Skunk Anansie, led by fiercely unrepentant front woman Skin, have long been the underground heroes of British rock. Leading the rebellion against Britpop in the ’90s, the four-piece have never been afraid to get their hands dirty. Whether politics, race, sex, religion, or anything else deemed too problematic to talk about on record, they made sure they addressed it. An eight-year hiatus halted the band’s progression from 2001-2009, but after a few drug and alcohol-related demons were exorcised they picked up where they left off and are now celebrating 25 years since first bursting onto the scene…
You’re celebrating 25 years together. Does it feel like it’s been that long?
Skin: “Sometimes yes, sometimes no. There’s definitely a sense of when we’re together we’re back to being the babies and the idiots we were and doing the stupid shit that we did first time round. We haven’t really grown up mentally. So Skunk Anansie’s mental age is still probably 25.”
What’s one of the earliest memories you remember about the band?
S: “I remember being 13 years old writing songs. I had a Filofax and I would fold them in quarters and put them into the back of it. By the time I came to write songs as a career I had 25 songs. Twenty five shit songs. But what they did have was structure. They had verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, out. You know? Every single one of them.
“It wasn’t really until me and Cass were in Mama Wild that I learned about being in a band. I would say Skunk Anansie are here because of Mama Wild because Mama Wild is where we made every fucking dumbass stupid mistake you could ever fucking make because we didn’t know. And that’s probably the most important part of this whole thing because if we hadn’t done that then we would have made some of those mistakes in Skunk Anansie and then Skunk Anansie may not have been as successful.
“[In Mama Wild] we got the wrong songs, we had the wrong groove, some of the influences were too strong, we had the wrong band members, we had the wrong live show, we had the wrong clothes, the wrong name. It was all wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. And after two years we had some serious interest from an American record label and I remember saying to Cass, ‘I can’t be in a band with these two idiots.’ I couldn’t imagine being in a band with Elijah Blue. He did something to the hairs on the back of my neck. I really dislike him. I was like, ‘Cass, man, we have to split up the band and start another one.’”
He was that bad?
S: “I just couldn’t imagine being on a tour bus with him. So I was just like, ‘No, I can’t do it, I can’t do it. I can’t be in the band cos it won’t last.’ And I thought we were too good for that to be the mistake. So I was just wanted us to start it all again.”
And then Ace came along.
S: “Yeah. Me and Cass sat down and drew up a list of all the guitarists that we liked and Ace was top of the list. Remember that?”
Cass: “Yeah. You always had your eye on Ace from Splash Club, didn’t you? Cos he was the star of the Typhoon Genies.”
S: “Yeah, he was great. He was a proper rock guitarist. I remember the whole Splash Club thing, I remember us hanging out there all the time and just partying, getting drunk and listening to bands. We used to go there every night. If you came to London your first gig was at the Splash Club and then you went bigger and bigger and bigger. Like Oasis. Oasis’ first gig was there.”
You came up during the Britpop explosion. Do you think, had it not been for Britpop, Skunk Anansie would have been much bigger?
S: “I think timing was for and against us. If Britpop wasn’t around, sure, it would have given us more space but Britpop consumed every fucking rasclaat ting. Every TV show, every radio station, every t-shirt. It’s all anybody wanted to talk about: Britpop, Britpop, Britpop, Britpop.”
C: “And we got swept up with it even though we weren’t Britpop.”
S: “But after a while as it got bigger and bigger and got more and more bloated and succulent like a big fat blowfish or something we were like, ‘You know what? We really don’t wanna be in that shit.’ If you imagine a big fat dead bloated fish and then you imagine a little electric eel running by its side. That was us. We were the spiky thing on the edge just slipping through the slipstream. While Britpop just got more and more bloated and more and more shit bands were getting involved there were more and more dead fish on the fucking beach.”
Did you ever have any run-ins with Oasis or Blur?
S: “We love the Gallaghers, you know? Damon [Albarn] always hated us.”
S: “Yeah, he was always fucking with us. We’d turn up in some country somewhere and they’d say, ‘Oh Damon doesn’t like you guys very much, does he?’ I didn’t know what his problem was. He liked to cause a beef and he definitely affected us in some places. Cos you know, they were like the golden boys and then we were the dirty upstarts. So his word actually meant a lot at the time.”
So Blur caused a bit of trouble for you guys?
S: “I wouldn’t say trouble but it’s not nice when you walk into an interview and the first thing you hear is that David Albarn doesn’t like you. I don’t know what his fucking problem was but it didn’t really matter in the end.”
As a band that took a long hiatus, would you like to see Oasis get back together?
S: “I don’t, personally. From a band’s point of view, if you fucking hate the people you’re in the band with it’s just not worth it. Cos we’ve been on tour and we’ve seen bands at odds and the only time they see each other is when they walk on stage. It’s miserable. And that’s not the chemistry that we would ever want. If they don’t like each other don’t be in the band. And there’s no money on earth that should make them do that really. I don’t wanna see a miserable fucking Oasis, I wanna see an Oasis that’s playing really well together.”
What was the main reason for your hiatus?
M: “It was a lot of different things. There was a lot of drug and alcohol issues on my part and I needed to sort myself out, and, you know, that was one of the major things and I don’t mind admitting that. There were other elements in there as well.
“Back then the industry was different. We would write a record, record the record, promote the record, go on tour, have two weeks off over Christmas and we’d start all over again. And we just did that constantly until 2000 and eventually, you know, I was drinking too much and doing whatever and everyone else had their own stuff going on and we kinda were just burnt out. We kinda went, ‘Fucking hell, if we don’t have a break we’re going to end up hating each other,’ and that was what we didn’t want to happen.
“So we just took a break and it ended up being a long break but it worked out, it was the right decision. Because if we hadn’t of done that we would not be here now.”
Did you ever receive backlash or threats from religious groups or such for songs like ‘Selling Jesus’ and ‘Little Baby Swastikkka’?
S: “No, that never got to us. I actually made a point of, and it’s the same today, I don’t read fan mail. Cos I don’t think it’s good for your psyche. It’s not good for you when they praise the arse off you and you think you’re God’s gift and it’s not good for you when they’re slagging you off either. So no, we never saw it.”
C: “And this was way before all the social media madness so we didn’t have to deal with the intensity that there is now with Twitter and all that. It’s madness!”
S: “Yeah, I think now people are a bit more careful of what they say on Twitter. Things blow up so quickly, just like that thing I said about Glastonbury. It was a little fucking soundbite and now it’s just blown up. I’m done with talking about Glastonbury. And that’s the thing about social media, once something happens it goes viral. Every rasclaat person since has asked me the same fucking question over and over and it gets long.”
Skin, as a gay black woman fronting a rock band in the 90s you must have faced a few challenges. Can you share any?
S: “You know what? Occasionally you’d have one big thing happen or another big thing happen but it tended to be lots of tiny little things that happened. But I just don’t carry the weight of it. If I worry about all of those things: being black, being female, being gay, I might never come out the corner of the room. You know? I’d just stay in that corner and worry and I wouldn’t be able to move with the weight of other people’s isms and schisms. I want a happy life and for my shoulders to be light so I don’t carry that weight.
“I think I’m better for it because, especially in those days, what those people were there to do is stop me doing what I do freely. And that’s the whole point of racism and fascism and all the other isms, it’s to stop and control the people you don’t like. So if I carry all that weight and I don’t move forward because of all that stuff then they’ve won and I’m just a victim aren’t I? Then I walk around with a victim mentality; ‘Oh poor me, I can’t do anything because of this, that and the other.’ Then 10 years, 20 years later I’m still standing here going, ‘Poor me, poor me.’ But I’m just not that type of person.”
Instead, you’re still standing.
S: “Yes, well, I’m more like floating to be honest.”
It’s probably fair to say that ‘Hedonism’ is your legacy song. Did you know it was going to be special when you recorded it?
S: “When we recorded it, it was almost too good. We actually recorded it for the first album. There was a bit of banter between the band and it didn’t end up getting on the first album but then on the second album we put our foot down. But in hindsight, it would not have fitted on that first album, it wasn’t right. Luckily we had ‘Weak’ on the first album, but yeah, we knew it was good, it was just a little bit too nice for the first record so we waited to put it out.”
On ‘Black Traffic’ you have a song called ‘I Hope You Get To Meet Your Hero’. How many of your heroes have you met over the years and which of them were nice and which weren’t?
S: “Lou Reed wasn’t too nice.”
S: “Yes, really. David Bowie was beautiful. We played a few festivals with him. He kept selecting us to go on before him. He really loved us.”
That’s not surprising considering he was known for championing artists from all different backgrounds.
S: Exactly. Look at the things he did with gender how many tens of years ago. He was gender fluid and he had such an openness towards different people. He was very clear-minded about it and very supportive of it.”
C: “Robert Plant was fantastic! [Nelson] Mandela was amazing.”
S: “Five, that pop band, they were a bunch of tossers.”
C: “But they weren’t your heroes.”
S: “I personally think sometimes the bigger the artist the cooler they are cos they’re more comfortable and more secure.”
Mark: “U2 were beautiful as well.”
C: “They got a lot of flack but I always defended them cos they were wonderful with us.”
You mentioned earlier that before you were Skunk Anansie you had interest from an American record label. Are there any other unknown facts about you that haven’t really been shared before?
S: “The Prodigy sampled us.”
Ace: “Oh yeah. They sampled ‘Selling Jesus’ for ‘Serial Thrilla’ on ‘Fat of the Land’. The first time we heard it we were at a festival and Gizz Butt was the guitar player and he said to me: ‘I’m going to play one of your songs,’ or something like that. And he went on and (sounds out ‘Selling Jesus’ guitar riff) he looked at me and it was like this is the one and it was ‘Serial Thriller’.”
So it was premiered at a festival?
A: “Well, it was the first time I heard it. They must have recorded it already but I don’t even know if ‘Fat of the Land’ was out then or if it was about to drop. I know we were playing in Norway with them at the time.
“We had this great moment with them. We were on this minibus; it was Skunk, the Jim Rose Circus Freaks and Nick Cave. So we’re driving back to the hotel to have a party with The Prodigy cos it was the album release for ‘Fat of the Land’, and all of a sudden Skin is dancing with Nick Cave in the middle of the minibus while all of the Circus Freaks were singing [the Mamas and the Papas song] ’California Dreamin’’. It was fucking nuts!”
Do you have many memories of being around Keith Flint?
M: “Aah, little Keith. I used to race motorbikes with him. He had a racing team. We often met up at Ron Haslam Race School to hone our skills, let’s say. I was always too big, he was little, a tiny thing so he was always faster than me but he was a great rider. Just a lovely, lovely bloke. A really, really nice man. What a fucking performer. It’s such a tragic loss.”
With 25 years in the bag and having done so much, would you say you’ve achieved everything you set out to do?
C: “Not at all.”
Is there anything in particular you haven’t yet done that you want to?
C: “No, there’s nothing specific. I think the biggest achievement we’ve had is making it to 25 years and everyone’s still friends. That’s a big achievement.”
Skunk Anansie’s new single ‘What You Do for Love’ is out now. Tickets for the remaining dates of their UK tour (see below) are on sale here.
30th – O2 Academy, Leeds
31st – O2 Academy, Glasgow
1st – O2 Academy, Newcastle
3rd – Rock City, Nottingham (Sold Out)
4th – Cardiff University, Cardiff