Skindred are one of the most enduring and unique bands in the U.K music scene. For 20 years they have brought their brand of Reggae infused Punk Rock to the masses and have built a legacy that most other bands would love to have. It was during the band’s show in Portsmouth that I was lucky enough to catch up with Bass player Dan Pugsley to discuss the bands continued longevity, his thoughts on the band’s music and how they balance the things that make them Skindred. We also discuss the impact that losing print media and the recent closure of Scuzz tv will have on the music scene going forward and what the next 20 years of Skindred could look like as well as a host of other topics.
It’s been a busy year for you guys. You released the album Big Tings earlier in the year, you are currently on this tour and it’s the 20th anniversary of the band this year. How is the current feeling in Skindred.
Dan: It’s pretty good. With this tour now originally the idea was that we would be busy, but then at the same time not be super super busy. We were going to do a couple of shows at the weekends, almost like weekend warriors and play some places we didn’t hit on our A Market tour, that’s not meant to be derogatory to anywhere else we play, but it’s just the bigger cities like Manchester, Glasgow, and London but people just kept popping out of the woodwork and were interested in this underplay tour that we’re doing,playing smaller venues and basically we’re greedy (laughs). We got offered more shows and we were like “Should we do it?” but for us in the band it’s quite comfortable playing a few days and then having a couple of days off, so it’s pretty manageable for crew and management and the logistics of the gear and where it’s got to go. Our crew on this tour is changing week to week but it’s all people that we have worked with before over the years, so for us it’s like the greatest hits of crew because people have other gigs, so that’s been really good, but we’re just busy but happy to be busy.
You mention playing these shows in places that you don’t always play. Would you say that the audiences are a lot more appreciative than they would be in the bigger markets where you tour a lot.
Dan: Oh yeah, sometimes. whatever you do you are always going to get people saying “Why aren’t you playing X or Y?” but seriously look at the dates, we are playing everywhere. If you drove half an hour in any direction you’ll get to us probably, so you get a lot but the people that are there really appreciate it. A lot of these venues are the venues that built us as a band. It’s funny you say about the 20 year anniversary because me and Benji have been playing for 20 years now, when the band started rehearsing and writing lots of songs, that was our idea back then, we’d just write a lot of songs and see what happens. We wrote songs and then we got management that was interested in us and their little carrot to us was that they would get us out on the road straight away playing proper shows, so we continued writing and then we played one show in Wales at a bar I used to work at, but our first show of our first tour was at The Wedgwood Rooms.It was Raging Speedhorn, us and Will Haven and that was our first tour. So all these venues when I look at it everywhere we are playing are places we have played over the years, I grew up down the road from here so I used to come here to shows all the time so it’s a cool thing, but even regionally like with Arya when we played in Exeter and when we went to the after show there it was all places we hung around in the beginning or played shows in, so it is the places that built us in a way because without those no one would have known about us and I think we got bigger because we did play everywhere and the people who put on festivals took a chance on us and it got us in front of more people and the two things have meant this slow climb for us forever, so maybe when we’re super grey we’ll be playing Wembley.
We say it’s been 20 years and you guys have played everywhere but it’s not like you have become an overnight success at all. I remember first hearing about you guys on Kerrang TV back in 2004-2005 so in my head at least you still seem like a younger newer band, so does it really feel like 20 years for you.
Dan: Sometimes yeah, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a weird thing with playing and like certain situations, there are situations when we’re making business decisions and stuff like that where I think “Can we do that, have we got enough money to do that?” and our manager will say “Yeah we can do that, it’s fine” because I still operate in my head like we are in a Volkswagen Transporter with the 5 of us all siting on cabs, so that doesn’t feel that far away from now but I know it’s different because I can be sat in here talking to you,not putting my gear up because I have someone doing it for me now so it is definitely different.
It’s the subtle changes you notice over time.
Dan: There have been slight changes over the years. We didn’t always have crew, we weren’t always on buses but I never noticed us playing bigger venues they just got slightly bigger and bigger and that happened but I did notice when we went from selling 5 t-shirts to selling selling 300 t-shirts so that was a dramatic thing, I have no idea what happened but that was cool, that was a noticeable thing and it was well needed because it’s not like we make money from anything else (laughs).
One thing I find really interesting about you guys is that I’ve seen you with Ozzy, Rob Zombie and Soulfly as well as at Download, Sonisphere and Bloodstock and it seems like no matter what audience you are put in front of there is always a pocket of the audience that gravitates towards you. What do you think it is about Skindred that wins people over in those situations.
Dan: I think it’s a combination of things. You mention playing those situations with ostensibly heavy bands but also we also tour with Flogging Molly or Reel Big Fish, then someone like Zebrahead who are pop punk and then we’ll tour with super heavy band also.What I find with us in most situations like when we played Bloodstock it was all metal bands straight down the line honest metal bands and you get that all day and then we come along and add a dancier element that people can dance to and it’s a little bit refreshing. I think a lot of our music is very tuneful due to the way Benji sings I think that brings people in because it’s quite accessible. I think Benji is a showman, what I notice with the younger crowds is that they are dancing but with older crowds they really enjoy Benji’s banter because they get it, he is more like a classic frontman and there aren’t many of those around any more so I think they buy into that. When we are playing somewhere like Bestival we played before Sophie Ellis Bexter and people lost their minds to us because it was so different for that moment, we’re always quite different so we always stick out a bit and I think that is why people pay attention to us. I do think that the heavy metal people are the best fans and they are always the nicest people. We were scratching our heads a bit about doing Bloodstock wondering if it was going to work because it is very metal, but actually that is our fanbase, like all the people that would see us at Download or elsewhere they are there and they are just looking for a good time and that is totally our crowd, I loved playing Bloodstock and I thought that was totally cool.
Skindred are a very unique band, even now there is no one that really sounds like you or does what you do. You are known for being a mostly positive upbeat band, but you have had moments where you have tackled more serious subjects in your songs, tackling things like knife crime and politics. How do you go about infusing the more serious subjects into your songs when writing, especially when people hear you and expect it to be all party vibes.
Dan: I think part of this band is that it is metal with a reggae consciousness in a way and a lot of those ideas are prevalent in reggae music, you have the happy moments but then the really moody really touching songs so that’s part of the palette that we have but I think specifically when a lot of those songs actually came about it was because of things that happened to us personally. We have songs about loss because we have all lost people, Benji’s son fell victim to knife crime it’s real life and I know what you are saying that a lot of the time we are perceived as a party band but that is another string to our bow. You think about classic bands and there are a few outliers like AC/DC who have written the same song for 40 years it’s always about women, cars, motorbikes and drinking which is fine, but you live your life and you’re a human and you have experiences and that is what we are doing we are expressing the human experience in our music.
How has the new album Big Tings gone over with the audience.
Dan: It’s gone down well. I think that is our most rock record, and I think that was more of a conscious decision to do more of a rock thing on that one, it’s different for us but it seems to be going down well.
Are you one of those people that puts a lot of stock into social media reactions and online reviews or do you judge how well a record is doing by how the fans react to it out on the road.
Dan: I think that there are so many people on the internet now with opinions that didn’t have a voice before and they want credit for making astute comments that I don’t even have time for it. Sometimes I read reviews of other things that I like and I just think it’s badly written or it’s got no point, so for me I would say that going out and seeing people react to it there is how I know if it’s a success or not, rather than a critics opinion, sometimes I’ll read a review and I’m not even sure if they have listened to the band.
We got the news this last week that Scuzz TV is closing down. So with that happening, as well as print media dying out, sales of tickets and physical media being up and down, how much longer do you think that music and especially the rock scene will sustain with all of these outlets being taken away or becoming unstable.
Dan: It’s weird because you have the balance of that happening but at the same time Download still being so successful and things in the live music arena being so successful. It’s really sad about Scuzz they are great people and they supported us as much as anyone could. With print media it’s a shame, because here you are interviewing me you are into music, into journalism and the whole craft behind it and there’s people that are classic critics and classic journalists over time and you look at what they have done and it’s actually amazing,but i think it’s hard to put out relevant information a week or two weeks at a time in this world. Recorded music has only existed for the last 100 years, it didn’t exist before that so it’s totally a new technology and a totally new thing so no one’s got it right how we consume it, if you look at how it’s shifted and how we consume all media compared to how we did 20 years ago it’s such a different world now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I personally welcome change because I think you have to, where printed media and magazines fit into it I don’t know. Music videos are becoming less relevant in some ways, you do something but it’s only going to be played on YouTube and it’s how YouTube is monetised and you look at the people that are making big budget videos and there’s always a fucking Samsung phone in it or Beats headphones because that’s what is paying for it. It’s a strange time.
With that in mind and with being a band who has gone through all of those changes, do you think it would be harder for you now if Skindred was just starting out because of how the industry has changed and continues to change.
Dan: I think it would be trickier, but like we said earlier about us being different I think we would still be different and people would still be interested in us. We saw from our first album to our next album coming out broadband internet hit so the sales were affected I feel like more people know songs off of Roots Rock Riot than Babylon but we sold the tiniest fraction more compared to Babylon because you had to buy hard copies, people were burning discs but they weren’t going online and downloading them. I think it would be different because you see a long of younger bands nowadays they come and go so fast, you think about who was on the cover of Kerrang when James McMahon was there, and I’m not slagging him off because I get what he was trying to do, with bands that sold issues outside of bands like 30 Seconds to Mars, Green day, Slipknot, Iron Maiden, Bring Me The Horizon outside of those people none of the other bands are around, its just this transient thing.
For you as an artist that has been around for such a long time in the industry what would you say is the biggest lesson you have learned.
Dan: I’ve said this a bunch over the years and I really mean it, so if you have read it before apologies but I think nowadays unless you are writing music for you and doing something you really love and really believe in then there is no point to doing it unless it’s because potentially you could win the lottery and you might be really successful but most likely you’re not going to be, you might have success for a moment but it could go away, or you might get famous doing something you don’t really like and then it goes away which to me is even worse, this idea that you have the opportunity to do something great but it’s not actually doing what you love so you’re not being real to yourself in that way so what I think you have to do is do music for you first and do something that is honest and that you believe in because chances are you aren’t going to make money from it and you’re not going to make a living so just be real about what you like, don’t follow fashion just because something is cool now it doesn’t mean it’s something you like necessarily so just remain true to yourself and do something you really love.
With that in mind, looking at the next 20 years of Skindred what is something you love to accomplish over the next two decades.
Dan: I would just like to see the band grow and have more people get into it. Every single year and every single show we play we go out there and even with these shows sometimes it’s the first time people have seen Skindred, they have never seen or heard of us before because as a band we’ve never been on the front cover of a magazine like Metal Hammer or Kerrang we have never had a big push like that so it’s interesting that people still discover us, because I like the idea that it still spreads and I’d love it if we were still around in 20 years but who knows what is going to happen, but I’d like people to listen to records and to actually listen to who we are, because I think there is a perception of who we are because most people only know us from 3 singles from a record.
For those situations where you meet someone who has no idea who Skindred are, what 3 songs would you show them to sum up what kind of band Skindred are.
Dan: I’d probably do Rat Race, Pressure and I’d do Sound the Siren.
Hypothetical question. If Skindred broke up tomorrow how would you want the band to be remembered.
Dan: Just a one of a kind.
For me personally I think you should be remembered for being the greatest live band in the world. I’ve said it time and time again and I think it’s something you should all be very proud of.
Dan: Thank you very much.
If you could swap places with any other member of the band and live as them for a day who would it be and why.
Dan: I would do Benji just to see what the fuck is going on over there (laughs)
In closing if somebody was making a Skindred biopic who would play you in a film.
Dan: I want Jason Lee to play me, Ice Cube for Benji, actually we would get Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino to play him, John Snow to play Arya, then Daniel Stern from Home Alone to play Mikey which is what we always use to say in the van (laughs)
Skindred are currently on tour throughout the U.K for all dates and relevant ticket information please head over to http://www.skindred.net/