“Now what am I gonna hope for? To get on a big playlist? You can’t show that to your Grandad”
Underneath the charming exterior Zach Skinner describes himself as a melody guy with a penchant for a big hook and a ‘bad boy drop’. The new EP Iconic emphatically carries those characteristics in spades and sets the Skinner Brothers up for what promises be a fruitful and rip-roaring charge through the summer months of 2021 and beyond.
Iconic feels like a landmark moment in the history of a band that since 2016 have embarked on kamikaze mission to reach the top of the tree by any means possible. As Skinner reflects:
“I’ve done nothing by the book over the years. I’ve wasted time in some ways but I’ve also spent a lot of time doing things that other people wouldn’t have done or tried”.
You only have to take one listen through the back catalogue, starting with Ian Dury-esque ‘Watchu’ going right through to the poignant working-class social commentary of ‘Away Days’ to detect a distinct aura of fearlessness and drive to keep experimenting and pushing boundaries.
Where the past has been fraught with trial and tribulations on a personal level, the future presents the band with clean slate and a chance to make everything going forward about the music and the music only. Where in many cases it has caused disruption; lockdown has provided Skinner with a timely period of renewed focus and optimism. Alongside the release of the new EP, the band have announced a headline show London’s legendary 100 Club on 13th August, followed by some huge outdoor shows at Crystal Palace Bowl (21st/22nd August) and Castefield Bowl (24th September) supporting The Streets.
With everything seemingly on the up, there has never been a better time to speak to the main man himself.
With the release of your new EP ‘Iconic’ on the horizon, how does it feel to be back in the mix with plans to look forward to again?
It feels weird man. It’s been ages since anything’s gone good. Even though stuff goes good in lockdown, it’s still pretty boring. We got played by Lamaq (Steve) for the first time when we brought out the last one. I was buzzed about it, but still nothing changes does it? I just woke up in the morning after like “oh that was good” and that’s it.
We were on this BBC show called The Syndicate, our first sync on TV, but still you don’t see or meet anyone. You’re supposed to get reward. Its unhealthy man. It feels like an anti-climax.
You’ve described ‘Iconic’ as painting the monotony of London Life, paired with the aggression and desperation to make it – would you say that you carry that innate sense of being the underdog?
We’ve got all our new team together during this lockdown. We had no team or manager at the start of lockdown. It feels like a concentration period with no distractions. At the same time, everything that goes a little block further just feels like you’re playing old school ‘Command and Conquer’. You know when you get a bit through the land and it lightens up a bit more? It’s just looks like there’s more hill to climb every bit the lights up… it’s like fucking hell, its steeper! Every step further you get, things get harder.
Does this feel like the start of new chapter for you?
Previous stuff was kind of unfocused and all over the place. It was cool, but it’s hard for people to digest that. Since we got Tim on board, our manager now, he’s good at helping me focus on my direction. That’s why this EP is way more focused.
My computer can’t do too much. If I put too many tracks on it, it freezes. It’s sort of cool in a way, I suppose in the olden days you couldn’t have too many tracks all the time.
How has involvement from others outside helped shape the EP to its full potential?
I was always doing all this stuff by myself; mixing it, getting it mastered best I could by someone and putting it out. But with this one we got it all done, had it mastered ready to put out and someone came forward to Tim and said: “I can mix that Iconic tune and make it way better”, an American guy (James Krausse). It sounded way fat and he did stuff I can’t do to it cos’ I haven’t got the gear. I gave it a chance and it sort of opened my eyes. There’s a reason why the gear this guy’s gear costs a lot of money and is taking it to a professional level.
What musical influences went into the writing and recording of the new songs?
Mainly listening to UK Rap and Grime stuff. I don’t listen to many tunes leisurely at the moment because I’ve just been in the house. Once I’ve finished a day making music, I don’t wanna hear any more music. I’m just thinking of melodies and it ruins it. Plus, I find it hard to hard to listen to any related bands or rock music because I get a bit competitive and think they’ve got better tunes than me. But if I listen to rap tunes on a run I can’t really relate it to my music; but I like the drops in them, and I think you can see that with the tunes on the EP. There’s some rap drops on it without it being rap music. I think that’s the main influence on the EP. And the only way I can translate that without rap beats is the old school way with guitars.
You’ve got some big live stuff coming up, including supports with The Streets. What can we expect from these live shows and how are you a feeling going into them?
I’m way buzzed about the Street ones and the 100 Club one, because that’s like our home ground, I guess. I’m trying to be as honest as possible because over the years I’ve got carried away a bit with trying to put on a persona. I’ve sort of forgot how to play live…it’s a reset in a way. Before I was used to doing my standard thing, but now I want to be honest, just play the tunes and not be a massive twat basically. With this new setup the guys in the band are clear with what it is. I’m making the tunes, but it’s not like The Streets/ Mike Skinner; it is a band. I like to see when there’s a band in the pictures. I find it a bit boring when its just say Jake Bugg. It’s like ‘cool’… but I still want to see the team.
Thinking back to recent events such as the backlash to the proposed European Super League – What do these events say about society today and can this sometimes inspire the music?
I try and keep my head out of it a little bit. What does it say about society? Nothing I didn’t know before. It’s bad news all the time innit. I do like to hear some bad news sometimes though because I’m a bastard. I just let it seep in. I’m just a bit wary because I don’t wanna offend anyone. Years ago I could easily offend someone in pub talk, so these days I just try and filter myself out a little bit. If I was doing this interview 3 or 4 years ago I’d just be a little bit of an idiot. I don’t target anyone in the songs specifically – if I’m trying to say something I make it a bit broader so you can decide yourself what I’m saying.
Is the distinction between what would have traditionally described as the ‘real fan’ and a follower on Spotify often now confused?
I don’t know how it works on them playlists. Just someone who brings out one tune randomly and gets on a load of playlists; they’ll seem like they’ve got a tonne of fans, but they won’t be able to sell out The Lexington. It doesn’t make sense… they’ve got a tonne of worldwide listeners but nobody’s really a fan. I think it’s the same with Instagram. You’ll see these guys with like 300,000 followers, more fucking followers than The Streets… but they’re not even famous. They’ve got a bit of music on Spotify, but nobody really listens. I don’t like it or understand it. I always wanted to be in the NME because I used to read it tonnes. When I was in Vauxhall I’d get the NME every week and think ‘one week I’ll be in here’. Now what am I gonna hope for? To get on a big playlist? You can’t show that to your Grandad.
With football being played behind closed doors now for so long – have you found anything else which has been able to scratch that particular itch on a Saturday afternoon?
I’m not even a proper fucking football fan. I was just working round the pubs around Millwall for years and that’s why I wrote the ‘Away Days’ song. I knew about it because I was always there, these guys took me in a bit and I went to a couple games. I still don’t follow football. I was bullshitting a bit, but now I’m just being fully honest. I was a fly on the wall for that song. I liked the atmosphere and the clothes and fully immersed in it. I just wrote the chorus based on that. I haven’t really had a scratch to itch recently. It’s been a good thing to get my team on board musically.
Overall, what do you wish to have achieved by the end of this year?
Get this 100 Club gig done and The Streets ones and not mess them up; hopefully by then this lockdown will be gone. Just keep going, keep sturdy, do things well and not piss anyone off. I’ll try not be a massive twat and say too many rude jokes that offend people.
The ‘Iconic’ EP by The Skinner Brothers is OUT NOW on Blaggers Records https://ditto.fm/iconic/