- Wed, 2011-04-20 17:22
Headed up by charismatic frontman Benjii Webbe, Skindred combine the building blocks of reggae, dub and ska with the brutal forces of hardcore, heavy metal and punk rock. Following an early passion for musical theatre (read on to find out more...) Benjii Webbe discovered The Specials in his teens. Early jam sessions led up to his previous band Dub War, which went on to suffer music-industry led ups and downs leading to their split. Luckily, Benjii did not give up, and soon, Skindred were formed.
With a debut album released in 2002, Skindred are now set to release their fourth record Union Black. I Like Music caught up with Benjii Webbe to chat about their recent Metal Hammer Award nominations, standing in for Korn's Jonathan Davis, touring with Rob Zombie and why the most important thing in music is 'to be your fucking self.'
ILM: Hello Benjii! How are you?
Benjii: Great! I'm in South Wales, sunny South Wales! I'm having a fantastic time, stealing furniture! Hahahahah! I'm just joking with you!
ILM: Hahaha! Ok, well, thanks for chatting to us today...
Benjii: Oh believe you me, I'm honoured you even want to know anything about the band!
ILM: Don't be silly, you've just been nominated for Best UK Band and Best UK Live Band at the Metal Hammer Awards...
Benjii: Oh yeah! That's such a massive honour.
ILM: And your new album Union Black is on the way, what can fans expect from the record?
Benjii: For me personally, Union Black is a celebration. A celebration of the UK. It's like a melting pot being over here. Travelling the world you see how separated some communities are, it's beautiful to see us all as one, you know?
ILM: Cool artwork too...
Benjii: You know, the Lion has always represented the UK. It's our take on that Lion.
ILM: How would you describe the Skindred process of making music. How did it come together for Union Black?
Benjii: People just get ideas. Sometimes I have names for songs before hand from the poems I write. My poems never go anywhere really, I take titles from some of them. Really, we just go into a room and make a noise. We jam, we make as much noise as possible and then I'll settle on something that feels right for a verse or a chorus. I'll take that away, listen properly and come up with more ideas. On this record we just rollercoastered through it. We actually spent about six weeks writing the record and I was really excited as soon as we started. I was riding my bike around Bristol and loving it! For the last three weeks I was pedalling as fast as I could to get to the rehearsals!
ILM: You've built up a reputation for putting on an amazing show. Out of all the places you've played, which have been the most memorable?
Benjii: Believe or not, there's a small club that's now shut down in Southampton called the Nexus. We've played in New York, all over the place, show-off, show-off, show-off! Haha! But the Nexus to me was the ultimate club show. I wish they would build it back again, I think it's a car park now! We played there three times and it was always so memorable. The crowd in Southampton just seemed to get Skindred. At that time a lot of people just looked at us like...you know..when you show a puppy a ball for the first time, their heads just drooped to the left. But the people at the Nexus seemed to get it. That's always stays with me. Obviously perceptions have changed later in our career, Sonisphere 2010 at Knebworth just blew me away! At the end of the show I kept expecting my mum to pinch me and shout 'get up for fucking school you!' It was such a dream come true. And in my own perosnal experience, I'll never forget when I was asked to play for Korn when Jonathan Davis was sick. I'm a massive fan. There's two bands that I have all the records of, that's Korn and Duran Duran...! Haha! No, it's Korn and Slipknot. I got all their records and I've loved them forever. To be asked to sing for Korn was such an honour for me! And then people tell me that I actually did a good job. That will always stay with me forever.
ILM: How was the tour supporting Rob Zombie last year?
Benjii: It was really good, but you got to remember, sharing a stage with someone who has robots...I mean, robots and lights and Frankenstein introducing them, a Jesus Frankenstein walking around the stage...it's pretty much like being in the last episode of Star Wars! As a showman, I think Rob Zombie is good, but I think if you stuck him in a club without all the lights and everything, he wouldn't be that amazing...fortunately he has all that stuff going on for him, so I was just blown away by his show. As a band, I think we held our own every night. The most important thing about supporting anybody, whether it's Disturbed or Korn or Rob Zombie or anyone, is that when their fans watch you they say 'they're good, when they come back to town I want to see them.'
ILM: Skindred have been together a long time. From those early shows right up to your recent Metal Hammer Award nominations. Why do you think it's taken a while for those confused looks to change into nods of agreement and appreciation?
Benjii: We haven't done anything different. It's not like we're suddenly getting emo hair cuts or wearing different jackets or changing our sound. We're doing exactly the same as before. I think perserverance in the music industry is everything. There are bands that have been supporting us one week and the next week are on the cover of NME and everything else, and it's like 'meh.' They come and they go. In the digital world that we're in now, I think a band has really got to focus on live performance. If you can deliver live, that's what keeps people coming back for more. I always say to people 'if you come to spectate, you're at the wrong fucking gig. You're getting it. I'm pushing your buttons, I'm taking you out of your comfort zone.' That's what I do. I get older people, like men in their fifties and sixties, coming up to me and saying 'you know what, I've never moshed in my life, and I've just come out of the moshpit next to tweleve year old kids.' I think that's what it's about. Taking people to that next level.
ILM: That connection.
Benjii: Yeah. I always say we write unity songs. We wouldn't have Zeppelin if Rock and Roll hadn't been made from Gospel music and Blues. Music has to keep evolving. I love all this dubstep stuff, we're evolving and it feels good. You've got to remember how young music is, it's like the youngest industry on the planet!
ILM: What can fans expect from Skindred this summer?
Benjii: This summer we're playing a number of festivals. God, you know what it's like? Bloody MI5, you can't tell anyone, it's on a need to know basis. But yes, we're at all the major ones we need to be at! We just can't announce it. But we're playing a shitload!
ILM: When did you first start getting in to music? What's your earliest musical memory?
Benjii: My mother was a massive fan of all these old musicals, so I got into things like West Side Story. I used to sit there and watch them. At first I thought I didn't like them, but eventually I just wanted to watch Carousel and Oklahoma! and all these amazing old movies. Then I started doing the vibrato thing with my voice and thought, hey, that's not bad! Through my early teens The Specials came around and I just felt totally at home watching that. It was music with attitude. By then I'd established that I could use my vocal chords to make a living, so I started jamming with people... I always wanted to be in a band that used dance music, punk rock and reggae music. I was in a reggae band but I just felt like I was selling out. I was doing something that anyone could do. I wanted to push the buttons. Honest to god, if I wasn't in a band now, if I was in a record store I'd be looking for our album. I'm really at home with what we're doing.
ILM: What music have you been listening to recently?
Benjii: Marina and The Diamonds, Billie Holiday, Bjork and Aretha Franklin. When it's heavy metal I've been listening to Mastodon, Machine Head and a young band from South Wales that I've been producing called Revoker!
ILM: What's your advice to young artists?
Benjii: Being a black kid growing up in Wales with people saying 'oooh, you're into that weird rock stuff and all that...' first of all, sod 'em! Be your fucking self. Be yourself! If you dig something, you can't help it. It's like the guy who likes fat girls. She's a fat chick, he digs her. Whatever. You can't help what you like. I'm not even being fattest. Just trying to be simple, like. The way it is, is the way it is. Just do what you do. That goes for anything, but on top of that, for musicians I'd say love your instrument, be it your voice, your guitar, your bass, your drums. Love your instrument and within that, you'll be like a magnet. People will gravitate to you, they'll
be drawn to you because they can see the genuine love that you've got for your tool.
ILM: What is it that has kept Skindred together for all this time?
Benjii: None of us want to paint or decorate you see, hahahahaha! No, in all honesty, we feel really good about what we're doing. We've not been tied to any particular fad or trend. I mean, we haven't had any major success, I know it sounds silly, but financial or huge record success, but our records do get played out in certain places and they make people happy. I'm more than happy with that! You know, when I get a text from someone who lives in Manchester who says 'I was in my local club this weekend and they played Strike It or Set It Off or Pressure and the dance-floor just filled up!' That's why I do it. I'd love to buy a mansion, honest to God, if I could make money out of music I'd be very happy, but if I never do anything like that and day to day, people keep sending me messages about how they've been inspired by our music then great. I had one from a lady in Hawaii of all places. She said that our band were her husband's favourite. He was dying of cancer basically, and she said the day he died he listened to Roots Rock Riot and Babylon and it brought a smile to his face. When she told me that I thought 'you know what? That's why I do it. That's why I fucking do it.' If my life was just about me, me, me, me, selfish me, then what the fuck am I here for? That's just crap.
ILM: And the future of the band...you'll be with us for the forseeable future?
Benjii: You know what I always say? I've only got the minute I'm in, so that's the one I'm going to enjoy.