CD on, can't you?

Skin:Yeah, but no one else sees how hard you are when you do that? I think different people get different things out of shows. I always go to shows to watch the band and listen to the music. I notice that in certain more metal circles a lot of people have different agendas.
MSJ: What is the makeup of a typical Skunk Anansie audience?
Skin:There really isn't any such thing as a typical Skunk Anansie audience. There's a certain thing in a Skunk Anansie fan that they just kind of freak out when they come to our gigs. Our audiences are quite wild and quite crazy, up for it, screaming the whole time, but we get anybody from the goths to the young punk girls.

Mark:The first three rows of our gigs in Europe are women, young girls and women. Then, around the outside, you see the rockers and the hip-hop kids and the gothics, everything.

Skin:Basically, if you look at the band, you see all of those different types of people in the audience, and we're very different to look at. You see people like Mark, people like Cass, people like me, people like Ace, then anyone else.
MSJ: A lot of the articles about the band seem to focus, at least in their headlines on that fact that you (Skin) are bisexual. Is it kind of frustrating when they focus in on that?
Skin:You're talking about one member of the band's sexual preference. There's so much more going on. It gets to be boring. If it starts with black, bald, bisexual lead singer, I just don't bother to read it. A lot of times we do interviews, and it doesn't get mentioned. Nothing like that gets mentioned, and when you read it afterwards, they do "black bisexual...". It's like you never even asked me about that, you just made insinuations and repeat what other people say. Half the time you get, "I was terrified, I was so scared". Now they go, "actually, she's not that terrifying anymore. She's actually quite nice." That's the other cliche happening. It's lazy journalism to start a Skunk Anansie piece with "black, bald, bisexual, Amazonian lead singer of Skunk Anansie". Think of something else. I think they have a misguided illusion that if they put that there, it's going to sell more copies, or it's going to make the article more interesting. It just makes you look silly.
MSJ: The move to Virgin Records was a definite upward motion. How is that going for you?
Skin:Really well. It's kind of like early days, you know, but we're over the honeymoon period, which is good. When we were on Sony, when you're a band signed to Sony Records, you get one chance when you first start. If you go off straight away, forget it. They're basically a bunch of accountants. They have millions of bands, and if you're lucky enough to stick up against a wall, then they'll put everything into you, but if you're a band that are kind of a bit different, and need a bit of work, a bit of stuff put into you, and you need the record company behind you, then you're wasted space. They did a bit of work on our first single, on our first stuff, then completely dropped the ball later on. So nobody really in this country even knows that we have an album out, a second album out, because there was no promotion, they didn't release hit singles that have been hits in every other country but America. The good thing about it is that they were wise enough and cool enough to actually let us go, and not try to keep us forever and do nothing, like some labels do.
MSJ: It's a bit early to tell, but has there been much notice as to how the new album is doing?
Skin:There's a real buzz about us in America this time round, and I can feel that. The thing about being an English band is that you have to put a good year or two years of touring into it, which we're prepared to do this time out. I think that they're really trying with Skunk Anansie.
MSJ: The band has been described as very political. Do the political viewpoints come from all of the members, or just one or two people?
Skin:To be honest, I try to sum up what everybody in the band feels about various things, because we all have to stand up and be proud about the lyrics, but I write the lyrics. They come from four different people travelling the world, and everyone in the band can go to the same place and have a completely different experience, but we tell each other each other's experience. Like in South Africa, you go to South Africa, and you have people trying to take Ace and Mark off to one place, and not invite me and Cass, and you've got people not inviting Mark and Ace, and trying to take me and Cass off to another place. So, they tried to split the band up. Whites can't go there, and blacks can't go there. What we did is that we all went to both places as a band, together. Everyone in the band is aware of different things that happen to different people, and we talk about stuff. Yeah, Cass and I get discrimination, but Mark and Ace get discrimination in different ways, you know. You go to some countries and these two guys are like freaks.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Mark:Today was pretty close. All four bands did a signing session in a record store. We were the first, then Powerman 5000, then Staind, then Sevendust, all in big long table, big queue of kids. As soon as they let the kids in, everyone walked straight past us, straight to Powerman 5000. We just sat there going, "okay".

Skin:The signings are only really good if people know you, and people screaming outside.

Mark:So we walked off, around the shop, and the guy must have felt sorry for us, or something, cause he got us to sit back down again, and told every paper to take a piece of paper and go to the first table, first. Everyone is walking up to us looking puzzled like, "this man's told me to give you this piece of paper, can you sign it please?"

Skin:As we're signing, they're looking at Powerman with no idea who we are. They're not interested. We actually did do the "Hello Cleveland" arena with no one there.

Mark:Yeah, that was probably closer. It was some shed, basically, where they recorded the Spinal Tap live thing, you know the part in the big amphitheater where there's nobody there, when they do the gig at the end of the film. We did a gig there, and it was exactly that. It was completely empty, because it was 11 O'clock in the morning
 
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