Proper Interview: The Skinner Brothers

The Skinner Brothers have been building something of a reputation over last couple of years, both as an exciting live act, supporting heavyweights such as Kasabian and The Streets, and as purveyors of indie bangers such as the casual-flavoured Away Days. We caught up with frontman, Zac Skinner, to hear about an imminent new album and the band’s biggest headline tour to date.

Hello Zac. How’s things, what have you been up to?

Oh man, did this little video shoot thing at the weekend in London with a fair few people. That was good fun, man. 

What can people expect from the new album, Soul Boy II?

Basically, those EPs we brought out last year, the last few songs, they’ll be on it, plus six more tracks. It’s not really anything to do with Soul Boy I, the only thing that links it, the reason we did it, is because I always wear all the Soul Boy gear. It’s like a snapshot of where we are at the moment, just like the last Soul Boy was. That’s where I was at right then. This one’s where I’m at right now. Then, I guess we’ll do Soul Boy III maybe?     

You write, produce, and record pretty much everything yourself – do you feel like if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself? Or was it just a case of, in the early days, you had to do it yourself because you had no choice, and you’ve found a way that works for you?

Sort of a bit of both, man. Early on, I didn’t know how to use no computers and that. So I was like, oh, okay, I’m going to have to get a guy in. Go on Gumtree or something – I remember going on there. I think I paid some guy I knew around Camden or something. Paid him like, 80 quid once to mix a tune. And, I’ve been in a couple of studios, I’ve even been in some good ones, and the thing is, like, it never worked out for me, man. I tried it, but I never really felt comfortable in there. I like to do the buttons myself. And I like singing when no one’s around, I don’t like no one to hear me. When I’m performing, I don’t mind. But when I’m making it, I do loads of stuff where I try out loads of different words and I’m just sort of noodling over it, I don’t want no one to hear it. It’s weird shit I’m saying… (laughs) I especially don’t like the producer, the engineer, saying, ‘that’s the good take’, because I want to be the judge of that, really. And then I get carried away thinking that geezer, he knows best. And it never came out right. So I like to just do it with no one else in the room, know what I mean? That’s the way I’ve found it’s working at the minute. We do send off my final mix now, we get it mixed by a proper guy, so he dabbles with the levels a little bit and makes it a bit more professional. But I don’t mind that because I’m not in the room. He does it, he sends it back, and it sounds basically the same as what I did, but just a little bit bigger, do you know what I mean?   

How excited are you to get out and play the album live?

Yeah, it’s our first proper headline tour, really. It’s exciting, I don’t really know what to expect, to be honest. Because in London it kicks off when we play a gig, but we’ve basically sold out, like, Glasgow, stuff like that. All these ones like Leeds, and I’m thinking, I’ve never even hardly been to these places! And I’m thinking, who are these people?   

Like I was saying with the video shoot we did on Saturday, we opened that up to fans to come down to the pub in south London and be in the video. So we do do quite a lot of that, meet-ups, interactions, do you know what I mean? It’s weird to see, people do want to talk to you about your music.   

You’ve supported some big names already like Kasabian and The Streets. You toured with the Libertines quite early on in your career. What was that like in terms of a rock ‘n’ roll education, they’re a band with a bit of a chaotic history?

I just went in there with the idea to be more chaotic than them. And, er, it didn’t pan out well! I’ve got a picture somewhere of me with blood all over me after smashing my head on a floor somewhere… The gigs were cool! I enjoyed the gigs. No one knew who we were, but it was still a great experience, because we were playing to more people than we’d ever played to. But it was a wild ride, man. If you say a rock ‘n’ roll education, it did teach me not to try that again.     

You moved to London on your own when you were 18, with a plan to start a band, and went through a few different members. Was it just a case of finding the right line-up, the right chemistry?

Sort of, man. I wanted to start more of a Frank Zappa type thing, all avant-garde and crazy stuff, ‘cos that’s what I was into then. But I used to just go on Gumtree and stuff and there’d be all sorts of people on there. And you’d be like, look, I’m starting a band, and most of the time they’d be like, have you got a deal? Have you got management? And I’d be like… yeah. Then they’d come round the house, I was living in Vauxhall at the time, and my room would be all weird, and there’d be loads of records everywhere. I remember this one guy coming round and playing drums on some of the tunes, I was showing him the ones I’d written, and at the end he was like, you haven’t got no deal or nothing have you? And I was like, nah (laughs). But you had to bullshit! All these people are like, have you got a deal? Have you got management? Course I ain’t got bloody management! 

You sort of have to keep trying, I did that for years. Got a few members, then kept losing them. Then when I learned to record and stuff, I started putting stuff up on the internet. I thought, sod the band, I’m just gonna put stuff out on my own. Then I did. Then you find the band sort of come to you. On the internet, no one really knows if you’ve got a band or not. They come to you and they want to play for you when they see you’ve got a few fans. People want to be on your team. It’s weird that it works the wrong way around these days.               

Speaking of teams, football seems to have quite a big influence on you. You’re sporting a Millwall shirt on the cover of Soul Boy vol. 1, the song ‘Away Days’ (and the video) is another obvious example. Is football and casual culture something you’re big into?

I was working in a pub down near Millwall, it was actually the pub we went to last weekend to do the video. I was working in there, and I didn’t know nothing about football. But after a while, I saw it happening, all the match days, and then got to know some of the people. And then I sort of got more into it. Just happened organically, man. I was into it, I liked all the clothes, not really a massive football fan, but liked the whole scene.

But anyway, I had a shirt, and that picture (The Soul Boy vol.I album cover), I just like the picture. It’s sort of like a snapshot of the time, I’d just left working at the pub, left the area, that’s what I’d be wearing and I was into that sort of thing. And I still am. I sort of wrote Away Days as a fly on the wall type thing because I could see that happening in front of me. Then I was into all this casual gear for a bit and that’s why we did the Away Days video.

But now I’ve got my own Soul Boy brand, I only wear the Soul Boy stuff when I’m playing. I’ve got it trademarked up. Hopefully in the next few years I can build that. But firstly, and most importantly, I’ve got to break the tunes. 

The Skinner Brothers new album, Soul Boy II, is available to pre-order here and tickets for the upcoming tour are available now.

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