Your guide to Skindred's new album, Volume
Frontman Benji Webbe slices and dices their sixth album for your reading pleasure
I think the last album [Kill the Power, 2014] had too many cooks, and cooks that were not even in the fucking kitchen. And you’ve got to be in the kitchen if you want to cook, you know what I mean? It’s no use just phoning up and shouting orders down the phone as to what you want your meal to taste like. I also think we got a little confused and believed a bit of the hype, which is not like us because we’re a pretty grounded band.
The album did what it did, and thank God, because we’ve got classic tracks like Kill the Power and Enter the Ninja that we play live. I’m all about the live thing as you know, and I think the songs that we play from Kill the Power are the classic Skindred songs that we should’ve been writing more of.
For me now, going forward with Volume, I know this set is gonna be fucking insane! The gigs are gonna need a warning sign as you go in. We’ve been writing the set for our autumn tour – and remember we’ve got six albums to choose from now – and I’m thinking about how I might get tired on stage because I’m going to be giving it my all, but the crowd are gonna need fucking oxygen. You feel me?
So let’s give the people the guide to Volume.
1. UNDER ATTACK
When Mikey [Demus, guitar] first came up with the riff for Under Attack, I wrote all over it. Then we sat back and Mikey said, ‘Yo! Let’s do what Led Zeppelin would do. Let’s do what Rage [Against The Machine] would do. Let’s let the riff breathe.’ I’d never tried that before, believe it or not! So I just let the riff breathe, and then I saw the power of it. Mikey had a lot to do with putting this one together and I give him credit for that. It’s a song about people trying to fuck you over. Originally, I wasn’t sure about one of the lines, but I played it to Arya [Goggin, drums] and he said, ‘If that ain’t in there, I’m leaving the fucking band.’ So there you go. The great thing about this album is that there was no headmaster standing there with a stick – that’s why it’s so naughty.
If you know Skindred, you’ll know that I could be as depressed as fuck when I go out on stage – but that depression will never leave my mouth, because I want to encourage people to love and be happy. And a song like Volume does exactly that. The message is to keep growing, and keep going, and keep being the person that you’ve chosen to be. The way I look at it, when a man looks in the mirror he needs to say, ‘I’m the best me that I can be.’ Volume is a celebration of that. It ain't just about turning up the volume on your stereo, it’s about the size of your life. We were fighting over the name of the album for about six months, and one day Arya stood up and said, ‘This song’s killer. Let’s call the album Volume.’ Everybody agreed straight away and we knew we had it. I mean, if you love rebel music, who doesn’t wanna turn it up?
3. HIT THE GROUND
This song is going to hurt, but it'll hurt the Skindred way. It was the last song that we wrote for the album, and everyone was saying we needed this kind of stuff on the record. Lyrically, it’s saying that it doesn’t matter how great a band is – the mighty will fall. I don’t give a fuck how long you’ve been doing it. No one is untouchable. That’s the way I look at it.
4. SHUT YA MOUTH
Since Skindred first started, we’ve come to learn that a lot of our fans get depression. They feel like they’re outcasts. When I talk to people online, they tell me how their classmates at school laugh at them, and how they don’t feel like they’re part of the gang. I wanted to encourage people who are going through all that bullshit, you know, by telling them to look inside themselves and be strong. And with the heaviness of the song and the way that it drops, it works really well. It’s a dancehall kinda thing, and I like the We Will Rock You vibe of the verse.
We wanted interludes to give the listener a chance to take a minute because we kick the fuck out of them as the record goes on. After Shut Ya Mouth you need a rest, you know what I mean? It’s just like with the live show – we wanted to keep it as live as possible. So after four stormers, we just let Dan Pugsley [bass, programming] and Dan Sturgess [DJ, programming] do their thing. Then we get straight back into it with The Healing.
6. THE HEALING
It's not about where you’re from or the colour of your skin. It’s all to do with being a part of living together. That’s what life is all about for me. I live in a community with all kinds of different cultures and I’m blessed to live there. But there’s always people trying to bring things down, and the lyrics to this song talk about wannabe gangsters – or whatever they call themselves these days – that are doing nothing with their lives except causing bullshit. That’s not part of the healing. It’s about giving something positive back to the community. That’s what The Healing is. When the chorus blows up, it goes back to where Skindred first started, too. There’s a very early Skindred vibe to that part of the song and I was happy to hear that again.
7. SOUND THE SIREN
We had to do something powerful like this. A lot of people might say, ‘Why isn’t he doing the vocal gymnastics over it?’ But I really wanted the song to breathe. And as soon as it kicks in, it has this strange kind of Die Antwoord/Major Lazer thing going on, and then the Sabbath-y vocals come in for the chorus. That’s when this track comes to life for me. This one’s gonna be a stormer live. Because of the freedom of this band, and what I can do vocally, we’re not restricted in any way. I know for a fact that if we wanted to do – not that we’re going to – a Tony Bennett or Nat King Cole kind of thing, we could pull it off and it would sound fucking great. We’re fortunate enough that we can experiment and do what we want, and every time it comes off it makes the record.
8. SAYING IT NOW
I’ve lost two soul mates this year. They were both there for me from when I was seven years of age until the day that they died. They both got sick at different times. I kept telling myself that I was going to go and see them and tell them that I loved them. This song is my way of telling people that if they love someone in their life then they need to go and tell them, because when they’re dead it’s too late. That’s what happened to me. I fucked up twice, and I never had the chance to actually sit in a room with them and give them a big hug and tell them how much they meant to me. The words never came out of my mouth, and I regret that more than anything ever. I kept saying, ‘I’ll go and see them tomorrow.’ And I said that for about four fucking months. By the time I went round to see one of them, his wife said he’d died that day. That broke my heart. So if you have the chance to tell someone that you love them, then don’t leave it too late.
**This is another interlude, but it’s also the intro to the next song, which is Straight Jacket. When we play that song live we’ll definitely use this track to go in to it.
10. STRAIGHT JACKET
This song started with us just jamming in a room together. It felt like we were playing a show, just rocking it. It sums up my mantra that you can be heavy as fuck, but you don’t have to scream.
**Again, this was just to break things up between Straight Jacket and the next song on the album. Because of the lyrics in the next song and what they mean to me, I wanted people to have time to get their shit together before we pick the pace up again.
12. NO JUSTICE
This song goes back to when I was a kid and listened to bands like The Ruts and The Clash. I wanted a verse that sounded like The Specials. The word ska never comes into my mind when it comes to Skindred, but I wanted this to have that kind of beat and feel. Then you get the kind of Rudimental, and for want of a better term, a Linkin Park-esque chorus, but we didn’t want to do it electronically. We wanted it to sound a bit more real, and for me punk rock is real music. Lyrically, I’m nodding to the police over in the States that are still shooting black folks like it’s going out of fashion. They’re killing them dead, and the No Justice chorus is the cry of the souls in these cities who are having these injustices inflicted upon them every day. There’s a lyric that says, ‘There aint no justice / There’s only just us’ – and it feels like that sometimes. They’re getting away with fucking murder. Literally.
13. STAND UP
This is my gay anthem, bro! It’s my Priscilla [Queen of the Desert, 1994] moment. It’s me telling people to stand up for their rights and do what they wanna do, you know what I mean? The way I look at it, if that’s what your heartbeat is then that’s what it is. You do your thing!
14. THREE WORDS
This one started out as a drum ‘n’ bass song, but I could see the boys weren’t really digging it. The producer came down to the rehearsal space and he said to me, ‘Just sing the song on your own.’ Fortunately, Dan Sturgess was fucking around on his computer and he hit that chord that you hear in the song. I started singing along to that chord and the producer said, ‘That’s fucking brilliant!'. As I’ve been saying throughout this whole thing, it’s important to us now to not worry about how these songs sound in the recording studio. We want to write songs that we can do in our live set for our fans at the gigs. And we wanted to be Queen with this song, so we decided to take it away from dance music and into more of a Queen direction – and it worked perfectly. The song’s empowering, and everyone that I’ve played it to has said that it makes them want to do something positive with their day. For me, if what you do can inspire people to want to live life and stand strong, then you’re doing a good job.
Benji Webbe was speaking to Matt Stocks. Volume is out on October 30 via Napalm Records.