18 years since the release of The Streets‘ era-defining ‘Original Pirate Material’, and Mike Skinner’s back pushing boundaries and making big beautiful beats. Aside from a few casual releases, he’s spent the past few years DJing and taking his highly rowdy TONGA club night on the road, but on July 10 he’ll release ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’, his first full body of work since 2011’s ‘Computers and Blues’.
The record features guest spots from an all-star cast including – deep breath – Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Ms Banks, IDLES, Greentea Peng, Jimothy Lacoste, Donae’O, Hak Baker and more. Somehow he managed to create a socially distanced music video for the Parker track ‘Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better’, which is quite the achievement.
So naturally we Zoom-ed Mike at his north London home to talk about the record’s smartphone obsession, the Matty Healy of The 1975 collab that never was and how coronavirus might have delayed his forthcoming movie.
Are you enjoying lockdown, Mike?
“I’m making the most of it. I am enjoying it, in my selfish little way. Certain things are really hard and certain things are slightly easier. Music videos seem really impossible right now, but I’m gonna make that work.”
I’ve heard you’ve got a green screen at home, though…
“The idea for the next one is to somehow bring me and Donae’o and Greentea Peng together. I think it’ll probably end up looking a bit like a video game – almost like Grand Theft Auto. Who doesn’t want to be in a video game? The harder stuff is what’s actually gonna go in the background, but that’s what YouTube’s there for, right?”
You’ve got two kids – are you joining the nation to do PE lessons with Joe Wicks every morning?
“No, no – we’re doing TikTok videos together. We’ve done a bit of live cooking too. It’s chaos isn’t it? I did Instagram Live myself the other day – my wife’s good friends with Holly Willoughby and I suddenly felt like Holly Willoughby, with everyone talking at me, but if I stopped talking everything went silent.”
Is it weird that all your fans know what your living room looks like now?
“Well, I just moved here to be honest, so I didn’t know what my living room looked like until recently. Watching the news all day and seeing other people’s living rooms, you’re like, ‘you know what, even though I don’t agree with what you’re saying, you’ve got a really nice sofa.’”
How long have you wanted to work with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker for?
“They almost feel to me like a hip-hop Beatles. People have tried to do that before; Gnarls Barkley had a good go of it, but no-one’s ever really made great songs with a drum machine like Kevin. I could not believe that he wanted to be on the mixtape, to be honest. People either don’t know who the hell I am or they really like what I’ve done, and those people tend to make themselves known. I just need Daft Punk to get in contact now and my life will be complete.”
You announced your track together – ‘Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better’ – via a video teaser April Fool’s Day. A lot of fans thought the collab could have been a joke…
“It was a happy accident! It’s chaos, picking when is right. It was 50% intentional, 50% just that was the week we were going for.”
Tell us about the video – did you direct it?
“Yeah, I shot it on my iPhone, as long as you’ve got plenty of light the iPhone’s great. The old-school Nokia in the video’s been in my studio for years. About a year ago I tried to get it to turn on. I thought ‘I’m going to use it and I’m going to be the coolest guy ever’. But it doesn’t work. I shot my bits in Verbier [Switzerland] and went to Oscar #Worldpeace in Tottenham and then visited Ms Banks and everyone else. Obviously Kevin was a bit further away in Los Angeles.”
Phones also loom large in the lyrics of the mixtape…
“Our relationships with people now are filtered through WhatsApp and Tinder and Instagram, and if you’re going to be as specific about stuff as I try to be then the phone’s gonna come up a lot.”
How did you get IDLES involved?
“I just reached out, and thank God they answered. They all came down and they rehearsed and rehearsed all day. Coming from dance and rap where you’re constantly fiddling, to be with a band it feels like you’re not doing anything all day, just practising, and then then at the end of day you press record and it’s done.”
Jimothy Lacoste is also on the record – do you feel an affinity with him?
“I do – when I first came out people said, ‘Is this a joke?’ and you’re like, ‘No – I’m pretty serious about this’. He reminded me of myself; his shows are bonkers as well.”
Matty Healy was supposed to be on the record. What happened there?
“You’re DMing people on Instagram and they might wake up one day with a hangover and suddenly think of an idea for a song and then you can have a song within the hour. That’s the reality of this album. Or people could love the idea but not end up doing it. I love hanging out with them, though. He was reaching out about producers – he was really into [British producer] MJ Cole, who I know and I went over to LA and made some stuff and played it to them. They’ve got this really good studio in a hotel room; it just comes with them. So everywhere they go, there’s a studio.”
There’a a great line on last year’s ‘Take Me As I Am’ single: “Men are weird at the close of the PM / Just ask a pretty girl to show you her DMs”. When did you become aware of this phenomenon of men bombarding women online?
“Just because you’re a bit older, doesn’t mean you don’t see. Weirdly it was more inspired by that Cat Person short story that came out around #metoo. The world has changed now, but guys are really scared of feeling like a prat. They feel like they’ve got to go out and make it happen, but women are afraid a guy might hit them or worse.”
There’s drum’n’bass and UK funky on the new mixtape, but will we ever hear a Streets country song? You covered Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’ on Instagram after he passed away…
“I would love to do a Streets country record. That’s probably the thing that I would love to do the most, really. Those writers, like Shel Silverstein and Jimmy Webb – that’s kind of what I’ve always done. I got into country when I was writing lyrics. Kenny Rogers is quite light, he’s not hardcore like Merle Haggard – it’s quite schmaltzy – but the words are just on different level to any other schmaltz you’ll ever hear. I went to see him once in New Jersey. It was when I was living in New York, so it would have been around the time of my pop star meltdown album.”
What might a Streets country album sound like?
“I had this idea – you know on Drake albums you’ll have [the track] ‘Houstatlantavegas’? I would really like to do ‘NashvilleKingston’, where it’s half one drop reggae and half country. There’s actually a big country scene in Jamaica.”
You’ve also written a film…
“It’s almost like a follow-on from [2004 album] ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ – that was my life without The Streets. That’s what this is; it’s about my life as a DJ but with The Streets removed. I haven’t shot anything yet, but we’ve decided to use real nightclubs. So we’re waiting for real nightclubs to happen again; if it’s not until 2021 then that’s when we’ll do it. The film’s just a caper, really; it’s a bit of fairytale, but a fairytale told in the real world.”
And there’s a record to go with it too?
“The record’s almost two years old now – we’re just waiting for the film so we can put it out! The songs are like the voiceover and it’s just me. But it’s not like La La Land, which I love. I’m building up to my La La Land.”