Breaking the Silence, the Return of SKIN!
by TK Smith
“I’ve been away for much too long, now that I’m back I’m gonna sing my song.”
~ Good To Be Back, SKIN
In the early Nineties times were desperate for bands staying true to a ‘70s classic rock sound. The US was all dried up and the masses were following the Pied Piper’s call that Grunge provided. We looked to England to save us once again and found a select few desperate to hold on. There was the blues-rock of Thunder, the reckless punk of The Wildhearts and the metal crossover of The Almighty. Above the rest was SKIN, a magnificent combo of rough and ready riffs with elements of Bad Company, AC/DC and early Whitesnake. Their light burned bright - yet brief. They broke through the top 20 with a number of hits and were the darlings of the UK music press. The ebb and flow of the music business took its toll, dismantling the band before their time. Luckily, fan demand brought them back and with the release of Breaking The Silence, SKIN return with a dynamic package of eleven songs of that embrace their former glory and propel them forward with legendary status. We had the honor of sending SKIN guitarist Myke Gray several questions that help tell the SKIN story. Enjoy!
The Cutting Edge: I guess the question that’s on everyone’s mind is…what was the push to reunite?
Myke Gray: The decision to reform came after we were approached by Andy Copping from Live Nation, the promoters of the Download festival, with an invitation to play at the 2009 festival. The bill included Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Journey and ZZ Top. We hadn’t seen or spoken to each other for 11 years, so it took a little while for everyone to agree, but in hindsight it was probably the best decision we ever made.
TCE: The new record is fantastic. Thank you for the great music - ten of the record’s eleven tracks were penned by you. Were these songs you had been working on for some time and presented to the guys as the reunion started to happen?
MG: With the exception of “Trigger Inside,” all the songs were written after the reunion. The music and lyrics were inspired by the energy and impetus of the reunion. There was no digging up old riffs. This was very much about where we are as people right now.
TCE: I have several favorites. “Good to be Back” certainly rises to the occasion. I’m also a big fan of “Bad Reputation” (especially the guitar work) and “Can You Feel It?” Can you please tell us a little more about these three songs?
MG: The riff to “Good To Be Back” was the first thing I wrote after we made the decision to record again. The inspiration was the desire to stand on stage and lead the band into battle, and that riff was what came out. It was originally called “Back In The Ring,” but when we listened to all the new songs back to back it was obvious that this riff should be the start of the album, so I re-wrote the lyrics and made it about the relationship we have with our fans. The theme and spirit of this song kind of sums up the intention of what the band wants to say in 2010.
“Bad Reputation” is kind of a personal song. Looking back at my life there has always been a fair amount of trouble around and I have to take responsibility for that. There are certain parts of my character that are very single minded and can be stubborn to the point of stupidity. In some ways this can be detrimental and in some ways it is the driving force behind everything I do. The song is kind of saying, “Take or leave it, I’m not gonna change so either deal with it or move on. It makes no difference to me.”
“Can You Feel It” is about the intense passion that certain people feel when they are together. Obviously the guys in the band have it but it can relate to anyone. This is another one that is very much inspired by the Skin fans and how they take us to another level of energy.
TCE: What are some of your favorite songs now that you’ve lived with the album for several months? How does Breaking the Silence compare to your other records?
MG: This record is lyrically much more personal than any of the other Skin albums. When we got back together and discussed what kind of record we wanted to make, the general consensus was to make something we believed in, to make it sound how we do it live. I am very proud of it for many reasons. One being that we self-financed it and produced it ourselves, and were in control from beginning to end, which was a first for us.
TCE: The production sounds very strong. What are the secrets to getting a good sound? Any lessons learned from working with Keith Olsen?
MG: Keith Olsen was and is amazing; we learnt many things from him. The new album was recorded at Colin Mcleod’s studio. Colin is our keyboard player, and he co-produced the album. As it is his studio, he knows how to get a good sound out of it, which saved us a lot of time. It was a very tight budget and the whole album cost us less than £15,000. The drums and bass were recorded in less than a week from scratch; Nev and I then came up on the weekends and did our parts. It was very intense but we didn’t have the luxury of time or money.
TCE: How has your relationship with Nev, Andy and Dicki changed over the years?
MG: That is a tough one to put into a few sentences. We have shared so much that we are emotionally bonded to each other. It is something that is timeless. We hadn’t seen or spoken to each other for 11 years but when we started playing, it seemed like only a week. From my part I have a greater respect for the other guys, I was very self obsessed first time around, but life experiences have made me more aware of other people’s feelings and emotions now. I consider them my brothers. There is no one else I would rather be in a band with.
TCE: You thanked Phil Collen in the liner notes. Can you explain your friendship with him? Did Def Leppard support the band?
MG: When I was 13, my sister used to run a music venue, every night there would be a gig. On one occasion a band called Girl played. The guitar player in this band was Phil Collen. I use to hang around everyday trying to meet the bands and get them to let me play their guitars. 9 out of 10 would pay me no attention, but Phil let me come backstage, try his guitars, a black Ibanez with 3 pick ups, the one he uses in the “Photograph” video, he even let me play through his amps at sound check, and jam with the drummer. To a 13 year old kid, this is a big deal; he was always a kind of hero to me.
He then went on to be in one of the biggest bands in the world. Then 20 years later, I’m playing bass in an American band called MUST, who happen to get the chance to support DEF LEPPARD, and I get to meet Phil again. He has no memory of any of this but we became friends. When I started to record the new album, I emailed him for advice on guitar sounds and he recommended the Marshall JMP 1 rack mount, which he uses for all his guitar sounds. I got one and that is what I use on the album.
TCE: You have a long history with Iron Maiden. Was there any talk about touring with them? What’s you favorite Maiden story?
MG: Touring with Iron Maiden would have been a dream, “Number of the Beast” was a huge influence when I was a young aspiring guitar player, but even though we were managed by Rod Smallwood, Iron maiden’s manager, it never happened. We worked with Bruce Dickenson quite a bit, we were his backing band on his hit single “Elected,” the Alice Cooper song, and I played guitar for him on various solo projects, but that was as far as it went. I have written songs with Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickenson, and know all the Maiden guys. Who knows? Maybe one day.
TCE: You formed SKIN right as Grunge was rising to prominence and crushing the ‘hair bands’ of the ‘80s. Why do you think you guys survived?
MG: I don’t think we did survive very long, the music scene really changed in England and we fell out of fashion. The magazines stopped writing about us and dropped us very quickly, and we made a huge mistake of adapting our sound to try and fit in. It alienated our original fans and we lost direction as a band.
TCE: Will you ever release a comprehensive DVD with all your videos?
MG: I would love to but, unfortunately, we don’t own them. They belong to EMI records. When we approached them to re-release the old albums to coincide with the Download festivals dates they declined. It was the main reason we recorded our own album, we made a decision never to let a record company decide if and when we could release our music.
TCE: I’m a little unclear as to what finally was released here in the US but do you ever have plans to release Live at the Borderline officially of do an EP collection for fans?
MG: The same applies here, all our old albums belong to record companies so it is out of our hands whether or not they get released. We made our own DVD called “Re-united” which captures the re-union and our performance at the 2009 Download festival. We own all the publishing to our songs so we are more likely to record new version, that way we have control of our music.
TCE: What was your favorite gig that you played of all time? Do you have a favorite guitar for your live shows? What is your usual set up?
MG: I am very proud to walk onstage with the guys in SKIN, so every gig is a privilege for me, and the second time around is better than the first because we all appreciate it more, and we are better musicians. I have two Gibson Les Paul’s that I have had since I was 20, they are my most treasured possessions, and I always use them on tour. I always end up using Marshall Amps, I love them, they have never let me down ever, they sound great and I can’t imagine using anything else.
TCE: What are your memories surrounding the Gateshead Stadium supporting Bon Jovi? How about the Download shows?
MG: My memory of supporting Bon Jovi was all our equipment blowing up because of an American transformer that was not compatible with the English voltage. My guitar was stuck on the lead sound and couldn’t change channel. Not our best gig, but definitely one of our biggest. All the Download shows have been incredible, the stuff you dream of doing when you start playing guitar.
TCE: Over the years you’ve covered a few of you influences, Van Halen, Montrose, The Who, Beatles, and Golden Earring. Who are some of your other influences that we don’t hear about? Any we’d be surprised by?
MG: I grew up with Rock, and it’s the only music I enjoy playing, but I listen to all kinds of music. Some fans might be surprised to hear I love Classical music and traditional Irish music. But I was born a rocker and will die a rocker.
TCE: Now that the band is building new momentum why the announcement that your disbanding again? Or is that just a rumor?
MG: There was always going to be a timeline on it, at first it was a week but that grew into two years. It has been our best two years and we are having a blast, but family and work commitments have made it very difficult, and we have had to sacrifice a lot. We have loved every second but we want to go out on top and while we are all friends. The reunion was always about the fans and we hope we have made an album that does our legacy justice.
*We’d like to extend a special thanks to Myke Gray for being a super cool guy. Cheers mate!
12/08/10 : Glasgow at Cathouse
12/09/10 : Newcastle at O2 Academy 2
12/10/10 : Manchester at Academy 3
12/11/10 : Norwich at Waterfront
12/12/10 : Bristol at Thekla
12/14/10 : Bournemouth at Old Fire Station
12/15/10 : London at Underworld
12/16/10 : Birmingham at O2 Academy 2
12/17/10 : Oxford at O2 Academy 2
12/18/10 : Nottingham at Rock City
To check out some outstanding photos of SKIN taken during their current reunion tour, please see Concert Photographer Neil Lupin's amazing website here.